Pretty much everyone knows that railways and train services have a capacity problem. The ever-expanding population and associated road congestion are making train travel an inevitable option for many commuters.
Leisure travel is also seeing significant growth and, whilst this normally happens outside of peak commuting hours, major public events which thousands wish to attend create similar capacity problems.
Increasing capacity is the biggest single challenge for the industry; how to get more and longer trains into the system is a top priority for the Digital Railway group.
The public focus is on the train service but lesser known is the problem that this usage growth puts on the whole business of station management. Masses of people gathering on station concourses or platforms are both a logistical and safety challenge. Just letting people sort it out for themselves is not acceptable and technical innovation has to be developed and deployed to ensure that safety is not compromised to minimise the chance of any accident occurring. Platform staff must be fully informed of any unfolding situation so that the best possible advice is given to the travelling public in order to get people to their intended destination.
All stations are different in terms of layout, platform availability, train service pattern and user facilities – there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. Clearly the major termini and the large interchange stations are the ones where ‘traveller management’ will be at its most critical. Such stations need a dedicated control operation and are normally provided with an on-site control room.
One of Britain’s busiest stations, Clapham Junction handles 430,000 passengers per day of which 135,000 are in the morning and evening peaks. Some 2,000 trains stop or pass through each day with up to 180 per hour in the peaks.
It has 17 platforms and serves three train operating companies – South West Trains, Southern and London Overground. Platforms 1 and 2 are the Overground routes to Willesden and Dalston, 3 to 6 are the SW Windsor Line services to Putney and Reading, 7 to 11 serve the SW main line and suburban services to Weymouth and Exeter, 12 to 15 are the Southern services to Brighton and the South Coast, 16 and 17 are used by Southern for their cross London trains to Milton Keynes.
Altogether, Clapham Junction is a very busy place, with many people changing trains in order to get to Victoria or Waterloo.
A station of this complexity needs a carefully considered management structure if it is to operate efficiently. In BR Southern Region days, the station was controlled by the South West Division. This practice continues today; SW Trains has overall responsibility for day to day operation with the other companies providing platform staff for the despatch of their trains.
One company tackling this challenge is Telent, which has been developing its Management Integration and Control of Assets (MICA) system for a number of years as a means of integrating many, if not all, of a station’s operational facilities. These include public address, information displays, help points, CCTV surveillance, clocks, lift and escalator alarms, security and fire alarms, access control and others. The control and monitoring of these is brought together into a single point on the station premises.
The concept is not new and many companies have developed these packages as part of the complete renewal of station information assets, thus designing and building the system as a single entity. However, in many instances, the individual piece-part systems are often quite new and have many years of useful life left in them.
Is it possible therefore to integrate an assortment of differing systems into a single control package, so saving considerable expense and minimising disruption?
The MICA concept attempts to do just that and, at Clapham Junction, Telent was awarded a contract to combine most of the existing assets into a new control room.
The Clapham system
The project involved installing a fibre-based IP network around the station with hubs provided on three of the middle platforms designed as a ‘flat ring’. Physical constraints prevented this being a complete ring but it has sufficient resilience to cope with cable faults and suchlike without disruption to all services.
At each of the hubs, connection to the existing assets is achieved via local Ethernet cabling. However these assets are often not IP compatible devices and thus the MICA system uses the hubs to encode the legacy systems into IP addresses such that the information is brought back to the control room as an IP stream. A typical example would be the multiplicity of CCTV cameras that need to have continual video images available on demand for the controllers to view.
The control room is located in the recently opened station entrance at the top end of St Johns Hill known as ‘New Brighton Yard’. Going live in December 2015, systems and facilities have been added on since then, which is a continuing process as requirements for the station are modified or added to.
Two controllers are provided with screens that can access and drill down into graphic displays showing the various systems around the station. For practical reasons, the platform PIS indicators are not part of the MICA operation as these are primarily controlled from the timetable database and the signalling system. The public address loudspeakers and associated amplifiers, originally supplied by Ditra (now Keytech) and enhanced by new Bosch products in the ticket offices, are all-important with announcements being made from the control room should any variance to the train service occur. Routine ‘next train’ announcements are not made at Clapham as the sheer numbers of trains would swamp the system, let alone the challenge of zoning the PA areas to avoid ‘audio clash’ on platforms near to each other.
Help points (as supplied by Ascom) fitted on platforms and in the lifts are all important nowadays and calls are answered at the control room rather than the line control office as was the situation hitherto. If a call is received, it triggers the nearest CCTV camera to observe the caller so that the controller can verify the conditions.
The control room has a wall of four TV monitors providing up to 16 images, but the station has many more cameras than this. To ensure the optimum monitoring conditions, the MICA system allows the 16 cameras that best observe the conditions in the morning and evening peaks to be quickly selected to appear on the monitors. This is known as the ‘View’ facility, and the selection can be changed to suit any emerging circumstances. All camera locations are shown on the graphic images of the station with the controller being able to select any particular camera picture by touchscreen or mouse operation.
