Complication, Electrification, Modernization…
Metro rail systems are riper than ever for next-generation telecoms networks
Access, information and surveillance systems. Alarm, warning and connectivity systems. Control, telemetry and dispatch systems. Supervision and monitoring systems. Let’s face it, metro railways have about as much chance of avoiding complexity as a one-legged hunting tortoise has of catching a fox.
Jokes aside (thanks Blackadder), these myriad technology systems are essential. They help metro railway operators increase the frequency, automation, efficiency and control of their trains. But it’s not just about the technology (or keeping up with it) anymore. Other forces are influencing which track metro railway operators need to go down as they hurtle towards the future.
The power you’re supplying, it’s electrifying
Being a largely metropolitan service, metro networks are under pressure to clean up their act. That means replacing polluting diesel locomotives with next-generation electric trains. It’s a huge task though: installing countless electrical substations, and control, supervision, SCADA, and tele-protection systems that require the same millisecond response times electricity companies enjoy on their OT/IT platforms. And these mission-critical systems, require 24/7 redundancy and protection to support availability. All while accommodating the growth in the number and frequency of trains a subway rail company may need.
What’s that coming over the hill? Oh, it’s progress…
The old, but proven, TDM and SDH technologies will reach end of life within a decade. And with fixed and cellular telephony networks continuing to migrate to IP and WDM-based technologies, aging networks will become more expensive to run and harder to maintain. What’s more, most new services and applications use IP technology, making modernizing new packet transport technologies, such as MPLS or Carrier Ethernet, really good for transporting, securing and segmenting these new services. The key message here: modernize or die.
Paddling in new revenue streams
As well as improving comms infrastructure and services for staff, upgrading telecoms networks also bring other opportunities for metro rail operators. Namely, new revenue-generating services, such as wifi, on-board advertising, and leasing their fiber networks to other telecoms SP. All will help pay back the cost of investment sooner. The simple truth is that migrating to new IP/MPLS, MPLS-TP, Carrier Ethernet and even WDM telecoms systems is inevitable.
A moving target, not a sitting duck
Sadly, another inevitability of any critical infrastructure modernization programme is increased vulnerability to cyber attack. This means properly understanding the risks and protecting assets and data with firewalls, encryption systems, layer-one segmentation (layer1), and SCADA-focused network anomaly detection systems. And because of the highly regulated rail metro sector, it’s vital to keep up, and comply, with standards like the EN 50126 specifications.
The way I see it, railway metro operators have three challenges. First, the challenge of return on investment. Second, the technological challenge. And third, the challenge of which technologies and partnerships to choose.
The challenge of ROI
Of course, managing ROI isn’t just about financial returns – it’s important to measure it in other ways. For example, how well the network connects services with passengers – from buying tickets to onboard wifi. Zero accidents, minimal downtime and delays, and cyber and passenger security provide another way to gauge returns. And not forgetting, the ability to provide a better service and, ultimately, increasing passenger numbers, reducing costs and raising profitability.
The challenge of technology
The telecoms challenges are huge. For example, how do you ensure a risk-free migration to minimize effects on critical operational applications during the process? And what about the mass video surveillance and mission-critical systems support for signaling, telemetry, control and supervision (SCADA) systems – and their centralized end-to-end control? Then there’s future-proofing everything to last at least 20 years, while accommodating growing network reach and capacity. And all of this technology has to comply with national and international laws and regulations.
The challenge of expertise
It’s a breathless challenge – and please excuse the shameless plug – but it’s one we’ve helped rail companies over the world take on – from Brazil and Sweden to Taiwan and Singapore. It’s also one we’ve tackled head-on in our whitepaper, ‘Working the line – next-generation telecoms networks for metro rail systems’. For more information about ECI solutions for rail, transport and other critical infrastructures click here.