Enhancing rail industry communications with BGAN PTT

19 May 2020

Steven Tompkins, Director of Agriculture and Rail, Inmarsat Enterprise

  • enterprise

  • broadband
  • m2m

There are 29,320 kilometres of railway in Brazil alone, with as much as fifty per cent of lines operating in coverage dark spots where locomotives are invisible to control centres. Not only does this leave headquarters unable to track locomotives when entering these regions, but crew are often also unequipped to make emergency contact when they need to most.

Coverage dark spots tend to appear at the limits of terrestrial connectivity, where coverage is either weak and highly unreliable or completely non-existent. These are usually very remote environments where the terrain presents increased levels of risk, with landslides that cover lines being one key example. The reality of the situation is that this is not a challenge faced just by South America, but one faced by the world, within the region of fifty per cent of Europe’s railways operating in coverage dark spots as well.

While safety is a key concern when assessing the scale of this problem, it is also clear that efficiency is greatly undermined when railway operators can’t accurately pinpoint locomotives in real-time to advise on routes and headings. This problem is compounded when crews lack the means to contact headquarters to report on factors that cause delays like maintenance requirements.

Coverage dark spots are a result of the limitations of terrestrial connectivity, with moving locomotives unable to rely on sparse, Earth-based transmitters for emergency communications when they need it most, or for efficient location tracking from the control centre. Because of this, Inmarsat believes there is a key role for satellite networks to play in eliminating dark spots and creating a 360 degree view of rail operations, wherever locomotives are on the planet.

Our Rail Telemetry and Communication Solution is already helping large operators achieve full, real-time visibility of their locomotives, as well as equipping crews with the means to contact control centres via voice with push-to-talk efficiency. In addition to real-time data on location, the solution also enables visibility of engine status and heading, creating a full picture of the current situations crews are facing.

Utilising leading vehicular satellite terminals from Inmarsat partner Cobham, our solution can be designed, built, managed and evolved to meet the unique requirements of rail organisations across the globe. Importantly, the PRISM PTT technology within the solution provides the capability to switch between different connectivity types seamlessly, be it UHF, VHF, 3G/4G and satellite. This capability makes our solution unique, and importantly for crew safety, it ensures that robust connectivity can be maintained at all times while being an economical approach to voice communications.

Results of the solution have already included more fluid, reliable operations, granting one organisation the ability to revolutionise their traffic control capabilities where locomotives have to share sections of line. This has been achieved while significantly enhancing levels of safety for the crews on board.


About the author

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Steven Tompkins is Director of Agriculture and Rail for Inmarsat Enterprise. He is responsible for using Inmarsat’s world leading mobile satellite communications and IoT capability to enable practical solutions which drive productivity, efficiency and safety across agriculture and rail. Steven has extensive commercial experience consulting for large private and public sector organisations within agriculture and downstream supply chains including multinational agri-food companies and the bodies of the European Union. He joined Inmarsat from a leading research organisation in the UK (NIAB) in which he successfully commercialised new science and knowledge into practical tools such as precision water management technologies for the agriculture and associated sectors.