Industry insight | Rail transportation

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Around the world, rail passenger numbers are growing year-on-year. As just one example, passenger numbers have more than doubled in the UK over the last 25 years and the volume of freight moved by rail has increased by almost a third, so the railway now carries £30 billion of goods annually.

The transportation sector, including rail, is also the fastest growing critical communications vertical; its revenues are predicted to grow to over $900m by 2022.

Communication systems in the railway industry are at the very heart of their operation. They’re subject to rigorous dependability and safety measures, and because of this, are referred to as mission critical communications networks.   

Often operating with legacy technology and lengthy support contracts, the typical rail system must be interoperable – i.e. it must be suitable for integration with a variety of different components.

The standard railway setup uses a trackside Global System for Mobile Communications-Railway (GSM-R) wireless network; GSM-R is based on the GSM standard with railway-specific features. The sector is progressing to Long Term Evolution (LTE) as a potential future replacement system when GSM-R begins its retirement in 2025.

How does the industry use critical communications?

These new Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) standards for LTE are in-line with the developments in public safety, which holds the largest market share of any vertical in the growing critical communications sector globally.

One of the major benefits of the rail sector adopting LTE is that it’s a single unified network for operational and maintenance services to manage various applications including:

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  • Passenger information

  • Communications and dispatch

  • CCTV and video surveillance

  • Traffic management

  • Ticketing

  • Passenger internet connectivity

  • Signalling applications

LTE in comparison with GSM-R also offers the railway sector an efficient architecture, meaning low latencies and higher data capacity as well as sophisticated quality of service (QoS) mechanisms to guarantee and apply priorities in the reservation of resources. It’s known for resiliency and security and has been endorsed by the European Railway Agency (ERA).

The future of the rail industry with critical comms

As the industry moves into the digital era with LTE, industry body GSMA has launched its Network 2020 Programme. At its core is helping operators and the wider mobile industry to deliver all-IP networks to deliver benefits for everyone, regardless of where they are in that process. Follow the Network 2020.

National governments are also investing in the rail sector. In the UK, more than £48 billion will be spent over the next five years on maintaining and upgrading the existing network to boost performance and sustain growth, increasing reliability and punctuality for passengers.

Challenges and opportunities

With passenger numbers growing annually, railways continue to provide a critical service in our communities and our economies. Rail operators want to use technology to overcome their challenges to continue delivering millions of safe and reliable journeys to passengers around the world.  

  • Service efficiency and reliability

  • Connected passenger experience

  • Safety and security

With powerful end-to-end communications, our railways will be well placed to take advantage of IoT and cutting-edge analytics, responding to the challenges and delivering on the next opportunities.


Join the control room revolution in this exciting and dynamic sector

We’re proud to work with rail operators around the world who use our mission-critical comms and dispatch software to manage their operations. As our partner, you can do the same – delivering the very latest technology to your rail transportation customers.