On a long distance train made up of 10-plus coaches, how do you ensure guards working in the rear carriages can communicate with colleagues at the front? Typically, by equipping them with two way radios.
When maintenance teams are out working on the tracks, how do they coordinate their efforts and, critically, ensure everyone stays safe? Again, two way radios.
The humble ‘walkie talkie’ has a long and distinguished history in the rail industry. The reasons why it has long been the communication technology of choice are much the same across all industrial sectors.
Before the arrival of mobile phones, two way radios were the only wireless, fully mobile solution available. Even with the advent of cellular technology, two way radio has remained the preferred choice because it is more reliable, robust and always maintains a connection when you need it.
Think of the scenario when a train enters a long tunnel, for example. As we all know, your mobile phone loses signal straight away. But because two way radios establish direct local connections between handsets rather than relying on external antennas and masts, they keep working.
When it is critical that a call gets through, two way radio can be relied upon.
That is one reason why two way radio is so trusted as a security and safety tool. Another is that manufacturers design and build handsets with safety protocols in mind. A guard who feels threatened while on duty can alert colleagues via a one-touch Emergency Button alarm. Engineers working alone on a section of track can be monitored by colleagues via a Lone Worker alert feature.
By the standards of modern digital technology, two way radio is ancient, and questions are inevitably asked about how long it can stay relevant to the needs of industries like rail.
However over the past decade, two way radio has undergone its own digital revolution, with 21st Century technology helping to create powerful, feature-rich mobile communications solutions capable of integrating with a wide spectrum of software platforms and data protocols.
This is where two way radio can play a key role in the future of rail management. As investment in the Digital Railway vision continues apace, we can anticipate a future in which, rather than being mainly used for person-to-person communication, state-of-the-art digital radio handsets also serve as a hub for human-to-machine connectivity.
We are already seeing two way radio manufacturers bring to market integrated industrial solutions which combine traditional voice communication with M2M data and systems monitoring. In a Digital Railway context, that would mean giving guards and staff real-time information from smart train command, control and signalling systems, so the human and digital elements were always in sync.
They now say data is the critical factor in operational strategy and performance management, but the effectiveness of data depends on giving the people who need it appropriate access as and when required. For an industry built on mobility, two way radio represents a great option for rail.