Train Operator Northern Introduces LiDAR Tech to Improve Rail Safety and Efficiency

Northern is using the same light detection and radar (LiDAR) scanning technology as NASA to improve the safety and efficiency of its fleet.

Not only was this technology used by NASA to map out the surface of the moon, it is regularly used by meteorologists to measure both clouds and pollution.

Technology made famous by NASA amongst software being installed by Northern to make railways safer and more efficient
Technology made famous by NASA amongst software being installed by Northern to make railways safer and more efficient

Starting this month, the train operator will begin installing horizon-scanning cameras on to its 345 trains to detect environmental threats, infrastructure defects and maintenance issues.

For example, the technology will be able to detect ‘bumps on the line’ as the train passes over them and automatically send GPS co-ordinates to maintenance teams responsible for repairs.

In addition, sensors will able to spot energy saving opportunities, such as station lighting being left on unnecessarily during the day.

Thermal imaging systems will also be rolled out to monitor passenger loads and provide accurate information to the necessary organisations if an incident was to occur.

Northern is also providing the British Transport Police with access to its on-board CCTV systems so it can see what’s happening on its trains in real time.

Nick Donovan, Managing Director of Northern, said:

“This is the beginning of what we’re calling ‘Intelligent Trains’. With these modifications, our fleet won’t just travel the network, it will actively monitor and report back on issues that could have an impact on our operation.

“The result will be greater efficiencies in terms of resource allocation, faster responses in terms of maintenance programmes and an overall smarter – and safer – way of working.

“We are sharing details of this new software with other train operators so that passengers the length and breadth of the country can benefit from the approach we have pioneered in the North of England.”

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