MTR Crossrail overcomes tech hurdles to roll out beacons

Rail operator deploys one of Europe’s largest beacon roll-outs across its stations to accommodate new audit and driver apps

MTR Crossrail is rolling out beacons across its network to provide station auditing and as a driver aide, in what is believed to be one of Europe’s biggest deployments of the low-powered wireless technology.

The railway operator wanted to explore ways to use the technology to help it deliver a highly efficient rail service.

In 2014, Transport for London awarded MTR the contract to run the new Crossrail services connecting Reading and Heathrow in the west with Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east.

Oliver Bratton, operations director, European Business at MTR Corporation, said: “A key part of our bid focused on driving efficiencies with mobile. Our aim is to set the benchmark for passenger experience on European metro services and achieve internationally recognised high standards of safety, reliability, quality and customer service.”

Three years ago, MTR Crossrail began looking at the potential of using beacons on its rail network.

Working in partnership with Mubaloo Innovation Lab, it deployed a number of beacon-based applications. Over the next three years, Mubaloo will deploy beacons across all 40 stations on the 118km Elizabeth Line.

Mark Daniels, head of IT and business transformation at MTR Crossrail, said: “We want to be innovative in auditing our train stations.”

Daniels said that with beacons across the station network, the operator can deploy an electronic audit app running on iPads, which provides a dashboard with a heat map to show where an audits has been done, and which stations have completed their audits.

“We can now go do real-time audits,” he added.

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Beacons are also being installed in drivers’ cabs. They will be used to reduce the need for driver input, helping drivers to navigate around a Driver Advisory app.

According to Mubaloo, the beacons will help to deliver greater safety for drivers by reducing distractions and improve overall efficiency by optimising the network.

The technical challenge for MTR was how to enable beacons in close proximity to each other work effectively, said Daniels. “There was a lot of hard work and firmware updates to determine what was causing the problem,” he said.

But once the company had determined the correct firmware to install, it could roll out the beacons without the risk of interference. Daniels said beacons would be rolled out to Canary Wharf, Paddington and other stations.

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