The real benefits from this approach can be derived if the whole system is designed to be open and transparent, and app developers are able to provide new functionality which can take advantage of the system as it is rolled out across the network (see Figure 1).
The multi-modal opportunities are also exciting. The Train Location Service could be extended to buses; most modern buses are fitted with a GPS locator and could be tracked provided that they carry a special identification that would enable the TLS to search for correspondence with a road rather than a railway track. If necessary, interfacing with separate tracking systems should be relatively simple if buses are provided for in the overall scheme of mobile service identification, and the correspondence of bus stops to train stations is mapped.
The Digital Railway and the Way Forward for High Speed Rail
From broadband data on trains, digital command control, e-ticketing, digital signalling or driverless trains, innovations are shaping and transforming our railways. The digital railway programme set up by Network Rail, the owner and infrastructure manager of most of the rail network in England, Scotland, and Wales, has the potential to shake up the UK rail industry and transform the customer journey experience.
The industry is already finding clever ways of using digital technology to improve safety and reliability and relieve congestion on our rail lines. However, much more can be achieved by harnessing this technology’s full potential; to accomplish this, digital technologies should be able to communicate with each other, be transferable to other lines and rolling stock, and most importantly be integrated in a common rail system. This common rail system, would take into account legacy systems whilst allowing for new digital technologies as and when they are developed, without having to adapt them to different train systems. The Train Location System described above could form the core of the digital railway development.
There are some obstacles to developing a fully integrated solution. The UK mainline railway is divided into several individual entities in charge of different functions: train operations, rolling stock, infrastructures; which can be a real barrier to the implementation of a common system. Now that the digital railway programme is in place, there’s momentum to start changing the industry’s strategy.
High Speed Rail Has Some Significant Advantages
The digital railway programme was designed to accelerate the digital enablement of our rail, and provide an opportunity to develop the right overarching solution, including a strategic approach to train information management. Some projects have already successfully taken on board this strategy. For instance HS25, which WSP has been working with, is managed separately from the existing mainline network. It has dedicated lines with interfaces to the Network Rail owned infrastructure and has many advantages over the mainline railway. Firstly, it is a new rail line without need to take account of legacy systems except at its interfaces. Secondly, it is a stand-alone vertically integrated railway and, unlike the mainline railway where different companies run the network, provide rolling stock, and operate trains, HS2 will carry out all these activities itself. For these reasons it has the opportunity to take a top-down, integrated, systems approach from the start; it can design the systems’ architecture and select the digital innovations that will create a world-class transport network.
Taking a system-led approach is the hardest part of any project and often comes with some pain and sacrifice when an easier path might seem preferable. We are at the beginning of our high speed rail journey but with skill and judgement we might just look back in 10 years’ time and say it was well worth the struggle.
WSP’s combined expertise in railway operations, technology application and systems engineering enables us to make a positive difference to the delivery of industry outcomes and business case benefits.
1 RSSB is an independent not-for-profit company owned by rail industry stakeholders, including Network Rail, infrastructure managers, train operating companies and rolling stock companies. Its primary objective is to achieve continuous improvement in health and safety and performance of railways in Great Britain.
2 In navigation, an electronic beacon is a device which marks a fixed location and allows direction-finding equipment to find relative bearing.
3 A balise is an electronic beacon or transponder placed between the rails of a railway as part of an Automatic Train Protection (ATP) system.
4 ORBIS (Offering Rail Better Information Services). A Network Rail Project for digitising the management of complex Rail Assets and Infrastructure.
5 High Speed 2 (HS2) is a planned high-speed railway in the UK linking London, Birmingham, the East Midlands, Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester. It would be the second high-speed rail line in Britain, the first being the High Speed 1 line connecting London to the Channel Tunnel.