Thales is investing in the local workforce to enable rail’s next generation to fill the digital skills gap.
Proposals from Thales and Alstom have been selected as part of an innovation partnership for next generation signal interlockings organised by French rail network owner SNCF Réseau.
The Argos program was launched in 2018 to develop new computer-controlled signal interlockings and has now announced three groups which will progress to the development phase. Along with Thales and Alstom, Hitachi Rail has also been selected.
The project aims to update old, existing interlocking boxes that are increasingly obsolete and in need of renewal with digital replacements.
The future interlocking boxes will be able to transmit information in real time, reducing failures and maintenance while improving traffic flows. Without the need for immediate relays, the physical footprint of the interlocking boxes will also be reduced, further reducing maintenance and installation costs.
“Our goal is to roll out an efficient, resilient, easily maintainable system that can be installed and tested with minimum impact on traffic,” said Anne-Sophie Naboulet-Larcher, technological strategy and contract award manager at SNCF Réseau.
In the Argos program, each participant will upgrade an existing installation and develop pre-series production interlockings. The first are scheduled for commissioning at the end of 2023.
The Thales proposal is working on the Lyon-Vienne corridor and has worked to reduce installation lead times by 30 per cent through new research and improving change management processes.
“We are proud that the first solution chosen by SNCF Réseau for developing its ‘high-performance network’ is that proposed by the Thales-ENGIE Solutions–Vossloh group for a new generation of computer-controlled interlockings making even greater use of digital technologies. It was 20 years ago that Thales began delivering computerised signalling systems and, over the years, it has built up a strong, trust-based relationship with SNCF Réseau, partnering it in the move towards converting the SNCF network to digital technologies,” said Yves Joannic, vice-president main line signalling, Thales.
The Alstom team has adapted the Smartlock interlocking technology for installation between Paris and Dijon. Reductions in total cost of ownership and deployment time have been part of the proposal.
“With railway systems becoming ever more complex, railway operators need a system that they can count on to guarantee the performance and availability of their system,” said Jean-Baptiste Eyméoud, president Alstom in France.
Thales’s Communications Based Train Control (CBTC) technology, SelTrac, will be deployed on the Millennium Line extension in Vancouver.
The signalling contract is part of the Vancouver Broadway Subway Project, which extends the SkyTrain Millennium line along the Broadway corridor.
The CA$2.83 billion ($3bn) project takes Vancouver’s iconic, fully automated SkyTrain underground beneath Broadway, as part of the redevelopment of the corridor through central Vancouver. The project is being carried out by the Broadway Subway Constructors General Partnership, a consortium led by Acciona and Ghella.
The project includes six stations and an interchange with the Canada Line at Arbutus Street and bus services to the University of British Columbia.
Dominique Gaiardo, vice president and managing director for Thales’ Urban Rail Signalling business, said the project would improve accessibility along the corridor.
“This exciting project will improve the livability and access across the vital economic and employment hub of the Broadway Corridor. Thales will continue to build local expertise and provide strong support to the city and is proud to contribute to the mass transit capacity expansion in Vancouver with the innovative SelTrac CBTC system.”
Thales and Vancouver have a significant history together, as the city was the first location for the deployment of the SelTrac system. The SelTrac signalling infrastructure supported the world’s first driverless CBTC system on the Vancouver SkyTrain Expo line. Thales has also provided signalling to the Millennium and Canada lines.
Drawing on the expertise developed in these projects and elsewhere, Thales has an urban rail signalling competence centre located in Burnaby, B.C, which will provide specialised rail signalling experts and local experience to the Broadway project.
Countering a dynamic threat such as a cyber-attack necessitates an approach that goes beyond technology.
In a paper presented to the CORE 2018 conference entitled Smart railways… or not so smart: a cyber security perspective, Raymond Frangie described what the proliferation of technologically complex railways could look like.
