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RFID goes Underground

30,000 tags stepping up serviceability on tube

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London's underground network will benefit from 30,000 RFID tags - one attached to each escalator step - by the end of 2010. This will reduce the time taken to find a specific step from five hours to 45 minutes.

Two escalators in Moorgate, as well as one in Victoria station, have already had an RFID tag glued on to the back of every step. They have enabled engineers to log the life of each one, as they switch them around for maintenance and repair, during a successful trial that will now see the tags rolled out to the rest of the network.

There are around 300 escalators on the tube, few of which ever seem to be working at any given moment, and some of that is down to the fact that it apparently takes up to five hours for an engineer to rotate a whole escalator and log all the steps by reading the number underneath each one. Once the steps have been tagged, a reader can be placed into a cradle beside the escalator, which RFID Journal reckons can log the lot within 45 minutes, and while the engineer is off doing something else, too.

The fact that such work generally takes place during off hours, as overtime*, makes it particularly expensive. Anyone hoping that engineers released from the arduous task of reading numbers might instead spend their time fixing the rest of the tube will be sadly disappointed. The maintenance is, of course, outsourced to a company whose primary motivation is saving money, rather than serving passengers, so most likely it just means less overtime for the underground engineers.

The tags are currently being glued onto the backs of the steps, but manufacturer Confidex is working to get them riveted on during manufacture in future, just to be sure. They're pretty robust and should last slightly longer than the steps themselves. ®

* Yes - those outside the IT industry regularly get paid extra for working outside their usual hours. Hard to imagine, I know.

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