Digital transformation started in energy, communication and transportation sectors in the 1990s and has continued to develop rapidly until today and has become relevant to all sectors in a short time. Digital transformation continues to develop rapidly in all public institutions, society and industrial sectors, including rail systems.
Digital technologies are widely used in rail systems for transactions such as ticket reservation, purchasing, payment, time management, efficient resource use, maintenance and security. This technology has a great contribution to the industry. According to a study by the World Economic Forum, digital transformation contribution to sectors and society is expected to exceed 100 trillions in total by 2025.
Today, it is broadly accepted that digitalization is very important for the development of rail transportation systems. As digital transformation enhances processes such as production, operation, resource use and maintenance, it is also seen by rail industry companies and infrastructure operators as a tool to strengthen their efficiency and management skills, reduce operating costs and increase competition with other transportation modes. Rail system companies and supplier companies make remarkable new investments and establish start-up companies in order to develop inhouse digital solutions. The digital transformation is expected to bring in new opportunities to the rail systems sector and add new players to the industry in the near future.
Since digital transformation also plays an essential role in terms of competitiveness in the sector, it has become the priority issue of the whole world.
By using digital technologies, rail system companies can expedite their work processes, automate their transactions further, and conduct new services and applications. Although the benefits of digital transformation are seen as an opportunity the field of rail transportation systems, it also brings some accompanying challenges. Therefore, it is necessary to make a paradigm shift in the business mindset and to boost financial investments and new security strategies in order to combat cyber threats. Despite all difficulties, digital technologies will definitely lead to increase the efficiency and competitiveness of the rail transportation in the near future.
It is possible to examine the effects of digital transformation on the sector under five headings. The first one is the Shift2Rail program, the second is the ERTMS system -which is also used in our country-, the third is the internet of trains, the fourth is the diagnostic applications and the last one is driverless safe train operation.
Digitization in Shift2Rail Rail System Innovation Program
The Shift2Rail initiative, which is a platform coordinating the research and innovation activities to be integrated into the developed rail system solutions, was established by the EU in 2014. Funded by Horizon 2020, the initiative aims to ensure benefits such as promoting rail system competitiveness, reducing rail system costs for 50 %, doubling up the capacity and improving the timing for 50 %. Although Shift2Rail does not define digitalization as a program, it has activities in five Innovation Programs in this context. For example, the first program IP1 focuses on strengthening the digitalization of train subsystems and equipment (traction, brakes, gates, etc.), the second program IP2 focuses on ensuring the Europe Rail System Traffic Management System (ERTMS), in other words worldwide signalization systems, the fourth program IP4 focuses on offering innovative digital services for passengers (ticket, reservation, passenger follow-up, etc.), the fifth program IP5 focuses on the digital technologies that increase the timing efficiency.
European Rail System Traffic Management System (ERTMS)
ERTMS is considered as the Backbone of Digital Trains. There used to be around 30 national rail signal systems in the EU, which had caused technical and operational problems in the borders. In order to cope with this problem, the EU has developed and adopted a single command control, signal and communication standard ERTMS. This has resulted in a secure rail system network that can work together within EU borders. This system, installed on both infrastructure and vehicles, consists of a European train control system (ETCS) that ensures the train does not exceed the safe speed and maintains a safe distance from other trains, and GSM-R which acts as a wireless communication standard for rail system operations. These systems improve operating and infrastructure requirements, from speed detection to control and warning systems that prevent the driver from making mistakes.
In our country, GSM-R, ERTMS and ETCS systems are in operation at the high-speed train lines and these systems ensure the safety, train speed, line capacity and time efficiency at the network.
Internet of Trains
In the last twenty years, intense research has been made regarding redefinition and extensive use of the railway industry IT and network technologies and the train management and operation through these tools have been the main focus .
Internet of Trains offers adjusted and safe services for the customers by increasing the operation efficiency with new solutions such as passenger and freight information services, camera system, smart infrastructure, security system, signal systems and automatic train control systems with the digitalism in rail systems.
Fortunately, with digitalization, in recent years, the rail system companies have expanded the scope of services for passengers through the tools offering information and entertainment services together with informative websites and mobile applications providing reservation, ticketing, real-time information updates and travel planning modules. Digitalization of reservation and ticket purchase has several benefits. On one hand, passengers are able to easily reach their travel information that is stored in their smartphones or computers, on the other hand, the operators’ ticket costs are reduced as the tickets do not have to be printed anymore. Besides, rail system operators are able to store the travel data to adjust the services and create the new services.
Due to the changing needs, the mobility concept has evolved during the last twenty years and has been transformed from low emulsion sustainable mobility into smart mobility. Some operators have developed a common platform ensuring the customers to rent a private car, to benefit from the pick-up service, or use a taxi to reach the station, airport or their homes. German rail system operator DB has published an application named DB navigator, which offers large scale services. In addition to being able to book tickets, via this application, services such as door-to-door route planning with GPS, pedestrian navigation, metro, tram and bus intermodal connections can be utilized. In addition, DB has put a particular application into service to rent bicycles in some stations in Germany.
