Rail Connectivity Trends
Despite setbacks related to the pandemic, passenger and cargo rail expansion is continuing around the globe. We examine key trends that are advancing this critical transportation mode and influencing connectors used for rail.
The transportation sector took major hits in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted public activities and logistics operations. Consumers backed away from office commutes and mass transit, and limited recreational rail, sea, and air travel to avoid virus exposure. At the same time, interruptions to manufacturing and shipping, along with changes in consumption patterns, meant that global logistics networks needed to quickly adapt. New technology is helping companies meet shipping, tracking, and logistics challenges. New safeguards are being designed into existing rail networks and upcoming global rail expansions will reflect the post-pandemic realities. Connected technologies are part of every trend shaping this sector.
Health and Safety
In densely populated cities, commuter rail is a necessity and a fact of life. Ridership levels have not yet fully rebounded to pre-pandemic levels in most countries and transit planners are looking to technology to resolve health concerns during COVID-19 and in anticipation of future pandemics. Many rail operators are installing advanced air filtration systems, disinfection systems, and UV light rods to decontaminate air in passenger cars. These technologies depend on connectivity solutions that can be added into existing electronic wiring architectures for HVAC systems and passenger amenities such as WiFi, sound, and cabin entertainment. Components designed for airline in-flight entertainment (IFE) systems are well-suited to use in the high-reliability rail operating environment, where ruggedness is essential. Amphenol’s Luminus connector series, ITT Cannon CA-B / CB Series Bayonet connectors, JAE’s JK06, and Glenair’s Civil Airbus connectors are among the many solutions that can serve transportation in-cabin systems.
Rail providers are also implementing AI technologies that analyze live data on crowding levels on platforms and individual rail cars, and share that information with riders via apps and station screens to enable them to select less crowded cars. Touch-free ticketing systems reduce interaction points and add convenience.
Data Visibility And Security
New tracking and monitoring technologies will enable railways and those who depend on them to monitor freight, passengers, and equipment across thousands of miles and multimodal networks. The use of data analytics and AI can enhance customer service and safety, reduce fuel costs and carbon emissions, monitor conditions, and anticipate maintenance on rolling stock and tracks. It is also used by logistics operations to track shipments from departure to destination. The transfer of this data depends on high-speed connectors and cables that can maintain a reliable connection under the constant shock and vibration of rail operations.
“The connectors used in the rail industry have to be rugged, yet also perform at the highest speeds. Amphenol Pcd offers an Ethernet connector that not only is extremely rugged and fast, but is also very small and environmentally resistant for harsh environments,” said Amphenol Pcd’s Rugged Solution Product Specialist, Matt O’Leary. “The uCom connector operates faster than 10 Gb/s and its maximum external diameter is only 15 millimeters. uCom achieves these high speeds with four insulated individual pairs that are isolated from each other throughout the connector. While most connectors are made with machined aluminum, this connector is made from machined brass, making it very rugged. It has an IP68 seal both mated and unmated for PCB receptacles and is compatible with Cat6A and Cat7 ethernet cable.”
Ethernet, TCN, or high-density data transmission networks have become key technologies for modern railway vehicles, providing connectivity for passengers, rail controllers, and shippers, and ultimately interfacing with smart cities. Connectors used in these systems must comply with the latest data transmission standards, while offering waterproof, rugged, and high reliability performance under the stresses of intermodal transportation.
As train control, freight monitoring, scheduling, signaling, and ticketing operations move to increasingly digitalized protocols, however, cybersecurity has become an urgent priority. Making rail infrastructure cyber resilient includes the strategic selection and shielding of components on multiple levels of connectivity systems, including the cables and components involved in LiDAR and radar systems, GPS receiver and embedded units, and WiFi and IoT networks that support the transfer of data.
Rail Connectors for Automation
Automation technologies are becoming part of rail networks on multiple levels. Automatic Train Operation (ATO) technologies, which use a fixed guidance system and includes predictive acceleration and braking protocols to achieve a level 4 degree of automation (no human operator), are in use around the world, and new implementations are coming in Vienna, London, Toronto, Delhi, and other cities. Future systems planned will expand the technology to high-speed rail systems in development in China and Germany.
Communications-Based Train Control (CBTC) systems continuously transfer data between the train and the surrounding rail infrastructure to improve efficiency and safety.
Many connectors used in rail applications are designed for these rigorous operating environments. Connectors such as JAE’s QE Series panel-to-cable and board-to-cable connectors demonstrate resistance to vibration and shock due to robust materials, construction, and contact stability.
Climate Change Adaptation
“Railways are one of the most environmentally friendly means of transportation. The pandemic offers an opportunity for railway manufacturers to showcase the comparative advantages of rail transportation, particularly with urbanization that comes with growth,” predicted Smiths Interconnect engineers in a recent rail webinar. “The train of the future will have higher needs in terms of bandwidth, functionalities, and service quality. Digitalization, CO2 footprint, smart power distribution, operational standardization, and regulatory compliance are key areas of opportunities for the railway post-pandemic sector to improve their competitiveness.”
According to the Association of American Railroads, freight rail transport is up to four times more fuel efficient than truck. Moving freight via rail accounts for only 1.9% of carbon emissions, although 40% of U.S. freight moves via rail. Even so, the railways are vulnerable to the impact of higher temperatures and more dramatic weather events. In June 2020, a record-breaking “heat dome” event that settled over the Pacific Northwest and Western Canada severely impacted rail networks. In Portland, the PDX Streetcar system came to a halt when superheated cables warped in temperatures that exceeded 110 C (43.3 F) — just four months after the city’s worst ice storm on record coated cables with ice and shut down the system. Both of these extremes were unprecedented. Rail operators are now looking at ways to build climate resilience into their infrastructure. Ruggedness has always been a requirement of components for transit; now operators must plan for the unthinkable and specify components that can withstand current extremes as well as those projected to occur in the decades ahead.
Connectors for rail use must be particularly robust to perform in harsh railway environments, and even more so to withstand extreme climate events. It’s also important that these connectors be simple and quick to install and maintain. HARTING worked with Siemens Mobility to develop rail connectivity products for the updated Viaggio hauled coach design now being built for the European and North American markets. “The customer sought a less complex standard interface for jumper applications which would be future-proofed, easy to install and maintain, and durable,” said Denny Hellige has been Product Manager Han HPR and HC Modular at HARTING. The Han HPR VarioShell allows dirt deposits to slide off, while bespoke channels guide water away from the fixing screws to mitigate the risk of rust. A curved upper edge ensures that ice and snow move and slide down the sides without exerting pressure on the housing, increasing the service life of the interface.”
Connectors like these will help keep rail moving through the challenges of the years to come.
For more information on rail-specific interconnects, visit Smiths Interconnect online.
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