Commuter Rail Gets on Track With Next-Gen Tech

Electronic and computerized control systems are nothing new to the transportation industry. However, marked advances in sensors, mobility, cloud computing and other technologies are now introducing far more advanced capabilities.

One company at the center of this revolution is Siemens’ Mobility and Logistics Division, an international provider of integrated technologies that are used to manage trains, subways and other transportation systems. Recently, the firm introduced a next-generation infrastructure management system for the Copenhagen S-Bane commuter rail in Denmark, which is operated by Banedanmark.

“There was a need for modernization with new control systems, a new operation control center and other technologies, including connection by Ethernet and wireless LAN,” reports Matthias Seifert, group manager for platform products at Siemens. “In the past, it was necessary to shut down controls for a few hours at night for upgrades and administration issues. The S-Bane is now moving to technology that delivers an availability figure of four nines behind the dot.”

Previously, the automated system used a block structure that allowed only one train to use a section of track at any given moment. The greater distance between trains meant that the entire operation moved at a slower speed. “It was necessary to run fewer trains per hour,” he says.

The new rail network relies on the Auconet Business Infrastructure Control Suite (BICS) to deliver real-time network management and security for the S-Bane, which accommodates 350,000 riders daily across 170 kilometers (106 miles) of double track. The automatic, radio-based train-control system replaces an aging 50-year-old system.

The €252 million project, which includes a revamp of signaling systems and other infrastructure, is scheduled for completion in 2018. It will increase both the capacity and reliability of the rail service, presumably resulting in fewer motor vehicles on the road. This, in turn, will lower carbon emissions and air pollution and will help the city reach a goal of becoming carbon-neutral by 2025.

Copenhagen’s BICS system includes about 200 access points and between 250 and 300 switches, including approximately 30 backbone switches. It pulls data directly from different machines and components on the trains, as well as sensors and signaling systems on the tracks and elsewhere. The fleet currently includes 135 trains. When completed, the project will reduce service intervals from the present 120 seconds to 90 seconds.

Delivering Better Security and User Management

However, the advantages of the technology extend beyond simply operating more trains per hour and boosting overall capacity. Seifert says that the connected technology delivers better security and authentication, improved user management and the ability to use Internet-based maintenance management tools.

“The system pulls diagnostic data from different machines and components,” he explains. “This introduces predictive and preemptive maintenance.” What’s more, because the system connects to and links with vendor networks, the control system is more flexible and responsive in the event of an emergency.

The same technology will be deployed within other rail networks across Europe and elsewhere over the next few years, Seifert says. In fact, the BICS system is continuing to evolve. These controls will also tie into ticket vending systems in order to provide more granular and real-time data about events and overall trends.

“It is a highly connected system that takes transportation forward,” Seifert says. “There are clear benefits for both the rail operators and the passengers.”