Nederlandse Spoorwegen uses Tibco to put data on rails
Data down the rails, Nederlandse Spoorwegen runs Tibco

Nederlandse Spoorwegen uses Tibco to put data on rails

Data integration and analytics company Tibco used its Now 2017 conference in Berlin this June to give several customers the opportunity to showcase how they’re using the its technologies. One of these was Nederlandse Spoorwegen, the Dutch railways company, as Adrian Bridgwater reports. 

An Internet of Railways

Nederlandse Spoorwegen [NS] is the principal passenger railway operator in the Netherlands. A private company, but solely owned by the Dutch government, it provides rail services on the Dutch main rail network, as well as international rail services to other European destinations, such as Brussels. NS runs 4,800 scheduled domestic trains a day, serving 1.1 million passengers.

As modern railway operators look to implement the IoT for monitoring, control and management capabilities, the application of data intelligence is starting to spread from terminus to terminus.

NS has a maintenance and real-time monitoring system in place in order for engineers to be able to see what is happening on the network. Key metrics include:

  1. How many passengers are on a particular train;
  2. Time spent by trains at each platform;
  3. Travel information from around the network;
  4. What activities are available at each location stop.

Onboard & onshore, on the rails

NS explained that the real birth of IT services for customers in the rail industry started about three years ago, but was initially confined to Wi-Fi and onboard information services. Now that more sophisticated data metrics are being ingested right around the network, NS needs to be able to guarantee synchronization between ‘onboard’ and ‘onshore’ locations (the latter referring to station stops) with no message loss. It also needs streaming analytics and business rules for determining the best GPS service and other applications.

“We use Tibco BusinessEvents streaming analytics, Tibco ActiveSpaces in-memory computing, Tibco BusinessWorks integration and Tibco Enterprise Message Service,” said Wim Liet, program manager for IT on trains at NS.

But it’s not just core operational data being exchanged. Liet explained that passengers are starting to want more destination information and that the company is even looking at areas like putting a camera on the front of the train.

Also new is ‘wayfinding’ signs on intelligent platforms. This information can show customers where first class carriages are located, where they can store their bicycles and so on.

“By increasing our overall operational efficiency and knowing how to manage passengers better, we can go up from four trains an hour to six trains an hour – and do this without an additional investment in civil engineering infrastructure,” said Liet.

Waar is mijn trein?

NS used its presentation time at Tibco Now 2017 to explain that it has a lot of sensor data already to help it calculate where each train is located at any given moment. It can also get information from passengers who might be using Google Maps on the train. It might also use logic to calculate where the train ‘should’ be, based on journey time, speed and so on.

NS, along with other rail firms, now uses an important IoT sensor known as a balise. This is an electronic beacon or transponder placed between the rails on a railway track. These units typically form part of what is known as the Automatic Train Protection (ATP) system.

A balise typically needs no power source – it connects to radio frequency energy broadcast by a passing train.

The balise either transmits information to the train (uplink) or receives information from the train (downlink, although this function is rarely used).

Virtual Trains, intelligent platforms

NS has developed what it calls the ‘Virtual Train’, an IT architecture that builds up a picture of all the trains in the network at any one moment in time. In the pursuit of the truly intelligent train, it is now looking to use other back-end systems to bring more information to that picture – elements such as CCTV on platforms, for example.

It has used Tibco’s insight platform and integration technologies to develop this notion of the virtual train, enabling passengers to download a travel planner app to see where all trains are. It has also standardized IT across 800 trains, making it easy to deliver new applications.

“Because we now have a platform that we can use for all trains, we are getting better travel information and we can add data from the Internet of Things – but also the Internet of Persons. Do we collect that data or don’t we? Our commercial department is grappling with that. We have to remember, when you collect customer information and give these people back something that is beneficial, there’s a huge opportunity,” said Liet.

Read more: French railway operator SNCF signs up IBM Watson IoT

Mind the gap – Let op de kloof

Who knew Dutch train passengers were getting such a good level of IoT investment? How far will NS push the notion of the virtual train and the intelligent platform? How long will it really be before we start talking about the Internet of Trains? How do you say ‘mind the gap’ in Dutch? These are the questions that we probably want answered next.

NS is an interesting use case that very directly highlights the need not just for IT, not just for data analytics, not just for connectivity, smart devices and software applications, but also for integration technologies.

All aboard! Or… should we say… Iedereen aan boord?

Read more: Airbus and Italdesign unveil modular smart city transport