Driverless Automatic Train Operation (ATO) System
Automatic Train Operation (ATO) system, to an extent, shifts the responsibility from the train driver to the train control system during the vehicle operation. Four standard levels have been created for automation by International Electrotechnics Commission. The highest level of these is to automate all trains simultaneously. In recent years, adoption of automatic train operations has increased especially in urban rail transportation systems. According to 2018 data, there are 1000 kilometers of automatically operated metro lines in 41 cities in the world, and these lines are planned to reach 2300 kilometers by 2025.
With the combination of European Transportation Control System (ETCS) and Automatic Train Operation (ATO) technologies, a more efficient, fast and secure service can be provided. While ERTMS manages train signals, speed and automatic brakes, ETCS controls the activation of signs placed on the road in order to collect information and provide running instructions to the vehicle, and ATO controls the running and braking systems of the train. With the combination of these solutions, trains operate in an optimized speed and their operation frequency and line capacity increase. Besides, with ATO, energy is saved and time efficiency and security is increased. Swiss Rail Company (SBB) has developed and tested an automatically driven assistance system on the Bern-Olten high-speed train line. SBB calculates the optimum speed for the train and transmits it to the operator with this program, designed to remove unnecessary stops and reduce energy consumption.
Advantages of Digitalization for Producers
Thanks to digitalization, rail system vehicle manufacturers can benefit from services such as remote inspection, real-time diagnosis of vehicles and preventive maintenance. Through the data collected and processed with the sensors placed in significant places of vehicles and infrastructure parts, possible failures are detected; thus, train operators are able to use the subsidiary fleet, which increases the operation efficiency and security. Infrastructure companies also reduce maintenance costs by using data obtained from forecasts about infrastructure conditions.
Digitalization Benefits for Operators
Signalization systems are the ones that remotely control the train moves, speeding and braking, and they are replaced by the combination of wireless train and ground signals especially in metros. It is important to ensure a continuous radio connection between the trains and the control center on the lines using the ETCS Level 2 signaling standard, and this connection is made by GSM-R technology and BTSs installed on the line. Internet of things is also used in rail systems, stations, level crossings and railways for ventilation, management and control of transport and emergency vehicles. Signaling systems can be monitored remotely through sensors. Thus, it will be possible to prevent accidents.
Comfort and ease have become more important in the railways, with passenger-oriented mobile applications. The train ticket age is slowly coming to an end. The contactless payment system in turnstiles is spreading all over the world, but a new revolution is also on the way: face recognition system.
Diagnostic software can predict when wheels, axles and other parts need to be replaced. The same concept applies to non-rail infrastructures such as signaling or problems such as line planning and scheduling.
Fully automatic driverless train applications are increasing day by day. With the application of artificial intelligence, it is possible to make the best use of resources and save 50% from security, time and maintenance costs.
Digital Transformation Applications in Our Country
Railways is one of the first websites providing with new technology ticket sales in Turkey. TCDD Transportation carries 23 thousand passengers on high-speed trains, 49 thousand passengers on mainline and regional trains, 350 thousand passengers in Marmaray, 39 thousand passengers in Baskentray and 100 thousand tons of freight for every day with the new generation technologies and special digital technology applications.
In our country, GSM-R, ERTMS and ETCS systems operate in the high-speed trains and they increase the safety, speed, line capacity and time efficiency of the trains.
There are 12 provinces in our country that use urban rail systems. The driverless automatic metro line (GoA4) at Uskudar-Çekmekoy and automatic metro line with driver (GoA3) at Kadıkoy-Kartal are operated in Istanbul. In all other urban lines, generally communication-based train control (CBTC) signaling systems with drivers are used. These systems communicate with the train and the center with continuous and instantaneous data exchange, and are systems that can make both track the exact location of the train and the remote control of the train more accurate and faster than traditional signaling systems. ERP, SAP and Maximo software are used for maintenance management in these lines.
Electronic toll collection, passenger information mobile applications, Digital Trunk and tetra radio systems are applied in all urban rail systems.
Aselsan, a member of ARUS, continues its digital transformation works without slowing down. Examples for these works are as follows:
High efficiency, flexible and modular Traction Systems designed with software-based technologies, Train Control and Management Systems that collect all the data on the train and provide the most efficient, comfortable and long-term operation of the train in the light of these data, MIDAS-R Systems that provide security and line inspection in the light of the data with collected acoustic information through fiber cables, punctual, low-cost and safe Metro and Main Line signaling systems that provide driverless operations.
Another ARUS member company Enekom, has come up with a technology benchmark with its RailAcoustic® System, which has been successfully in operation at a 90 km double track high speed line stretch since December 2018. The system continuously and remotely monitors the possible rail defects, landslides, floods in “real-time” and tracks the train location & velocity with some other additional preventive maintenance features. The technology is now being applied in another high-speed rail line between Sivas and Ankara, and this time at slab track tunnel sections.