The transportation sector is responsible for contributing significantly to climate change as a result of its historic consumption of fossil-derived fuels, the subsequent air polluting by-products and high energy usage. Its responsibility for 22% of global emissions means there is clear recognition that the onus is upon the industry to find new and better ways of operating that are more sustainable and move them closer to net zero targets by 2050.
The rail industry, although considered the most environmentally-friendly mode of transportation (0.8% emission), is not immune from this responsibility. Cleaner operations are a huge consideration as enabling this creates a massive knock-on effect. There is likely to be a major increase in demand for rail travel because it offers a greener alternative that takes drivers off the roads and reduces the number of passengers on flights. Countries like France and Germany have even banned short haul internal flights in favour of high speed rail journeys instead.
Increased requirement for rail
This demand will not just be limited to passenger journeys but to freight, logistics and supply chain planning too as businesses seek to reduce their carbon footprint by utilising eco-friendly and low energy consumption options to move goods around. Further challenges that will be borne out of this increased requirement will be the call for the modernisation of the network in terms of technology, infrastructure, services and operations. There will be a need to improve and increase capacity and manage assets more efficiently. So where can the industry turn for solutions to meet these challenges?
All aboard for digital transformation
The Industrial Metaverse is uniquely placed to offer the solution to enable rail networks to meet future challenges.
How can it change the future of rail operations?
First, it will be applied in connected virtual worlds to derive real world insights and benefits for industrial processes. It will be highly pragmatic and results-driven. We can already see examples of some of these Web3 technologies being trialled and launched within use cases in the rail industry. In the UK and Canada there are some exciting projects that are utilising digital twins, sensors and 5G to innovate the rail network systems with real performance improvements being identified such as proactive maintenance, real time monitoring, functional insights and more sustainable practices.
Next stop: Industrial Metaverse
Secondly, it isn’t enough for the technologies to be integrated into unique systems and continue to work in silos. The next stage of development for a true Industrial Metaverse for the rail industry is a network of networks, connecting rail, road, logistics operators, weather information, passenger movement, local and national events information and any other data that adds valuable knowledge. All of these different elements need to be connected together to create a holistic overview in order for the greatest insights to be gained to support decision making and better manage stakeholders. Imagine for a moment an intelligence platform that can generate unprecedented insights for rail systems on a citywide, countrywide, even global scale.
A platform of platforms
Harnessing the power of scalable, interoperable and secure computing integrated into an autonomous digital twin using generative AI, unlimited scenarios can be tested in this virtual rail network to ensure optimum preparedness for emergencies and any other incidents that might impact operations. Predictive maintenance will become the norm, ensuring as little disruption to services as possible, sustainability efforts towards reaching net zero targets will be more easily achievable as efficiencies increase. When one considers how much more we will be relying on railway systems to support supply chain logistics and move more passengers around, there has never been a better opportunity or reason to embrace the very real benefits that a connected virtual world can provide. Rail networks stand to become the central nervous system for industry in general, connecting a greater ecosystem of services, suppliers and enterprises together.
Express to the future
It’s clear that the implementation of the industrial metaverse has contributed significant benefits to operating processes through increased efficiencies and that it improves stakeholder management by providing access and insights directly to those who need it for decision making. Not only that, as one of the cleaner modes of transportation, greenhouse gas emissions per passenger kilometre is nearly five times less than that of car transport, a shift back in the direction of rail travel is underway. This in turn will result in greater demand and more pressure on networks. Rail network service providers that want to ensure their services meet this and future demand have to proactively adopt the industrial metaverse in order to bring these advancements and more to their own operations. These tools are a fast track to continuous improvement and enhanced operational processes and services which is a win for network operators, passengers and the planet.
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