THE railway sector has undergone a radical process of digitization in recent years. Analyzing data collected from systems large and small is facilitating a step change in the way trains and infrastructure are operated and maintained.
However, there is currently only limited standardization covering how data should be collected and used. Software is typically tied to individual vendors and specific systems often operating in isolated silos rather than as part of a larger ecosystem, limiting overall user benefits.
Siemens Mobility wants to change that by making its data available and compatible so that other manufacturers, operators and even third parties like universities can use it to optimize train and infrastructure management.
The revised focus began five years ago, ahead of InnoTrans 2018, when Siemens Mobility executives asked “what does technology really mean for rail?” says Siemens Mobility CEO Mr. Michael Peter. At the time, Alstom and Siemens were pursuing a merger and the company was exploring what differentiated it from its competitors in the railway sector. The answer, says Peter, is that while they viewed other OEMs as mechanically-focused, they viewed Siemens Mobility as a technology-focused company, backed by the wider Siemens group.
“We have a lot of what we call the core technologies of the company within the large Siemens family,” explains Peter. “Whatever we invent, we make available to all other Siemens business units and [the other units within] Siemens does the same. They’re spending… huge amounts of money on things like artificial intelligence (AI), and they’re giving us that knowledge. So there’s a lot of knowledge in the business that other rail companies don’t have.
Digitization can also be used to improve timetables to increase capacity, and also provide information that passengers can use to improve their journey.
The merger with Alstom was ultimately blocked by the European Commission on competition grounds, with the French manufacturer instead buying Bombardier’s rail division in January 2021. Left alone, Siemens has focused on expanding and diversifying its offering, including the purchase of software as a service (SaaS) supplier of inventory management, reservations and ticketing software Sqills in August 2021, while striving to put digitization at the center of everything he does.
This has led the German manufacturer to refocus on four key areas: optimizing life cycle costs; increased availability to 100%; maximize network capacity; and optimize the passenger experience.
Siemens vision is that lifecycle costs are reduced through the use of digital twins, while uptime is maximized by using predictive maintenance and AI to optimize maintenance schedules. Digitization can also be used to improve timetables to increase capacity, and also provide information to passengers to improve their journey: from finding the cheapest ticket to rebooking their seat on a less frequented, for example.
These are not new ideas. Many players in the railway industry are pursuing the same goals as Siemens by collecting and analyzing data to improve operations, optimize maintenance, reduce costs and increase availability.
However, in practice this forces operators and infrastructure managers who own a range of fleets or systems supplied by a variety of suppliers to purchase and use multiple proprietary systems and software suites, which often do not communicate with each other. .
Although some operators have started to develop software systems that can be layered on top of these individual systems to combine them into one, they are still not as smooth as the original systems.
Recognizing this inefficiency, Siemens is seeking to improve the standardization and compatibility of its data for use by any management system, thereby enabling any company, including Siemens’ competitors, to integrate data gathered from ‘a Siemens train in their own management systems.
There is currently no reciprocal obligation for these manufacturers to make their data freely available. But Peter says it’s a bet Siemens is willing to take, and a bet where he’s betting his in-house technology knowledge will give him a competitive advantage.
How open this data will always be dictated by the end customer, but Peter explains that Siemens is looking to at least introduce the ability to share this information. Peter is also counting on open data to drive innovation in the sector and suggests that operators could work with outside agencies such as universities to find new ways to process and use data.
“It’s possible that customers will specify in the future that the whole industry needs to go down this path, and we can start to connect things to each other,” he says.
This commitment to open and compatible data is part of Siemens Xcelerator, an “open digital business platform” launched by parent Siemens Group. This involves the creation of application programming interfaces (APIs), a way for two or more computer programs to communicate with each other, to create software that is more modular and can be connected to other software developed by Siemens or third parties . According to Peter, the logical progression is to move this software to the cloud, which reduces the installation burden and makes software solutions more widely available, especially for small businesses and operators.
“What this means for the end customer is that the barrier to entry from a financial perspective is very, very low,” says Peter. “They don’t need to draw up specifications, launch a public tender and pay 10 million euros for custom software. Instead, they go to the cloud, set software usage parameters, and pay as you go. Even small to medium sized operators can start using it tomorrow. »
Third party data
In addition to making it easier for Siemens software and systems to communicate with third-party systems, the supplier is also looking at ways to improve communication between its repository of software systems that cover everything from train and infrastructure maintenance to planning. routes, ticketing and Reservations.
Peter explains that connecting these systems will bring benefits to operators, infrastructure managers and passengers. It describes a scenario where an AI system uses data to detect that a point machine will fail in a week, allowing the infrastructure manager to schedule maintenance when there is the least impact. . However, he says it is possible to further refine this intervention. For example, the operator can use a transport planning system (TPS) to use AI data to develop a new schedule to minimize disruption. If a compatible reservation system was used, the TPS could use data from that system to prioritize the busiest trains or analyze possible subsequent routes for passengers to calculate a schedule that causes the least disruption.
The reservation system could then use this new timetable to identify passengers who need to be informed that their train has been canceled or disrupted. He could also offer to reserve them on another service.
Peter explains that each individual element of this system is already in use, but no customer is yet using all the systems simultaneously.
“It’s really a big step forward for rail, because you have to remember that we all grew up with proprietary systems,” says Peter. “Brake pads are sometimes proprietary, they’re optimized to be as quiet as possible for a certain train weight, so they’re different from train to train. Everything was proprietary in the past, and I think it will make a huge difference to operators and passengers.
Peter says that while the 9 euro ticket in Germany has demonstrated that people react to cheap train travel, it has also shown that limited information can lead to overcrowded trains during peak periods and to trains at half empty at other times of the day. .
“It’s very easy to have one train 100% full and another half empty if the operator doesn’t know which train the passengers are booked on because they have one ticket that can be used on multiple trains,” he says.
While Peter argues that operators and infrastructure managers will benefit from the publication of data by all suppliers, Siemens itself must cooperate with its contractors.
Peter reports that Siemens is working with its partners to standardize the data generated. For example, if Siemens is looking to develop an algorithm to track when a door is likely to fail, it should work with its door suppliers to identify the data it needs. Ideally, this can then be standardized across all fleets. Peter says SMEs also benefit from having access to a wider range of data, not just directly related to their product.
“Frankly, especially in rolling stock, a lot of our competitors are smaller and they can’t afford to develop everything themselves,” says Peter. “For example, I didn’t develop Amazon Cloud, I use it, so the idea behind opening [our systems] up is above all to create the possibility for every company to participate in this game and to create a bigger and better railway system.
“If you want to optimize a propulsion system, it’s a good idea to optimize it with the braking system, for example. We believe that the data we collect on trains is very useful to the supplier of the braking system, even if it does not come from the brake itself.
Siemens is taking a bold first step towards opening up the data market within the railway industry, but it is clearly convinced that the result is worth it. However, for this initiative to really bear fruit, it will be necessary to convince others that there is a benefit both for them and for the end customer. The hard work has just begun.