Before the pandemic, Infrabel was already working on two projects to harness AI to improve safety and reduce the risks associated with working on and around the railway. This included using sensors to detect whether staff were wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) such as safety glasses or gloves, and a system to detect dangerous situations, such as an employee falling on the tracks.

These systems were adapted during the pandemic to improve safety and ensure compliance with new regulations.

The PPE system was changed to recognise whether staff were wearing face masks, and algorithms used in the detection system were adapted to detect whether staff were meeting social distancing requirements.

Infrabel says these systems could have a number of applications. A warning could be triggered if two people inadvertently move too close to each other, or staff could also be alerted if they walk the wrong way down a hallway. The system could also be triggered if someone is not wearing a mask, or is wearing it incorrectly by not covering their nose.

Infrabel is also using ultra-wide band (UWB) technology to help staff stay outside the 1.5m distance required between people in Belgium. Both staff members wear a wrist band that can measure the distance between them down to 10cm. The bands will then vibrate, emit a noise or blink if they come too close together.

Infrabel says the innovations do not replace sanitary measures, but act as an additional tool to improve safety. The systems meet the required legislation and general data protection regulation (GDPR) data protection rules.