Passenger growth on Britain’s railways has been a real success, but that has brought ever busier stations and greater challenges for those responsible for supervising their safe and efficient running.
Technology is used extensively to assist. Banks of CCTV monitors, passenger information screens, help points and station PA announcements are all available in the control room to help those responsible for the safety of the stations. However, these systems are of little use when someone needs assistance with a large bag through the gateline or the controller is down on platform 12 helping someone off a train.
Now, however, a British technology company has found a way to get the control room staff out into the open, where they can both be seen by passengers and see problems for themselves, while still remaining in command of the station’s vital functions.
The company is Telent Technology Services, based at Warwick. It first launched a network-based communications management control system back in 2006, using standard interfaces to manage new assets, legacy systems and other building applications. The system, known as MICA (Management, Integration and Control of Assets system) has been enhancing communication subsystems, integrating CCTV, public address systems, passenger information displays, help points, fire detection systems and more ever since.
MICA goes mobile
MICA is now operational at over 80 stations, and interfaces with almost all makes and models of station communication assets. But it still needs control-room staff, locked away from the public, to make it work. All that is about to change, however.
Chris Hooper, senior integration engineer at Telent, explains: “The latest enhancement to MICA embraces Wi-Fi in order to go mobile, enabling MICA’s existing capability to be accessed by station staff via hand-held devices, such as iPads, from anywhere in the station. This leaves staff free to leave the office and move around the station, to speak to and assist customers, whilst remaining in complete control of station systems at all times – whether to play a service update announcement, alter information displays, or keep an eye on the crowds from any of the CCTV cameras.”
Other than hand-held devices and Wi-Fi, MICA mobile requires no additional equipment and works with existing systems. A station has already been offered as the location for the first operational trial, with Telent working in partnership with the operator to ensure a smooth integration.
“It is in times of service disruption that MICA mobile really comes into its own,” explains Chris. “When faced with customers needing information and assistance, operational staff will no longer need to disappear from the front line to sort things out. MICA mobile enables them to do precisely the opposite – to get out among the travellers – whilst still able to control announcements and other communications as it can all be done via their hand-held devices, from wherever they happen to be at the time.
“Beyond making life easier for station staff, MICA mobile offers real benefits in terms of customer information and safety; by saving valuable time when providing the latest information to travellers and keeping station staff visible and available, continuity for travellers is maximised.”
Innovation and development – the essence of evolution
Chris is no stranger to engineering his way to a solution, having joined GEC 29 years ago and stayed with the company as it has evolved into Telent as it is today. He’s been involved in electrical, electronic and software engineering throughout that time and is now part of the technical integration team. “The bit I enjoy most is working with our customers to solve real problems – so much so that most of the technical work I do takes place beyond the working day.”
His efforts were recognised when he was voted Rail Engineer of the Year at the 2012 RailStaff Awards. Chris feels it is partnership working that often stimulates innovation: “I like to listen to people’s aspirations, then consider how technology can be used to realise those aspirations.”
This philosophy fits neatly with Telent’s own. The company specialises in developing their technological innovations by working directly with their customers and, in this case, station staff, to ensure they meet a real need – which often involves a lot of testing and adjustment but results in a highly tailored system.
The Station of the future
One example of this is Stations as a Service (StaaS), a two-year project to create a new management and commercial model for future stations, integrating communications and mobile subsystems onto a single, IP- based network. Co-funded by the Technology Strategy Board (TSB), Telent will be working with Workware Systems and Abellio Transport Holdings on the project, which is to be led by CISCO Systems.
The project will involve demonstrations at different categories of UK train stations to show technical feasibility, as well as a wide range of associated benefits. StaaS will bring together the connectivity demands of passengers, retailers, train operators and security providers. By converging various systems and technologies such as Building Management, Internet of Things and Big Data, StaaS will deliver benefits to all of these groups. This will enable operators to move towards a holistic architecture with centralised management, helping to unlock future investment and innovation in the UK Rail Sector.
So the future may well be coming soon to a station near you.
If you can’t wait, contact Gerri Bilclough at Telent and see if you can get an invitation to see the future now at Pirin Court. You can reach her on 01926 693564 or firstname.lastname@example.org.