Passenger using tablet

UK: The Satellites for Digitalisation of Railways project has been launched to demonstrate how constellations of communication satellites could be combined with terrestrial telecoms networks to provided passengers and train operators with better onboard connectivity, including in stations and tunnels.

SODOR is being developed by a consortium led by CGI, with Isotropic Systems, Icomera, 5G3i, Network Rail and train operators ScotRail, Northern and LNER, under an agreement with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, the UK Space Agency and the European Space Agency. It forms part of a wider British initiative to demonstrate the use of 5G for transport and logistics applications.

A SODOR pilot is planned for 2022, with the consortium to work with IT partners to explore how hybrid networks based on multi-bearer 5G technology can improve network availability while offering better value for money than existing systems.

The aim is to provide improved on-train communications for staff and passengers, with network aggregation for 3G and 4G, a roadmap for 5G and a choice of satellite constellations dependent on bandwidth and location. Tools to optimise network selection will be based on cost and performance; an operations and management portal and Internet of Things sensors will support connected train monitoring.

Broadband hardware supplier Isotropic Systems said connectivity on trains is ‘notoriously’ unreliable, with limited coverage along key sections of track and satellite connectivity suffering from line-of-sight problems. It has developed an antenna to address this by offering multiple simultaneous connections to satellites in any orbit, including NGSO constellations that the likes of SpaceX, OneWeb, SES, and Telesat are launching.

Robert Gardner, Senior Innovation Engineer, Telecoms, at Network Rail said that ‘over the coming decade, new-age satellite communications have the potential to transform how we provide data connectivity to railway vehicles, particularly in rural and remote regions. Through our involvement in Project SODOR, we aim to learn more about how modern satcoms can supplement terrestrial wireless communications, and explore the potential value and benefits to passengers and the operational railway system.’

Sodor is part of the name of a Church of England diocese, but now more famous as the fictional setting of Rev W Awdry’s Railway Series books and the home of ’Thomas’ the Tank Engine — which CGI told Rail Business UK was ‘a happy coincidence’.