RailTech Europe 2017 – Day Two review

Digitalisation in Railways was the captivating theme for Day Two of RailTech Europe 2017, which has attracted several thousand rail professionals from across the world. Joan Blaas of conference organisers ProMedia reflected on the opening day’s ‘thought-provoking’ discussions on ERTMS, before handing over to the day’s Chair, Airy Magnien, Head of Data, Statistics and Economics Unit at the International Union of Railways (UIC).

Outlining how the UIC has been active in the digital field going right back to the 1970s and now works closely with members and partners on data modelling, he described ‘technologies as enablers, IT products as solutions, and of course, the very change of business processes in our countries’.

The opening speaker was Alain Jeanmaire of SNCF Reseau, whose presentation was Fostering the digital continuity in railway projects. “The railway business is facing a challenge, in terms of competition with other means of transportation, and with its global efficiency, first of all in the domain of network infrastructure.” he said.

Whole value chain

“The transformation in railways infrastructure will come from technologies, but also and mainly from our capacity to organise an efficient collaboration along the whole value chain. The question is not just about technology. but about how can we work more efficiently.”

He highlighted a processes ‘loop’ showing how the various rail stakeholders should come together.

“These processes are involving a lot of partners, collaborators and companies, and one of the major problems we are facing is making those people work together and having an efficient day-to-day collaboration,” said Jeanmaire.

Information sharing practices with other organisations had long been an issue, he said, recalling a time when he joined SNCF, and they needed to work together with fellow European infrastructure managers Network Rail, ProRail and Infrabel.

“This is about sharing information within a process. it is simple to say but information is not just data, but it is also semantics and accuracy,” he said.

“One of the complexities of railways is the multiplicity of technology. The railway system is complex – the infrastructure lifecycle and operation involve heterogeneous technologies, cultures and languages.

Design & construction

Jeanmaire described how the railway system combines two major value chains – development (design and construction) and exploitation (operation and maintenance). These are ‘different worlds’, each with their own specificities.

They were on the same network and had one shared objective – availability – but they speak different languages. Traffic Management = routes & capacity & Maintenance = Technologies & Assets

“A major key success factor for collaboration in railway is about sharing a common language for railway life cycle and operation,” he added. “Implementing digital continuity in railway infrastructure requires a shared language covering multiple technologies and dimensions.”

He provided an example called the RailTopoModel, a UIC-powered project supported by around 15 members. It is a standard model to share a common functional description of railway systems, and support operational processes between partners.

This was designed, he said, to be the ‘foundation’ for the virtualisation of a railway system – its design, life cycle and operation.

Moving on, Raymond Soeters, Programme Manager for ProRail’s RailData project and Arjen Boersma, Manager CIO Office at ProRail, provided some fascinating insights into how data sharing should involve everyone within an organisation in order to achieve the best outcomes.

Zero avoidable accidents

“I believe that pressure on reliable data has never been so high,” said Soeters, who highlighted ProRail’s ambition of achieving a safe, reliable, punctual and sustainable rail system. This meant striving for zero avoidable accidents and disruptions.

“To reach, to fulfil these ambitions, we need good data. We really need to get smarter, we need to understand what the key factors are that influence performance of our infrastructure.”

It was from this premise that ProRail, he said, launched two projects, RailData and DataLab, both of which provide the capability for internal and external sharing of data, which can be utilised not just by ProRail but, crucially, its contractors and partners.

“Contracting is important, and our contractors are building new stations and performing maintenance. During those projects, we need to collect data, and then maintain it during the life cycle,” he said. “Most importantly, we need to publish it to the entire sector so they can use it in their daily operations. It is the total count of all the data collection measures we take that count up to our targets.”

He highlighted three specific examples which have already been utilised in working practices.

‘the beating heart’

The first was ‘one information model for the entire sector’, which Soeters described as ‘the beating heart’ of ProRail’s programme. “Here we try to match the logistical world with the asset management world,” he said. “This is a language which makes it possible to combine all the different data sets and create information from it.”

