John Newbury looks at why the rail sector is embracing wireless technology and how valuable the solutions are in an emergency situation such as a fire

According to the Office of Rail & Road there are around 1.8 billion rail journeys taken in the UK every year. The busiest three stations, Waterloo, Victoria and Liverpool Street, have over 230 million entries and exits each year alone. The sheer number of commuters can present challenges for facility managers within rail companies, who have to maintain safety and efficiency. All this at a time when forecasts indicate more people will travel by rail.

Railways have changed dramatically over the last few years and the pace of development is increasing all the time in an effort to cope with steep rises in passenger journeys. Without these technological advances, the rail network would have been placed under severe strain. As it is, they are helping save time and achieve cost savings as well as increase overall safety, security and well-being of the workforce and passengers.

The investments made by companies have created the foundations for this rail digitisation. For example, Network Rail has equipped its workforce with over 25,000 iPad and iPhone iOS devices and, significantly, around 18,000 of these are used by its frontline maintenance, operations safety and engineering teams. Staff can use the devices to access new technologies that create safer, more efficient workplaces.

Suppliers are responding, too, by developing wireless technology, internet connectivity and apps that help the railway network in numerous, innovative ways. Many of these are in the area of repair and maintenance of buildings and other infrastructure, which are an essential foundation for keeping the operation working at optimum levels.

Facility manager benefits
The best way of illustrating how technology is drivingthe next rail revolution is by referring to specific examples that support facilities management teams. The first is the benefits that have come about when it became possible to easily scale up wireless networks to any size of site, including large buildings and geographic areas. It enabled wireless connectivity to improve safety and efficiency across a wide range of rail infrastructure and assets.

A step change then occurred by incorporating this wireless technology with cloud-based data capture, because it meant facility managers could implement a fully integrated fire, security and medical response system. Physically, the system comprises a network of call points linked to a base station. If just one of these call points is activated during a fire it sounds an alarm whilst instantly alerting the facilities team, allowing safe evacuation and deployment of rescue teams. For a medical alert or security breach, it enables responders to pinpoint exactly which call point is activated, providing pinpoint accuracy to the source of the emergency.

These kinds of technology are supported by an app that can interpret and respond to the data received. In this scenario, the facilities management or H&S teams are able to receive real-time information regarding site emergencies, and instantly send customised alerts out to relevant site personnel. The technology is specifically developed for communicating fire, medical and other site emergencies to affected personnel both within depot buildings and other infrastructure assets. These can be wirelessly transmitted via any internet connected device (for example, fire alarm call points, security doors etc), whilst apps enable instant response decisions by management teams from any internet connected device.

The technology can be integrated across the wider site, including the ability to alert emergency response teams when an intruder or unauthorised member of staff is detected opening a security door/gate on site, whilst it can equally be applied to lone worker situations, such as work being carried out underground, or working at height. In addition, security patrols can raise a medical alert via call points from remote areas of the site or utilise a ‘welfare check in’ functionality that requires personnel to send a signal every ten minutes verifying that they are ok.

Data from these call points can be routinely collated through advances in Internet of Things (IoT), combined with cloud-based service applications. It can be stored, processed and transmitted via cloud technology applications to any nominated personnel, providing valuable information to facility managers or health and safety officers.

Data and information are now regularly gathered on sites in this way, where it can be cloud-based and used by the people that require it, when, where and in whatever format is appropriate. The system can also be used to send an SMS alert to the facilities team if there is a fire, medical alert or breach of an entrance security barrier, indicating that there has been an unauthorised entry onto the facility.

On the right track
Demand for rail travel shows no signs of abating and at current trends, the total number of journeys is forecast to reach three billion. The extra 1.3 million journeys per week will need to be accommodated within the existing network.

Fortunately, enormous progress is being made in the area of health and safety within the rail network, both for passengers and workers. Much of this has been driven by advances in wireless technology, which have had the effect of increasing visibility of everyone working in and around the rail estate. Combined with this has been the revolution in IoT (Internet of Things), predictive data analytics and advanced diagnostics, long used in other industries, which now allow management teams to optimise their operations.

John Newbury is Product Manager at Ramtech Electronics, the UK’s leading wireless systems technology specialist, delivering innovative safety and security solutions for leisure, construction, marine, rail and other industries. Ramtech developed the WES wireless fire alarm system, which has become recognised as the system of choice for the UK’s top 50 construction firms, due to its ease of use, system reliability and the highest level of third-party certification. The current WES system remains the only wireless fire alarm system for construction that fully complies with EN54 part 25.