Future rail communication systems: between efficiency and cyber threats
New communication technologies will lead to significant improvements in terms of digital transformation and more efficient train control. At the same time, increasing digitalisation is exposing the rail sector to cyber threats as never before. This was discussed during the first conference day of RailTech Europe, which centred around the theme ‘The Digital Railway.’
The future of railways is clearly more digital and interconnected than before, mainly due to the great efficiency improvements that technology brings to rail, needed in this crucial phase to gain competitive advantage on other more flexible modes of transport.
More interoperability and remote control
Guillame Gach from UIC was the first to take the floor for a presentation on the Future Railway Mobile Communication System (FRMCS), which is expected to replace the aging GSM-R by 2030. This newly designed communication system has been created in collaboration with the various stakeholders in the rail sector. It’s “not only a technology, but a program”, Gach said, adding that different groups are working in parallel to deliver both the final specifications and the first demonstrator.
FRMCS is expected to be operationally ready by 2025-2027, and will increase the interoperability and quality of communication systems around Europe. The 5G-based communication will also help in enabling the Internet of Things (IoT) and predictive maintenance for the networks, allowing ATO and reducing the costs by replacing wires with wireless. FRMCS is future proof and “can support different technologies”, allowing to go beyond 5G.
An interesting application of the advancement in communication was introduced by Lorraine Durieux, who presented how “Thales has created a system capable of dealing with remote control of vehicles”. More specifically remote control and supervision are the key to achieve digitalised railway operations, in an efficient and cost effective way, ensuring safety and competitive advantages for the clients using it.
Joint effort for cybersecurity
Amid the great enthusiasm for digitalisation, many raised the question on how secure the reliance on these technologies is and will be. Eddy Thesee from Alstom defined cybersecurity as the “flipside” of railway digitalisation and a real threat in a fast changing context. Ransomware has become a billion-dollar industry and zero-days have increased by 200 percent, without sparing the railway environment. The increased reliance on digital systems has exposed the sector to the outside world. Differently from the past, the railway structure is now known also outside the railway industry meaning that the systems could be more easily penetrated by anybody.
What are the risks? How resilient are our systems and how fast can these systems recover? Furthermore, how complex is it to protect extended networks like the ones in Europe? “This will be a transformation journey for all stakeholders”, said Thesee, which will require “global assessment at railway system level”, and a structured, step-by-step approach. Solutions must include regular evaluations and updating, as the threats evolve year by year, and must be conceived in close cooperation with the customer.
Finally, digital technology is the most important enabler for competitive advantage for the rail environment, but this has also brought negative externalities that are new to the sector. Cyber threats are now an increasingly central problem that needs to be taken into account. A common shared approach based on continuous monitoring and updating could allow the rail sector to benefit from the technological advantages while keeping the required safety level.