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Does Australian Rail Really Need a Bandwidth Boost?


Australian railway operators are increasingly recognizing the need for more and better bandwidth to support their operations, but is that enough to deliver a more responsive and effective service? Initiatives such as Sydney’s Digital Systems,Perth’s Radio Systems Replacement, and Brisbane’s Cross River Rail projects will see the introduction of private digital radio communications capacity to support large-scale deployments of ‘always-connected’ devices. This additional bandwidth will play a crucial role in supporting the collection and analysis of real-time data — data that operators need if they are to take the expedient decisions that will make operations safer, more visible, and more efficient and on-time.

As the digitization of Australia’s railways continues, operators will face issues of complexity that can lead to bottlenecks, even as the need to integrate siloed service systems grows increasingly urgent. Those operators will need to consider network and system designs that allow data to flow seamlessly, supporting lasting integration of services with correlating performance improvements. To do so, Australia’s rail operators should seek to ‘harmonize’ their digital systems, integrating them with common standards and platforms that give operators a full, uninterrupted picture of operational data.  

The Case for Systems Harmonization

Conventional railway networks often consist of diverse but siloed systems that collect and process data independently of one another. Ticketing data may reveal passenger volumes per route, for example, and traffic data may give insights into route density and service punctuality. And while individually, these types of data provide some value to operators; when integrated into a single view of operations, they create immensely greater opportunities for optimization and real-time responsiveness to even the most complex situations or hidden performance trends.

In short, ‘harmonizing’ rail systems data platforms is crucial to achieving this single view of operations. To do so, operators will need to bring together different sources of data onto one platform, with a relatively consistent frequency and velocity.

A powerful cloud data center can act as a starting point that solves many fundamental issues, including: service data being unavailable for sharing; low utilization of Information Technology (IT) resources; inefficient Operations and Maintenance (O&M); and time-consuming deployment of service systems. Based on cloud computing, Huawei’s Railway Fusion Command and Control Center (CCC) Solution is designed to provide solutions for flexible passenger and freight marketing platforms, robust converged data center networks, and reliable anti-disaster backup systems. For example, Huawei’s FusionCube is adopted to build a high performance parallel processing platform for intermodal railways marketing platforms, which can improve service processing by up to 200%.

With the right cloud in place, rail operators can consider more advanced methods of capturing, storing, and analyzing their data. Copious data sources like high-definition and 4K video, for example, are traditionally accessible to operations centers after upload from trains via very slow Wi-Fi or cabled Universal Serial Bus (USB) — a laborious task that sees safety and performance information only captured by exception or only analyzed in totality some time (days, even weeks) after collection. New technologies such as Huawei AirFlash, which uses advanced 5G wireless features to automatically transfer data from train-to-ground, permit much faster and more frequent access to data in near real-time. Coupled with the power of a common private cloud data center such as FusionCube, maintenance logs and trackside sensor reports can be correlated with this data to shed new light into railway asset performance and servicing.

Establishing a Common Gauge

To extract timely value out of collected railway data, operators should consider centralized data and common communications platforms that can be likened to a universal rail gauge — permitting quick and free movement of data to any location for fast processing and decision-making. The more standardized their data formats, system protocols (or even choice of vendor), the faster and easier it is to integrate and analyze the ensuing data.

In Australia, railway operators are fortunate to own licensed spectrum assets that support multiple wireless technologies. The move toward bearer independence means that migration from Global System for Mobile Communication-Railway (GSM-R) to Future Railway Mobile Communication System (FRMCS) will see the adoption of 4G and/or 5G radio bearer technologies. As such, common radio technology that simultaneously supports voice and data services must be engineered with extremely high levels of reliability and redundancy, to support the envisaged control applications. This way of thinking should also extend to the common underlying backbone and backhaul networks — optical/Internet Protocol (IP) transmission — as well as the supporting infrastructure. At the same time, digital platforms must also integrate high-end security components including firewalls, Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS) and Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS), anti-Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS), and boundary control policies — coupled with Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and Virtual Local Area Networks (VLANs) — to protect critical transport systems for ticketing, dispatching, and fleet management.

Finally, rail operators should look for platforms that provide high degrees of compatibility with systems and solutions from all vendors — allowing them to run a diverse and growing ecosystem of devices without undermining the speed or quality of operational insight. Keep in mind that these platforms will also underpin forays into automation, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and other data-intensive fields in which partnerships with a range of best-practice providers will likely prove critical to success.

To further improve Australia’s rail networks, rail operators can share experiences and harmonize learnings gained from the implementation of evolved communications technologies that, as they grow in adoption, will generate substantial data for further rapid digitization of operations. Capable digital platforms that assist in making sense of multiple complex streams of information will lead to national success. Only then can operators create complete harmony within their infrastructure and with the needs of their all-important customers.