IBM’s placement of the center in Beijing is purely strategic. While researchers will work on innovations for worldwide rail systems, China’s investment alone in high-speed rail over the next two years could make up more than a half of the world’s railway equipment market. Within five years, China is expected to have more high-speed rail than the rest of the world combined. And IBM is already working extensively with China’s Ministry of Railways on railway system optimization and digital video surveillance projects.
The new innovation center will focus on track surveillance and infrastructure, passenger reservations, eco-friendly operations, asset utilization, and fare management–every aspect of a rail system. One product in development monitors old trains for mechanical problems and sets off repair alerts, while another curbs traffic jams by tracking delays of trains on the network. Still another tracks train patrons on a screen and sets off an alarm when it detects suspicious behavior–i.e. someone putting down a bag and walking away.
These developments are well and good for China’s rapidly expanding train network, but it will probably be awhile before they make it to the United States. Obama has proposed a national high-speed rail network using stimulus bucks, but such a system could take decades to build.