Understanding data to maximise rail and transit efficiency

With recent advances in technology, the rail sector has accumulated a wealth of data about its operations, which offers opportunities for improvements across the networks.

Yet, making sense of the flood of digital data and associated complexities is not a straightforward task.

Rail asset performance specialist Andrew Smith said it is vital that the industry make the most of the latest innovations in data collection and analysis to help maximise rail efficiency.

And he should know. As the rail portfolio manager with infrastructure engineering software development company Bentley Systems, Smith has spent three decades working on rail operations and maintenance issues, specifically on linear decision support.

Challenges faced by railways

One of the key challenges facing the railway sector, is that the requirements on them are continuously changing and evolving.

“Owner-operators are getting more trains. They’re getting longer trains. They’re getting longer operating hours pushed on them as well,” Smith said. “And generally, the budgets aren’t increasing. If anything, they’re decreasing. So, there is less time and budget to do the required maintenance work on an asset that is deteriorating more rapidly because it is getting more intense use.”

Owner-operators cannot simply do more of what they were doing before with fewer resources. Instead, they have to work smarter by finding inefficiencies in existing processes, so that they can evolve the way they do their work.

“We need to move from a reactive world of fixing something after it is broken to a predictive world where we intervene before the asset fails,” Smith said.

What data can be used to support rail operations and maintenance?

“We already have a vast amount of data about what’s going on across our networks in terms of usage, maintenance, inspections, measurements and in many cases, its design. What we are not doing is taking full advantage of that data in order to be able to make optimal decisions,” Smith said.

“Understanding the data is important. We’ve got all these disparate data sources and really need to understand the quality of them first – the limitations and the value – and make sure that we’re only providing end users with information derived from data in which we have confidence.”

How can technology help rail engineers overcome the multiple challenges of maintaining a safe, reliable network?

Bentley supports the professional needs of those responsible for creating and managing the world’s infrastructure, including the railway sector. The company delivers solutions for the entire infrastructure asset lifecycle, tailored to the needs of the various professions who will work on, and work with those assets over their lifetime, such as the engineers, planners, contractors, managers, and operators.

“We provide engineers with capabilities through intelligent linear analytics that enable them to work differently to increase efficiencies and reliability. However, the use of technology has to go hand in hand with process changes to realize the full value from an organisation’s digital investment,” Smith said.

Comprised of integrated applications and services built on an open platform, each solution Bentley develops is designed to ensure that information flows between project team members to enable interoperability and collaboration. Railways have an abundance of data about their asset, but it is hidden in spreadsheets and databases, and pieces of paper all over the place – so it is fragmented.

Even simple examples such as the ability to see the current condition of the asset, plus the work associated with it at the same time, have not been practical. These disparate datasets need to be brought together into a single-source solution. That involves taking data from measurement systems that come in from inspections, work orders, asset registers and a myriad of other classes of data. Then that data is federated to improve the rail operator’s decision-making.

“Engineers don’t want data: it’s just numbers,” Smith said. “They want the data translated into meaningful information. Such as what’s the history of what’s happened? What’s the environment? What’s the data actually saying about the real world?”

When the data is federated in a single solution, additional information can be overlaid – including relationships between the different data sets and formats, to provide the additional insight needed to deliver improved business outcomes.

Example in action

Recently, Bentley announced that SMRT Trains, the pioneer Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) operator in Singapore that operates over 282 kilometres of rail track, successfully completed the implementation of a Predictive Decision Support System (PDSS) for Singapore’s North-South and East-West lines, the oldest MRT lines in the country.

The partnership between the two companies will allow for a rail predictive maintenance solution that visualises all rail asset information and manages, monitors, and analyses rail conditions to help keep the tracks in good condition and avoid delays.

As of August 2019, SMRT Trains achieved its 1 million mean kilometres between failure (MKBF) target. Data correlation is twice as fast and with easy access to data they have significantly streamlined multiple analyses. With prioritization implementation, SMRT cut hundreds of manual planning hours and saved about 20 maintenance train deployments annually. Engineers also have a better idea of work conditions, allowing them to improve preparation and save time on the site.

The end game

Collaboration with the end users is key for the system to achieve maximum benefits.

“The first thing we typically do is review the way the rail operator currently works and then encapsulate that within the solution,” Smith said. “Then we work with the users to identify a series of incremental process changes they need to put in place to drive improvements.”

Once they are familiar with the solution itself, they can identify areas on the network where faults keep recurring, dive deep into those and assess how effectively they’re coping with them. The solution will actually help SMRT Trains to change the way they work, the way they look at data, and help them to assess how effective their work has been.

“Armed with this insight, many of our users have been through multiple steps of incremental, measurable process changes and improvements,” Smith said. “It can’t be done purely by technology. There has to be input from the engineers, and the priorities are always different from one user to the next, as they have different challenges to overcome.”

Operators are responsible for a large, safety critical system, not just a series of assets. The rail network needs to be treated as a system that is managed and maintained, and where one can make decisions that help to build and optimise what is being done underneath microscopically.

