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Xebia helps railway workers stay safe with real-time cargo tracking

The Need

Every day trains move huge volumes of cargo around the Netherlands—often carrying dangerous and hazardous goods.

For shunters—specialized railway workers who load and unload cargo onto trains—keeping a regular record of the position of all goods is key to ensuring workplace safety. For instance, highly flammable goods like petroleum must be handled according to strict safety measures. If a shunter is unaware that carriage contains hazardous substances, they could put themselves and their colleagues in danger when handling it.

The Challenge

To ensure that cargo transfers are carried out safely and on time, shunters pass on a detailed record of all carriage movements that have occurred during their shift to colleagues on the next shift.

With hundreds of trains passing through railway stations each day, recording every cargo movement is a complex and data-intensive task. And while the existing cargo tracking system used by railway authorities in the Netherlands had helped railway workers maintain a strong safety record, it was unable to provide a real-time view of the location of all cargo types on the track.

When a fire occurred at one of the hundreds of railway yards in the Netherlands, not having an up-to-the-second record of the location of dangerous goods limited the ability of firefighters to tackle the blaze effectively.

The Fire Brigade Chief who responded to the incident commented: “During the incident, we didn’t know what was burning or where the car stood. We had to climb over several cars, only seeing the faint shimmering of the fire. Only afterwards we learned that all the cars contained explosive gases and liquids.”

The Solution

To help railway workers keep a more detailed record of goods moving through stations, railway authorities in the Netherlands launched the Information Dangerous Substances initiative and engaged Xebia to help with the project. The goal: build a solution to help shunters log and track the location of all goods in the railway yard in real time.

Xebia worked around-the-clock to build a complete cargo tracking solution, along with fully-fledged iOS and Android applications running on smartphones and tablets.

To accelerate the development of its application, Xebia deployed an edge server that would interact with the railway authorities’ existing systems. Built using Akka Platform from Lightbend, the edge server provides a cache of reference information for all different carriages and cargo types on the track. What’s more, the edge server also functions as a front-end for the new cargo tracking mobile and web applications.

Using Akka Platform, Xebia was able to build an Android version of the cargo tracking application in under nine weeks and developed an iOS version shortly after. With the power of Lightbend technologies, Xebia was able to deploy the cargo tracking application into testing and production environments quickly and easily.

The Results

With the application developed by Xebia using Lightbend solutions, railway workers have a complete, up-to-the-second record of the location of all cargo in the railway yard. Today, when a shunter moves cargo, they can use a smartphone or tablet to quickly log which goods they are moving and where they are moving them to.

Every time a shunter logs a new cargo movement it is immediately replicated in the central record of cargo locations. And because this information is updated in real time, railway workers will always have an accurate record of the location of hazardous goods if disaster strikes—strengthening workplace safety and reducing the risk of major events.

If a fire or spillage does occur, railway workers can quickly share details of the cargo stored with firefighters, enabling first responders to plan the safest and most expedient way to deal with the situation without putting their lives in unnecessary danger.

Raymond Roestenburg, Architect at Xebia, reflects: “The turnaround time on this project was really tremendous. It took nine weeks to build the first mobile application and the edge server. The entire project was complete, with fully functioning iOS and Android applications—in production—in eighteen weeks.”

He concludes: “Thanks to the simplicity of the Akka Platform, it was very easy for us to build in smart queries that could answer key questions such as ‘What has changed on this track?’ and ‘What new carriages have arrived on this track?’ Equipped with this information, railway workers can move goods much more safely and ensure that cargo reaches its destination on time, every time.”

Founded in 2001, Xebia is an IT consultancy based in the Netherlands. The company’s international network of skilled engineers are committed to helping organizations embrace digital transformation by harnessing cutting-edge technologies. With offices in Europe, Asia, North America, and the Middle East, Xebia employs over 1,700 people worldwide.

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