POSTED : August 31, 2018

Opportunities and Risks for Tech in the Rail Industry


In today’s increasingly digital culture, adoption of tech trends is critical for the rail industry to reach customers faster, gather data more accurately, reach new safety milestones, make smarter decisions and protect data. The world rail market is evolving, and key players are rapidly disrupting the industry to achieve these goals with automation, more engaging digital experiences, AI and IoT. However, this technology brings a new challenge: threats to cybersecurity present an issue that rail companies must address. Consider these tech trends that rail companies should embrace in order to emerge as market leaders and better serve customer needs.


Using Automation for Track Inspections

In the freight rail industry, automation technology has provided a pathway to improve railway inspection processes. The potential opportunity and its value to railroads is great: A recent study by the Association of American Railroads found that the track alignment of 1,500 curves could be analyzed with automation technology in several hours. Previously, that task would have taken a team of four people 10 months to complete manually. By using automation, railroads can reduce human error and make operations safer, as inspections completed with automation technology keep workers out of dangerous situations. According to the study, if automation is fully realized, railroads could potentially reduce the need for manual inspections while allowing their efforts to be refocused on better serving freight customers.


Giving Control to Rail Customers

In the age where almost everyone owns at least one smart device, passenger rail customers want more control and data on their interactions with a rail company. They can provide this control by shifting to automation and better digital experiences. The interest in technology’s opportunities for commuter rail is evident in last year’s $148 million acquisition of SilverRail by Expedia. The company, which aims to develop the largest global rail marketplace, is used by more than 35 carriers from eight countries for booking and journey planning. Its platform is centered on improving the customer experience, including streamlining purchasing, establishing a common language for booking and travel information, real-time routing and scheduling, and providing a single platform that can be used for the entire journey. By using technology to put more control in the hands of the customer and improve digital experience, SilverRail is finding a successful niche: it’s now processing more than 30 million bookings each year.


Growing Threat to Cybersecurity

With the increase in data usage for the rail industry’s most critical functions, there is also a need to protect its technology environments. This is driven by frequency of cyber security attacks, which have continued to increase since 2013, and reached an all-time high in 2017. Railways aren’t immune to these attacks: San Francisco’s subway system was hit with a ransomware attack in 2016, which shut its light rail system down on a busy Saturday. With the amount of freight, passenger, technical and financial data that railways process, it’s paramount that data security is put at the forefront of IT operations.

Technology has opened a number of doors for rail companies to modernize and meet customer needs in new ways. Though cybersecurity presents a challenge, rail companies that adapt these trends best will come out on top. Learn more about how PK helps rail companies leverage emerging technology to solve the industry’s toughest challenges.