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One of the trains on the Thameslink service from Bedford to Brighton, with its blue rails and display standing out

Weight sensors to keep trains at ‘safe’ capacity

Image credit: Essiele | Dreamstime

The operator of Thameslink has integrated sensors onto its trains to assist with safe social distancing in line with Covid-19 guidance outlined by the UK government.

Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) – operator of the Thameslink and Great Northern lines – is using technology supplied by Siemens Mobility to monitor the number of passengers on its trains, as well as supporting service operations and timetable planning to ensure commuters are keeping at the 2m-distance rule. 

The technology uses train loading data based on weight and is currently being used on the Class 700 Thameslink and Class 717 Great Northern Moorgate trains operated by GTR.

“In line with government advice, our message remains to avoid public transport if you can, and the rush hour if you can’t. Anyone travelling should wear a face covering and wash or sanitise their hands thoroughly before and after travel,” said Steve White, chief operating officer at GTR. “We are seeking a partnership with our customers where we will run as many services as possible but encourage customers to apply social distancing whenever possible.”

According to its developers, data gathered by the train is fed into Siemens Mobility’s cloud-based Advanced Passenger Loading reporting. Here, the data provides both immediate information to the train control teams, as well as the ability to retrospectively analyse different routes to support ongoing scheduling and timetabling.

The report flags services where passenger loading is above 10 per cent – providing an early indicator of busier trains, and above 15 per cent – at which point safe social distancing becomes more challenging. 

White added: “This tool helps us monitor and support social distancing. Our partners at Siemens Mobility have delivered this innovative technology in record time.

It provides our control and train planning teams with precise data and insight into the usage of our Thameslink and Great Northern metro services, so they can make scheduling and timetabling decisions.

“While the technology was accelerated into use as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the tool has proved so effective that it will continue to be a permanent feature in helping us to manage our railway network.”

Siemens said that GTR can use the solution to monitor the number of passengers boarding and leaving trains at individual stations and to assess the overall demand on any specific route – all within any given timeframe. This helps the operator to review its future timetable, lengthening trains or adding additional services (where possible), based on the data collected.

GTR train controllers can also determine, in real time, whether trains have spare capacity for station stops on the day to relieve particularly busy station platforms.

Through its Incident Management Report, Siemens Mobility’s technology is already being used by GTR to monitor passenger loading, temperature and on-board facilities. 

The new Advanced Passenger Loading report, however, has significantly expanded the granularity of loading reporting with a prototype being created within just two weeks to support timetabling changes effective from 18 May, Siemens said. 

“By helping GTR to monitor social distancing using up-to-the-minute data, our innovative technology is playing a crucial role in keeping passengers safe,” said Sambit Banerjee, managing director of rolling stock and customer service at Siemens Mobility Ltd. 

“Given the current – and very unique – challenges the industry is facing, it is fantastic that the team was able to adapt and develop a solution in just 14 days,” he added. “We believe this tool holds transformational potential for other railway operating companies looking to conduct their services safely and are looking at how this technology can be rolled out on other trains.”

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