Digitalization of National Rail Infrastructure

Network Rail focuses its transformation program through smart analytics.

Network Rail

Industry leaders collaborate to transform the United Kingdom's rail network to deliver better passenger experience, enhanced safety and security, improved performance, and operational resilience. 

Industry: Transportation
Location: London, United Kingdom
Size: 42,000 employees
Partner: Intel, Purple Transformation Group, Telent



  • Strengthen security, safety, punctuality, and performance of U.K. rail network
  • Develop data-backed business cases to address the challenges of rail transformation
  • Simplify deployment and technology infrastructure management
  • Enable communication across all locations


  • Staff is alerted to potential safety breaches
  • Greater ability to drive innovation, trial technology, and measure results
  • Simplified management and deployment of network infrastructure and analytics

Upgrading critical rail infrastructure

Network Rail owns and manages much of the United Kingdom's rail infrastructure. This includes 20,000 miles of track, 30,000 bridges, tunnels, viaducts, and thousands of signals, level crossings, and stations. It manages 20 of the United Kingdom's largest stations.

The task for Network Rail is to operate, maintain, and upgrade this huge, critical estate of national infrastructure. It must do so in a way that maximizes investment value and minimizes disruption, working quickly to adapt to changing travel habits.

Network Rail's Train and Station Innovation for Performance (TSIP) initiative is trialing technology solutions aimed at delivering demonstrable, quantifiable benefits and outcomes for the rail network. The business challenges/use cases will be grouped under four pillars: better passenger experience, enhanced safety and security, improved performance, and operational resilience.

With an undertaking of this size, the challenge is to prioritize the use cases and then roll out solutions accordingly.

"We'd like better intelligence built into the infrastructure in order to allow us to make more timely and informed decisions," says Simon Atterwell, managing director, Network Rail Telecom, Network Rail. "We want to develop a well-qualified business and use a case-led approach to real issues affecting the railway experience."

"This data-led approach requires some fundamental building blocks," he continues. Network Rail needs to gather, send, and store data from across its operations, and then apply data science to produce actionable insight.

Sharing insight to inform decision making

Technology is a key enabler in the transformation of U.K. rail. As part of TSIP, Cisco is collaborating not just with Network Rail Telecom but with industry leaders such as Intel, Telent, and Purple Transformation Group. Together, these partnerships are helping turn ideas into transformative solutions. Cisco Customer Experience (CX) is leading the TSIP program, working with the innovation partners and providing project management and technical advisory services to Network Rail.

"Identifying, selecting, and building the right partnerships is hugely important," says Atterwell. "Our partners have demonstrated a commitment to solving everyday issues affecting the rail network. They understand how to apply the technology and services to address commercial outcomes."

Cisco, Intel, Telent, and Purple Transformation Group each address key technology pain points. Together, they deliver the necessary connectivity and compute power while helping plan the practical impact of the transformation opportunity.

Telent, which has had a 30-year relationship with Network Rail, is tasked with structuring the engagement.

"Our role is to understand the Network Rail vision, wear the high-visibility vests and safety boots, and collaborate with other partners. The goal is to bring Cisco concepts, systems, designs, and engineering into operation on the ground," says Kevin Bonnano, director of rail, Telent.

Network Rail is a largely devolved, federated organization, and we need to work with many stakeholders. The SiYtE platform creates a joined-up approach across a multitude of different stakeholders, with iterative business cases.

Simon Atterwell, Managing Director

The Cisco network acts as the foundation of Network Rail's data-driven rail infrastructure, but the next stage of transformation requires much greater visibility from Network Rail's assets. TSIP has had particular success in the development of a Smart Analytics capability.

The base layer of Smart Analytics is Cisco Meraki smart cameras and sensors, connected by Cisco LoRaWAN technology. Meraki smart cameras have embedded analytics capability to detect objects, such as people and vehicles, and can be trained to recognize other objects, such as abandoned luggage or bicycles. The centralized, cloud-managed architecture is ideally suited for deployments at stations and remote locations. The use of cloud-managed Meraki cameras simplifies the task of deploying quickly or temporarily.

This analytics data is then consumed by Purple Transformation Group's SiYtE platform, which aggregates analytics data to provide visibility for staff, create insights, and alert the appropriate staff member in case of events such as trespassing.

Cisco has worked closely with Intel, using Intel-based compute solutions to drive analytics. Given the number of safety and operational use cases, Network Rail wanted the most reliable processing available. As much of this data will be generated at the edge, reliability is crucial.