Bentley Systems predictive rail technology for Asia Pacific


Infrastructure engineering software company Bentley Systems, together with SMRT Trains, the pioneer Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) operator in Singapore, have successfully completed the implementation of a Predictive Decision Support System (PDSS) for Singapore’s North-South and East-West lines, the oldest MRT lines in the country.   Read more


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Year in Infrastructure conference highlights digital twin innovation

At the Year in Infrastructure conference, hosted by infrastructure software company Bentley Systems, audiences were told that adoption of digital tools for infrastructure delivery and operations will only accelerate after the experience of COVID-19.

With global investment in infrastructure as method of economic recovery coming together with the impetus for more sustainable methods of construction and mobility, efficiencies through using digital tools are becoming unavoidable.

Through the use of digital twins for modelling and simulations in the design and construction phase, or for monitoring asset and network performance in the operational stage, more environmentally friendly materials can be used, waste can be reduced, while costs can be reduced and timelines shortened.

In addition, as COVID-19 has demonstrated, projects will still need to continue even when workforces are dispersed, either working from home, or across countries without being able to easily meet in person.

These factors have meant that digital tools such as those supplied by Bentley Systems are invaluable for infrastructure builders, managers, and operators.

Another macro factor that is impacting on the adoption of digital tools in the infrastructure space is the possibilities of big data and IoT. With more data being collected than ever, modelling and simulation software will be needed to make sense of this data and allow it to be seen as a productive resource.

One example of the benefit of digital twins can be seen in the adoption of digital engineering tools in the design and construction of the world’s tallest rail pier girder bridge in northern India. Constructed by Indian Railways, the railway bridge is required to support high-speed and broad gauge trains for the next century in difficult terrain. Seismic events and strong winds were also a concern for the 141 metre tall bridge.

On of the Year in Infrastructure Awards finalists, Indian Railways is using Bentley tools including OpenRail, PLAXIS, and STAAD, and the project has been able to make savings of US$24.61 million ($34.58m). These efficiencies were found through the better selection of types of materials and construction methodologies.

Once the bridge is complete, embedded instruments and drone surveys will be used to monitor the health of the bridge remotely, with a digital twin used to simulate how the bridge is behaving and the effect of inputs. This will ensure the infrastructure manager will be able to make timely decisions to ensure the sustainability of the bridge.

Year in Infrastructure

Year in Infrastructure finalists revealed

The finalists for the Year in Infrastructure Awards have been announced.

Facilitated by software and digital twin provider for the design, construction, and operation of infrastructure, Bentley Systems, the finalists span categories including digital construction, digital cities, and rail and transit.

The awards recognise users of Bentley Systems software and highlight those who are pushing the envelope of digital design, construction and maintenance of complex infrastructure assets.

Chris Barron, Bentley’s chief communications officer said the awards showcased how digital tools have been used throughout COVID-19 to ensure that infrastructure projects are delivered.

“The circumstances of the global pandemic have made the past few months a challenge for us all, and it is a testament to our users’ resilience that we received over 400 nominees for our Year in Infrastructure Awards program.”

Projects that will be competing for the final award include the Skanska-Costain-STRABAG Joint Venture, that is delivering the UK’s HS2 main works civils contract for the Digital Cities category.

In the Rail and Transit category, high speed rail, signalling renewal, and digital engineering projects are finalists. Projects utilising Bentley’s asset performance tools are also highlighted in the Road and Rail Asset Performance category.

Other rail related projects to reach the finals stage of the awards include the design and construction of the world’s tallest rail pier girder bridge by Indian Railways and Saidel Engineering’s nine storey residential building above subway tunnels in West Bucharest.

Users of Bentley’s reality modelling solution have also been recognised. In Australia, the Warragamba Water Pipeline Digital Twin is a finalist.

To hear more about how Bentley System’s software can be used in a rail context, register via the link below for the upcoming webinar, hosted by Rail Express.


The winners of the Year in Infrastructure Awards will be announced during Bentley’s Year in Infrastructure conference, that will be delivered virtually on October 20-21.

reality modelling

Webinar: Leverage reality modelling for linear infrastructure projects

The use of infrastructure digital twins within the road and rail industry is continuing to gain momentum. The starting point of creating a digital twin is capturing the digital representation of the physical asset, its digital context. This process can involve reality data being captured from many different systems and devices, from planes, drones, and handheld cameras to terrestrial laser scanners and mobile mapping systems.

This webinar will explore how Bentley’s reality modelling solutions can help you capture, manage, analyse and share this real-world digital context to accelerate decision making during the design, construction and operations phases of large-scale civil infrastructure projects.

In this webinar learn about:

• The benefits of reality modelling for Road and Rail
• How to capture, manage, analyse and share your reality data
• Insights from existing local and international industry use cases
• Live Q&A with local reality modelling experts.

Register for the live webinar here: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_EUYrlSHbRwKnKSWmzWe67Q.