“A cyber-security professional would see such environments as a Pandora’s box of potential critical vulnerabilities and issues and wonder, no longer a matter of if, but a matter of when, this system will join the list of other systems around the world to be breached, causing all sorts of issues such as delays, derailments, and/or in some cases, even death.”
While Australia has fortunately been immune from significant cyber-attacks on transportation systems, serious incidents have occurred overseas, leading the rail industry to increasingly ask how safe and secure are the digital systems that are central to the operation of the rail network?
The rail industry has years of experience navigating safety risks, as Michael Powell, director, technical & engineering of Thales’s Ground Transportation Systems & Secure Communication and Information Systems, outlined. However, cyber attacks are also a new kind of threat.
“The rail industry is very familiar with security and safety and has developed standards, processes, and procedures to identify the hazard, understand what the likelihood or the risk of it occurring is, and what we do about that. One of the key differences for cyber is that it tends to be deliberate and also that it’s constantly changing.”
While known and predictable hazards are able to be solved through design, the dynamic nature of cyber threats poses a different challenge compared to static threats.
“For example, the risk of a train collision is something that’s known during the design phase of a project,” said Powell. “You design systems to specifically mitigate against the possibility of there being a train collision. It’s specified in the requirements and there’s tests to ensure that this doesn’t occur. Whereas with a cyber-attack there’s malware, and there’s intrusions that are changing from day to day. Things that didn’t exist in the design phase of a project exist today, which raises the question of how do you deal with those things?”
The other challenge that cyber security raises is an organisational one. With cyber security being a new area for the rail industry, it is not compartmentalised in an organisation like traditional threats. This requires a flexible approach.
“When going to a customer, do you talk to the security professional, the safety professional, or do you talk to the IT department? This is different for every customer,” said Powell.
To introduce a the cyber security topic, Thales will conduct a risk assessment with the customer, to identify where the vulnerabilities are and what the responses could be. In some cases, highlights Powell, the solution may not be a digital one at all.
“I don’t think you can have that discussion with the customer with a solution already in mind; you need to understand what the risk is and how to handle that risk. Don’t go to the customer assuming that you need to sell cyber products. That’s not the right starting point. The right starting point is to ask what are the security risks that exist in the organisation and then what are the mechanisms by which we can mitigate those particular risks, of which one or more of those solutions could be cyber related?”
Powell gives the example of a passenger information display on a train platform that has been compromised to show an unsafe message, perhaps indicating that people should stand on the tracks.
“A solution to that may be that if there is a compromise in the system you simply shut down the information displays and instead use public announcements. The solution is not necessarily to add cyber control, which could be part of it, but it’s not necessarily the only solution.”
THE BENEFITS AND RISKS OF DIGITALISATION
While the rail industry’s embrace of digitalisation has many benefits for passengers and operators alike, according to Waël Kanoun, head of cyber solutions at Thales Middle East, there are three consequences of digitalisation that can introduce new threats, the first being complexity.
“As part of digitalisation and creating new and/or enhanced features, transportation systems are getting more complex. Complexity is an enemy to security and especially cyber security.”
The second area is less isolation, with increased internal connectivity between transportation systems and external networks, that can create and facilitate the execution of cyber-attacks with higher potential spread and impact. Traditionally, rail networks were physically separated through the use of walls and fences to prevent intrusions onto the corridor. However the integration of rail digital systems with smart phones and mobile networks is creating new connections.
The final area is the technology itself.
“Rail is relying less on proprietary technology and more on IT technology including operating systems and networks, which are not always designed with security as a priority. As a consequence, digitised systems are inheriting any intrinsic vulnerabilities,” said Kanoun.
To put these consequences into context, Powell highlights how inseparable private mobiles phones are from the way that users interact with the rail network.
“For example, your mobile phone now could be considered part of the rail system because you’re using it for timetable information. It tells you where to go, and if you need to change, but what happens if that information is wrong?”
In the case of a transport app showing incorrect information, rather than attempting to revert the change, Powell suggests that in this case, it could be better to shut down the app altogether and rely on other methods of communicating information.
