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Cross-sector fertiliSation will deliver faster digitaliSation for railway signaling systems

Andrew Hawthorn
13 April 2022

The railway industry is under enormous pressure to change, with some key drivers accelerating the transformation.

  • A growing number of passengers due to increased urbanisation and a heightened awareness of sustainability among customers;
  • A growing need for rail freight in a move to reduce carbon emissions and meet climate targets;
  • Higher expectations around comfort, connectivity, safety, and punctuality from customers.

These drivers push railway operators and infrastructure providers to replace or modernise their rolling stock, and to build more efficient and more cost-effective signaling solutions. Consequently, it must be ensured that:

  • An increase in traffic can be handled and further scaled-up: Higher usage of existing infrastructure and even more challenging safety requirements drive the need for improved signaling equipment. Modernisation is key to improve network safety and train capacity;
  • Deliver cost savings, which will be mainly driven by the opportunities digitalisation offers to replace physical assets with digital ones. This applies to new and advanced systems, as well as enhancements in the signaling space, and for rolling stock on systems like autonomous trains;
  • Improve real-time passenger information to support enhanced customer value through new business models like mobility-as-a-service.

Railway engineers are increasingly working in the digital space and are looking to other industries for disruptive solutions, such as:

  • Complex control systems utilising advanced object detection and recognition techniques from the automotive industry;
  • Advanced communications systems from the telecommunications industry;
  • Cloud services from the IT world.

Being inspired by automotive industry technologies

Making trains completely autonomous will enable a more punctual and energy efficient journey and will remove the constraints caused by train driver rostering and the need to get drivers to the right place at the right time. Although different, autonomous cars and autonomous trains have many similar technical challenges. The main overlap is in the identification of obstructions and potentially dangerous situations. In the case of the autonomous train, typical use cases where critical situations need to be detected are:

  • People, animals, or objects near or on railway tracks
  • Signaling Aspect Recognition
  • Damaged infrastructure: e.g., railway crossing barriers
  • Environmental hazards e.g., vegetation, land slip

Automotive technologies being considered to support the detection of hazardous situations include:

  • Video-based object classification using Artificial Intelligence through video, infra-red, and thermal cameras
  • Radar
  • Microphone
  • ‘Connectivity’ – Vehicle-to-Vehicle & Vehicle-to-Infrastructure communication for warnings

Make connections with telecommunications industry technologies

Communications technologies for mainline railways are built around the GSM-R standard. Based on 2G technologies and developed 30 years ago, this technology was used in mobile phones around the turn of the millennium and has been surpassed by 3G, 4G and now 5G. The railways are looking to leapfrog 3G and 4G and move straight to 5G for critical signaling applications under the FRMCS standard.

This standard has the potential to have a transformative impact on how the railways are run and are key to their digitalisation. FRMCS will provide far greater data capacity, much reduced latency, and guaranteed delivery. This will allow it to be used for a wide range of services including safety critical control, and also potentially on a non-FRMCS or shared network, CCTV, health monitoring, and passenger information and entertainment systems if bandwidth permits.

Combine Operational Technologies (OT) with IT technologies

Information Technology (IT) has traditionally been kept separate from Operational Technology (OT) – the systems that control physical equipment like trains and machinery. Typically, firewalls or air gaps are used to ensure that the less critical IT systems do not interfere with critical OT systems. The two disciplines diverged in terms of the technologies that they use as a result of this separation, but we are now starting to see OT systems being built with IT technology. OT/IT and even ET (Engineering Technology) have merged. The most successful organisations understand that the analytics associated with this discipline helps with management, performance understanding, upkeep, and avoidance of issues. Indeed, these lines have blurred and the cloud has helped create an ecosystem which enables this.

Cloud allows Rail players to decouple their architecture at a price that is highly desirable. This reduces change friction and allows for rapid turnaround of innovation and digital solutions to solve business issues faster.

Cloud has now fully matured and, along with this, improvement in overall service. We see many organisations running their mission critical platforms in the cloud. Lots of government services now rely on cloud to deliver key services to the UK. Statistics show that when architectures are adapted correctly for cloud, they see five times fewer failures.

We need to think differently about how we engineer technology now and how, by living digitally, we can dramatically improve operation excellence, reduce costs, and improve overall business value.

One of the technologies that could have a big impact on OT systems and railway systems in particular is cloud technology. In the railway industry, each critical system has its own processors, each with their own uninterruptable power supplies, and all sharing a common Ethernet-based secure communications backbone. These processors are typically dual-redundant and over-specified for safety purposes, so they are expensive to install and need expensive maintenance. If the industry were to move to IT industry cloud technology, then up-time would be improved, maintenance costs would be reduced, and there would be significant energy savings making the setup better for the environment.


Railway operations will change drastically over the next 10 years, faster than over the past century. The opening of the market to private operators, the urgency of reducing our energy consumption, and a modal shift from planes and motorways to rail will force the industry to accelerate the transition. Aerospace, defence, and automotive have all proven that digital and software, coupled with 5G and IoT, are already available. The tools to develop best-in-class solutions are in place to generate a quantum leap in Railway industry and operations. Capgemini engineering teams are working on this to make it happen.

Author: Andrew Hawthorn

Andrew has over 20 years of hands-on experience in developing high-integrity systems and now oversees a large team of incredibly talented systems and software engineers developing critical software over multiple domains, including air traffic control, defense systems, automotive, energy and rail.


Andrew Hawthorn

Chief Architect | High Integrity Systems and Intelligent Industry
I have over 20 years of hands-on experience in developing high-integrity systems and now oversee a large team of incredibly talented systems and software engineers developing critical software over multiple domains including air traffic control, defence systems, automotive, energy and rail.