For the second year running, the 2015 MetroRail conference was actually five co-located events held, on this occasion, at London’s Olympia.

As well as MetroRail itself, LightRail, RailTel, RailPower and AirRail were all at the same place at the same time, making for a very interesting two-day event.

MetroRail was obviously the premier event as its conference space was abut three times bigger than the others and was protected by additional security to ensure that only those who had paid the premium were admitted.

The event, impeccably organised by Terrapinn, certainly attracted both speakers and delegates from around the world. In one of the round table discussions, Rail Engineer was joined by delegates from Bangalore, India, Stockholm, Sweden and Buenos Aires, Argentina – all discussing the application of BIM (Building Information Modelling) to metro systems.

It was a varied programme as well, although many of the projects and topics will have been familiar to regular readers. Mike Brown, managing director of London Underground, got things started. Then there were presentations from Terry Morgan, chairman of Crossrail; Paul Priestman, director of PriestmanGoode, on the new Tube for London and Miles Ashley, London Underground’s programme director of Crossrail and stations.

That’s not to say there wasn’t a lot of overseas content as well. Andrew Lezalla, chief executive of Metro Trains Melbourne, described how his company was keeping Melbourne moving safely and efficiently. Tom Prendergast, CEO of New York City Transit, addressed the challenges of large scale metro extension and improvement works in the city that never sleeps. Desmond Kuek, president and group CEO of Singapore’s SMRT Corporation, spoke of moving people and enhancing lives.

As well as the formal presentations, there was a cluster of around 40 exhibition stands in the networking area. Companies as varied as Tata Steel, Alcatel-Lucent and Austrian State Railways (ÖBB) were all showing off their capabilities. London Underground (TfL) had a large stand including demonstrations of virtual reality and 3D representations of stations.

The Belgian arm of thermal camera specialists FLIR Systems had a very interesting demonstration of using analytics software to monitor the presence of passengers and others in areas where they shouldn’t be. Bombardier was showing off a simple analysis tool which predicted whole life costs and energy consumption of a variety of trains.

Hitachi, Siemens, Kapsch, Emtelle, Linsinger – they were all there and too many to mention, so apologies to the ones that haven’t been.

RailTel – the GSM-R succession

While MetroRail seemed to concentrate on the big projects, RailTel, an event that Rail Engineer has visited before when it was a stand-alone conference, set out to describe the latest in engineering and technology.

A good example was an interesting paper on a possible successor to GSM-R. This challenge has been raising its head for some years, but keeps getting put back in the ‘too difficult’ box. However the glimmer of a way forward may be emerging according to Jean Cellmer, the SNCF head of GSM-R.

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The problem is that GSM-R is now some 25 years old in design concept, using 2G technology that is fast becoming obsolete in the public cellular networks. GSM-R has the advantage of having a dedicated allocation of frequencies (876-880MHz for the uplink and 921-925MHz for the downlink) but these are adjacent to mobile network operator’s frequencies being used for newer technologies and from which an increasing problem of interference is emerging.

As has been reported on several occasions, the circuit switch technology to connect train-borne ETCS equipment back to the signalling centres is very demanding on bandwidth, and is incapable of being used in heavy traffic areas. The adoption of packet switching using GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) will give much improved capacity and is likely to be universally adopted across Europe by 2020. This will give some breathing space until the 2G system supply market begins to dry up after 2025. It will be possible to purchase GSM-R equipment after that date but the predictions are that the price will rocket. So how is this obsolescence challenge to be resolved?

The European Commission (EC) and the railways do not share the same vision. The EC view is that the mobile network operators can fill the railway requirements by selling services within their overall system offerings and by creating shared networks. This would require common frequency bands and common radio infrastructure plus using national roaming facilities to give mutual economic coverage in the remoter parts.
The EC is also keen to claw back the GSM-R dedicated frequencies so as to use that section of the band more efficiently.

The railway stance accepts that sharing should be explored, particularly in country areas, but that a dedicated or carefully-shared service is essential for the delivery of critical services. The 900MHz band should be kept so as to maximise the use of existing radio infrastructure (masts and towers) whilst accepting that these can be exploited for public services as well.

A potential problem is the legal responsibility for providing Railway Emergency Calls. Mobile operators are unlikely to accept this commitment, nor is it likely that they will accept the onus of data transmission associated with ETCS operation and the progression of this for ATO (Automatic Train Operation). Fulfilling a 99.9% coverage requirement may also be contentious.

As a result, the UIC and ERA have been ordered to investigate the way forward with various workshops already underway. The definition for a new system has to be declared by 2016 and will include:

»  Functionality including impact associated with the increasing speed of trains;

»  Spectrum allocation and the future of the existing GSM-R frequencies;

»  System architecture and associated technology;

»  Whether or not video surveillance will be part of the new specification.

This will be something of a challenge but it doesn’t stop there; assigned to the ERA is the development of a new system solution by 2022. Included, in the task will be a plan for migration and maybe this will be the biggest challenge since there has already been a huge investment in GSM-R and the railways will want to see a reasonable return on that outlay with minimum additional expenditure to get to any new structure.