“This is why we need to talk about the risk profile, what are the mitigations, and quite often the mitigations are multiple things, of which cyber is one.”
To grapple with this issue, Thales leverages global expertise when it comes to countering cyber threats, developing systems that are cyber secure by design.
“One thing that we do is we try to use as much commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) equipment as possible, so we’re not using proprietary equipment. What we want is the marketplace to keep up to date for us because we don’t want to have to solve the same problem five times over if the market has solved it for us,” said Powell. “Of course, as a standard practice at Thales, we check everything that we deliver to our customers, – irrespective of its supply original. We’re checking that it doesn’t have any malware that has crept in through the supply chain.”
This is done through a verification and validation process, where Thales engineers attempt to hack into their own technology through injecting negative events. Proving that the system can withstand this makes it secure.
This methodology also enables solutions to be interoperable with existing or legacy systems and allows upgrades and updates to be installed in the future.
These approaches are being formalised in the development of standards for rail cyber security, however the dynamic nature of cyber security threats means that there is little value in being prescriptive. With malware changing from one day to the next, a comprehensive process of testing and validation is key.
LEVERAGING A GLOBAL NETWORK
Thales’s cyber security services have not only been a product of its involvement in the rail sector, as Kanoun noted, “At Thales, we have security in our DNA.”
This comes from Thales’s involvement in a variety of industries where cyber safety is a key concern, with developments in all these fields benefiting the rail sector, said Powell.
“Thales works on projects from satellites to naval ships. The first principles required for security have always existed in these domains, so it’s about applying these existing techniques and existing processes in Thales to a different domain.”
In addition, when a threat is countered at another location around the globe, the learnings can be applied locally.
“Thales is operating all over the world, in all parts of Europe, North and South America, Southeast Asia, and China. If a cyber threat for example occurs in one part of the world, we can integrate this into our solution and then Australia benefits from that,” said Powell.
“The scope and the scale of the company allows us to see a problem once in one location and then solve it once, and then apply this multilaterally so every customer benefits.”
Incorporating what Thales terms “secure by design” at the outset of any project avoids expensive bolt-on security, which can ultimately be less effective. Indeed, as Kanoun pointed out, cyber security should not be thought of as a product that is added on to a system.
“It can only be addressed with a comprehensive approach covering all phases from design, configuration, installation, and testing to deliver cyber-secure solutions with minimum residual risks. Cyber security must be integral part in long-term maintenance and services by ensuring effective vulnerability management and continuous monitoring.”
Rather than thinking about cyber security as a technical problem, like other approaches to safety, technology is one pillar, along with processes and governance, and the proper training of people. Such a holistic approach to security is needed as digital systems become ever more central to railways.
COVID-19 has upended many aspects of rail transport, however there are aspects of the disruption that provide an opportunity for digital transformation.
By March 23, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic had hit New Zealand.
Already, the country had closed its borders to anyone who was not a New Zealand citizen or permanent resident and those who could return had to isolate for two weeks. But in late March, the way that New Zealanders would get around their cities decidedly changed.
On March 25, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the country had moved to alert level four. This meant that New Zealanders could not leave their homes unless for essential services and in Auckland, the public transport network reduced to weekend level services.
Callum McLeod, who is in charge of Auckland Transport’s web presence, mobile app and journey planner, could see that there were still passengers making use of the network.
“There were still Aucklanders that needed to travel for essential purposes, be that workers in health care, people travelling to the doctor or the pharmacy, or even just getting their groceries in areas that had limited other options for transportation. We knew that these customers were wondering, ‘How do I travel and get to where I need to go while still being safe?’”
Physical distancing measures applied by that point required people to keep a distance of at least two metres between themselves and others, and this applied to public transport as well. McLeod understood that passengers wanted to know whether there was enough room on the buses, trains, and ferries that were still operating before they got on. Luckily, McLeod and his team had a solution.
“We had bus occupancy information available internally, as an operational tool, for about the last year or so, and we’d been using that to manage patronage and understand where certain routes might be getting a little busy.”