ProRail’s Rail Object Type Library (OTL) is a tool which contains information about each ‘object’ type – which can be, for example, a reported incident – to be exchanged within the rail sector, and also how it should be exchanged. The OTL describes the criteria that the data about an object type must read. For example, the data for three tracks must be given for three symmetrical points.

A second example was called ‘use the wisdom of the crowd’, and is an idea based on discussions with the Port of Rotterdam who were experiencing similar problems about data sharing. It involves opening up all of the operational information to everyone within the organisation, and asking them to report any kind of data failures.

“They were soon solving problems quickly,” said Soeters. “We did exactly the same, and one month ago we introduced our information portal. The most important is that on every page on this portal, you can report any kind of data inconsistencies. We have a back desk operation and so every failure is solved as soon as possible.”

Outside = Inside

The final example was based on Outside = Inside, in that ProRail needs to ensure that the ‘outside’ infrastructure matches the internal designs and the information within the databases. “We want to be sure of these things, so we invited our innovation department and did an experiment,” said Soeter.

It involved placing hi-tech cameras on trains and a helicopter and conducting a monitoring exercise which was able to recognise signals to within a two centimetre accuracy. “This way we could match them, and if there was any kind of mismatch, we could address it. Because it was successful, we are increasing the scope to 150 other object times. By the end of the year, we hope all of the data corresponds, and that what is outside IS inside.

His colleague Arjen Boersma then presented on ProRail’s DataLab work, which involves predictive modelling to prevent ‘intra malfunctions’.

One specific area he focused on was the issue of people and animals going onto the railway lines, and gave an insight into some surprising results. “We want to go from a process of find & fix to one of predict & prevent to solve failures in our infrastructure as quickly as possible.

“Looking at people and animals on the track, I thought it was not such an interesting case to test, but I was proven wrong,” said Boersma. “When you think about the population, you have to think – are there any schools around? A secure hospital? There might even be a festival on. This adds to possibility of an increased number of unauthorised people walking across or along the track.

Very valuable

“It seems very easy but it was very difficult. We had to use text mining to find the information we needed. We visualised the data that was never there, and that was very valuable to our people in this process. We used it with the other data to improve the predictive modelling.”

As a result, ProRail now had ‘up to 60 per cent’ of good predictions for when people are going on the track. A line inspector based in an area identified as having a problem was asked to focus on a particular stretch of line, and when it was inspected, evidence was found of trespassing on the track.

“Our data guys convinced him to take a look on particular days and he was surprised,” said Boersma. “He found trampled bushes and footprints crossing the track. He said ‘this dashboard is more valuable than I thought because it helps me look beyond my blind spot’.”

“We are still working on these examples and it looks to be promising – but we are not there yet,” he concluded.

Smart data

Dr Matthias Landgraf, Research Associate at TU Graz, and colleague Dr Markus Enzi, a Senior Scientist, then shared some of the work they have been doing in Smart Data in Asset Management for Railway Track

“Big Data is something we hear everywhere, but we must transform it into smart data,” said Enzi. Asset managers, he said, have different questions, such as ‘what do we want to achieve’?

He outlined the work being done at their Data Warehouse, in conjunction with Austrian Federal Railways. The asset information covers elements such as age and condition of superstructure, traffic load and historical maintenance, and Measurement Signals, which incorporates elements such as track geometry, track gauge and ground penetrative radar. They employ a ‘top down approach’, and is based on so-called ‘standard elements’.

“This describes an average behaviour of the track, over its entire service life,” said Enzi. Issues to consider include whether it is a ballasted or slab track, does it support high speed traffic or heavy freight traffic or both, and is the track curved or straight? “Strategies will be different for these tracks, as all of these parameters will have an effect on the service life,” he added.

Proactive strategy

His colleague Matthias Landgraf then presented some examples of track data analyses carried out, highlighting how a reactive and preventative approach should give way to a wholly proactive strategy. This enables the elimination of the cause, not just the effect; planning the right maintenance and renewal measures at the right time.

One very important step had been the aggregation process, added Landgraf. “We aggregated the different measurement issues into sleeper, ballast and substructure conditions, and we calculated these figures for the whole network.”

He also pointed out that while in Austria, two thirds of the network is equipped with concrete sleepers, it is the condition of the track ballast that, in most cases, is limiting the service life.

