IBM Accelerates Into "Smart Rail," Guns for High-Speed Stimulus

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What can software do for mass transit? It can help cut delays, increase uptime, reduce emissions and slash fuel costs, according to IBM (s IBM), which has just unveiled a new “smart rail” project in China. The company has already rolled out software for high-speed rail projects in the Netherlands and Taiwan. As Big Blue readies for a round of layoffs (the Wall Street Journal reports a “large number” of U.S. employees are about to get the axe), those projects could be key to the company’s bid for high-speed rail stimulus funds.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom highlighted smart transit projects at our Green:Net conference yesterday, describing a plan to deploy GPS tools at all city bus stations (for realtime updates on bus arrivals) and the “Connected Bus” demo that Cisco (s CSCO) created last year with onboard Wi-Fi, touchscreen maps and information about connecting transit lines.

high-speed-rail-taiwan

IBM’s latest smart rail projects add computing intelligence behind the scenes — they’re less about connecting passengers with the web (Cisco’s focus in the San Francisco demo) and more about automating system management to improve efficiency. In Taiwan, the High Speed Rail Coporation is using IBM’s Maximo software to manage maintenance and logistics (for example, reporting on conditions of signals, tracks and communication devices and automatically filing work orders) for a network of hundreds of trains, each capable of going up to 186 mph, IBM said in an announcement today. A relevant comparison for those of you in Silicon Valley: Caltrain maxes out at 79 mph.

The same software, Maximo, will power the asset management platform IBM is building for the state-owned rail operator in China’s Guangzhou City. IBM says it’s building a classification and coding system for all of GZ Metro’s software, services, tracks, trains, station shops and advertising spots as the railway operator gears up for a $176 billion expansion expected to double passenger capacity to 4 million per day.

China’s planned investment is 22 times the $8 billion allocated for high-speed rail in the U.S. economic stimulus package, which means Big Blue will have to bring its A-game to get a sizable slice for software. As Bloomberg reports, its facing a fierce competition with tech giants like Accenture, Cap Gemini and Thales SA for stateside contracts.

Photo courtesy IBM

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