Up until then, however, that information was not available to passengers. Seeing how critical this information was, the team of software developers at Auckland Transport got to work.
“We’d been doing some design exploration, but we hadn’t intended to launch it as quickly as we did. Given the situation we pulled the team together and over the course of about a week implemented the capability to display occupancy data that from our real time streams and then present that in a way to the customer that made sense,” said McLeod.
While the Auckland Transport app had previously categorised capacity in terms of many seats, few seats, and standing room only, this needed to change for the COVID-19 reality, said McLeod.
“In the context of COVID-19, this function became even more important and it became less about needing a seat and more, ‘Can I travel while keeping enough distance between myself and others?’”
The system, initially rolled out for buses, was based upon passengers tagging on and off with their Hop travel cards. Every nine seconds, that information is transmitted back to Auckland Transport, along with the bus’s location, determined by GPS. With the system up and running for buses, the time came for it to be deployed for trains as well, however a different method of collecting data had to be used.
“With our trains the tag on, tag off point is at the station level, it’s not on the train itself, so we weren’t able to use that information. But what we do have on our trains is automatic passenger counters in each of the doors and we’ve been using that historically for boarding and unboarding patronage,” said McLeod.
Similar to the deployment of the bus information in the AT App, a development cycle that was expected to take many months was compressed down to a week.
“We worked with CAF, who build and maintain our trains, to build and install that software update across all of the train units over the course of a week. Then we used the same model on the backend to turn that boarding and off counts into the appropriate category – empty, few seats available – and that fed in automatically to AT Mobile.”
With the programming now in place, Auckland Transport have updated display boards at stations and stops and expect the solution to be one of a number of permanent upgrades to service delivery.
A DIGITAL SANDBOX
While transport authorities the world over have had to make rapid responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, and associated lockdown and distancing measures, it has also been an opportunity for experiments. In particular, as Elias Barakat, general manager, ground transportation systems at Thales outlines, operators are looking for ways to get passengers safely back on public transportation systems.
“As the restrictions are eased off slowly, operators need to be putting measures in place to actually try and reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmissions.”
Barakat highlights that data will be a key resource for operators.
“The data that they need to manage patronage and provide a safe transport environment are things like crowding on trains, crowding on platforms, adherence to distancing rules and hygiene requirements.”
Just as important as the data itself, however, is how it can be used to manage the perceptions that commuters will have of how safe the service is.
Being able to source data from multiple different points is also important. Sources of this data include ticketing gates and CCTV systems.
“When passengers arrive at a station and they find overcrowding, they’re not going to feel safe and they’re going to avoid using public transport,” said Barakat. “Passenger crowding and passenger flow analytics are becoming more important in terms of the data that public transport authorities need to gather and use to try and control crowding on platforms and trains.”
“We have had positive reviews and social posts. One of them was ‘The latest feature on how full the bus is helps me with physical distancing. Thank you, AT.’ Another was, ‘Finally Auckland Transport added capacity checking for their buses. No more waiting at the stop only to have a full bus pass you by.’”
Already public transport operators in Australasia are having to deal with patronage levels that are at the upper end of what is permissible under physical distancing regimes. Using data to enable customers to make choices about when to travel is one area that McLeod is looking to explore.
“We’ve been looking at how we can use the occupancy information in broad ways. We are trying to work out how we do it at an agency level or route level, and show the occupancy levels across the day, particularly in our peak service periods. If we can break that down into 15 minute buckets and show that before 6.30am there’s plenty of room, it starts to ramp up and then ramp back down after the peak, that can help people make decisions about when they can travel, and allow them to shift their behaviours to maintain their safe distance.”
In other contexts where the wearing of masks is mandatory on public transport, Thales has deployed its facial recognition technology using CCTV feeds.
