Your train on time thanks to big data

While most Dutch trains arrive on time – 92.6 percent, or rather, some delay is inevitable. Falling leaves can make the railway slippery. Snow sometimes leads to freezing of turnouts.

On the other hand, engine problems, such as broken doors or brake overheating, can increasingly be resolved before they cause serious delays. With thousands of sensors and big data analysis, train maintenance has become much more efficient.

This development began with the advent of 4G in the Netherlands, which allows you to process data much faster. This includes registration data, state measurement points on the tracks, and information transmitted by sensors on trains. All this data is routinely routed through the Dutch Railways (NS) data and analytics (D&A) division through more than 140 sources.

“What we do is crucial. Without data analysis, we would be lost, ”says Martain Scheele, Head of D & A.

Big data, big business

It is these data that drive the Dutch railway network and help NS provide the best, safe and easy journey for train passengers. The Scheele team serves the entire Dutch railway network, its customers and the government.

“We are one of the few departments that serve the entire NS organization, which makes the work special here,” Scheele says. More than 160 NS employees working on innovative applications use big data daily. And as we expand our team every year with 20 new colleagues, big data is becoming a big problem. ”

Central intelligence

Over the years, D&A has played a central role in NS. Business Intelligence converts a lot of data into reports and dashboards to provide continuous improvement and information management for the organization.

Although the average traveler may not notice this, behind the scenes his travel experience is constantly improving through the organized use of Advanced Analytics.

Using existing data, D & A’s creative minds are constantly developing new applications. For example, on this basis, the Seat Finder application was developed. Prorail measuring stations were used to calculate the number of passengers based on train weights. This data is then used and presented in such a way as to help travelers find a train that is likely to have free seats.

NS IT is a diverse group, from traditional developers to statisticians.

“There is a certain degree of standardization in the products we produce, which means creativity is valued, but you don’t need to invent everything yourself,” Scheele says.

Those who start working at NS can quickly get started with new cloud technologies and products such as Power BI and Databricks. But they will not just develop IT systems, they will develop themselves as well.

“We believe that important colleagues are well prepared and can grow within the company, so NS reserves a budget for self-development.”

Keep moving forward

Real-time data and analytics are vital for NS as they provide train traffic – even when it’s cold outside. Thanks to data analytics and preventative maintenance, train equipment can be more effectively cleared of ice. Data is transferred between different IoT systems and combined in the Hadoop data platform, where it is analyzed in real time. In this way, the NS can pinpoint when a train needs maintenance or even icing.

“The data provides greater equipment availability and less latency for travelers,” Scheele says. “As a traveler, you will notice that delays are becoming even less common. But you probably don’t understand that this is due to the data product. ”

In the unlikely event of a train failure, the NS can turn to its huge data stream to find a quick solution.

“We can use data from station zones, including registration data, to determine how many spare buses should be used,” Scheele says.

Great power, great responsibility

Using data creates privacy issues. For example, the Dutch government wants to use NS data to guarantee the safety of travelers.

“In an emergency, the data – of course, anonymous – is transmitted, among other things, to the police,” Scheele says.

If this data was used for other purposes or fell into the wrong hands, this can lead to a serious violation of confidentiality. This is why this information is handled with great care. “We must responsibly handle the data, store it correctly, protect it 100% from GDP and, of course, always consider their impact on our company and travelers,” Scheele adds.

This is not the only problem facing the organization. Thanks to the work of D & A, many of the company’s processes have changed to make them more efficient.

This data-driven approach has stimulated a different mindset, which is a difficult change for some employees who have always worked with different methods.

“Try to tell a mechanic who has mastered his work for 30 years, he no longer needs his maintenance booklet, because now we have the data to accurately predict when the train should go to the workshop,” Scheele adds.

Although this is an unstoppable force. Big data analytics affects everything that NS does, and has become much more than just maintaining and selling tickets. “By implementing this mentality for data transfer throughout our organization, we can improve our travel experience in every way we can,” concludes Scheel.

This post has been delivered to you by Dutch Railways.