James Merrick for West Midlands

UK’s first 5G-connected tram on track across West Midlands

Leading next-generation network test lab announces latest project offering a showcase for what the future of connected transport could look like in its home region and beyond

Just 18 months after launching the UK’s first dedicated 5G accelerator programme by holding a series of demos to showcase the wide variety of use cases that exist for the technology, West Midlands 5G (WM5G) has gained a further head of steam with the UK’s first 5G-connected tram.

The latest project comes as part of a regional transport trial in partnership with West Midlands Metro, Transport for West Midlands (TfWM), GoMedia and Icomera. Trams are seen as an ideal candidate for 5G technology as they can collect a variety of valuable information, including CCTV footage, vehicle performance and maintenance data. Currently, this information is accessed and downloaded manually, outside the hours of operation.

On the UK’s first 5G-connected tram, the increased bandwidth provided by the fifth-generation wireless technology allows for high-definition CCTV footage captured on the tram to be securely and remotely transferred to the regional traffic control centre while in operation.

WM5G believed the ability to transmit high levels of data almost instantaneously through 5G networks would unlock “incredible” opportunities to strengthen passenger safety – a claim that has now been proven by the company and its partners.

Access to real-time information such as passenger numbers could also help operators establish capacity, minimise crowding in stations and provide onboard services. It would also make journeys safer and better tailored to real-time passenger demand, meaning a more agile, cost-effective service. If deployed across the network, 5G-connected trams could also utilise onboard sensors to help engineers remotely identify issues in carriages and across the infrastructure, predicting and responding to faults before they occur.

The onboard connectivity would also allow passengers to enjoy live travel updates and the ability to stream onboard entertainment, a feature that WM5G said had become no less than “the gold standard” for public transport. It could also enable operators to more flexibly manage services to meet passenger demand, navigate challenges related to Covid-19, such as social distancing, and grow public confidence as life returns to normal post-pandemic.

“Our 5G-connected tram is a great showcase for what the future of connected transport could look like across the West Midlands and beyond”
Chris Holmes, WM5G

“It is our shared ambition to utilise new technologies to improve services for passengers across the region. This collaboration has enabled us to use the advances in 5G technology to monitor the tram network in real time,” said Sophie Allison, head of business transformation at West Midlands Metro. “We now have the proven ability to transmit CCTV footage to our operational control centre and the regional traffic control centre quickly, reliably and securely – helping to improve passenger safety. We are pleased to be pioneers on this project, which has helped to demonstrate the future potential that 5G can offer.”

Chris Holmes, programme director of transport at WM5G, described the project as a great demonstrator of how 5G can transform the way public transport services are delivered. “Our 5G-connected tram is a great showcase for what the future of connected transport could look like across the West Midlands and beyond,” he said.

Seven further transport trials across the West Midlands are underway, with WM5G investing £2.4m in seven UK-based consortiums to support the development of new products and services to transform transport. The projects are scheduled to run until the end of 2021, trialling and testing further innovative services to improve road and rail operational efficiency, provide better-connected transport and improve passenger experiences.

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