Security threats are ever-present, so the staff and equipment rooms are fitted with door alarms. Clapham Junction has many retail outlets with the problem of theft or vandalism if access doors are left open. Thus an alarm will sound in the control room if a door is not secured shut after a predetermined time.
Unusual and disruption conditions
Clapham Junction has three entrances – St Johns Hill, New Brighton Yard and Grant Road – and two interchange routes between platforms – an overbridge at the south end and a subway in the middle. Of these, the St Johns Hill entrance and the subway are the busiest, both of which have space limitations. The entrance has only limited drop off/pick up facilities and the subway is narrow and rather low.
The station sees abnormal passenger flows at certain times during the year – the Wimbledon tennis fortnight, Rugby matches at Twickenham, race days at Ascot and Epsom. There are also occasions when, for instance, London Underground is disrupted and people change trains at Clapham to arrive at a more convenient London terminus. During these periods, the number of travellers interchanging rises considerably and often these people are non- regulars who do not know their way around the station.
To assist these situations, Telent has provided new ultra-bright white LED dot matrix screens at all three entrances to give disruption and passenger flow information. These will be of a size where they can be viewed from cars and buses such that people may change their minds for ongoing travel if the situation is severe. The overbridge and subway will also have back-to- back screens, but space constraints limit the size of the latter. Free text information is composed in the control room using standardised formats as appropriate.
At times, it is necessary to introduce a contraflow system between the overbridge and the subway, one going east west, the other west east, with the emergency information screens being invaluable.
Passenger counts and people flows
Part of the management challenge at a station like Clapham Junction is predicting and planning the passenger flows. Telent is using a Danish company, Blip Systems, to assist in this as it has the experience of providing passenger head count and flow systems at airports and on Dutch Railways.
Sensors are mounted on the overbridge and subway that effectively count people on a minute-by-minute basis. This data is then processed back in the control room and is shown on the screen graphics as a series of green dots at the sensor locations. The dots grow in size as the number of travellers increase.
If the flow of people gets to a warning level, the then large dot turns yellow, and if congestion is building to an unsafe level, the dot will turn red and an alarm is generated which integrates with MICA, again switching the relevant camera to show the area. The controllers can then intervene to get station staff to the pinch point and take the necessary action either to divert people elsewhere or locally restrict the flow. This can happen if a serious incident occurs, for example a fire or major signalling failure with train services disrupted.
Predicting passenger flows for long term planning is more of a challenge, but a novel solution is employed. Working on the basis that most people now own a smart phone with Wi-Fi access, the Blip system scans for such devices and tracks where people are going. It must be stressed that this process is completely anonymous and no way does the tracking access the information stored on the devices.
Since not everyone has a Wi-Fi enabled device, it is acknowledged that the information derived is not fully accurate, but it does provide useful congestion measuring data which is sent to the Blip cloud service for initial processing before downloading on to the MICA system. In this way, the station infrastructure and flow management can be monitored and planned for the future.
Other MICA applications
Clapham Junction is not the only station where MICA has been deployed. In 2010, Stratford Regional was upgraded in readiness for the London Olympics although it retained much of the legacy equipment. For the major rebuild at Reading, MICA integrates the CIS, CCTV and PA systems to make the station management more effective. The rebuild of London Bridge station, not yet fully completed, has a MICA system in its new control room.
Nor is the technology confined to single stations. On London Underground, the system is used for control of fire alarms and help points at 120 stations on the Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly lines. On the DLR, the dual control centres at Beckton and Poplar have MICA to monitor TV pictures and control alarms at the network’s stations. A new contract with c2c will integrate the CCTV equipment used for DOO (driver-only operation) platform monitoring on the Fenchurch Street to Southend line.
The 25 Crossrail outer stations will also be ‘MICA stations’. Ealing Broadway and Romford will each control 11 stations, with Abbey Wood and Stratford being standalone. This is in addition to the central core stations that have an LU interchange – Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road, Farringdon, Moorgate/Liverpool St and Whitechapel. Links to the Siemens signalling system for platform indicators and to Darwin for updates to train running data will be part of the configuration. Use will be made of Network Rail Telecom’s FTNx IP-based transmission facility for the gathering of information from individual stations.
IP-based networks are subject to cyber threats and MICA undergoes penetration testing to ensure it has no vulnerabilities. Precise precautions are understandably kept confidential. Training both users and maintainers is an important element of any contract and Telent has learnt much from its parallel SCADA project. The threesome of trainer, user and maintainer all learning together is part of the package.
Controlling crowds in unusual or emergency situations is recognised as all-important. Where does MICA sit as a technology and system?
Definitely aligned to the Internet of Things, it is probably an element in the Digital Railway, although not yet recognised as such. In short, it is all part of the digital control and communications evolution that society now embraces.
Written by Clive Kessell