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RFID Goes Underground in London

Tube Lines, one of the companies maintaining London's subway rail system, is already tagging engines and passenger cars, and hopes to tag ties and tools.
By Jonathan Collins
Apr 12, 2006With one month left to go in a trial designed to test RFID's ability to help ensure the proper maintenance of London's subway system, train-management company Tube Lines says the technology has already proven its value, and that the firm will seek to expand its use.

Tube Lines was one of three companies awarded 30-year contracts to maintain and operate London's underground rail system. As such, the firm is under constant pressure to meet safety and maintenance standards for the track network across the three railway (tube) lines for which it is responsible, as well as the trains that run over those tracks.

Tube Lines' Martyn Capes
The company took over responsibility for the tube system in 2003 and has since been accountable for 101 stations and 207 miles of track. Since February, Tube Lines has been operating a trial RFID system to help it better track trains and cars through their mandated daily cleaning process. Subcontractors carry out the cleaning at Tube Lines' main depot.

By affixing passive UHF EPC Gen 1 0+ RFID tags from Symbol Technologies to each of the Piccadilly Line's engines, and installing RFID portals at the entrance and exit of the train-cleaning area, the company can now record how long it takes to clean each train.

"The third party we pay to clean the trains has a work order to carry out, and we were not confident that they were doing so," says Martyn Capes, technical asset manager at Tube Lines. "We know how long its takes to carry out the work order properly, and RFID gave us a way to track exactly when cleaning work began and finished."

The same RFID inlays have been sandwiched within one window of each passenger car so that the cleaning process inside the cars can also be tracked. Tube Lines has tagged 172 passenger cars and engines as part of the trial. The cleaning staff is employing some of the 242 Symbol Technologies MC9000 mobile computers already in use at Tube Lines, fitted with RFID reader modules for the trial.

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