LoRaWAN for the Dutch railways

Remy de Jong

Future Technology, Solutions & Services

Posted on 02-03-2020

In cooperation with partners, SkyLab installed the first LoRaWAN gateway in a ProRail (dutch railways) GSM-Rail (GSM-R) tower between Zevenaar and the German border, for further expansion and utilization of LoRaWAN sensors in and around the railways.

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Specifically in this area, a lot of rain can cause the groundwater levels under the railway to become too high, which can lead to unwanted situations, for example, railroad switch malfunction, which means that fewer or no trains can run.

Near the railroad switches, monitoring wells with LoRaWAN sensors have been placed over a large area that measures the groundwater level. The wireless sensors read the measurement results and send messages with water levels, pressure and temperature to the LoRaWAN gateway in the GSM-R mast near the railway. The gateway is connected to The Things Network and The Things Industries through the internet. Here the data is collected and stored in the cloud and displayed (live) via the SkyLab and ProRail IoT Dashboard and in the Digital Assets Lab of ProRail. The (historical) data can easily be retrieved from the dashboards and exceptions are immediately reported. Together with SkyLab, a conscious decision was made for "The Things Network" and "The Things Industries" because this setup is a joint effort by and for the use of everyone which helped it become the largest and most rapidly growing network in the world. Railway company's like the Deutsche Bahn, SNCF, Swiss Federal Railways and others already use this concept.

With this infrastructure, anyone can simultaneously make redundant use of each other's infrastructure without telecom costs. A professional high-altitude gateway can easily cover an area of up to 500 Km2 or more. Sensor data is regularly received at the gateway in Zevenaar from distances of 100 km or more. Apart from the interests of making the railways smarter and safer, everyone can use this infrastructure. This includes applications such as intrusion detection, smoke and heat detection, measuring air quality, small recovery and tracking systems, fence and door sensors, climate sensors, water detection, bridge and barrier sensors etc. With this addition, SkyLab and ProRail take a step forward for everyone in the further digitalization with which we can better and more efficiently monitor the state of, among other things, the track and the environment.
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LoRaWAN has nothing to do with new controversial technologies like 5G that often work with high power at high frequencies and a lot of bandwidth. LoRaWAN works with very low power of up to 25 milliwatts (1/4 of WiFi) on a low (license-free) 868 MHz frequency band with minimal bandwidth. This allows small sensors to work independently for years and to communicate over large distances with minimal power.

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For more information, please contact
Remy de Jong. Technical Director Skylab
RemySr@skylab.nl