Digital revolution: the new challenge of the Railway community

Francis Bédel

4 September 2017

Francis, Chief Digital Officer of UIC, spoke on the new challenges the digital revolution poses to rail at the 4th International Railway Summit in Paris, and how digital can improve mobility at the 5th International Railway Summit in Kuala Lumpur.

Francis will act as Chairman of the 7th International Railway Summit’s conference programme, which will revolve around the creation of an efficient digital railway.

For the past few years, we have been entering a new era. Everybody speaks “digital”, thinks “digital”, acts “digital. We are currently living an actual revolution. The 3rd industrial revolution, the digital one, must be a unique opportunity for rail operators and manufacturers to progress faster and further, enabling railways in the world to once again be an actor and a vector of development in the 21st century. Digital can impact all railway domains.

Examples of current trends in the railway sector but, obviously, far from being exhaustive:

  • Reliability and Capacity
  • High-speed rail transport
  • Digital signalling
  • Predictive maintenance
  • Intermodal transport solutions
  • Interoperability
  • Automation and safety
  • Location Based Services: with use of real-time data to send highly targeted adverts to passengers
  • Drones: use for infrastructure inspection and maintenance
  • Digitisation of payments
  • Big data
  • High-Speed and Hyper-Speed Rail
  • 3D printing: revolution of supply chain (manufacturing, transportation and storage)

Digital has changed, and will go on dramatically changing, our world. Regardless, we have to be aware that some risks are there and have to be seriously considered.

Safety has always been a founding and key value of railway. Due to the huge presence of technology in modern railway systems and connected interdependencies, new vulnerabilities have been introduced to the sector.

The Attack surface has dramatically extended with:

  • Proliferation of machine to machine sensors
  • Internet of Things
  • Convergence of IT and Operation Technology
  • Move away from bespoke stand-alone systems to open-platform
  • Increasing use of networked control and automation systems
  • Entertainment devices

Vulnerabilities can come from breaches in the system (lack of authentication protection, poor maintenance, operating systems and software components not updated …) or human factors (leaving the default PIN entry code to the railway system as 1234, for example).

Rail operators have obligations under EU and domestic law to protect the safety of their operations. Failure to take reasonable care to do so may make them liable for some of the resulting losses.

Cyber security must be at the centre of development and it must be a priority for any government as the risk of vulnerabilities exploitation by hackers is real.

Every rail operator faces the daunting challenge of protecting its own infrastructure:

  • Heterogeneous IT technologies and software solutions
  • Enormous amount of data and events to manage
  • Lack of accurate recognition of threats
  • Lack of in-depth knowledge in risk management
  • Insiders threats
  • Malware

In order to support the Railway Community and to make it win that new challenge, UIC has recently set up the UIC Digital Platform.

The missions of that platform are designed around three precepts

  • Share: share information, best practices among UIC members
  • Open: open to digital initiatives using open standards and open sources. Make it happen via the design of pragmatic Proof of Concepts
  • Connect: connect the railway industry to the digital ecosystem via the enhancements of cooperation and exchanges with the start-ups and celebrated with the organization of the UIC Digital Awards

The UIC Digital Platform is legitimated due to the worldwide vision that we represent and the idea of building a community at the service of the railways, in order to “make rail smarter” in the coming years and decades. Be part of it!

UIC is the worldwide organisation for the promotion of rail transport at a global level and collaborative development of the railway system. It brings together some 200 members on all 5 continents, among them rail operators, infrastructure managers, railway service providers, etc. UIC maintains close cooperation links with all actors in the rail transport domain right around the world, including manufacturers, railway associations, public authorities and stakeholders in other domains and sectors whose experiences may be beneficial to rail development. The UIC’s main tasks include understanding the business needs of the rail community, developing programmes of innovation to identify solutions to those needs and preparing and publishing a series of documents known as IRS that facilitate the implementation of the innovative solutions.

Category: Blog Digital Revolution


About the author

Francis took responsibility of UIC’s IT Department in 2015 and endorsed the position of UIC Digital Officer with the development of the UIC Digital Platform, now chaired by Evgeny Charkin (Chief Information Officer, RZD)

Francis started his career at SNCF in 1982, filling such roles as traffic manager and manager of freight stations.

In 1990, he joined SNCF’s IT Department to work on the rollout of a national project aiming to redesign the management of Freight wagons and, from 1993 to 1997, was responsible for the operation of Freight IT local bases.

Francis was RAILDATA President from 2013 until the end of 2016. He is also active in many other international activities and projects.