Mobile, Cloud and Big Data Keep Trolleys on Track
By Samuel Greengard
Operating the world's largest trolley network is a daunting task. There are trains to keep on schedule, repair issues to manage, and a need to keep passengers informed about schedules and delays. As a result, Yarra Trams, Melbourne, Australia's iconic 100-year-old network, is putting data to work in new and innovative ways.
"Technology is now a critical component in how we manage and operate the transportation network," explains Neil Roberts, director of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) for Yarra Trams.
The organization, the operating name for KDR Victoria, oversees 487 trolleys running over 29 routes and 250 kilometers of double track. The trams range from three years old to more than 70 years old and support more than 185 million trips annually. In all, the organization operates more than 91,000 pieces of equipment and averages about 31,500 service incidents per week. Each piece of equipment has between two and 50 data points.
"We must deal with different track conditions, different infrastructure and different equipment, but, through it all, we have to keep trams running on schedule," Roberts explains.
Yarra Trams turned to IBM's Smarter Infrastructure Technology to oversee operations and tie together a diverse array of tools and systems. The environment includes IBM Maximo Mobile technology and MobileFirst solutions, as well as a Maximo asset management application operating in an internal cloud.
The system, which incorporates WiFi at track and station locations, collects approximately 3.7 gigabytes of data per day from a variety of sensors embedded in tracks, trams and other equipment. As trams pass by, they transmit data that's instantly uploaded into a cloud. Meanwhile, workers enter data via mobile devices using WiFi and cellular connections.
Data is used in a number of ways, but the primary focus is on preventative maintenance and keeping trains running on schedule. Workers at Yarra Trams can slice through performance data, operational data, and information about the condition of equipment in order to optimize maintenance and repairs.
The organization also relies on data to determine how and where to best deploy different types of trams. Using this data-centric approach, it has achieved a service delivery level of 99.13 percent and a punctuality level of 82.63 percent.
The technology also provides practical benefits for passengers. For instance, it delivers live updates about tram arrival times and service delays via an internally developed free mobile smartphone app called tramTRACKER.
"A passenger can open the app and immediately determine what time trams will arrive at a particular station," Roberts explains. Consequently, "It is possible to better manage your time and plan ahead about when to arrive at a station." The system can also generate alerts when significant delays take place or a tram breaks down.
Building and operating a real-time transportation network has provided enormous cost savings and performance benefits to Yarra Trams. In the end, he says, the technology has helped the organization transition into the 21st century.
"We are able to unlock and share information in new ways, gain valuable insight into improving operational efficiency and enable world-class service to passengers," Roberts reports.