Signalling & Communications, Signalling & Communications, Technology and IT

Real-time data keeps customers moving during Sydney Harbour Bridge shutdown

Using tm stagetec systems’ Smart pi EYE system, customers affected by the Sydney Harbour Bridge shutdown in January were able to make decisions on the next leg of their journey based on real-time data.

For 10 days in January, rail services were suspended over Sydney Harbour Bridge. The shutdown was required to complete critical maintenance on the 88-year-old rail corridor, particularly replacing the rail deck on the bridge’s approaches.

Despite being one of the quietest times of the year for the network, and with fewer passengers due to COVID-19, the Sydney Harbour Bridge still forms a critical link in the rail network, and thousands of commuters travel on trains that traverse the bridge’s length.  To meet the needs of these customers, Sydney Trains saw an opportunity to trial new technology that would make changing     modes easier.

“The 10-day Sydney Harbour Bridge deck upgrade was not just an engineering and planning project, but also an opportunity for Sydney Trains and Transport for NSW to trial innovative ways to display multimodal journey information for customers for the first time,” a Sydney Trains spokesperson said.

To complete their trip across the harbour, passengers were diverted to other transport modes. These included regular ferries and buses as well as rail replacement buses. With major rail interchanges – Wynyard and North Sydney – located at both ends of the bridge, commuters had many options to choose from, leaving from a number of different      departure points.

To clearly convey information on travel alternatives, Sydney Trains deployed screens displaying real-time interchange to commuters arriving at Wynyard and North Sydney stations.

“This included displaying alternative bus and ferry services in the North Sydney and Wynyard area to provide customers with more flexibility and choice to complete their journey,” said the Sydney Trains spokesperson.

“This trial was developed and implemented in a short time frame and built upon an existing product.”

Having worked with Sydney Trains in the past, the rail agency engaged locally-based information technology systems integrator tm stagetec systems (TMS) for assistance. TMS proposed the new Smart pi EYE software and associated hardware as a method to present real-time departure information of multiple modes. TMS general manager Mark Lownds explained the set up.

“It was a pretty simple system, it was a Smart pi EYE server, with four Smart Pi EYE clients, and they used two at each station, feeding to 80-inch screens in portrait mode.”

Being template-based and customisable for the task’s particular requirements, Smart pi EYE could be up and running in a short time period.

The screens included real-time arrival information for rail replacement buses, as scheduled departure times for rail replacement buses.

According to Lownds, the advantage of Smart pi EYE is its adaptability, which led to the displays being rolled out in less than three weeks.

“We’re using General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) standards-based feeds, which means that we can ingest all this data and Smart pi EYE is a template-based system, so we can build templates to the customer’s specifications and then have them run on the system.”

Collaborating with open data teams from Transport for NSW, TMS was able to collate and ingest six different data feeds.

TMS also ensured that the screens and servers were installed at the stations and conducted testing and commissioning alongside Sydney Trains.

While this was one specific application of the Smart pi EYE technology, the system is easily adaptable to meet other needs.

“The power of the Smart Pi EYE system is that it is easy and fast to do custom designs and screens,” said Lownds.

The final outcome involved four 80-inch screens, two at North Sydney and two at Wynyard with lists of arriving services updated every five seconds. Real-time data is sourced from open data feeds, which are formatted in the virtualised environment of Smart pi EYE, reducing the need for hardware on site.

While ingesting the numerous data feeds that include bus arrival information was a more significant task that displaying train arrival information, the scalability of the platform meant that these data sources could be collated.

The system was calibrated with the passenger in mind by, for example, only showing ferry services leaving Barangaroo that were reachable within the 10-minute walking time from Wynyard.

These rules and other requirements were specified by Sydney Trains with TMS adapting the in-built templates to match.

“Sydney Trains and Transport for NSW provided the design and the guidelines around the business rules for what they wanted implemented, and because of the design of the Smart pi EYE being a template-based solution, it was fairly easy and very fast for us to build four different screens and have them ready within the month,” said Lownds.

This flexibility means that, for example, the system has the capability to show wayfinding information for future deployments, if required.

“Within the Smart pi EYE system, we have a static signage and wayfinding engine as well so it’s possible to put any graphics there and display them,” explained Lownds.

With trusted, accurate and real time data such as this on display, customers can make more choices about how their journey will continue, said Lownds.

“For passengers, this information really helps them through their journey. If you’re at an interchange site, why can’t you see what buses are running late? Do you have time to run over to the post office, or get a drink or a coffee, or do you have to walk fast and get there straight away?”

As one element within the broader Smart pi ECOsystem, the Smart pi EYE technology enables real time, accurate information to be part of the new norm for customers who use multiple modes to complete their journey.

With the screens operating, staff from TMS returned to the site and heard passengers commenting that the screens should be a permanent fixture.

“It’s becoming more of an expectation for passengers to have that information available to them,” said Lownds. “Most importantly they need to be able to trust it as accurate and secondly it helps vastly to have that information filtered for them. By simply displaying a printed map showing modes of transport, routes and timetables, I don’t believe passengers have the time to piece all of these separate information sources together anymore.

“I think we can expect that information to be filtered for us. It could be filtered to say, ‘Do not attempt to get this service, as you’ll miss it because you are too far away. But, this one is running a bit late so you can walk a bit slower and still make it.’”

Having trialled the technology during the Sydney Harbour Bridge shutdown period Sydney Trains and Transport for NSW are evaluating the outcome of the trial to see whether the technology can be used in other situations to provide real-time, multimodal departure information.

“We are always looking to improve the journey experience of our customers and information available to them and will review the feedback from customers and staff to identify any future role for multimodal information screens at selected stations and transport hubs.”