An earlier report of their presentation is also available on the news section of the RailTech website.

Navigating inside

An innovation for enabling people to use a Google Maps-based system for navigating inside train stations was the focus of the next presentation, provided by Christian Frederiksen of MapsPeople.

“We can all navigate outdoors but what we are trying to do is extend the possibility indoors,” he said. “That gives us an opportunity to do more effective navigation, but also as a business it allows us to collect data and use the digital footprint that travellers leave when using the technology for analysing movement and behaviour inside the station.

“The information collected can then also be used for better decision making in the business. It is really about taking this opportunity to learn all about your customers,” added Frederiksen. “Most would say they would like to use this type of application as part of their journey, so that opens up a completely new opportunity to improve both their experience and also how you can offer services along the journey.”

He displayed an imaginary app which was created based on his own journey to Utrecht, which not only maps the route but also has the capability to offer additional features such as directions for a coffee shop, but incorporates it into the journey which is then revised. It provides a ‘seamless transition’ from indoor to outdoor navigation, and vice versa.

He concluded: “Once people have the app, it’s entirely up to you how you design it to help you service your customers.”

The Digital Train

The morning’s final speaker was Bhoopathi Rapolu, Head of Analytics EMEA at Cyent Europe, and he posed the question: Digital Train – What lies ahead?

He gave an overview of the ‘digital train’, which comprises on the one hand, these elements: ‘decision automation’ (such as scheduling, spare parts & ticketing systems); safety & security; and operational efficiency. The other side is retail, including food and beverage upgrades and continual advertising; connected navigation, including real-time traffic information and live weather; and finally ‘infotainment’, such as social media, seamless station-to-train wifi and internet radio.

“Digitalisation is essentially changing the two sides of the story, for passengers and operations,” said Rapolu. “The new paradigm – engagement with the customers – is becoming more and more attractive. How do you sell more to your customers? It is looking more attractive from the customers’ point of view, and for us it is a competing choice between choosing the right technology for customers and getting more revenues.

‘We need a totally different architecture, a completely different vision,” he said.

The business case for what he Rapolu called ‘embedded intelligence’ on trains was based on cognitive systems – systems which are equipped to make decisions based on information derived from the intelligent transportation systems.

Artificial intelligence

“You can build an artificial intelligent algorithm. All of the important parameters are being captured by sensors, which allows us to build cognitive actions. As people we behave in real time, we act in real time, our brain processes information, so we need artificial intelligence that can do this.”

To achieve this, he added, the standard process of mechanical engineering needed to turn into the concept of interdisciplinary systems engineering, comprising monitoring and reporting, and enabling remote control.

“A train which can take decisions in the local context. Design just used to be a mechanical thing but more and more it is an interdisciplinary process,” added Rapolu.

Following the lunch interval, delegates listened to Harald Jony, Director of Energy Management & Sales at ÖBB Infrastruktur, on the significance of cross-border energy management for sustainable railway systems in Europe.

He demonstrated some significant efficiencies which can be gained by integrating the need for energy with the railway infrastructure. To start, he highlighted the EU’s declared goal of achieving 60 per cent less Co2 in the transport sector by 2050.

Success story

“This is a success story of combining energy and digitalisation in the rail world,” he said. “We are talking about interconnection and a little bit of sharing. I come from a very old fashioned infrastructure manager, and in Austria we used to just think about Austria.

“But a few years ago we said ‘no, not any more’. Instead, we wanted to think European, think corridors, and that’s what we did. We don’t talk about domestic energy markets, we talk European. We wanted to change things,” added Jony.

A timeline showed ÖBB’s work in energy efficiency, and in 2009 it combined energy meters with the locomotives: “This was the beginning of the success story,” he said. The components of the traction supply – energy supplier, energy management system & energy metering system – were also shown in the context of the railway sector’s considerations, ranging from law to technical elements.

“You need hardware, you need software, you need energy, and that’s it. All the things outside this relating to the railways are too complicated,” he said. “If I am a railway undertaking, I don’t want to think about what happens as our train passes through five or six countries – I want to get one bill. It’s all about the invoice.”


