Supporting rail operators in complying with social distancing

In the past months, we have faced an unprecedented crisis that has changed the way we live and work and likely changed the way we travel for still a long time to come. As the coronavirus pandemic tightened its grip around the world, city streets – once clogged with cars and bustling metros full of passengers – transformed overnight, becoming arteries with no blood flowing through them. With many institutions shut down to help slow the spread of the pandemic, roads and rail tracks from New York to Berlin to Hong Kong became empty.

Heading back to normality will be different for public transportation

As lockdown measures start to ease in many countries and cities, daily life and all that we have come to miss is beginning to fall back into place. With schools, businesses and public institutions cautiously beginning to reopen their doors, daily life is etching back to normal in our cities.

But we are a long way from “normal” on our mass transit systems and subways. Traditionally, subways have always been bustling with the excitement of thousands of people travelling and passing through stations each day. For now, this sight remains a memory. There is, of course, a potential risk on public transport depending on how crowded they are and how far away you can keep from other passengers. Increasing demand combined with social distancing guidelines will put great pressure on mass transit operators as they begin to ease away from lockdown conditions.

Social distancing has already become a problem, with some cities reporting trains and stations very quickly filling up to pre-pandemic levels. To avoid this problem, mass transit operators need to incorporate social distancing measures which will require increased staff at stations and adjustments in station layout and routing to better manage the flow of passengers. 


So what can operators to do help support agencies to meet this challenge and how can we rebuild trust in public transportation to align with the “new normal“?

Crowd management with KPIs linked to social distancing

Making sure that social distancing is achieved at restaurants or shops is a lot easier to manage compared to subway networks. The number of people coming in and out can be easily monitored at the entrance door and action can be taken to stop and avoid overcrowding or in case the limit is reached.

But at a station or on a train this becomes a lot more difficult. So how can metro operators continue to provide a basic service to their passengers but still comply with social distancing? A key part of the answer is to understand and optimize the use of available space on trains and station platforms through Capacity Solutions to avoid overcrowding.


With Siemens Digital Station Capacity Solutions and MT System Performance Dashboards, we support operators with improved decision making to achieve specific KPIs based on crowd management.

How does our Capacity Solution work?

Our Capacity Solution enables railway operators to tackle COVID-19 challenges by providing real time information, simulations and or predictions – based on defined KPIs – that ultimately provide customized physical distancing scenarios to utilize. This is achieved through data extraction, analytics and data transparency.

Where does the data come from?

Various technologies serve as sources to obtain data. For every project, a customized sensor design of the station is prepared and validated. The base of Siemens’ solution is 3D-sensors and Wi-Fi access points which can be supported by established customer systems like CCTV cameras, Ticketing or integrated train sensors. This allows our Capacity Solution to be adaptable to our customers' individual requirements.

What benefits do these insights provide operators?

The advantages and types of questions that our solution can help answer include:

  • How many people are at the station? 
  • Where did they enter the station? 
  • How long did they stay at the station? 
  • What is the passenger flow if scenario X occurs (simulation). 

These answers ultimately support operators in making quick and decisive decisions to comply with the new capacity standards that metro operators are facing. For example, if local guidelines are that train occupancy should only be at 30%, insights from live and historical data can help adapt train schedules or provide guidelines to passengers to take alternative routes with intermodal solutions, such as shared bikes to avoid overcrowding on networks.

The goal is winning back ridership with safer, reliable service

Helping to maintain social distancing on our public transportation is needed to help reduce the problem of overcrowding and thus reduce the risk of spreading the virus. And ultimately win back ridership with safer, reliable mass transit services.


With our Capacity Solution, operators can optimize the process of exiting and entering a train through better distribution of passengers on the platform. Not only will this help manage when there are stricter capacity standards, but it will also help reduce dwell time when operators need to manage overcapacity which causes significant delays that are often difficult to recover from. 


But at the end of the day, improving the safety, punctuality and efficiency of operations will provide reassuring reliability and comfort for passengers, which may be one of the most important factors in winning back ridership post-pandemic.