“We have systems that perfom data analytics to do facial recognition and detect whether some people are not wearing mask and highlight that to the operator in the operations control centre. Thales has solutions where we can do video analytics to measure the separation between crowds on the platforms and similarly on the trains themselves, to make sure that people are not sitting in seats next to each other and not standing next to each other in breach of social distancing rules” said Barakat.
These data feeds can then be configured to trigger an automated response.
“As soon as a facial recognition algorithm does the facial analysis and they discover someone is not wearing a mask, that would come up as an alarm in the control centre and you can automatically contact that person through an automated warning communicated via the PA system,” said Barakat.
Barakat highlights that as much as these technologies enforce physical distancing at an individual level, the deployment of such technologies can assure other passengers that the service is safe.
DATA DEPLOYMENT IN OPERATIONS AND MANUFACTURING
Just as important as keeping passengers safe is ensuring that the public transport workforce is safe as well. Reducing the number of hours on site via predictive intelligent asset management and maintenance can reduce the risk of staff infections and subsequent disruptions to the workforce. One tool that is enabling operators as well as equipment manufacturers to be able to flexibly respond to these requirements are virtual twins. Prashanth Mysore global strategic business development and industry marketing director at Dassault Systèmes, highlights how virtual twins are being adopted.
“We’re seeing a surge in an adoption of technologies such as virtual twin experience to automate factories and operations, so they can be more flexible and agile.”
With much of the workforce encouraged to continue working from home, cloud-based platforms are providing businesses continuity.
“Virtual twin experience provides a way to interact, collaborate, and control the real-world operation while remotely working,” said Mysore.
In product design, digital twins can be used to recalibrate designs to accommodate physical distancing measures, while also virtually testing the spread of diseases within confined environments such as a rail carriage.
“There is an increasing adoption of simulations of design for safety, for example railcoach designs and cabin designs are using this widest propagation simulation technology to better design for safety,” said Mysore.
Working with a model-based design on a virtual platform can allow for the rapid altering of existing products.
“Model-based design will really give a lot of flexibility in implementing concepts such as scientific simulation models that really helps with adopting those safety principles,” said Mysore.
UPDATING DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION
While it is too early to definitively state what aspects of our lives have been permanently changed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Barakat sees a shift in how willing passengers may be to have their movements captured as data, and how disposed operators will be to apply the collected data.
“What we are finding now with COVID-19 is that, because it’s about the personal safety of each passenger, including their own, commuters seem to be more accepting of CCTV data being captured and analysed to detect safety breaches,” he said.
One area where passenger data could be used more, highlighted Mysore, is in workforce planning and schedule optimisation.
“For the transportation sector more frequent workforce planning is needed in order to have your business continue amid the developing norms of social distancing and minimal workforce availability. Platforms have the capability to focus on scheduling agility. To accommodate disruptions, you need to have workforce planning agility and the scheduling agility, both on the production side and the operations side.”
In order to reduce crowding at the station and on carriages, Barakat foresees an appetite for more integrated transport management.
“What could be improved is interconnectivity between multimodal transport and ensuring that the timetables are coherent so that when a ferry or a bus arrives at a hub there’s a train ready within a few minutes so that you reduce the dwell time of the passengers.
With reduced patronage during this period of COVID, operators need to maintain a reasonable level of train and public transport operations, so by having an intelligence train management system you can have time table management in real time to deal with passenger flow unpredictability as commuters stagger their working hours and balance work from home and work from the office.”
Global technology provider and rail signalling manufacturer Thales will develop a leading digital control, communication, and signalling centre in Sydney.
The announcement follows Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s $1.6 billion Digital Restart Fund which aims to make NSW the digital capital of the southern hemisphere.
Thales Australia CEO Chris Jenkins said that the announcement enables Thales to commit to basing its digital innovation in Sydney.
“This is incredibly exciting for the many innovative companies operating in this state. To back the NSW ambition, we are committed to establishing a digital innovation lab in western Sydney to develop digital solutions for public transport,” said Jenkins.
Thales supplies digital transport systems to Sydney Metro and has supplied telemetry solutions to Sydney Trains.