Jony highlighted the example of Germany where, since 2014, railways can choose their particular energy supplier. “In the end, you save money – that is a fact,” he said. “You can save 20 to 30 per cent, and you have transparency.” It has also enabled the development of driver advisory systems, utilising the railpowerbox.

“Everybody is talking about automation and digitalisation, and saying it is difficult,” he added. “But for us? No, it is not. We now have a European view on this, and our solution is that we make it bigger than before.”

Volker Brundisch, Product Manager Mechatronics at Bombardier Transportation, then explored the tantalising possibility of how companies can mine Big Data for free – almost.

Displaying a picture of train passengers in a carriage, he posed the question: Do you see the opportunity? That opportunity came in the form of a phone which was not being used. “Digitalisation provides us with opportunities,” he said. “The smartphone which is not occupied is an opportunity, a source for data, a different type of data.”

Smartphones and tablets, maintained Brundisch, provide data for synchronisation (from time), ride comfort and vibration analysis, (from 3-axis accelerations), and speed and geolocations (from GPS). Many opportunities exist and the technology is largely there, but there are other factors which will form the development of this type of innovative work.

Motivate the passenger

“Why not use the sensors of the passengers’ devices? We need to motivate the passenger to help us. Perhaps giving the seat reservation for free or something like that is an idea, but this is something that needs to be discussed.”

The question that is being posed is this: How many sensors will board the train soon? The challenge, he said, was to organise the data transfer, whether this was by automated means such as Bluetooth, or a web interface for upload or a traveller’s app function.

The methods were also being applied to the rolling stock itself, as vibrations and movements can be identified and measured, provided they are noticeable inside the carbody. This includes the vehicle response to track irregularities, and the reaction to vehicle-based vibration sources like out-of-round wheels.

Mathias Linden from the University of Koblenz-Landau, gave an overview of his analysis of public digital accident data, in order to support decision-making and quantify safety measurements.

Research activities have been numerous, he said, including interviews with European rail infrastructure managers on the use of Wayside Monitoring Technologies, development of the GRADE railway accident database and research in the the field of predictive maintenance.

GRADE database

“Our first question – what is the cost of an accident, and which safety technologies are sufficient to prevent accidents and increase availability of the line?” he asked. So far, over 43,000 accidents have been recorded onto the database, and 1.5 million records integrated.

The database provides evaluation options and analysis options for the visualisation of the accident costs and data, while GRADE offers an ‘economic assessment’ of railway safety technologies, analysis of accident causes and development of innovations, and detection of weaknesses in vehicles and infrastructure.

GRADE has multiple-level functionality, enabling the user to choose from many variables relating to an accident. The first level covers issues like event time, costs, personal damage, location and train type; level two is about particular sectors of the rolling stock, such as bogies, axles or doors; and level three relates to the direct accident causes, such as broken axles or a hot box.

Safety technology

“There are more than 200 different accident causes for 43,000 accidents, and we allocated them to the safety technology,” said Linden. “If we know the costs of the causes, we can calculate the cost of the safety technology which prevents these accidents.

Thijs Roeleveld, Technical Consultant at Ricardo Rail, shared a methodology for monitoring the geometric quality on a high-speed line with passenger trains. The example in question was the high speed line in The Netherlands between Amsterdam Schipol and the Belgian border – known as HSL Zuid.

Introducing the concept of ‘inframonitoring’, he outlined some of the existing problems which rail operators encounter using the current infrequent monitoring.

“Nowadays we have more of a ‘find and fix’ approach,” he said. “Once a defect is found, it is repaired. This has some risks however, because it might mean we are too late, and that can lead to incidents and disruption of the service. These disruptions are costly and there is little time to repair the infrastructure. Between measurements and repair, that can take a few months.

‘Predict and prevent’

“We need to move to a ‘predict and prevent’ approach, move to a continuous monitoring of the quality. If we have this information by way of preventive maintenance, we can recognise degradation and avoid incidents.”

The current system of inspecting every six months however meant such an approach was not available.

