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New Baltic railway sets standard



Project i-TRACE has become well-known in Australia for introducing standardised barcoding to collate data on assets and materials used across the rail industry. And its principles could soon be used for the transformative Baltic railway network being built in Europe.

The Rail Baltica greenfield rail transport infrastructure initiative has a goal to integrate the Baltic States into the European rail network.

With its increased strategic importance in the recent geopolitical events, it is also expected to secure military mobility function and ensure wider socio-economic value to the Baltic region and EU.

As GS1 Australia Freight, Logistics and Industrial sector account director Tony Repaci explains, the project includes five European Union countries – Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and indirectly also Finland. It will connect Helsinki, Tallinn, Pärnu, Riga, Panevežys, Kaunas, Vilnius and Warsaw.

“Currently there is a separate country specific rail network which runs through the individual countries,” he said.

“The new rail line will return Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to the main European railway network, but on standard gauge (1435) track for the first time – for historical reasons, the existing railway infrastructure in the region is all 1520mm, an old Russian standard.

“In effect, they will be standardising the railway link through these three countries. It’s going to be the same rail gauge as all through Europe, and it’ll go all the way from Eastern Europe through to the Nordic countries.

“The main section runs for 870 kilometres on double track, and there will be additional sections such as freight terminals, maintenance depots, and the like. It will be used for both passenger and freight traffic.

“This is the largest Baltic-region infrastructure project in the past 100 years, with an anticipated construction period until 2030.

“The trains will also be environmentally friendly: powered by electricity, and producing less noise and vibration.

“Also commercial rail operators should be free to offer services – and site their maintenance activities – in any of the countries.”

It’s anticipated that the locomotives will reach a maximum speed of 249km per hour for passengers, and 120km/h for freight.

The project is funded by the national states – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – with co-funding from the European Union with up o 85 per cent of the costs, in particular in the framework of the Connecting Europe Facility funding instrument.

“Large-scale construction work has started in all three states with the first significant steps being taken in also developing railway subsystems – electrification and control-command and signalling,” Repaci said.

“They’ve broken ground with earthworks already underway, they have developed a project plan and are keen to step through each of the various milestones.

“And that means a big part of the pre-planning is done. As you will appreciate, they will be working across varying geography and national borders, it’s a major program and the good thing is they’ve started all of that work already.

“The Rail Baltica team are finalising how they manage all of the digital asset data from the construction program and what standards can be incorporated to ensure a seamless delivery of digital data to involved stakeholders in the project.”

Data management

One of the opportunities from building a greenfield project is that it would make it easier to establish a framework of data standards similar to Project iTRACE, right from the outset, with all components identified and labelled/tagged from manufacturer, to installer, to acceptance testing, to other parts of the material’s journey.

“There are no pre-existing assets installed, so they have the unique opportunity to agree a standard method to identify and capture asset data, adopting a standard system across the whole project, for example,” Repaci said.

“If Rail Baltica were to consider GS1 standards, our standards can be used to identify each of these assets in a consistent manner across the whole length of the network.

“This can include all infrastructure elements, and linked to BIM data for “as-designed” and “as-built” right from track laying, or even before that.

“They can also show potential rail operators what is possible, both for maintenance/repair/overhaul (MRO) and also tracking operations, potentially also xtending that to freight management.

“Over the past year, RB Rail, the company coordinating the project across the three states, has established a project/lab facility, initially focussed around RFID (radio frequency identification) for small freight tracking, but also using exactly the same equipment for demonstration/validation of the approach for both vehicles and MRO scenarios.

Rail Baltica Innovation and Digital Architecture team Leader Andy Billington confirmed that the project was a unique opportunity.

“We need to make the most of the greenfield and work with international and local partners to ensure maximum benefits and efficient delivery,” he said.

“The use of existing and widely -used standards will allow us to leverage work from other projects around the world.”

Repaci said GS1 Australia had already expanded upon the success of Project iTRACE in Australia to Rail Baltica stakeholders, its key features and benefits, and how it has been implemented locally by rail owners/operators and suppliers.

“We have also showcased our local master material data platform (National Product Catalogue) for sharing master data in the Australian rail sector,” he said.

He said Rail Baltica was keen to understand more about the process of local agreementwith rail suppliers and operators, as well as the work done to develop agreed material masterdata attributes.

“GS1 in Europe has also provided support to Rail Baltica on a wide variety of EU specific implementations and best practices where local national rail operators have adopted GS1standards,” he said.

“With standards in place, we don’t have to have different languages and different format standards for dates and times and locations based on the physical installation of that asset.

“Interestingly, the dominant suppliers tendering to this project are European and they’re already marking their products using GS1 standards.

“Here’s a ready-made solution for Rail Baltica , where it can just take the information and start populating asset systems, maintenance registers and additional enterprise systems.”