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Restoring confidence through digital technology

In our increasingly interconnected world, the transport sector has many new and innovative tools at its fingertips in helping to drive modal shift away from the private car.

Against the backdrop of the global coronavirus pandemic, there has been a significant decrease in the volume of people travelling by public transport, and, whilst demand continues to ramp up, against a backdrop of hybrid working models we are not yet at pre-pandemic levels. As an industry, therefore, we must take steps to restore confidence in our heavy rail and light rail systems, ensuring they are safe, reliable and secure.

There are a number of digital and sustainable solutions available to help us achieve this, delivering both an improved passenger experience and enhanced operational performance. Developing and delivering these technologies will also be central to achieving the UK Government’s decarbonisation goals and helping to fight climate change. By investing in digital technology, we will not only be providing, reliable, cost-effective and low-carbon solutions, but also creating green jobs and driving sustainable growth, ‘levelling up’ Britain’s economy.

Light rail is already a proven low-carbon mode, but there are opportunities to go further. There are many contributors to decarbonisation, including electrification of the wider transportation network, the reduction of the carbon footprint on infrastructure through digitalisation and IP-based communications, the deployment of hybrid and battery trains, more efficient energy use and the introduction of improved traffic management systems.

From Edinburgh to Croydon, Siemens Mobility has deployed an array of these technologies for the UK’s light rail sector, providing a broad range of future-proofed solutions. These systems improve the passenger experience to such an extent that the choice of travelling by public transport becomes an easier one to make.

Digital solutions

Residents and visitors to Copenhagen can co-ordinate their travel around the city easily from one simple to use smartphone app. Covering all modes, users benefit from real-time service information for public transport, smart ticketing options, and maps and directions when walking or cycling.
Top: S. Nilsson / CC BY-SA 2.0
Bottom: HACON / Siemens

Digital technology is at the heart of many of these systems. For instance, it is used to provide synchronised, real-time information which enables people to make personalised and informed decisions – such as allowing them to choose a less crowded service or the most carbon-neutral way to travel. Providing the same real-time information to both staff and passengers also means that operators can intervene proactively to manage changing situations.

As an example, Siemens Mobility’s modular Digital Station Manager (DSM) portfolio is an over-arching solution that enables this kind of integration. It provides operators with an overview of the entire network, enabling it to operate as one coherent transport system. Individual modules from a comprehensive suite of tools can be added using any manufacturer’s technology to deliver significant, and very visible, benefits and value at modest cost and in short timeframes.

Digital Station Capacity offers operators live data and accurate information about current and future ridership. This empowers them to manage capacity safely at stations and stops, identify potential pinch points, and provides an occupancy and incident alert system. The operator is notified whenever a threshold of crowding in specific zones is reached, or incidents are detected, such as panic behaviour or abandoned luggage.

Further, the trip planning and real-time information app enables passengers to plan and receive personalised data about different aspects of their journey. This can be anywhere – onboard, or when travelling the ‘first to last mile’ from home to the nearest public transport stop and onward to their final destination.

The many benefits of digital technology could be realised through investment in a complete end-to-end solution. There is still, however, an option to introduce individual elements over time to deliver some immediate gains, with a wider implementation remaining a longer-term goal. This flexible approach offers advantages to operators and passengers, by integrating existing systems with new technologies over time to capture enriched information and gain a better understanding of how the entire system interacts, leading to a more efficient public transport ecosystem.

When it comes to communications, the mass transit market is transitioning into IP-based solutions. This enables metro providers to use a managed service supplied by public mobile operators, as opposed to creating and maintaining their own. This technology transition is also a compelling opportunity for operators to benefit from increased data capacity, offering additional services such as passenger information systems, integrated ticketing systems and critical video (safety CCTV).

Siemens Mobility has developed the Airlink MCX radio to support this transition. Suitable for both 4G and 5G networks, it is due to be formally launched at the UK Light Rail Conference in 2022.

Mobility as a Service

Digital technology gives transport operators the tools they need to create truly integrated travel networks, often referred to as Mobility as a Service (MaaS). In real-world applications, customers can plan, pay for and manage their door-to-door journeys in a way that offers speedy, smooth and predictable travel, tailored to meet their individual needs.

Already successfully deployed in many cities and city regions around the world, MaaS is increasingly being introduced in the UK allowing for the harmonisation of new modes of mobility, such as car- and bike-sharing schemes, along with bookable Demand Responsive Transport (DRT) services. These intermodal developments help cover the first and last mile of a trip and offer great potential in offering people an alternative to car ownership. Using apps on smart devices, people can plan or react to changing travel conditions so they can get where they need to be conveniently, often making that important shift to mass transit.

