By Paul Chan, Managing Director, BAI Communications HK
In smart communities of the future stations and vehicles will be more than just physical assets.
They’ll connect smart hubs that make operations run smoother and elevate the passenger experience, supporting a vast range of applications. From real-time monitoring and onboard predictive maintenance to energy efficiency and temperature control.
Vehicles need continuous connectivity to support these kinds of applications. With a combination of cellular and Wi-Fi networks, connectivity can be provided through various technologies, such as outdoor macro cell sites, small cells, in-station and trackside coverage networks — augmented by onboard and in-station Wi-Fi networks. With that seamless connectivity, every vehicle becomes a moving data hub able to exchange a rich set of real-time information about its location and speed, physical condition, passenger load and other attributes sourced from the sensors embedded throughout.
Every vehicle is a hub
Uninterrupted connectivity will transform every vehicle in the fleet into a rolling digital hub. Opening up a wealth of insights to operations teams by providing live monitoring of a vehicle’s status and alarms, as well as longer-term perspectives that can convert into actionable insights.
Terabytes of vehicle status data, stored in the cloud, could provide a basis for long-term historical analysis and predictive maintenance algorithms. Triggering alerts about wear and tear on brakes, doors and other equipment before outright failures occur. Vehicle data such as axle temperature, vibration and alignment could correlate with factors like equipment age and external information sources, such as weather reports, to further predict equipment reliability for efficient maintenance and spares management.
All this data could also support service planning. Knowing the total passenger weight of any single car, line or entire transit network, for example, would make it possible to understand accurately service demand on any day. Combined with population growth and density projections, this would give route planners a greater ability to identify and plan for seasonal variations in passenger volumes. Providing them with greater insights for adjusting fares, schedules, or capacity to increase overall efficiency.
Additional applications could include integrated environmental sensors, smart ticketing and online fare payments to allow passengers to get on and off any vehicle without passing through physical bottlenecks, such as turnstiles. Live data feeds can push notifications to mobile devices or to onboard messaging systems so passengers can adjust their route choices on the go; helping operations teams better manage everyday congestion and guide passengers in case of emergencies. Similarly, traffic volume and condition data can go directly to in-station help points for passenger way-finding and decision making.
And of course, there’s the matter of connecting passengers themselves. Onboard live TV, news and Wi-Fi access all rely on the highest-quality mobile connectivity.
In Hong Kong, BAI is using innovations like these to support fully automatic and driverless trains on the Mass Transit Railway’s (MTR) South Island Line. BAI‘s communications infrastructure provides real-time video surveillance of the track ahead as well as the carriages themselves, feeding directly into the MTR’s control center. With smoke alarms, closed-circuit TV (CCTV) connected, the train’s alarm system automatically scans its surroundings to provide operations teams with live footage of the area. Connectivity also supports the onboard helpline system for passengers.
In partnership with BAI, the MTR has begun a project to upgrade its train-to-ground networks across the entire system. The upgrade will provide higher data throughput between trains and the core network. This will support more extensive and higher resolution in-train CCTV and will provide connectivity for train-borne infotainment, train status data offload, alarms reporting, and passenger Wi-Fi services.
Every station is a node
Connecting key assets to the network — such as doors, elevators, and temperature control systems — presents operations teams with many opportunities to both increase efficiencies and improve the passenger experience.
Smart CCTV provides safety teams with a more detailed view of platform conditions across the system and alerts operations to crowding or congestion issues. It can also help passengers identify lost items or alert security staff to potential hazards concealed in unattended bags. It’s even possible to deploy ambient noise sensors that ‘listen’ for abnormal sounds to identify dangerous situations quicker.
In addition, passenger comfort can be controlled through smart air quality and environmental sensors that trigger heating and cooling dynamically, depending on the conditions of each site. Helping authorities save energy and realize long-term cost efficiencies.
Combining vehicles and stations into a transit system network
With passengers, vehicles, and assets connected to each other, interactional, anonymized data gives transit authorities a comprehensive, real-time view of their operations and performance — as well as the ability to control and adjust systems as required.
This was precisely the case in Milan, where the local authority, Azienda Trasporti Milanesi (ATM), increased passenger safety by transforming its various disjointed solutions into a single converged IP network. The network has allowed ATM to install CCTV cameras throughout its underground metro lines to provide better coverage and enhance passenger safety. The centralized architecture has allowed ATM to cut costs and streamline its operations – requiring fewer technicians to carry out routine maintenance across the system.
By integrating operational and passenger-facing solutions onto a single platform, with analytics delivering comprehensive insights, authorities reduce short and long-term costs and can reinvest those savings elsewhere for even greater impact. Investing in converged connectivity will allow transit authorities to meet the growing demand for transit services in a way that’s flexible, integrated, and economically sustainable.
By connecting stations and vehicles together in an end-to-end transit network, transit authorities can make the entire system more efficient, cost-effective and higher performing than ever before.