How smarter trains can help smart cities (and the people who live in them)

Photo credit: Hitachi

Rapidly growing populations are straining the ability of cities all over the world to provide the efficient services citizens need and want. One very visible challenge is increasing traffic congestion. Traffic delays are not only inconvenient and frustrating, they cause economic losses — for both the citizens and businesses using city streets. Under contract with the UK's Department for Transport, Council Global Lead Partner Hitachi is supplying smarter, faster more comfortable and more reliable passenger trains for operator Great Western Railway (GWR). Not only is the rail fleet getting a needed upgrade, it's also expected that the new trains will attract more riders and relieve at least some of the congestion on city streets. While passenger rail may not be a practical option for all cities and regions, it can be a very real part of the solution for convenient and sustainable urban mobility where it can be accommodated. — Doug Peeples


An Intercity Express Train is in the testing stage on GWR's Devon and Cornwall line. The five-car bullet train from Hitachi is among the first of many of a new generation of trains that will be added to the rail operator's fleet. While the train was built in Japan, most of the new fleet  of passenger trains will be built in the UK.

Under the $7.4 billion contract, Hitachi will build and maintain a total of 122 of the new Class 801/802 trains, with 12 to be built in Japan and 110 to be manufactured at the company's plant now under construction at Newton Aycliffe in County Durham.

The technologically advanced trains travel at 140 miles per hour and can run on diesel fuel, electrified tracks or both. Benefits for passengers include more seating, more comfort, shorter travel times, on-board trip updates, screens for reserving seats and enhanced reliability.

Not your average train
While automated systems on trains are not new, the trains Hitachi is building rely on thousands of sensors built into the trains and IoT connectivity. The trains gather a variety of data which enables operators to monitor all on-board systems. Real-time analytics give operators the ability to spot a potential problem and take a train out of service for repair before a malfunction occurs. That predictive maintenance feature helps ensure passengers won't be stranded between stations on a stalled train.

The trains, which will run on GWR's East Coast and West Coast main lines, also have been designed to stand up to the changing weather conditions common to the area. The first Intercity Express Train built in the UK in December will be providing passenger service sometime later this year and more will be go into service in 2018.

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Doug Peeples is a Portland, Oregon-based writer specializing in technology and energy. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.