Jenkins said that Thales would be drawing on its global expertise and tailoring the solutions to the needs of NSW and Transport for NSW, focusing on Metro, light rail, transport cyber security, and digital rail signalling.
“The Digital Innovation Lab will continue to grow smart jobs in western Sydney, enhancing our existing team of world-class engineers and software developers already based in our Transport business.”
NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said that investment in digital technology would drive the state’s economy.
“This record investment in technology recognises that digital infrastructure is as important as transport infrastructure to the State’s economic growth.
“We must be fast followers in the Digital Revolution to accelerate agility, lift productivity and generate the jobs of tomorrow.”
The $1.6bn in funding also includes $240 million to enhance NSW’s cyber security capability, the biggest single investment in cyber security in Australia’s history, said Minister for Customer Service Victor Dominello.
Cyber security is also a focus for Thales.
“It’s never been more important that our public transport systems are protected with the highest levels of cyber security, which Thales delivers to public transport operators around the world,” said Jenkins.
Thales will roll out its SelTrac Communications Based Train Control (CBTC) system in three new cities, with one system recently entering service.
In Hangzhou, China, in its joint venture with Shanghai Electric Company, Thales SEC Transport (TST) recently celebrated Hangzhou Metro Line 16 entering revenue service. The 35.12km line can operate at speeds up to 120km/h and has utilised the SelTrac CBTC technology.
Functions of the signalling system deployed in Hangzhou include automatic train supervision (ATS), triple redundancy, automatic train protection (ATP) for engineering vehicles, and switch protection in intermittent automatic train protect (IATP) mode.
The newline will connect the Hangzhou city centre with the growing Lin’an District, enabling sustainable population growth said Jérôme Bendell, vice president of Thales North Asia and CEO of Thales in China.
“An efficient metro is essential for the commercial success and growth of any great city. Thales is proud to bring a proven expertise and decades of transit infrastructure experience to Hangzhou Line 16 that will contribute to the transportation foundation for Hangzhou’s growth and evolution.”
Three other metropolises have selected Thales CBTC signalling systems for new lines and capacity increases. In Seoul, as part of the modernisation of Incheon Subway Line 2, Thales is working with local Korean signalling company DaeaTi to increase the depot capacity, allowing for the driverless trains to be parked safely.
Thales is also delivering its vehicle on board controller (VOBC) with train contractor Woojin Ind.
In Istanbul, the SelTrac CBTC system will be installed on the new M10 line. This will be the second line in Istanbul with the technology, and will now link Turkey’s second busiest airport with Istanbul and its growing suburbs.
Again delivering as TST, the SelTrac CBTC system will provide the signalling for the new metro line 4 in Nangchang, in eastern China. The new line will be the longest in Nanchang, capital of Jiangxi Province, as well as having the largest number of stations.
Dominique Gaiardo, vice president and managing director for Thales’ urban rail signalling business, said that Thales tailors its solution to the needs of each customer and the requirements of passengers in each city.
“During the Covid-19 period, we are continuing to work together with our global partners in major cities such as Incheon, Istanbul, and Nanchang. Thales is committed to providing state-of-the-art SelTrac CBTC signalling technology.”
Global technology provider Thales has released a new report highlighting the challenges of and solutions to the current coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis in the rail transport sector.
Acknowledging that in many cases transport networks have been on the front line of responding to COVID-19, the report’s authors write that transport operators will need to develop new ways of operating.
“There is no historical precedent for this, no model to work from. The challenge is huge,” the report highlights.
Since the arrival of COVID-19 onto the global stage, a range of challenges have emerged for transport operators. The report categorises these into four sectors: revenue, health, mobility, and climate challenges.
For operators which rely on fare revenue for operations, rapid drops in ridership numbers have had a severe financial impact. In addition, extra cleaning and the introduction of social distancing measures has increased costs, while restrictions on capacity have limited revenue.
Transport has also been identified as an area of concern when it comes to the transmission and spread of COVID-19, placing extra responsibilities on transport operators to ensure the health of their passengers and staff.
