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Discover how cloud and autonomous trains could transform journeys for your passengers – and why avatars could soon be helping out in the control room. 

From rebooting ridership post-Covid to cutting carbon emissions, the challenges facing today’s rail industry are enormous. On top of this, soaring power prices and disrupted energy markets mean that the need to boost efficiency is now more urgent than ever. 

Innovation plays a critical part in tackling these challenges. But just as importantly, it holds the key to seizing the huge opportunities that lie ahead – because the future for rail is bright.
Below, we discover how Thales is delivering real innovations that meet real operational needs – offering attractive, punctual journeys and resilient, cost-effective operations.

TransVital™ – digital signalling

Signalling is the foundation of railway safety. But conventional signalling has a number of drawbacks. First, it often relies on proprietary hardware that ties infrastructure managers to suppliers. Second, systems are fragmented with safety-critical logic functions scattered across hundreds of different locations. Third, conventional signalling cannot be adapted easily. For example, adding something as simple as a new crossover or siding can be slow and expensive from a signalling point of view. Finally, signalling rules are typically “baked in” to hardware systems. This means that existing signalling cannot easily be upgraded to take advantage of new and emerging capabilities. 

The latest version of our safety platform – TransVital™ – solves all of these problems.

TransVital™ is a high-performance digital signalling platform that is purpose-built to handle the most demanding safety-critical (SIL 4) applications. These include both interlocking and ETCS RBCs (Radio Block Centres). TransVital™ also supports ETCS evolution and a new generation of high-density field element controller solutions. 

Crucially, TransVital™ makes it possible to operate a railway without the need for trackside signals and with all rail control functions hosted in a data centre, bringing scalability and flexibility to your signalling system. TransVital™ is integral to our platform strategy and it builds seamlessly on our hugely successful TAS platform, which is widely used by our customers.

Hardware independence – unlike conventional safety-critical systems, TransVital™ does not require specially-designed hardware. The platform runs on standard industrial servers and it is Cybersecured by Design, which means that cybersecurity is built into the solution from the design stage (IEC 62443 certified). This is the case with all Thales’ solutions.

Scalability and flexibility – TransVital™ integrates seamlessly with your current signalling system, so you can maximise the reuse of existing assets. It can also be scaled easily for specific applications and sites. TransVital™ allows you to alter and add to your track layout with minimal disruption.  

Next Gen Connectivity – with TransVital™, you can easily take advantage of new hosting and communications technologies. For example, you can run TransVital™ in a data centre, or on a private cloud at your premises. And you can link your trackside assets using any wired or radio communications backbone you choose – from fibre optic to LTE and 5G. 

Greener signalling – TransVital™ helps infrastructure managers to minimise the carbon footprint of signalling systems. By deploying TransVital™ in tandem with smart field element controllers, you can replace hundreds of kilometres of copper cable with fibre optic or radio links – a huge saving in materials. The need for trackside buildings is also reduced. Meanwhile, reductions in trackside hardware mean that fewer maintenance trips are needed. 
All of this contributes to lower emissions – while at the same time reducing service and maintenance efforts.

Innovation you can trust – the first signalling deployments based on the TransVital™ platform are already contracted or under implementation. 

TransVerse™ – data-driven operations and maintenance

Railways generate terabytes of data every day. What if you could use that data to improve train services, maintain assets and transform the passenger experience? 

Our digital self-service platform, TransVerse™, makes it easy for main line, metro and tramway customers to get the most out of their data, either hosted securely in a public cloud or in a private data centre. TransVerse™ allows you to extract insights, master complex Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystems and run digital services, including safety-related applications up to and including SIL 2. It also allows you to try out and acquire new services. Everything is accessible via a web-based browser.

Discover – log in to TransVerse™ to browse Thales’ digital services and asset management solutions, including TIRIS™ (analytics-driven predictive maintenance), PULSE™ (health monitoring and asset management for critical signalling assets), ARAMIS™ (our Traffic Management System, which is being deployed by Norway’s Bane NOR  to manage the entire national rail network via Thales’ TransVerse™ platform), GreenSpeed™ (connected driver advisory system – C-DAS), NAIA™ (big data insights into passenger journeys), Protostellar™ (end-to-end container logistics for the freight industry), Better Train (our new training solution), Distributed Intelligent Video Analytics (video analytics for passenger comfort, security and enhanced operational efficiency), and MyProducts (operations and maintenance information for our main line signalling systems). 

Try before you buy – you can easily set up demonstrations and trials with TransVerse™. Demonstrations provide quick insights into user benefits. Trials provide deeper insights, with access to a private environment, a unique set-up for your own use case and the opportunity to experiment with your own data.

Flexible deployment – TransVerse™ is available in three deployment patterns. Cloud deployment delivers maximum benefits, including access to massive data analytics. Data centre deployment is available for customers who need to run services using their own facilities. Edge deployment allows customers to run services close to physical assets, such as trackside equipment. Hybrid connections between all three of these can be provided where necessary. 