For transport operators and authorities, MaaS is a chance for the industry to better understand the needs of the population of a specific area, regardless of their preferred mode of travel, and learn about their preferences and choices. This allows the optimisisation of services and to enable people to make the most of the abundance of transport options available – both public and private.

The technology offers operators a wider-reaching overview of people’s movements, identifying when transport is likely to be needed and to react accordingly. This works best when considering transportation as a whole, however, not just a tram or light rail network, as it is possible to flex the network’s provision to meet the needs of the greatest number of people. For example, an operator could run a minibus during off-peak periods rather than a double-decker, or run single rather than coupled units.

The UK has already taken major steps on this journey, using smartphone apps and ticketing technologies to identify who is travelling, where and when. Real-time information can then be provided to users, allowing them to make decisions based on disruption, special events along their route, or even the cost of their journey by different transport means.

Offering flexibility, a variety of implementations of Siemens Mobility’s MaaS platform worldwide demonstrate that transport operators can successfully provide passengers with a reliable, safe and easy-to-use transport system. This improves their experience of, and confidence in, public transport and supports cities and regional authorities in implementing sustainable mobility strategies.

For example, in Denmark our Rejseplanen trip planning solution brings fast, accurate public transport to citizens through a convenient smartphone app. Initially connected to public and private transport (including bus, metro, city rail and train combined with car-pooling, taxis and DRT solutions), the platform has now been expanded to include rental bikes, cars and walking. Customers can book tickets and trips on this popular app which, with more than four million downloads, is now more frequently used than Google Maps.

In Luxembourg our app, developed for Administration des Transports Publics, is a new intermodal MaaS platform which provides comprehensive information about all mobility options. Commuters in particular benefit from many intelligent alternatives to driving in this hugely-congested principality. With real-time data, maps, navigation for car and bicycle routes, and emissions data, users can select options to determine their trip, such as parking, speed and sustainable travel.

While passenger numbers and flow data are important in keeping customers and workers safe, the Digital Station Manager system’s wayfinding functionality can also assist individuals move safely and efficiently through a transport ecosystem. This might be an unfamiliar interchange hub or tramstop, making sure they get to the right place at the right time, and all the while remaining COVID-safe in the current heightened environment.

Synchronised, bespoke information across multiple channels, such as directly to a passenger’s mobile phone or via onboard displays, means every individual on the network receives the specific information they need. This data-based intelligence helps to bring operators closer to their customers by providing a comprehensive overview of the state of the network and the passengers moving through it.

The data available can also assist in future network planning, such as developing ticketing products and first-to-last mile transport based on forecast demand. The impact on operations, including service schedules, station staffing requirements and rail replacement services, can be adapted either manually or automatically.

Advanced electrification solutions

Electrification, communications, signalling and control system solutions from Siemens Mobility are employed on Edinburgh’s tramway, currently being expanded under the Trams to Newhaven project due for completion in 2023.

The transport industry has to evolve and adapt in order to play its part in meeting the UK’s climate change targets.

We have to find sustainable and cost-efficient solutions which will enable a broad range of benefits to be delivered. This will result in an improvement to people’s health, creating better places to live and travel in, driving green economic growth and encouraging people to choose to travel by rail-borne means.

Rail remains the most effective and efficient mode of transport for commuter, high speed inter-city and heavy freight services. With high performance electrification being the most carbon-efficient solution, it is a core component in delivering end-to-end networked, digital infrastructure, as well as improved performance benefits for operators, passengers and freight users.

Early Contractor Involvement

With an ever-growing demand for greener, smarter and more reliable transport systems, as an industry we are challenged to make the best use of available investment. One approach that is increasingly being used to meet this challenge is the adoption of Early Contractor Involvement (ECI).

By involving the technology supplier at the very start of the process, a greater degree of operational flexibility can be achieved, and programme disruptions minimised. This means that potential risks and challenges can be identified promptly, and strategies can be developed to ensure that projects meet the requirements of all their stakeholders.

When engaged at the ECI stage in a light rail project, Siemens Mobility typically deploys its Sitras Sidytrac simulation software, together with calculations from its Sicat IT OLE dynamic modelling and software design tools. This provides the programme team with invaluable insights into the various system interactions and the power quality required to allow for voltage fluctuations and to avoid operational disruptions. The package allows comprehensive studies of the electrical network to be undertaken, including electromagnetic capability (EMC) and power modelling.

