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Viewpoint | Customer focus, digital railway

Nick Dunne

With passenger journey numbers continuing to increase dramatically across all modes of transport, operators must meet the challenge of this growing demand while delivering safe, comfortable, fast and efficient journeys.

Central to this challenge in the rail sector is the development of the digital railway, with the development of modern signalling and communication systems integral to its success.

However, the solution doesn’t simply rely on introducing infrastructure improvements. Because the world isn’t simply a model of clean, clear variables with defined interactions, human factors also have to be considered; trains move people around and people interact with one another. Commuters and tourists are very different customers, all of whom behave differently whether it’s sunny, cold or raining.

Having a signalling system and high-performance trains capable of achieving a high-capacity service won’t help if a passenger’s umbrella gets stuck in the doors, or if escalators and stairways get congested and people can’t quickly move off the platform. This problem is increasing as ridership rises to a point where the entire system of trains, platforms and stations approaches saturation.  

So understanding how people behave and then predicting and responding to those behaviours is an area where mobile technology and data-farming can start to be used. Engineers can then be better informed about the design of systems to respond to such factors. Along with other companies, industry stakeholders and academia, Siemens is now starting to invest in finding and developing innovative approaches to respond to this challenge.

At the same time, we must also develop other ways of optimising performance, including closer integration of control systems.

Having signalling and control systems in the same room as telecoms, public address and passenger information is not necessarily new, but the additional integration of systems such as closed-circuit television, lifts, escalators, ventilation, power distribution and traction control systems is. Our systems bring all such functions to a small number of multi-headed workstations, allowing operational savings through more efficient use of staff and more rapid and effective response to unplanned events.

Modern railways are a complex combination of systems working together. Many of these can operate automatically to set routes, regulate trains and make decisions about passenger flow, but performance and costs of the whole system are optimised when they are fully integrated. This involves clear and detailed system engineering to ensure information is available to all systems that need it, including the operators who need support to make decisions quickly and efficiently.

As equipment manufacturers, we are making strides in the development of new signalling and control systems, trains, traction and environmental control systems, but it is only when we consider how these systems work together, and design them to do so, that we start to deliver systems that can move people around; not just trains.

  • Nick Dunne, is technology director at Siemens Rail Automation

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