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Finland Digirail Program: Building a more safe, sustainable, and efficient rail network with cutting edge innovation

Finland Digirail is at the beginning of an ambitious, world-leading project to modernize the technical systems of railways and secure the future of rail. It will also set the scene for efficient multimodal transportation in Finland. The project is driven primarily by a desire to put the passenger at the heart of a new transportation system, which increases capacity and cost efficiency, improves reliability and safety, and is more environmentally friendly.

Getting this right will make Finland a leader in digital rail and, undoubtedly, others will be looking to follow their lead. For this reason, understanding the global market and direction of travel will play a role in the development of Digirail and its ongoing success.

Enabling digital transformation

One of the primary challenges in digital rail will be connectivity, which will have to reach a high performance level to transfer massive flows of data and manage operations in real-time. There is therefore a requirement in a project such as Digirail for both OT and IT expertise; and knowledge of how the two systems must work together.

In other areas of the transportation and logistics industry, such as car manufacturers they have worked with this convergence for decades. For rail it is still relatively early days with operators only now changing the conversation to include both disciplines with equal importance.

Cost efficient public 5G / 6G – an advantage for Finland

Finland will be utilizing a public 5G network for their Digirail project. This brings some natural advantages ahead of other projects across Europe where private operators will have to build their own 5G networks and, in the near future transition to 6G.

5G, and later 6G, brings improved connectivity, low latency, and machine-to-machine communication.

This is all possible because 5G is software defined, rather than hardware, which means a great benefit to rail is that the network can essentially be sliced into segments for different uses. There can be an ultra-secure segment for emergency communications, which can be managed in a different way to less vital services. This means you can prioritize power and capacity when necessary and push resources to a specific place.

On the flip side, as Finland will be the first digital rail project on a public 5G network, they won’t be able to look to other European projects for guidance. 5G’s increased personalization potential also brings larger complexity, particularly around security. A technology partner who understands the complexities of 5G networks, and is already looking forward towards 6G, will be needed to navigate these issues.

Strong ecosystem of public and private partnerships

Managing an ecosystem of partners and providers will be fundamental to this project’s success. There are seven public stakeholder organizations involved, which adds complexity of its own, but the project itself will draw together technical and operational skills from a number of different players within the private sector also. Strong systems integration is needed, and this must be a core skill within the project team.

Beyond this, the most important stakeholder is the public. This project will require public support lasting decades. The key focus for an operational Digirail is customer experience but in public sector projects this focus must start at the planning stage and last all the way through to delivery of the project.

Building a more safe, sustainable, and efficient rail network with cutting edge innovation will reap benefits to the whole European transport of the future.

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