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How can blockchain open up new opportunities for rail freight?

Blockchain technology promises to cut out the middle man in financial transactions, improving efficiency for businesses around the world. But how can railways benefit and what challenges does universal acceptance of the digital ledger technology face? Nick Newman investigates.

Railways are complicated businesses, representing not only a vital transport resource, taking people and freight from A to B, but often collaborating with other forms of transport to complete a consignment or passenger’s journey.  This is where blockchain proves invaluable.  Trials of blockchain technology are underway not only in America, by a consortium of  the world’s leading logistics companies under the umbrella of   the Blockchain in Transport Alliance (BiTA),but also in continental Europe by  Deutsche Bahn and   RZD (Russian Railways) and in Asia by  Thai Railways.

What is blockchain?

At its simplest, blockchain is an online ledger, which allows parties to conduct secure (encrypted) transactions without a middleman or a centralised authority. Each transaction is cryptographically recorded and stored, allowing for secure exchanges of value without pre-existing trust. Dutch logistics expert, Klara Paardenkooper, lecturer and researcher at Rotterdam Business School says, “Blockchain is not so much a concept, but a technical application; it logs data in a way that it cannot be changed or erased de-centrally”. See Figure 1.

Figure 1
blockchain diagram

Blockchain Applications

Despite the many recent advances in tracking movement of people and goods, railways and their customers, still have a hard time following consignments. But this could change. Over a nine month period , RZD  has successfully carried more than 5 thousand cargo transportations ordered via  Freight Transport, an Electronic Trading Platform  underpinned by  Emercoin, a blockchain technology launched jointly in  April 2017 by RZD and  INTELLEX  reports newswire Coinfox, January 2018.  Likewise, the State Railway of Thailand (SRT) is investing in blockchain with ‘internet of things’ technology to manage signalling, passenger information systems, ticketing and goods delivery reports, the Bangkok Post August 2017.

Read more at International Rail Journal Pages 44 to 45 June 2018


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