"Enabling IoT [Internet of Things] data from cameras and sensors to be gathered and processed at the edge where the device is located enables operators to make data-driven decisions benefiting the staff, passengers, and public alike," says Rajiv Gupta, global sales development manager, Intel.

Network Rail is also transforming its network architecture across over 600 sites to be fully software defined, with Software-Defined Access (SD-Access) built on Cisco Catalyst 9000 switches using Intel x86 CPUs and Cisco Catalyst 9000 Series Access Points.

Cisco Identity Services Engine (ISE) strengthens network control and segmentation with dynamic and automated policy enforcement. Finally, Cisco Secure Network Analytics (Stealthwatch) helps protect critical U.K. infrastructure from new and emerging cyberthreats.

Establishing a platform on which to manage use cases

The Purple Transformation Group SiYtE platform service then allows Network Rail to interpret the huge amount of newly gathered data, taking data from multiple sources including Meraki cameras and IoT sensors and presenting it on a common interface. SiYtE then provides an interface delivering insights and tracking benefits in key areas such as customer experience, infrastructure utilization and operation, revenue and costs impacts, or safety outcomes across a variety of use cases.

Neil Latter, founder of Purple Transformation Group, says the advantage of SiYtE is that it puts actionable information into the hands of frontline workers, not skilled IT staff: "The analytics and data are driven by the 'use case' worked through with the customer. We believe it will help Network Rail unlock more of the value in their Cisco services, technologies, and customer relationships."

This approach succeeds because it can deliver a tailored user experience. Activity on the platform can be shared across the organization, arming business units with the intelligence, benchmarking, and insights needed to assess the viability of individual use cases. Over 120 use cases have already been identified as part of TSIP.

"I expect this number to be the tip of the iceberg," says Atterwell. "Right now, we're focusing on the areas that will deliver benefits the quickest. We have the right partners in place to enable us to innovate at pace. It puts actionable insight into the hands of our staff, right to their mobile devices."

The approach helps Network Rail avoid being overwhelmed with data. It identifies use cases at a local level within the four-pillar framework, then provides Network Rail with the data it needs to build a business case around a national rollout. It brings the assurance of technologies currently being used within other industries: the remote monitoring of solar panels for utility companies, emissions monitoring in mining, queue management in healthcare, or inventory tracking in logistics.

Rolling out data-driven transformation use cases

The engagement with Cisco equips Network Rail with the data, connectivity, and deployment details to accelerate the rollout of targeted, transformational use cases. It enables Network Rail to deliver a broad range of upgrades, meeting many different criteria, from cost savings to passenger safety to environmental monitoring.

"Network Rail is a largely devolved, federated organization, and we need to work with many stakeholders," says Atterwell. These include train operators, retail partners, local councils, and the U.K. government, all of which are invested in a successful rail network.

"The SiYtE platform creates a joined-up approach across a multitude of different stakeholders, with iterative business cases," he continues.

This shortens the qualification process and establishes the means to monitor progress.

While action on some use cases can take place across the United Kingdom, some need a dedicated testing location. Network Rail has 13 miles of track and a 5G testbed at their testing location in Melton, Leicestershire, United Kingdom.

There is great diversity in the multiple use cases. For example: camera-based asset identification and tagging helps to ensure no maintenance equipment is left trackside; sensors can detect and monitor ground stability, moisture content, and temperature to assess the risk of landslides; temperature and humidity sensors help predict slippery platforms and provide suitable warning and remedial actions; lone passengers can be monitored remotely to verify their safety and security; or swift detection of suspicious packages or trespassers provides a means of addressing delay-prone situations as soon as they occur.

Together, these targeted improvements demonstrate a commitment to creating a safer, more efficient, punctual, and pleasant rail experience for U.K. travelers. They enable Network Rail to present itself as an innovative, forward-facing organization.

"This engagement provides an open space to harden the operational network and foster innovation and solution development in the railway sector," says Greg Butler, industry lead, Great British Rail at Cisco.

This means Network Rail can provide an environment where new ideas can be tested, improved, and deployed quickly and at scale. It provides access to a well of data that can inform a better experience for passengers, including shorter queues, more accurate train arrival times, less graffiti, or more appropriate marketing.

"Collecting data isn't just about reacting to events. The SiYtE platform creates insights. We can then predict, prevent, respond, and recover," says Atterwell. We now have the ability to quickly deploy devices to gather the data needed to provide actionable insight."