Roeleveld then outlined how high frequency monitoring worked with inframonitoring, with permanent monitoring of the infrastructure using in-service trains. Automatic and unmanned data collection is done during normal train services, a generic measuring module with GPS and communications, and an easy extension with plug-ins. The plug-ins for the generic module are specific sensors designed to extract the precise information required.

“Inframonitoring alone will not provide a complete dataset because there are limits to what you can measure,” continued Roeleveld. “The key is to find the right mix between in-service monitoring, where the data can change from day-to-day, and dedicated measuring, which remains more or less stable.”


The HSL Zuid example had specific requirements for rail and track geometry, to take account of the high speed (up to 300 km per hour) services using the line. A conventional measuring train is not sufficient for such speeds, and so inframonitoring on an intercity train has been the solution.

“One good example of this is from a very specific location,” said Roelefeld, “The track at Rijpwetering was moving with respect to the substructure. This resulted in a fault of the alignment which was not seen by the regular measuring train. Now we can measure defects which are relevant for high speed traffic, which is a great addition.

“The key is moving from corrective to preventative maintenance, but in order to so do we need continuous information. Finding the right monitoring mix is key to success. We are now in the phase where we need to find the right monitoring mix.”

The day’s penultimate presentation came from Anna Nicodemi, Service Manager at Trafikverket, who spoke about how the Swedish traffic manager has worked towards the development of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) as a digitalisation and service development project.


“RFID at Trafikverket started as a technical project,” she said. “It was very ambitious, and it was understood early that all the actors needed to do their part to make it work. We as a manager only have the readers, but the vehicles need to be tagged. We all needed to understand the interface to the others to understand the demand.”

She asked the question – why digitalisation? The answer was technical development, customer demand, fast and accurate information, higher efficiency, more capacity, and safety.

“It also gives us the possibility to improve safety, the environmental load can be reduced and capacity increased,” she added. “A fully developed service consists of a developed and tested system, including organisation, personnel, processes and procedures in place. This is to ensure all interfaces are handled and that the service can operate from order to delivery. If you don’t have these boxes ticked and all the pieces of the puzzle, you cannot deliver.

“RFID requires the operator to tag the vehicles, so how will we will motivate them to tag the vehicles so that we can get the benefits of RFID?

Consumer demand

She concluded by describing their journey towards RFID as a process where ‘each step needs to be planned in advance and secured’. It is also vital that all parts of the organisation realise their responsibility, that service development and digitalisation come from the same principles, and that ultimately digitalisation grows from consumer demand and needs.

An outlook on digitisation in rail freight transport was the subject of the day’s final presentation, which came from Tiberiu Buzas of Railwatch. He began by highlighting how ‘networking’ of large trucks on the roads had already been long implemented and it was now time for the railways to catch up.

“If, today, I ask the wagon keepers how much information they have during the transport, they don’t have any information,” he said. “From this point of view, because we are missing technical condition, we require a comprehensive maintenance system.”

Their ‘Smart Product’ – known as Industry 4.0 – will connect with and bring the freight wagons into the network.

Asset intelligence

“Asset intelligence can help us and help the wagon keeper. You can monitor shock, doors, wheel sets and brake systems – this asset intelligence helps render the system more efficient,” he continued. But there remained a question; the retrofitting of sensors is no easy task, so are the wagon keepers ready to invest in this?

Limiting factors are a lack of power on the wagon for comprehensive monitoring tools, a lack of user models or evidence, a lack of imagine – ‘what use is Big Data’ to my company?’ – and the high costs, particularly in relation to the existing fleet.

The solution is to have intelligent registering of critical components on rail freight wagons, with brake blocks used here as an example. Upon passing, a camera registers the wagon number and takes a photograph of the brake blocks, and that photograph is then assessed to see if there are any surface irregularities.

Ultimately, he posed the question, who are the stakeholders? They comprise the freight wagon owners, the railway undertakings and the railway infrastructure companies. The advantages for the wagon owners are that they avoid extra costs, thus increasing productivity and avoiding unplanned ‘downtimes’.

“It is creating a network that will allow us to know about our assets,” concluded Buzas.

The day concluded with a Q&A session, excerpts of which will soon be available to view.

Author: Simon Weedy

Commenting on this post has been disabled.