IRISS - Intelligent Railways via Integrated Satellite Services

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The IRISS feasibility project has identified the applications and requirements for an integrated information, communication and navigation gateway within the rail transport sector, designed and developed a solution and performed a proof of concept activity. The solution is based on the use of terrestrial and satellite communications in combination with traditional reporting systems and satellite navigation services. This new capability will allow Train Operating Companies (TOCs) to communicate with their assets irrespective of location and status, enabling data to be uploaded and offloaded in real time to support decision making processes and to improve the management of operations and incidents. The solution has been built with the objective of helping TOCs to achieve their key challenges of increasing capacity, reducing carbon (fuel consumption), lowering the cost of operations and improving customer satisfaction.

Objectives of the service

Specific objectives for IRISS in terms of improving TOC operations were:

  • To generate better driving style
  • To deliver better information to support decision making
  • To improve the reliability of trains
    • Operations, performance
    • Engineering
  • To provide up-to-date, accurate timetable information to the customer

The project therefore aimed to deliver the following:

  • Development and trials of a single, seamless communications and navigation portal per train, including an on-train system, communication services and back-office utilities
  • Provision of two-way communication services serving multiple on-train systems with different bandwidth requirements
  • Provision of accurate train Position, Velocity, Time, Distance and Bearing to back-office and interfaces so that this data can be distributed to other on-train systems
  • Service to multiple applications and services
    • On-train and back-office
    • Real-time and offline

In addition the project aimed to address the following questions:

  • Which applications offer the best opportunity for a sustainable business case?
  • What is the value added by integrating a satellite communications capability within the device?
  • How may the device be best integrated within a train and which sensors can it successfully connect with?
  • What is needed at a back-office in terms of server/data hub and analysis applications?

Users and their needs

The key target users for IRISS are Train Operating Companies (TOCs) for whom multiple applications of seamless communications and navigation services have been identified through discussions with East Midlands Trains (EMT), a partner within the feasibility project.  An IRISS service model has been defined so as to be flexible to meeting the needs of different users. Whilst the initial focus has been on TOCs, other stakeholders may also benefit and help to provide a viable model for investment such as infrastructure operators (e.g. Network Rail in the UK) and Rolling Stock Leasing Companies (ROSCOs).

The rail transport industry has an increasing need for reliable, real-time, accurate information concerning their assets in order to improve the safety, security, performance and punctuality of the transport network.  Transport operators have expressed a need for instant access to video data (CCTV), performance (location, speed & time) and diagnostic (status, condition, metering) information on a continuous basis in order to support decision making processes.  Additional requirements also exist for on-demand and offline access to the data to support incident management and to support training activities.  Unfortunately, the rail network does not have access to seamless and reliable communications services to support these applications and hence these requirements can only be addressed in those geographical areas where adequate communications infrastructure exists.  This clearly constrains the business case for investment and restricts the benefits that can be realised.  Fleet-wide deployment of real-time information and management services is only possible through access to seamless communications services across the network. 

Service/ system concept

The following 5 core services are the focus of the IRISS concept:

  1. Train Dataset Download Service
  2. Train Tracking Service
  3. On-Train GNSS Feed Service
  4. Staff Paging/Messaging Service
  5. Train Dataset Analysis Service

These core services enable the targeted applications to be met. In practise the user would select the applications required and with each an associated service would be defined including the provision of applications and ad-hoc support.

Space Added Value

The space assets used are:

  • GNSS (GPS, GLONASS, Galileo) to provide a Positioning, Navigation and Time (PNT) solution with maximal availability for the identified applications.
  • Satellite Communications (Iridium) to provide a data link solution where terrestrial options are unavailable, enabling a seamless communications capability across the rail network. The added value of this technology has been shown through the proof of concept activity.

Product Benefits

It is believed that the proposed solution can deliver the following main benefits:

  • Improve performance through accurate knowledge of train performance, driver performance and network performance which will support identification of lost time and failing resources/operations.
  • Cost savings through more efficient operations as well as savings associated with fuel efficiency.  Further savings will be realised through reduced need to remove drivers from duty following accidents (during investigations) through access to CCTV footage and use of datasets to improve training.
  • User friendly interfaces will ensure that information is presented in an intuitive manner which will lead to reduced time of training and operation as well as associated efforts.
  • Proof of competence and compliance will be achieved through access to accurate information from the on-train systems which will support the determination of the cause of faults, failures and delays.
  • Records of performance for claim mitigation will be available through archived datasets.
  • Minimal interfaces to train systems and processes will ensure rapid take-up and acceptance of the services.

Product Features

The system architecture consists of the following major segments:

  • On-train segment (based on the Trainborne Information, Telecommunication and Navigation (TITAN) unit installed across a fleet of trains)
  • Station/Depot segment (a series of dedicated WiFi hot spots)
  • Back-office segment (includes a Central Server and Application Server)

The IRISS service architecture is based on the integration of satellite navigation and satellite communications (Iridium) along with terrestrial communications systems in order to deliver a range of applications. The Station/Depot segment allows non-priority data to be uploaded from the trains in bulk at opportune times, with no associated usage cost. GSM networks and satellite communications are then used for routine reporting as well as on-demand needs, with the former being used when available due to its lower cost and the latter providing in-fill when required. The basic architecture is presented in the figure below. 

IRISS basic architecture


Current Status

The project's Final Review meeting took place in March 2012. The proof of concept activity has successfully validated the functionality of the system and has shown the added value of satellite communications in terms of significantly increasing the availability of communications across the network. Means of taking the system and service model forward to an operational stage are now being assessed, with there being a particular need to find a way of balancing the needs of all stakeholders.

Status Date

Updated: 14 June 2012 - Created: 15 February 2014