Opinion

How digitalisation is transforming the Indian Railways

Krishnan Balasubramanian | Updated on November 02, 2020

By embracing digitalisation in all spheres of its operations — such as asset management, signalling, manufacturing and passenger information system — the Railways is on track to improving its revenues and passenger experience

Indian Railways is the third largest railway network in the world by size, and is continuously undergoing changes. One area of importance is to improve the network capacity and utilisation, faster services, and safe running of trains.

The current scenario has changed the transport paradigm with the focus shifting from infrastructure to service and from ready-made to tailored solutions. Underling the importance of evolving with technology, the Railway Minister recently said that technology is the only input which can significantly impact the future of the Railways. Further, with metro rails resuming operations in a graded manner, digital technologies help in demand management, social distancing, and providing real-time information for authorities and passengers.

For theRailways, the rapid digitalisation is marked by the fourth industrial revolution — Railway 4.0. It enhances railway infrastructure, services, systems, signalling and rolling stock while improving the operational efficiency of the assets. They are being re-imagined, designed, delivered and operated using technology that brings stakeholders into collaborative partnerships, thus changing the face of the Railways.

Designing of coaches, signalling and traffic management, freight management, train services, workforce and customer management are some of the key areas of digitalisation in the rail sector.

Rolling stock

Most of the rail coaches run through traditional manufacturing processes that lead to high inventory cost with parts being produced and stored before being assembled. With digitalisation, the costly traditional manufacturing is being rapidly optimised and enhanced by platform-based 3D technologies.

With the rolling stock manufacturers using virtual 3D platform and technology to incorporate subsystems, components and assembly information, the coach designs are accurately modelled, simulated, analysed and improved in the virtual world, to correct the faults and inefficiencies in order to avoid costly mistakes.

Additive manufacturing is evolving as a game changer in the Railways like in other sectors. The Railways recently started using ‘Make in India’ 3D printer to design and print coach components in-house as per requirement.

The Railway Minister also recently announced the plan to redesign passenger coaches as per international standards to make them safer, comfortable and faster. The 3D design platforms and passenger experience solutions are also revolutionising the rail sector by incorporating integrated electronics, reconfiguring seating and standing areas or adding styling through the cabin that reflects the local aesthetic or identity.

Signalling system

The technological advancements are enhancing the railway infrastructure capacity by converting to electrified routes with advanced signalling. This modernisation of signalling system includes implementation of European Train Control System (ETCS) that adheres if the speed limit of the train is compatible with the permitted speed allowed by signalling, thus improving safety and punctuality.

With the plans to modernise 8,000 railway stations, the government is also leveraging the Building Information Modelling (BIM) process for designing and installing railway-signalling systems. The 3D technologies helps to visualise infrastructure life-cycle and solve problems by eliminating various issues because of the mistakes caused by poor communication of data.

The infrastructure 3D model technology also recognises the oncoming train and its speed, records data image and helps with 3D visualisation of railway track with all assets, train driver simulations and digital track capturing.

Additionally, the new policy framework by the government has proposed to use public-private partnership (PPP) to unleash faster development signalling systems in the country.

Workforce management

The staff in the Indian rail network are using various innovative technological solutions to improve efficiency, ranging from customer service to maintenance and repair work. Having a workforce management platform helps the staff to plan and schedule processes in a planner software for control over the entire workforce process such as capacity planning, daily task scheduling, real-time rescheduling, routes, employee availability and competing time slots.

The software platforms allow the operators to see all scenarios and decision consequences in real time and then take an informed action. It also enables the train planners with a dynamic decision support tool to see all scenarios and decision consequences in real time, to help make customer-centric decisions and improve service reliability.

Train service efficiency

Different trains running on a network have different priorities, speed restrictions and stoppages. Considering these constraints, track speeds, and requirements, the train schedules are being made to increase the network utilisation. This, when performed with network optimisation, increases the number of trains that can run on the same network, thereby increasing the revenues to the Railways.

Fleet planning

Having the right fleet with wagons, coaches at the right place and at the right time can increase the revenue to the Railways. Reducing empty kilometres by proper planning can reduce the time and cost spent. This requires an intelligent planning platform that can incorporate all the constraints and produce the best plans based on KPIs.

Disruption handling is an essential part of an intelligent planning platform to handle unexpected disruptive events such as non-availability of loading cranes, late arrival of inter-modal transport units. Delaying the entire train will mean a hold-up for the other load orders and result in many unhappy customers. An intelligent planning system aids as a decision support system, one that provides an overview of all possible solutions and their influence on KPIs.

A huge part of maximising utilisation comes from reducing maintenance time. Maintenance and cleaning are critical and, in most cases, can’t be delayed. For instance, wagons that have been used to transport diesel must be thoroughly cleaned before they can be used to transport petrol.

In order to clean the wagons efficiently, planners need an intelligent system that provides full visibility on which terminals, employees and materials are available at the requested time slots. With such visibility, they will be able to manage last-minute cleaning tasks while responding to urgent order bookings that come in unexpectedly.

Customer-centricity

The Indian rail network is continuously enhancing the passenger experience through digital technologies. The modern features such as facial recognition, emergency talk-back system, WiFi infotainment system, automatic plug-door and step control have completely changed the passenger travel experience.

One of the steps undertaken to modernise the Railways is the use of solutions that enhance passenger experience and offer the ability to propose custom-tailored coaches depending on train routes and passenger tiering. These solutions allow a detailed exploration of the cabin, including a 360-degree view of the rail coach and high-end visualisation provides the customers with a visual experience while meeting their requirements.

The Railway Ministry recently launched a transparent reservation system wherein passengers can check the real-time reservation status. Keeping in mind the current scenario, the contactless ticket checking system by the Railways is helping passengers to check for availability of berth to passengers.

Over the last couple of years, technology and innovation have been changing the face of the Railways as it has embraced digitalisation in all spheres of its operations such as asset management, train signalling, manufacturing, passenger information system and coach factory automation. With the Railways’ digital transformation, the industry will accelerate new railway intelligence thus enabling enhanced industry-wide knowledge and business model innovation.

The writer is Industry Business Consulting Director, Dassault Systemes

Published on November 02, 2020

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