The likely outcome is that there will be no LTE-R but an adaptation of 4G LTE (long term evolution) technology to railway needs. There is already work being done to define public safety profiles within LTE and the specification for this is expected in 2016. Satellite technology for low traffic lines may be a possibility but operationally compatible with train borne equipment. All eyes will be watching how all this resolves. There is much at stake since, without a reliable track to train communication path, ETCS and ERTMS is seriously undermined.

Continuous communication

The trend to have a smart phone continually in the hand and in use, no matter where one is or what one is doing, seems to increase unabated. The older generation wonders whether this is really necessary but pandering to the young by increasing the coverage and access is very much part of a modern-day transport organisation’s thinking.

Matthew Griffin, the business relationship manager at TfL (Transport for London), outlined the work being done to provide WiFi provision at underground stations. The requirement for high performance, seamless coverage is being achieved with a GBit Ethernet fibre backhaul but all of this costs money and some kind of business case has of course been necessary. The outcome has been a bid partnership with the leading network operators to produce a plan based on a cost-neutral model to provide the service, with the infrastructure being owned and run by TfL.

Charing Cross was the first station to be equipped back in August 2010, increasing to 72 stations in July 2012 (the year of the London Olympics) and 150 stations by March 2013, all offering around 5,000 access points. The facility is not just for the public and linking in the ATMS (Automatic Track Monitoring System) enables awareness of any track problems to be achieved in near- instant time.

The next step is to provide on-board WiFi which will be trialled on DLR (Docklands Light Railway) later this year. Not all the technical challenges have been overcome; the convergence of cellular and WiFi needs to be understood and the commercial, operational and public interest applications have to be blended properly.

WiFi in Moscow

London is only one of many cities where enhanced public communication is demanded. Ron Porter from Radwin gave chapter and verse of the work done on the Moscow Metro to provide WiFi facilities. This metro is the third-largest in the world with 12 lines, 180 stations and 750 trains, all stretching over 300km and handling between seven and nine million passengers daily.

Any communication usage rate will therefore be considerable and a fibre based solution has been adopted giving up to 90Mbps for up to one kilometre per base station per train. Base stations are positioned every 900 metres with two mobile units per train. The result is two million users per day accessing the portal.

Some basic lessons on engineering aspects have emerged:

» Choose a proven technology;

» If unsure about performance, conduct a trial;

» Assure radio spectrum flexibility;

» Make sure the solution is certified for railways, e.g. EMC compliance;

» Provide management tools for ongoing monitoring;

» Have expertise in interference handling from other WiFi systems;

» Ensure long term vendor support;

» Have in place off-load analysis for both base station and train equipment. Radio planning, system design, site surveys and on the job training are other key elements that have to be there for effective service provision.

Keeping passengers informed

Giving passengers reliable information on train services, whether for pre-journey planning, at the station or on the move, is never easy. The amount of media criticism of poor information only confirms the shortcomings that exist. However, great strides are being made to improve things and Jason Durk, the head of passenger information at UK National Rail Enquiries, told of some initiatives now coming to fruition. Customer satisfaction is regularly checked – information at station concourse and platforms for scheduled departures yields 80% satisfaction, this drops to
70% for information given during the journey and down to 40% when delays or disruption occur.

The problem is partly due to the complex rail industry structure; lots of TOCs has led to 66 disparate systems across the network, few of which talk to each other. Typically, a TOC will drive information systems only at the stations it operates. Big problems arise for TOCs that operate across a wider area; a Cross Country train running from Manchester to Bournemouth stops at 17 stations passing through 13 different CIS areas, often resulting in silly postings on the information screens.

Project Darwin (so called because it is always evolving) seeks to ‘suck in’ all CIS information from TOCs and create a CIS ‘bubble’ across the country. Darwin was described in Rail Engineer back in September 2011 (issue 83) but it has come a long way since then. Based around the customer- facing timetable, information is derived from the ITPS (Integrated Train Planning System) and the Working Timetable, itself to be vastly improved once TMS (Traffic Management System) goes live.

Originally applied on the West Coast main line with 17 stations in 2011, and followed by 32 stations on Chiltern in 2012, a bigger roll out in 2014 took in nine more TOCs. System coding updates were needed to integrate the various CIS suppliers and some quirks found within the London Midland and East Midlands operations needed to be put right, thus causing a temporary pause, but a re-start in Jan 2015 will allow the remaining five TOCs to be connected.

Passengers, however, need information as a journey progresses which has to be a balance between the provision of useful data and limiting unwanted intrusion into the journey experience. The technology involves the development of a GPS gateway to give train position and then linking this to Darwin for eventual display on a screen within each coach.

Limited trials took place on the Whitby line in 2013, on the East Coast route in June 2014 and on Scotrail in November 2014. One important factor is to ensure that data on such screens is identical to information found on typical smartphone apps. The solution is to provide a system that repeatedly pumps information from Darwin, via a central server, to the train and then back again to Darwin.

The GPS accuracy is between five and ten metres with positioning information being principally aligned to station timing points, thus displaying real time train progress.