By engaging the electrification team at the initial feasibility stage, system support can also be effectively and consistently delivered throughout the life of the project, reducing overall costs and programme length. Through early involvement we have demonstrated substantial project cost savings and been able to bring forward large programmes by several years, supporting business cases and enabling projects to secure funding.

It is also beneficial to look at the project as an end-to-end system from the start – with a single supplier, taking a holistic view, able to design and deliver the most cost-effective and efficient solution. Conversely, when individual disciplines are procured separately, there is a risk that the solution becomes over-engineered, with each supplier focusing on their own relatively narrow area.

By involving technology providers for the whole route rather than small sections of it, ECI programmes enable the best solution to be developed and assessed.

The integration of the strategy and technology required to control and power trams can also be better identified at an early stage of a scheme, where passenger flow, vehicle location, power loading and efficient infrastructure placement can all be modelled to inform the electrification system design. This also allows new technologies to be considered which otherwise may have been missed. Not only can this approach help minimise the overall cost of delivery, but it can also lead to the introduction of output-based specifications, if appropriate. These encourage technology providers to take a more whole-life approach.

The make-up of the ECI team is also important and should include people who are not only capable of challenging the norm, but also have a true understanding and a passion to achieve the overall programme goals. They must also be willing and empowered to make the best decisions. Similarly, when the client is fully engaged, a true ‘one team’ approach develops, with openness and transparency throughout.

Edinburgh Phase 2 – an example of ECI

As supplier of the SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition), telecommunications, electrification, signalling and road traffic systems to the first phase of the Edinburgh Trams programme, Siemens Mobility was brought in right at the start of the second phase to deliver a 4.69km (2.9-mile) extension to the successful original network.

Working closely with the client to fully develop the technology solution and business case ensured the programme was within the cost envelope, achievable, and that the relevant risks were carried by the client, the main contractor or the system subcontractor, as appropriate.

Initial discussions began around two years before the launch of the project, enabling the right solutions to be agreed at an early stage. This in turn helped the appointed main contractor to fully understand the tender and gave the client confidence to start an ECI stage with them. As a result, any misunderstandings or queries were addressed in a collaborative way, building the trust required to establish the best cost and programme plan.

The project’s completion in 2023 will further improve accessibility across the Edinburgh region, between Newhaven, the city centre and the airport, making it even easier for people to travel using a low-carbon mode. It will also contribute to improvements in air quality, increasing the opportunities for people to access parts of the city more easily without travelling by car.

Siemens Mobility is working in partnership with the main contractor, a joint venture of Sacyr, Farrans and Neopul, on the route connecting Leith and Newhaven to the current temporary terminus at York Place. The new double-track route will have eight stops, with two substations providing the traction power.

Building upon the work delivered for the first phase of the network, Siemens Mobility will be extending the electrification, power supply systems, SCADA, telecoms and signalling systems. This is in addition to installing new, and modifying existing, traffic signals at 30 road intersections, using extra-low-voltage controllers and tram signals. These are not only linked to the city’s traffic control facilities, but also to the signal technology of the trams, enabling priority to be provided to trams at junctions across the expanded network.

Beyond being just a transport solution, the project will deliver a range of benefits to those living in and travelling around Edinburgh, making a significant contribution to the continued regeneration of parts of the city, as well as supporting the City Council’s commitment to carbon neutrality by 2030.

In a separate programme of work, we have also supplied the technology that powers the One-Ticket solution. Introduced across the tram network, this allows passengers to purchase one ticket on their smartphone which can be used for both the tram and more than 30 bus operators across east central Scotland. Passengers can now catch any bus or tram, show their smartphone to the driver or ticket collector, removing any physical contact by scanning or tapping, thus improving the travel experience across multiple public transport operators and a variety of modes in a safe and convenient way.

Taking positive action

By integrating digital solutions into operations now, we can support the safe return of passengers to networks, providing tangible benefits to the travelling public, our workforce and operators. We can manage the flow and movement of passengers to, in, around and through stations and stops and on the wider network.

These positive actions demonstrate that we are serious about decarbonising what we do and playing our part in meeting government, city-level and regional targets. Such innovations in turn make rail-based travel a more attractive alternative to the private car. Encouraging modal shift is a key challenge and we are proud that our technologies and products are part of this solution.

Images courtesy of Siemens Mobility unless stated.


Article appeared originally in TAUT 1007 (November 2021)