Maintaining mobility while staff work from home and cybersecurity threats increase is also a challenge for operators.
Finally, climate challenges have not been altered by COVID-19, and the rail sector continues to play a part in helping communities achieve their emissions goals.
To meet these challenges, Thales has catalogued a range of digital tools which can assist transport operators. These range from using cameras to detect body temperature and compliance with mask wearing, and integrating traffic management systems to reduce crowding by smoothing connections between modes and services, to technologies for remote operations and infrastructure maintenance.
While some of these solutions are in direct response to the COVID-19 crisis, in other cases, the pandemic has served to highlight areas where existing issues need to be overcome. For example, the adoption of flexible train services to adapt to changes in demand and the provision of dynamic passenger information systems.
Amid these uncertainties, Thales highlights that rail operators should start asking more fundamental questions about their services to ensure that once the immediate crisis is over, they continue to provide adaptive and appropriate mobility solutions.
“For now, the priority is restoring services and rebuilding trust,” write the report’s authors. “Looking to the future, the trends point to a need for next-generation transportation systems. Access to secure, diverse and reliable sources of mobility will be vital not only to ensure long-term economic recovery, but also to address wider societal goals.”
Read the report here: https://thalesgroup-myfeed.com/ThalesTransport_Covid19_Whitepaper?elqCampaignId=458.
Nuno Guerra, who is leading Thales Australia’s Metro agenda, explains how the implementation of digital rail systems can benefit a network operator.
Australia’s major cities are growing at an exponential rate, and pressure is being placed on infrastructure and transportation services to improve operational efficiencies and the passenger experience. A digital revolution in smart-mobility is already occurring, allowing town planners to manage and capitalise on these pressures. Rail infrastructure will play a central role in this revolution, with disruptive technology enablers such as artificial intelligence (AI), big data analytics, the industrial internet of things (IIoT), and cloud computing driving its transformation.
In Australia, both Sydney and Melbourne are at the forefront of the rail revolution: Sydney announced the North West Metro in 2008 and the new CBD and South East sections of its Light Rail in 2014. Both projects are now complete and open to the public. Similarly, Melbourne has announced its Melbourne Airport Rail Link – a critical connection between Tullamarine Airport, the metro, and regional networks – and the Suburban Rail Loop, both scheduled to begin construction in 2022.
Rail networks are awash with data and, with projects like those we are seeing in Sydney and Melbourne, the potential for utilisation is immense. Though there are many assets that incorporate and utilise digital technologies, only a fraction of this data is captured and analysed to generate actionable insights and improvements for customers and efficiencies for operators. There is potential for operators to boost revenue by as much as 30 per cent by implementing data-driven decision-making capability into their networks.
When comparing the rail sector to the likes of road transportation, there has been an explosive growth of ride sharing apps and online booking platforms. The roads sector has successfully leveraged data and used technology to connect directly with the customer and as a result built a competitive edge. The rail sector, by comparison, has not capitalised on data at the same pace. However, the rail industry is at the threshold of a major transformation in this data revolution. The benefits of rail travel to the community are hard to dispute, with each passenger journey made by rail rather than road generating benefits for society of between $3.88 and $10.64 by reducing congestion, accidents, and carbon costs, according to the Value of Rail report produced by Deloitte Access Economics for the Australasian Railway Association.
WHAT ARE THE MAIN DIGITISATION AND SMART-MOBILITY PRIORITIES?
The keys to success when it comes to digital revolution and smart-mobility, which are at the forefront of Thales’s development roadmap are safety and security, efficiency, and reliability. These shape our thinking in terms of what we aim to achieve in a smart network and address the five key digitisation priorities that are outlined below.
First and foremost, improvements in safety and security are paramount – Thales’s safety and mission critical systems such as signalling and supervision & control systems are digital and cyber secured by design by default, providing real-time data on congestion, occupancy, and security.
