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Transportation Transformed: Increasing digitalisation across the industry

August 25, 2017

Transportation Transformed: Increasing d...

Enterprises in the transportation industry are increasingly turning to information technology (IT) solutions to bring in efficiency in their operations. These solutions have enabled them to meet signalling requirements, maintain passenger records and track vehicles on a real-time basis. Officials from leading enterprises in this space discuss their IT strategies, deployment challenges and future plans... (From left to right: Prashant Rao, Executive Director, Signal, Telecommunications and IT, DMRC; Surojit D’Rozario, System Administrator-I, KMRCL; A.S. Shankar, Chief Engineer, Signalling and Telecommunications, BMRCL and Stephen Tame, Chief Adviser IT, Indigo Airlines)

What role are IT and telecom solutions playing in the transportation industry? How are enterprises in the sector undertaking digitalisation?

Prashant Rao

As metro rail systems have to run trains at a high frequency while ensuring safety, conventional railway signalling and train control systems cannot be used in a metro environment. Metro rail transportation systems require a high level of automation in the train control, internal telecommunications, building management and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems. In addition, digitalisation is required for the ticketing and passenger information dissemination systems (public announcement and train arrival/ departure display).

Surojit D’Rozario

Improvements in communication technologies have made a significant impact on the urban public transport industry. To this end, automatic data collection solutions including automatic fare collection (AFC) systems, automatic vehicle location systems, automatic passenger counting systems, advanced passenger information systems, and electronic fare payment and ticketing systems have become an essential part of the transportation industry. This is because these solutions help in providing ubiquitous connectivity and controlled services. Further, they help in ensuring the availability of information for service and operations planning, and measuring the resultant service quality delivered to passengers. Seamless mobility between various transportation systems has become possible due to the integration of these services through a common mobility backbone. Organisations in the transportation industry have adopted IT and telecom solutions and integrated them at the core of their services. Application-based taxi services like Ola and Uber as well as state transportation buses are now being tracked on a real-time basis. We have progressed from physical queues to online platforms for booking tickets for almost all types of transportation services. While the impact of these solutions has already become apparent in many transportation systems, there is still potential for a much deeper impact in the future.

Stephen Tame

The transportation industry is witnessing a big shift and the emergence of a connected consumer owing to the expansion of 4G coverage in the country. Over 53 per cent of our direct customers book tickets through their mobile phones. The demand for connectivity has increased at airports as well. Meanwhile, there have been significant developments during the past six months that have changed the landscape of the airline industry. To this end, the government has begun talks about providing Wi-Fi facility in aircraft. In fact, it has reportedly granted a licence to Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited for providing satellite-based services. These Wi-Fi services would help in developing a connected airline and a connected  aircraft in the future and increase connectivity and efficiency at airports.

What are some of the IT, telecom, enterprise and mobility solutions used by your organisation? How have they helped in enhancing business performance and efficiency?

Prashant Rao

The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) has been using the most modern train control, telecommunication, ticketing and power SCADA systems since its inception. It was the first metro rail system to introduce automatic train operations in the field of train control wherein the dependence on the driver is very limited. As far as telecommunications is concerned, DMRC introduced the digital train radio based on terrestrial trunk radio (TETRA) technology to ensure efficient spectrum utilisation and higher availability of radio communication signals between trains and stations. In terms of security and surveillance, DMRC has been operating a network of more than 10,000 cameras to ensure a secure environment on the metro premises. Besides, in the field of ticketing, DMRC has introduced a contactless ticketing system wherein passengers can load money with their smart cards and swipe it through automatic ticketing gates at the stations. The system works using a highly automated network of computer-based ticketing gates with inbuilt intelligence to deduct the correct fare automatically. IT-based systems are also being used for power supervision and control of high and low voltage supply for running the trains and undertaking auxiliary functions at metro stations.

Surojit D’Rozario

We plan to soon establish a completely computerised state-of-the-art ticketing system for Kolkata Metro Rail Corporation Limited (KMRCL). The existing AFC system would be integrated with our website for online recharging of metro cards. We also plan to implement an AFC system using different fare mediums to meet the operational requirements of KMRCL. This system would be capable of integrating with other modes of transportation available in the city. The fare mechanism would also comply with the National Common Mobility Card system being implemented in India. The main objective of this initiative is to have a single medium for fare collection by various operators such as the North-South Metro, suburban railways and buses. KMRCL’s corporate office would also be equipped with the best enterprise resource planning (ERP)-based solution to manage the financial needs of the organisation.

A.S. Shankar

Today, IT systems are being used by every organisation to enhance operational and business processes. Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited (BMRCL) is no exception. There are five key areas where IT technologies are used in the case of metro systems:

• Metro operations and safety: Since running trains safely at an operational headway of about three minutes leads to many problems, metro systems primarily use key IT solutions for automatic control and supervision, which facilitate signalling and train control. The subsystems, which form a part of the rolling stock, are also IT based. Apart from TETRA communication systems, fixed line telephone systems, CCTV surveillance systems and managerial information systems require IT solutions. Moreover, SCADA solutions for various parts of the metro system such as traction/auxiliary substations, signalling, telecom and tunnel ventilation, are all co-located to achieve better efficiency.

• Passenger information and customer care: Passenger information display systems and public address systems have to provide updated information at several stations and monitor train movement on a real-time basis. Further, call centres, mobile applications for metro routes, and fare information and trip planning applications are required. To this end, BMRCL has facilitated mobile communication infrastructure on metro lines including tunnels for seamless availability of mobile signals of various telecom operators.

• Operations and maintenance (O&M) support system: In metro systems, asset management solutions and inventory management systems are of paramount importance from the O&M perspective. The frequency of overhaul of rolling stock, track side equipment and energy monitoring of various systems are also essential.

