Cisco Focuses on Railroads With New IoT Solution

With its Connected Rail offering, Cisco is looking to make rail travel easier and safer for passengers and more efficient for railways.

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Cisco Systems is bringing its Internet of things expertise to the railroad industry, introducing a solution that is designed to modernize aging networks at railroads, improve safety, drive down expenses and give passengers an improved connected experience.

Cisco this week unveiled Connected Rail, a portfolio of offerings from the networking giant and its partners that company officials said will have benefits for both the railroad operators and the passengers who ride the trains.

The Internet of things (IoT) solution—part of Cisco's larger Transportation Smart Solution initiative aimed at railways and other transportation systems—comprises a broad range of the company's products, from networking switches and routers, to video surveillance cameras, TelePresence video conferencing systems, wireless access points, digital signage and software.

The solution is designed to cover all aspects of the railway system, from the trains themselves to the stations. It comes at a time when railways are dealing with a range of challenges, from aging systems to difficult environmental situations to new federal safety requirements. Cisco's offering is designed to address all those challenges, Barry Einsig, global transportation executive for Cisco's vertical business solutions business, told eWEEK.

The Connected Rail includes four offerings, such as Connected Station. The component takes the various disparate parts of traditional in-station networks and communications systems and brings them together into a standards-based IP network. The network includes everything from routers and switches to surveillance cameras, digital signage and video storage. Data around location can more easily enable railway officials to track traffic and alert passengers when there is a schedule delay, while video cameras will enable railway officials to keep tabs on what's going on in their stations and more quickly deal with issues of safety and scheduling.

Connected Train ensures a rider experience that includes on-board services like WiFi as well as video surveillance and automated operations. Passengers can use the WiFi network to do such tasks as pay fares, keep track of the train schedule, surf the Web and work. Einsig said it makes the railway more efficient and helps the passenger to work with fewer interruptions—if that's what they want.

"You have complete freedom to be productive while you ride if you have constant connectivity the whole time," he said.

Connected Trackside offers a ruggedized IP infrastructure that connects the train to a mobile to Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) backhaul network and then the data center, according to Cisco officials. This part of the overall solutions includes a sensor network that offers computing power at the edge—a process Cisco officials call fog computing. Railway operators can more quickly learn when there is an issue on the tracks—when the data coming back from the edge doesn't fit the norm—and the computers on the edge can analyze the data they are getting, and then decide what data to discard and what to send back to the data center, which can help save the railway networking and storage costs.

Cisco's Positive Train Control technology combines with products from partners to create a communications system that looks to reduce rail accidents—such as train collisions and derailments—and comply with increasingly strict governmental regulations. Safety was a key factor in developing the Positive Train Control. Citing numbers from the U.S. Federal Railroad Association, two-thirds of rail accidents are caused by human error. The Positive Train Control system can figure out the speed and location of the train, and then can send out alerts or warnings, or even automatically slow or stop the train, according to the company.