In relation to cyber-security, the digital railway presents a special challenge to traditional security measures due the deployed nature of the assets and their susceptibility to hackers. Thales has tackled these issues using a two-technology approach – traditional IT network security and ‘edge’ security (referring to devices deployed in the field). Thales Cybersecure by Design services focus on early threat detection and segmented networks to limit the access of direct connections outside the network. The ‘edge’ devices that make up the IIoT are manufactured under stringent security guidelines to ensure access points are not exploited, and reduce the risk of counterfeits and clones. Through limiting and securing access to these geographically scattered devices, organisations are also able to maintain tighter control and lower device maintenance and update costs. These technologies give operators confidence that their data and operations are safely expandable and secure.
The second priority is reducing maintenance and operational expenditure. Unplanned shutdowns are a major problem for operators, accounting for hundreds of millions of lost revenue per year. Research has shown that the top cause of unreliability is external problems, followed by signalling and train issues. To counter this challenge, we can tap into existing data sources such as Communications-Based Train Control (CBTC) systems, axle counters and point machines and use big data analytics algorithms to detect abnormal behaviour and predict maintenance requirements. This is the primary function of Thales’ digital TIRIS solution – processing hundreds of terabytes of data to monitor, in real-time, equipment installed on-board trains and along thousands of kilometres of track. The aim is a zero unplanned maintenance approach and customers have seen maintenance costs reduced by 30 per cent, site visits down by 50 per cent and overall downtime reduced by 40 per cent.
Thirdly, digital systems must help increase capacity. Data on passenger journeys, train occupancy, and platform crowding has enormous potential when taken in isolation, however, when combined and processed using big data analytics and AI, greater potential can be unlocked. The Thales NAIA solution processes passenger data in near- real time, allowing operators to discover and predict passenger behaviours, detect friction points in traffic flow and adapt staff and train services according to passenger demand. The flow-on benefits to train occupancy and capacity will have a distinct improvement on operational efficiency and customer satisfaction.
Asset availability presents the fourth priority. The ability to manage mobility across an entire city, and ensure availably and reliability of assets to meet passenger and freight demands is a critical challenge. Network visibility and real-time asset management enables more effective tools to manage this challenge. Multimodal Operation Control Centres (OCCs) provide these tools by tapping into multiple data sources and the industrial internet of things to create an ‘intelligent infrastructure’. Creating a dynamic visualisation of digitised assets across the network, enhancements to traditional systems such as signalling and interlocking systems will feed into this framework, exceeding current capabilities to increase frequency of operations and reduce delays.
Finally, digitisation must improve the passenger experience. As evidenced above, these modular digital solutions will combine to benefit the passenger in many ways. Ready access to comprehensive data will enable operators to make informed decisions on operations and maintenance to better manage passenger flow, train occupancy and wait times. Similarly, the passenger will benefit directly by more accurate and real-time information on congestion and delays. The Thales Central Control System (CCS), recently delivered on the Sydney Metro North West, is already providing this real-time information.
These disruptive technology enablers mean big change for the rail sector in Australia, and a leap forward for the smart-city architecture that is revolutionising our cities. Thales is at the forefront of this digital revolution, combining our global expertise in ground transformation with our data-driven digital service solutions to provide end-to- end solutions for our customers.
Thales is committed to the continued delivery of capability to our customers while minimising any risk to the safety of our employees and the broader community.
In early March, Thales implemented social distancing and enhanced hygiene measures across all of our sites. At production facilities a number of measures were implemented including: staggered shifts, staggered breaks, closure of canteen facilities, expanded break rooms, increased hand washing and the cleaning of rooms between use. Concurrently all non-production staff moved to ‘work from home’. All sites have also identified and secured a bio-cleaning company for deep cleaning as necessary.
We are closely monitoring impacts on our supply chain, actively seeking advice from key suppliers to ensure we have the ability to mitigate any potential impacts. Thales takes seriously our responsibility to maintain employment and supply chains through the current crisis and have taken a number of steps to assist our partners as the situation has evolved.