• Ticketing and revenue collection: There are AFC systems that have been deployed across 40 stations of BMRCL to continuously monitor traffic and make traffic projections. There are also facilities such as web-based recharging of smart cards and automatic recharging of tickets to enable seamless travel. In addition, cash collection, and settlement with banks and other transport entities require trouble-free IT systems that are robust in design and ensure a secure environment.

• Infrastructure monitoring and ERP: IT systems for building management, tunnel ventilation systems and environment control systems provide safety and operational conveniences, increasing the efficiency of metro operations. In addition, intranet, email and enterprise applications such as ERP are used for internal communication and achieving business process efficiency.

Stephen Tame

In May 2017, we revamped our website. We have also been developing solutions for maintaining our engines, checking fuel consumption, etc. From the customer’s point of view, we aim to make the information on our application/website easily accessible. We are also planning to connect our ground staff and deliver mobility to our engineers through tablets or mobile devices to enhance the company’s business efficiency. However, we are at the beginner’s stage right now.

What are the challenges faced in managing IT and telecom infrastructure, and deploying new technologies?

Prashant Rao

As most of the technologies deployed by DMRC were being introduced in the country for the first time, the organisation had to undergo a lot of internal skill development and study a number of metro systems across the world. After the deployment of these technologies, the major challenge has been to limit the dependence on foreign original equipment manufacturers and to have more in-house maintenance and upgradation capabilities.

Surojit D’Rozario

The biggest challenge faced by organisations in the metro rail domain relates to the adoption and deployment of latest technologies as the gestation period of metro rail projects is generally three to four years. Therefore, it is difficult to keep pace with the ever-changing technologies, ranging from train control systems to fare collection systems.

A.S. Shankar

The specific requirements of the metro rail system put limitations on the availability of expertise and equipment. So far, the majority of metro projects are being executed in collaboration with foreign vendors and suppliers. This makes the maintenance of equipment challenging. Further, new technologies are only adopted when they are proven to be safe as safety is of prime importance for metro operators. Besides, it is challenging to monitor the performance levels of various staff members deployed for metro security, maintenance and operations.

Stephen Tame

One of the problems that we faced was providing connectivity between our ground staff and the aircraft. While all other countries recognise mobile data as an essential service, there is no such provision in India. Further, limited network coverage in certain parts of the country has been a big challenge.

What is the scope of big data analytics, cloud and IoT technologies in the transportation industry? Is your company using/planning to use any of these technologies?

Prashant Rao

The adoption of these technologies in the metro transport industry is at a nascent stage. Most of the metro rail systems are safety critical by design and require a secure internal network. Therefore, these systems are yet to fully adopt cloud/IoT technologies.  However, metros are moving towards cloud-based solutions for internal document management. There is growing awareness about cloud-based solutions for operations like ticketing and passenger information, as well as to avail of the benefits of cost and interoperability.

Surojit D’Rozario

Big data analytics plays an important role in mass transit systems. The role varies from analysing data at the design stage to predicting the peak load at various stations and fine-tuning the frequency of services to optimise the load per trip.

Stephen Tame

The airline industry has huge experience in the IoT domain. It is also witnessing growing traction in terms of big data analytics. As the wireless network grows, we will witness the emergence of more consistent models for the connected consumer, which would enable the industry to send passengers’ itinerary and boarding passes through Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp messenger rather than by email. Some airline companies in the world are already using WhatsApp or Hike Messenger to share this information. In the future, we would look at  implementing artificial intelligence in our systems.

What are the key IT and telecom trends that the transportation industry is likely to witness going forward?

Prashant Rao

Over the past 15 years, almost all the systems being used in metro rails have moved to total internet protocol (IP)-based solutions. To this end, DMRC has taken a step further and will be introducing driverless trains on the new lines being constructed. Meanwhile, an emerging trend in the field of ticketing is the open loop ticketing system, which supports payment methods such as Europay, Mastercard, Visa and RuPay.

Surojit D’Rozario

Technology will continue to improve operations in the industry and offer ample opportunities to develop and apply ambitious models to improve the performance of public transport systems. Further, public transport systems may be able to take advantage of improved information and better communication between operating personnel, agency managers and passengers. We would also witness seamless integration of all forms of transportation services. Personal devices like mobile phones would replace smart cards and paper tickets. Going forward, real-time tracking and artificial intelligence-enabled networks will make travel smoother and faster.

A.S. Shankar

Although the application of IT systems in the industry will remain largely the same, most of the systems would migrate to IP-based systems and networks. The signalling system for train control has moved from the conventional “distance to go”-based mechanism to communication-based train control (CBTC). In the future, BMRCL is also planning to deploy CBTC. The system will allow operators to run trains at a lower headway of around 90 seconds as compared to the present minimum headway of about three minutes. This will require a very sophisticated wireless communication system between ground operations and moving trains. In the field of ticketing, quick response code-based and near field communication (NFC)-based mobile ticketing would be available soon. These facilities will enable passengers to travel using their mobile phones without having to carry physical tokens or cards. BMRCL also plans to introduce NFC-based mobile ticketing for its Phase II project. Further, integrated ticketing with other transport operators is under consideration. It will be a significant development and once implemented, it would drive the migration from existing systems. This would enable people to travel in any metro or bus in any city, pay toll charges or shop using a single card.

Stephen Tame

In the future, we would witness the emergence of many new technology trends. For instance, the pilot of an aircraft would be able to turn on a Wi-Fi device and create a 4G Wi-Fi hotspot when the aircraft lands. Through this, updates can be sent to the ground staff and information received from them.


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