Safety-critical radio

Railway digitalisation depends on reliable radio links between the train and the trackside. To ensure that trains are always connected – and to take advantage of new low-latency technologies such as 5G – main line and metro operators need a way to access a mix of different radio networks securely, including public ones.

Thales’ Mobile Communication Gateway (MCG) is designed to meet this need. The beauty of MCG is that it offers a variety of secure wireless connectivity options. These include SDR (software-defined radio), 3G, 4G/LTE, 5G, Wi-Fi and more. As with all our solutions, MCG is Cybersecured by Design, supporting critical functions such as safe train control, data collection for operations and maintenance, and remote software download.

MCG enables both current and future applications, including Train-to-Ground (T2G), Train-to-Infrastructure (T2I) and Train-to-Train (T2T) communications.

TRANSCITY™ – Ticketing as a Service (TaaS)

Millions of passengers every day benefit from journeys enabled by TRANSCITY™, our market-leading fare collection solution. TRANSCITY™ integrates different modes of mobility and different transport operators on the same digital platform. 

TRANSCITY™ is now available in a cloud deployment pattern, making it easier than ever for public transport operators and public transport authorities to benefit from the power of the platform. The first major deployments are already under way, on cloud assets from several of the main hyperscalers. 

For our customers, shifting to the cloud eliminates the need to operate and maintain complex server infrastructure. It also ensures easy access to the latest software upgrades and cybersecurity patches.

As well as being easier to deploy and maintain, running TRANSCITY™ in the cloud will play an integral part in accelerating the delivery of the next generation of mobility and revenue collection solutions. Among these are Smart Mobility/Mobility as a Service (MaaS) and hands-free ticketing using smartphones and wireless devices. 

Autonomous trains 

Trains which can “see” and “think” for themselves – autonomous trains – are well on the way to becoming a reality. Thales is a pioneer in this field and we are working across the full spectrum of enabling technologies. These include autonomous train positioning, Automatic Train Operation (ATO), object detection, and ranging.

Our research and innovation (R&I) programme is already yielding market-ready products. A prime example is our Next Generation Positioning System (NGPS). This is a SIL 4 system that enables trains to determine their precise location and speed using onboard sensors, such as radar, inertial measurement units (IMUs), GPS and ultra-wideband (UWB) radio. This minimises the need for maintenance-intensive trackside systems while accelerating the deployment of new signalling. 

NGPS is already being used on one of the world’s leading metro systems and a certified product will be launched this year – the first-ever autonomous positioning product on the railway market.

Thales is using similar sensor-based technology for main line applications. Our solution, the Robust Train Positioning System (RTPS), uses accurate train positioning to drive continuous speed and signal supervision, as well as site-specific hazard warnings such as temporary speed restrictions – adding a rich layer of new functionality to legacy signalling systems. 

As well as making high-performance positioning independent from trackside installations, the ability to pinpoint trains is a potential game changer and it paves the way for new applications based on Positioning as a Service. For example, it could provide signallers with information about the exact position of trains – something that is usually not possible today because conventional signalling systems only indicate the relative position of trains, rather than their exact geographic location.  

Cognitive shadow

Problem solving is a big part of running a railway. From managing an incident on a crowded metro station to dealing with train routing conflicts at a busy main line terminus, safe and punctual operations depend on making the right decisions at the right time. All of this places huge pressure on signalling and supervision teams working in control centres.

Decision support systems already play an essential part in easing the workload. These provide operators with step-by-step guidance and procedure lists. But what if decision support systems were capable of learning, as well as supporting decision making? In short: could decision support systems be used to capture best practices?

Thales has developed a personalised decision support assistant that addresses precisely this need. The solution – known as cognitive shadow – acts like a workplace avatar that watches, learns and assists whenever critical decisions are being made. Potential applications include incident management, route setting and traffic management. For example, it would be possible to integrate cognitive shadow with Thales’ Traffic Management System, ARAMIS, to further enhance decision making.

Cognitive shadow is driven by artificial intelligence (AI), but with people making the final decision – an approach we call augmented intelligence.  

A bright future for rural railways

Rural railways are a lifeline for local economies and they are vital for social cohesion. But running trains on secondary lines is expensive and some rural railways face the threat of closure. How can these vital but vulnerable routes be safeguarded – and even upgraded?

Innovative frugal signalling could hold the key. This makes it possible to reduce the cost of running rural railways while simultaneously boosting performance. Frugal signalling is 100% digital and uses satellites and digital mapping to localise each train. Meanwhile, train positioning and interlocking data is handled using public cellular networks. All mission-critical data is processed on the train using a secure onboard solution, with Automatic Train Operation (ATO) providing the driving function.

Frugal signalling eliminates trackside train detection, hardwired communications networks and signals. In addition, it improves reliability, minimises maintenance and reduces cabling (a key consideration with copper prices at all-time highs). It could also improve safety compared to the legacy solutions with which these lines are often equipped. This matters, because many secondary routes today are not equipped with automatic train protection or train control.

Join us at InnoTrans – stand #570 (Hub 27) – to find out more about our latest innovations. We look forward to meeting you there! InnoTrans, Berlin, Germany – 20-23 September 2022.