Information on the digital railway will help us to learn from other industries

Ben Dunlop | 11 May 2016 | Comments

Information technology platforms are needed to support every aspect of the railway, from signalling and traction power control systems, asset information and condition monitoring to customer and journey information.

The digital layer of the railway is a common information and processing architecture, which creates the need for digital interfaces between systems that have never been previously connected. As information for the digital railway takes many forms (e.g. to support operations, infrastructure performance or provide real time information to customers) it is one of the most effective ways of creating fast-growing intellectual capital assets. As a result, the system-wide effect of the huge investment required to implement the digital railway, is unprecedented.

The BIM layer of the railway supports whole-life design and requires an interface to the sensors that monitor the behaviour of built assets in order to predict their maintenance needs. The asset data around the maintenance schedule is then able to inform the data in the operational timetable. Therefore the database of railway operations will affect multi-modal timetables and the pricing structures of integrated “smart” ticketing.

The digital railway’s customer-facing information connects to the information of the wider transport and retail industry at one end. At the same time, the digital railway’s asset performance information connects to the maintenance industry’s supply systems, while the system’s traction power requirements interface with the flows of power in the national energy grid -  whilst the ability for each of these systems to communicate is reliant upon the connectivity in the telecoms grid.

Many industries built around critical national infrastructure, such as nuclear and water, have already recognised that this interconnectivity of information systems represents both a challenge and an opportunity. Risks such as those arising from power supply interruption and extreme weather events demonstrate to us how multiple systems can be impacted simultaneously. The digital railway’s information architecture will be the common layer on which these impacts will be most visible – and the one where a view across the system will demonstrate the most benefit.

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