As one of the UK’s most innovative and forward-thinking rail operators, Northern’s ‘Digital Train’ programme aims to test, develop, and deploy the latest technologies which improve the passenger experience, enhance operational efficiency and assure safety and security. Through their long-standing collaborative partnership, Northern and Icomera have tested exciting new innovations such as a new Digital Video Management System (VMS), and AI video analytics.

Highlights

Northern and Icomera have completed a Digital Train deployment on the rail operator’s Class 769 fleet, aimed at improving the comfort of passengers, as well as the overall efficiency of train operations
In addition to Passenger Wi-Fi, the ongoing partnership will provide a testbed for a new Digital Video Management System and AI-based video analytics algorithms
One early highlight of the deployment is the impressive accuracy of the Automatic Passenger Counting (APC) algorithm, which demonstrated a verified accuracy of 98.3%

A Long-Term Digital Partnership

Icomera has worked closely with Northern as its digital partner since 2014 and has acted as the primary technology provider and integrator for Northern’s ‘Digital Train’ programme since 2016.

Icomera has designed, built, and supported a range of connected applications on more than 260 refurbished trains operating throughout Northern’s network; all centrally connected by Icomera’s powerful X-Series mobile Internet connectivity platform.

In 2024, Icomera deployed its connectivity platform on all 8 trains in Northern’s Class 769 fleet, in a project part-funded by the Rail North Partnership. The new onboard network supports a range of connected applications, including Passenger Wi-Fi, digital video surveillance, and AI video analytics – All supported remotely by Icomera’s Network Insights & Control (ICONIC) cloud-based software tools.

Building the Foundation for AI Innovation

Icomera’s design and engineering division, DG8, carried out the electrical and mechanical design and approval activities in tandem with Northern’s expert team of engineers at its Allerton TrainCare Centre in Merseyside.

The teams worked together closely to upgrade all 8 trains across the Class 769 fleet, improving the bandwidth capabilities of their onboard networks, strengthening their stability and resiliency for future innovation and extending the lifespan of the trains.

As the area of AI is fast evolving, Northern and Icomera have designed a digital system that can continue to evolve as technology advances.

AI-Based Automatic Passenger Counting (APC)

The internal and externally-mounted cameras on each train capture video footage in high definition – even in low-light and high contrast environments.

When imbued with the right level of intelligence, onboard cameras such as these can support a wide range of use cases, enabling additional operational and safety functions which have historically required manual processes, or the use of disparate systems and devices, for example passenger counting.

Northern was particularly interested in assessing the feasibility of such a strategy and using AI technology to analyse anonymised onboard video for Automatic Passenger Counting (APC). Icomera developed a sophisticated AI video analytics algorithm which was fully integrated with Northern’s APC business intelligence tool.

The solution counted passengers with a verified accuracy of 98.3%.

This level of accuracy and speed of processing supports Northern in managing fleet and staff capacity planning. The ability to effectively gauge vehicle occupancy levels, when shared, can also make it easier for passengers to choose less noisy or crowded environments to travel in, ensuring that they are comfortable throughout their journey.

Icomera's Video Management System

Icomera’s Video Management System displaying high-definition feeds from the internal and externally-mounted cameras on each train.

“As the rail industry’s digital transition continues to accelerate, these applications can be combined with the passenger services we support to make every journey safer and more time-efficient for passengers, as well as more cost-effective for rail operators.

Together, Icomera and Northern have demonstrated how using onboard digital video surveillance networks for APC can prove more effective than traditional sensor-based systems in both function and accuracy, while also reducing the time and costs needed to install and maintain separate pieces of hardware and disparate backend systems.

Jack Commandeur, Engineering Director at Northern, said:More than 90 million people step on-board one of our trains every year and our fleet of Class 769 trains will now give us more accurate data on passenger volumes than we’ve ever had before.

“This joint collaboration with Icomera and DG8 will help us to improve the overall efficiency of our operations and can inform future service planning.

 

Peter Kingsland, Senior Vice President of UK & APAC, Icomera, added:The onboard network on the newly upgraded Class 769 fleet provides Northern with an exciting testbed for future applications of AI video analytics.

“As the rail industry’s digital transition continues to accelerate, these applications can be combined with the passenger services we support to make every journey safer and more time-efficient for passengers, as well as more cost-effective for rail operators.