Bluetooth railway solutions deployed in Belgium

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A new train-tracking solution, using Bluetooth technology, will be rolled out at select stations on the Belgian railway network. Jasleen Mann profiles why the choice of Bluetooth over traditional GPS systems is beneficial.


he national railway company of Belgium (NMBS/SNCB) has deployed a Bluetooth solution from HID Global, an identity and radio frequency identification tracking solutions company. Its real-time location and services platform, along with UK-based IT service management firm Beeks’ Bluetooth Low-Energy (BLE) beacons, monitor train location and departures.

HID, an acronym for Hughes Identification Devices, was founded in 1991 as a subsidiary of Hughes Aircraft. Acquired in 2000 by the Swedish conglomerate Assa Abloy AB, HID is now a wholly owned business within the group, which has acquired over 190 brands.

Richard Aufreiter, VP product marketing, Identification Technologies at HID Global, says: “Bluetooth is a well-known and reliable technology for short-range radio communications of up to about 50 metres.

“Bluetooth is commonly used to connect a headset or speaker to a computer or smartphone, but the technology is equally applicable for real-time location-based services, too.”

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Bluetooth: the light at the end of the tunnel

Previously, trains arriving at a preset GPS coordinate would cause an app on the onboard attendant’s smartphone to signal to software at the rail station to begin the digital safety-check program. This program supports the safe exit for the passengers so that the train can depart on schedule.

Identifying the precise location of the train is fundamental to safety checks. Due to limited cellular coverage in tunnels, the train’s GPS location can be shown as being further away from the station. GPS does not work because the three satellite signals required for trilateration struggle to penetrate buildings and concrete tunnel walls.

Waze, the navigation app now owned by Google, used HID’s beacon technology to provide reliable navigation services for car drivers entering tunnels, where signals would normally be disrupted. BLE Beacons have been installed in tunnels in around eight cities, including locations in Antwerp, Belgium and Chicago, US.

HID Global’s real-time location services platform and Beeks’ BLE beacons are given priority over a possibly inaccurate GPS signal.

A platform for the future on Belgian railways

The BLE beacons can be managed remotely and have their battery status monitored by a cloud-based SaaS console called HID BluZone.

They can be quickly installed and consume low amounts of power, which also makes them cost-effective. Location information is also transmitted quickly because pairing is not required and the beacons have a unique ID.

It is expected that the system will be deployed in at least ten more stations across Belgium.

NMBS/SNCB maintains and operates 3,607km of track and around 30 train stations in Belgium. The wider use of this technology could open up further opportunities for HID Global.

Aufreiter says: “This could see HID Beeks beacons being used as the underlying enabling technology for a range of passenger-centric location-based services.

“For example, routing visually impaired passengers to the right platform so they can catch their train or directing people to a certain position on a platform if they have a seat reservation in a specific carriage. In addition, SNCB or third-party partner firms could potentially offer information, promotions or discounts based on someone’s whereabouts in a station.”

Main image credit: Daan Verstraete | Shutterstock