France launches “rail and space” initiative
France launches “rail and space” initiative

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France launches “rail and space” initiative

French national railway operator SNCF and the CNES space agency are going to work together to explore innovative rail solutions geared to the digital era through a new Rail and Space Coordination Committee co-chaired by SNCF Chairman Guillaume Pepy and CNES President Jean-Yves Le Gall.

The move is based on recognition that the space and rail sectors share much common ground in areas like traffic management, onboard Internet connectivity or geolocation. The new committee, which will meet once a year, will seek to identify avenues for cooperation and put the relationship between the two entities on a formal footing.

At the committee’s first meeting in February this year, several avenues were identified:

  • modernization of the control-command system, which could benefit from the advantages afforded by Europe’s Galileo satellite navigation system;
  • on-train fast-broadband connectivity delivered by new Ka-band satellites;
  • rail network safety enhanced by optical satellite imagery;
  • use of radar imagery for surveillance of tracks and their immediate vicinity.

Technical trials in some of these areas are already underway. The two partners are also working together in the field of big data and the data-led economy, seeking to pool their expertise in processing and adding value to the wealth of data that they generate.

To organize discussions on these topics, working groups will be formed comprising specialists from SNCF and CNES. The Coordination Committee will subsequently review the groups’ progress to identify areas for cooperation and industrial-scale solutions.

According to CNES, satellite imagery could be used to identify obstacles, such as trees or flooding, on the rail network, while interferometry measurements could be used to detect track subsidence at mm scales.

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