From IoT sensors and smart monitoring to paperless records and ticketless gate lines, rail is experiencing a tidal wave of digital transformation

All kinds of digital breakthroughs are allowing for better network performance, improved safety, and enhanced efficiencies, to propel the railway into operating in a more digital, intuitive, and dynamic way.

Here at 3Squared we pride ourselves on our commitment to innovation and playing our part in achieving a digital zero-carbon railway. There are obvious system-wide initiatives that will make a huge difference to the impact we have on the environment, such as electrification and alternative fuels, but these are long-term projects. There are so many other incremental changes taking
place right now that are contributing to improvements across the whole network and driving the industry forward digitally.

Playing our part
Innovation is at the heart of 3Squared. Since our inception 20 years ago, we have sought to develop products and solutions that propel the rail industry forward, provide ground-breaking and innovative tools that tackle industry wide problems and make the dream of the digital railway a reality.

Our whole ethos at 3Squared focuses on helping our clients to become safer, more efficient, and greener through digitalisation. This is realised through our pioneering RailSmart suite of software tools and something that has been developed hand in hand with the industry and our clients, to ensure we can help them meet current and future challenges.

It is difficult; there is no doubt that innovation and digitalisation are both an integral part of improving the industry’s environmental impact, but in many cases the incremental changes and improvements that can be made more quickly cannot necessarily be pinned to short-term financial gains. This is because most digital solutions are embedded in the larger cumulative actions taking place.

Collaboration is key
We pride ourselves on having a range of partners and stakeholders that support the creation and development of our solutions. We are the product originators, yet we aim to consult with others from across the world of rail to maximise benefits for the industry at large.

The rail network can be difficult to navigate, and collaboration is key to overcoming this. Alliances enable new innovations to develop and allow complex projects to take place. Collaborative networks nurture an environment where the most promising minds can identify solutions. Safety rules are applied by all with mutual respect, and membership bodies forge new relationships across the supply chain.

The wider industry helps us to deliver informed enhancements or changes to the software, so it evolves according to the needs of the UK rail sector. By continuously engaging with and listening to others, we harness the knowledge and learning to create products that make a meaningful impact and play a key role in the digital railway.

Commitment to a digital future
Our commitment to a digital future is not limited to our product development. We actively consider the contribution each individual application within the RailSmart suite makes towards a sustainable and innovative rail network.

We support clients as they develop the means to realise their innovation and digitalisation targets. In most cases the question is centred on what we can develop, or build upon, to provide solutions not only for the challenges we have now but those that are designed to adapt to the future. Providing digital condition-based monitoring applications to make sure clients can gain the best possible lifecycle from their assets is one such example.

According to RSSB’s Rail Technical Strategy, the rail industry is ‘neither incentivised nor aligned to improve the efficiency of rolling stock or infrastructure’ but at 3Squared we wholeheartedly believe in being a part of the positive change needed to realise the aims of the 2050 Net Zero emissions targets.

Through RailSmart digital monitoring, we ensure that train operators, passenger, and freight alike, can optimise the efficiency of their vehicles, and do so by putting their people at the heart of that process.

One example of this is our Co-Pilot tool. This is an in-cab system that enables the driver to provide real-time feedback of the vehicle’s performance against the timetable. However, this is not simply a tool that tracks punctuality. By enabling the driver to communicate from the cab in real time, Co-Pilot helps operators to improve energy consumption and optimise their vehicles’
regulation. The system simultaneously captures additional important information such as wheel slippage or rough riding. These additional details are essential to compiling that bigger ‘digital picture’ of the vehicle’s performance and thus its overall efficiency.

An insight into PathPlanner
The pandemic has given us several challenges we never thought we would face, but it has also given us new opportunities to develop and accelerate innovation and decrease our carbon emissions for a better future. One of those opportunities comes in the form of moving freight from road to rail. The Rail Freight Group quotes that one freight train is the equivalent to 76HGVs; this represents a reduction in CO₂ emissions of up to 76 per cent compared to road.

We consistently work in partnership with clients and industry stakeholders, and we recognise the need to help encourage modal shift whilst making rail freight operations as efficient as possible. Therefore, we are developing our PathPlanner tool to help increase freight usage across the network.

In essence, PathPlanner aims to save freight operators time and resource in validating VSTPs based on historic data. This will enable more services to run at very short notice. Better short-term planning creates the potential to reduce delays across the network, allowing both passenger and freight trains to reach their destinations on time whilst supporting modal shift, which is a crucial part in the digital journey and will deliver tangible benefits for many years to come.

We will be enhancing PathPlanner over the next year, which will see us develop Machine Learning algorithms to predict the paths that will not be used and highlight them. This will enable them to be removed from the timetable and unlock available capacity.

In 2021, Network Rail delivered a £17 million upgrade project to strengthen the line at Southampton to take longer freight trains. Solent Stevedores, who operate out of Southampton Western Docks, are currently upgrading the track, dockside, to take in longer and more trains, with the work set to conclude in mid-2023.

The project will see us working collaboratively with both Network Rail and Solent Stevedores (with crucial input from Logistics UK, Stobart, DP World and GB Railfreight) to help them realise the benefits of their investment, by finding available paths to run more frequent and longer trains to and from Southampton.

We believe PathPlanner is one of the first steps towards truly maximising access to the network for rail freight which aligns with industry’s aim to be more proactive and digitally focussed.

Looking ahead
Since our inception in 2002, the world of rail has radically changed due to the advances made in technology. In tandem, the need for a greener, more sustainable way to transport passengers and goods is apparent, now more than ever.

Innovation is integral to making a positive change for our sector, and to digitalise our industry even further. We look forward to continuing to play our part in an innovative and greener future for our industry in the next twenty years, and more.

If you would like to find out more information about 3Squared, get in touch via the contact information below.

Tel: +44 (0)333 121 3333