Blockchains: A Distributed Data Ledger for the Rail Industry

Blockchains: A Distributed Data Ledger for the Rail Industry

John M. Easton (University of Birmingham, UK)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 13
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3176-0.ch002
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In recent years, the UK railway industry has struggled with the effects of poor integration of data across ICT systems, particularly when that data is being used across organizational boundaries. Technical progress is being made by the industry towards enabling data sharing, but an open issue remains around how the costs of gathering and maintaining pooled information can be fairly attributed across the stakeholders who draw on that shared resource. This issue is particularly significant in areas such as Remote Condition Monitoring, where the ability to analyse the network at a whole-systems level is being blocked by the business cases around the purchase of systems as silos. Blockchains are an emerging technology that have the potential to revolutionize the management of transactions in a number of industrial sectors. This chapter will address the outstanding issues around the fair attribution of costs and benefits of data sharing in the rail industry by proposing blockchains as a forth enabler of the rail data revolution, alongside ESB, ontology, and open data.
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In recent years, many railways worldwide have undergone a revival, with growth in passenger numbers driven by factors such as traffic congestion, and a desire to work during travel time. The United Kingdom’s railway network is the oldest in the world, and has been steadily growing in popularity; between the years of 1991 and 2011 passenger numbers across the network rose by 67% (Office of Rail Regulation, 2011). This significant growth in demand for rail travel has put pressure on the industry to make better use of the available capacity on the rail network; however, with changes to the underlying physical infrastructure being both disruptive and hugely costly, the industry is being forced to consider alternative approaches to generating the additional capacity required.

One option that is being actively pursued is the greater use of digital technologies in support of railway operations. It is hoped that through digitization of the railway, and the introduction of improved information-driven alternatives to current traffic management, signaling, and maintenance systems, the industry will be able to support up to one billion extra passenger journeys per year by 2030 (Digital Railway, 2017).

This chapter will examine the issues around the digital revolution in UK rail, with a particular focus on the dual challenges of poor integration of information, and the mechanisms by which costs may be equitably distributed around the various stakeholders in the industry for the collection, maintenance, and distribution of data used for the benefit of other parties. The chapter will begin by explaining the challenge facing the industry, before moving on to propose a solution in the form of blockchains, the distributed ledger technology that underpins the cryptocurrency Bitcoin. Finally, the chapter will conclude with a discussion of some of the outstanding issues posed by the work, and the enabling steps that will need to take place so that the industry is ready to take advantage of the technology when it reaches mainstream implementation, expected to be in around five to ten years’ time (Gartner Inc., 2016).

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