Hosting a suite of business-critical passenger, operational, safety and security applications, Icomera has deployed a best-in-class example of the digital train for Northern.

From the initial system design, through to the commissioning process, to providing ongoing remote and onsite support, Icomera continues to play a pivotal role in the roll-out, guiding Northern’s migration towards a fully digital fleet.

Commencing a Successful Partnership…

A publicly-owned UK rail operator, Northern connects tens of thousands of people to work, leisure and education every day. Its fleet of trains travel between regional hubs including Bradford, Carlisle, Chester, Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield, Hull and Newcastle.

Icomera began working with Northern in 2014, supporting a Passenger Wi-Fi, Passenger Information and Onboard Entertainment solution for 24 of Northern Rail’s class C333, C322 and C321 electric trains, running on routes connecting Leeds, Bradford, Doncaster and Skipton. Serving 1.1 million passengers travelling in and out of Leeds each month, the roll-out garnered positive results; in a post-launch survey, 87% of travellers stated that Icomera’s Wi-Fi service met or exceeded their expectations.

Designing the Digital Train

In 2016, the relationship evolved when Northern awarded Icomera a crucial role as part of its ambitious vision to design and build a best-in-class digital train. The project is ongoing and expected to be completed within the next couple of years. Once finished, the digital train solution will be installed on more than 260 of Northern’s refurbished trains operating throughout its network.

Utilising Icomera’s powerful X-Series connectivity platform, the Northern digital train involves a range of connected applications which improve the passenger experience, offer enhanced operational efficiency, and provide better safety and security. Tasked with delivering an end-to-end managed service, from system design through to ongoing support, Icomera continues to be directly involved in the venture.

At the commencement of the project, Icomera designed the digital train’s system architecture to meet Northern’s bespoke requirements, supporting each application, and mitigating cybersecurity risks through secure network design. Certain aspects of the solution, such as Passenger Wi-Fi and cybersecurity, were contracted to Icomera directly, while other parts of the digital train ecosystem are delivered by a number of third-party suppliers. Icomera worked as a network integrator, consulting with prospective solution providers, evaluating the different options and aiding Northern in the approval process; once suppliers had been selected by Northern, Icomera worked collaboratively with each one to understand their specific requirements and design the onboard network to meet all necessary functionality.

Passenger-related Onboard Systems

Providing services such as Passenger Wi-Fi and Real-Time Information helps Northern’s digital train improve the experience of those travelling, increasing satisfaction levels and encouraging passengers to use public transport more often.

Passenger Wi-Fi – Deemed as an essential offering by rail operators nowadays, Icomera’s fast, reliable and secure Wi-Fi service allows those travelling to stay connected for both work and leisure, turning travel time into productive time.

Passenger Information System – Screens installed on the train provide real-time information regarding upcoming stops, service disruption, and onboard safety protocols (an especially important consideration in the COVID-19 era). Northern can dynamically update the messages displayed to passengers in a matter of seconds.

Operational Onboard Systems

Icomera’s connectivity backbone hosts numerous operational applications. These systems allow Northern to take advantage of a range of data in order to maintain and enhance efficiency.

Driver Advisory System (DAS) – The DAS provides valuable information for the driver including the train’s headcode, calling pattern, speed and journey progress (e.g. whether the train is behind or ahead of schedule).

Advanced Passenger Counting – Live passenger figures can be pulled from each train. This is useful for analysing data, especially during the coronavirus pandemic, when stricter capacity limits are placed on operators. In future, Northern may choose to further leverage this data by keeping passengers informed of busy / quiet areas throughout the train.

On-train Data Recorder (OTDR) – Data from the train’s OTDR can be analysed remotely by Northern’s staff for the purposes of accident investigation, fuel conservation, train handling and preventative maintenance.

Remote Condition Monitoring – Northern can utilise raw data supplied by onboard systems in real-time to identify component health issues, detect anomalies in component behaviour, and analyse the impact any issues might have on vehicle and / or fleet behaviour.

Energy Metering – The electrical management system empowers Northern to monitor the energy consumption on each train. Based on the data received, steps can be taken to more effectively control energy usage.

Safety & Security Onboard Systems

From the outset, safety and security has formed a central part of Northern’s digital train concept. Icomera designed the network architecture with security front of mind, based on best practice standards over and above the Department for Transport’s current guidance. Utilising a process-based, risk-driven approach which recognises that security is an ever-evolving field, the Icomera team works collaboratively with Northern’s pen testers to mitigate any cyber-risks which are discovered.

Cybersecurity – Icomera has been contracted by Northern to manage onboard cybersecurity for the digital train. Responsible for all necessary work to design, optimise and manage security effectively, the Icomera team is alerted whenever anomalous network traffic or potential threats are discovered via Northern’s Intrusion Detection System (IDS) – Icomera triage each alert as a matter of priority, and contact Northern immediately in the event that any action needs to be taken.

Digital Video Surveillance – The digital train’s video surveillance system allows Northern and the British Transport Police to pull real-time footage from the train and / or choose to offload historical data on demand.

As part of the project, Icomera designed a specialised wireless Ethernet bridging solution, which allows any of Northern’s different types of train units to be coupled together to form larger train units, extending the onboard network. This aspect of the solution design is especially relevant when it comes to the digital video surveillance system; since wireless bridging connects the local video surveillance systems between different train units, the train’s driver is able to view real-time footage across all carriages from the front car. Icomera has worked in collaboration with Northern’s team of designers to ensure that the installation position on each different fleet of trains will continue to support this wireless bridging in the future.

Testing, Installation & Commissioning

Given the complex system design, appropriate testing in an off-train environment was a crucial consideration for Northern’s digital train. As part of the implementation process, Icomera set up a dedicated test bench. The test bench replicates a 2 x 4 train car and allows all supplier kits to be connected and tested before being deployed on a live vehicle, as well as for new network configurations to be analysed, and for security patches to be tested before they are installed.

Responsible for installing and commissioning the core connectivity hardware onboard Northern’s digital fleet, Icomera’s team of skilled and experienced Field Service Engineers (FSEs) continued to work safely and responsibly on the rollout throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, keeping the project moving forward.

Remote Monitoring & Onsite Support

Since the digital train contains a myriad of mission critical elements, it was vital for Northern to have a well monitored and maintained solution. For each live train, Icomera has been assigned as Northern’s single point of contact for the onboard systems (whether those systems have been contracted to Icomera or to a third-party supplier). Utilising cutting-edge cloud analytics tools which provide enhanced visibility of Northern’s entire fleet, Icomera’s team can view real-time monitoring and historical reports on the status of its systems, track vehicles and view passenger browsing statistics.

When Northern reports a potential issue with one of the connected applications, Icomera’s Network Operation’s Centre (NOC) reacts quickly to make sure any system downtime is kept to an absolute minimum. After assessing the severity of the reported issue, an Icomera field engineer will travel to one of Northern’s four depots to rectify it directly, or when appropriate, a member of the Icomera NOC will contact the relevant third-party supplier so that they may fix the fault.

What Northern Say:

“Northern are excited to be leading the way with our forward-thinking vision of digital train, and to continue working closely with Icomera and other industry partners on a solution which delivers a diverse range of passenger, operational and safety benefits”

Marc Silverwood, Digital Trains Project Manager, Northern

What We Say:

“We are pleased to be a key technology partner in Northern’s best-in-class digital train roll-out. Icomera’s work within the project serves as testament to our ability to deliver bespoke, end-to-end digital fleet solutions for our clients”

Peter Kingsland, SVP UK, Asia & Australia, Icomera