Moving Railway Communication Forward with Time-Sensitive Networking

By Contributed Article | June 05, 2018

New technology allows multiple types of data to move along the same path without any sacrifices on either end, ultimately increasing capacity and achieving cost savings.

By Richard Weatherburn, Global Vertical Marketing Manager – Transportation, Belden Inc.

The need for reliable transportation is greater than ever, driven by urbanization and increased business pressures for efficiency and cost-effectiveness. As the rail industry welcomes a burst of new technologies and applications, such as time-sensitive networking (TSN), communication-based train control (CBTC), and improved monitoring tools, wireless control is becoming much more sophisticated, and connectivity is at its strongest. These developments are expanding the future of railway communication to next-level speeds and reliability.

TSN is a first-of-its-kind technology that follows IEEE 802.1 and IEEE 802.3 guidelines to standardize Industrial Ethernet networks. Networks with TSN capabilities can provide deterministic, time-critical packet delivery for train-to-ground communication. 

The Advantages of Time-Sensitive Networking

The benefits of TSN can be viewed from two perspectives: internal and external. The internal benefits may not be seen or directly noticed by passengers or railway operators, but are put in place to maximize railway safety and efficiency. The external benefits will have a more direct impact on the day-to-day users of railway transportation and their overall rail experience through things like onboard entertainment and faster Wi-Fi connections.

CBTC is frequently deployed in response to increased capacity demands and allows trains to run more frequently. In traditional Ethernet networks, railway operators would have had two separate networks: One for safety-critical information, like knowing the exact location of a train car, and another for everything else, including passenger Wi-Fi.

Leveraging existing Ethernet networks through the use of TSN to prioritize safety-critical data over non-critical transmissions means these multiple networks are not needed. This prioritization is important; essentially, a TSN network will be able to guarantee the delivery of safety-critical data over a reduced number of physical network components, hence saving costs. As more passengers flock to railway travel and advancements in technology require stronger, more sophisticated network communication, TSN will intelligently prioritize safety-critical information for improved operational safety and reliability at a reduced cost.

TSN is ahead of its time, and this technology is changing network dynamics for the better. With TSN, safety-critical data is no longer chugging along to an “I think I can, I think I can” rhythm, but whizzing past non-safety data like a bullet train.


What Time-Sensitive Networking Can Do for You 

The outward benefits of TSN for train operators and passengers can be summed up in a simple phrase: convenience without sacrificing safety. Implementing TSN technology is the logical next step for railway communication to improve on-train safety. It allows both types of data to move along the same path without any sacrifices on either end, ultimately increasing capacity and achieving cost savings. TSN enables:

  • Safer rides: Transparency is key. Passengers want to know when they are going to arrive and expect regular updates on potential service delays or disruptions. Not only that, but both rail operators and passengers rely on Ethernet networks and TSN to have a way to reliably send and receive safety critical information in real time, which ensures a safer ride for all.
  • Expanded passenger capacity: For trains to take more passengers, having access to remote control and accurate information in real time gives railway operators the critical information they need to run trains closer together in time. This gets more passengers to where they need to be more quickly.
  • Improved on-board experience: Riding a train is no longer just about reaching the final destination, but also about the trip experience. To meet passenger expectations of on-board connectivity, a strong Ethernet network is key. Beyond working in the background to offer the reliable communications network passengers depend on, TSN also provides the added benefit of less equipment with a combined physical network while continuing to give travelers a reliable Ethernet connection.

Supporting the Renaissance of Rail 

Transportation systems — in all areas, not just rail — are changing. As networks continue to grow, the whole industry must quickly adapt to ensure efficient, safe, and comfortable passenger transportation from one point to another, meeting the growing safety and critical communication standards that come with this new era of urbanization. Addressing these standards will not only help with increases in demand, but can also grow business.

As engineers look to bring their Ethernet networks into the next generation of industrial communication, physical network components like connectors, cabling, and wires remain valuable to existing infrastructures. But TSN — and the improved wireless capabilities the technology will bring — is what will move the renaissance of rail forward. To learn more about how TSN can advance your operations, download this white paper. 

Richard Weatherburn BeldenRichard Weatherburn is Belden’s global vertical marketing manager for the transportation sector. He holds a certificate in engineering management, as well as an honors degree in electrical communications engineering. He was elected as a Chartered Engineer by the Institute of Engineering and Technology in 2004 and is also a full member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing.



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