One Hull Trains unit is equipped so far and feedback from customers as to usefulness will be part of the ongoing development. Funding comes from the DfT as part of the National Stations Improvement Programme.

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Keeping travellers informed during major station rebuilds can be another challenge and Paul Dalton from Mace described the methodology during the massive rebuild of Birmingham New Street. With the ever- changing concourse layout, a ‘plug and play’ CIS system has been devised such that the screens can be re-sited over a weekend as civil works progress. Volunteers are asked to comment on the layout of CIS banks both for effectiveness of viewing and suitability of information.

Using BIM to produce 3D access and egress models has helped find the optimum CIS positioning for the various stages of work. Use of social media to give updates on changes has resulted in over one million people being better informed. The end game at Birmingham is to have minimum facilities on platforms, keeping people on the new concourse until trains are actually due.

The value of passenger counting

Technology to count passengers at stations is relatively commonplace but counting heads on a train is more unusual. Peter Hausken from Norwegian State Railways described recent initiatives in that country. Aimed at nationwide application, the main emphasis is in services around Oslo. Sensors, fitted to all door openings enables passengers to be counted as they enter or leave a train. Accuracy is within 0.5% – much better than manual methods. The APC (Automatic Passenger Counting) system is linked to the train data network, itself linked by radio to a centralised control.

As doors close, a download is sent to the central database so that instant knowledge on train loading is available. Every 24 hours, this piecemeal data is downloaded to a central reporting system for ongoing analysis. From this, high and low train occupancy is shown by time of day together with detail on individual door usage, passenger loadings at stations and how many people have to stand. Station dwell time is a vital factor since this impacts on train punctuality. Overall objectives are to:

»  Produce radical changes to the timetable;

»  Determine how to cater for changing travel habits;

»  Establish the correct train capacity before changing the timetable;

»  Assist with interchange planning to buses/ metros;

»  Inform passengers of the best place to stand on platforms;

»  Help manage passenger flows if a train fails;

»  Monitor the condition of the train.AirRail – diversity of approaches

Transporting people to and from airports is a logistical challenge and none more so than around London. AirRail seminar sessions examined the rail connections to Heathrow, Gatwick and Luton airports. They made interesting contrasts.

Gatwick has the best rail connections of any UK airport, serving 129 stations with direct train services and 16 million people per year (38%) using the trains. Continual growth has seen the need for an additional platform but now a new concourse is proposed together with new lifts, escalators and luggage handling technology. An ‘air’ presence will be established at Clapham Junction and East Croydon to enable on site check in and ticketing.

With new rolling stock on order for both Gatwick Express and Thameslink services, an increase to 50% of all people using the airport is expected with linkage to 175 stations by a direct service. The over-long debate on London’s additional runway capacity may favour Gatwick, but other than a small scope change, the final decision will not impact on the rail expansion plans.

Heathrow is Britain’s busiest hub airport, handling 50 million travellers a year of which only 41.2% use public transport. It is London-centric for rail connections, with 4.1 million using Heathrow Express and 8.2 million travelling on the Piccadilly Line. The target is to grow rail and tube usage to 40% by 2040, even then only representing 34 million people.

The additional runway debate features more prominently in the planning process but nonetheless a western rail connection looks set to be built allowing a direct service from Reading/Slough to Terminal 5 and then onwards to other terminals and central London via Crossrail and Heathrow Express. A longer-term ambition is a southern rail route from the Waterloo – Reading line to allow through services from south west London and the south coast. A feasibility study is underway for this.

Some disappointment exists that HS2 will not directly serve Heathrow but the proposed easy inter-change at Old Oak Common will make places such as Leeds, Sheffield (even Manchester) only two hours away. In the immediate future, new trains on the Piccadilly Line will enable a frequency increase from 12 to 18 trains per hour and Crossrail, when operational, will allow 18 trains per hour for starters.

Luton is small by comparison, having 10.5 million travellers per year of which 16% come by train. The link from Luton Airport Parkway station is by shuttle bus and this may be a disincentive. Misalignment of train times to the busy early morning/late evening airport traffic is also a problem. However, from December 2015, a minimum of two Thameslink services per hour around the clock will be provided and, from 2017 when the East Midlands franchise is re-let, three long distance trains per hour will call at the airport station.

Much improved awareness of the rail service is needed at St Pancras and the Parkway station itself needs to be made much more of a ‘gateway’. A direct rail link to the airport has been ruled out as impractical but in the longer term some kind of rapid transit connection might emerge.

The AirRail seminar gave only a snapshot of the challenge. Nothing was said on Stansted or London City, nor indeed the important provincial airports of Manchester, Birmingham or Glasgow. Getting cost effective rail connections with the necessary capacity to all airports is an ongoing challenge for all rail operators and the engineering fraternity.

Did five-in-one work?

Most assuredly, the concept of having five conferences did work. Delegates were able to ‘cherry pick’ and see whichever presentations they wanted. Rail Engineer certainly did so.

The central exhibition was good too. For 2016, the show moves again, back to the 2014 venue – the Business Design Centre in Islington. Rail Engineer will see you there.