On the 25th of March, 2013, I attended ‘The Digital Railway – Digital Capabilities for Rail Industry Challenges’ event, hosted by the Transport Knowledge Transfer Network. This acted as the opening and networking day of the five million pounds ‘Competition for Collaborative R&D Funding’. The competition is set up to identify specific business issues that are affecting the rail industry, and use them as a focus for developing integrated digital solutions and services. These should encompass innovative, digital, ICT and satellite application technologies, to address challenges faced by leading rail organisations. This is a joint initiative with the rail industry, which has the support of the cross-industry Technical Strategy Leadership Group.
The day kicked off with the Technology Strategy Board delegate presenting a description of scope and aims for the competition. Following, the stakeholder perspective of major rail industry businesses was presented; these are Network Rail, London Underground and FirstGroup’s Rail Division. Their presentations encompassed industry problems, potential solutions and how innovation should be shaped to address the complicated challenges and industry-specific context. Attention was given to the ever-increasing need for using intelligent information, providing customer satisfaction, delivering at high capacity, being energy-efficient, optimising on-time railway services, reducing costs, and providing better value for money. The segment continued to a questions and answers session with a panel of representatives from the aforementioned organisations, as well as from Rail for London. Of notice was the call for open information sharing: members from the participating audience were keen to see organisations release commercial and/or public rail information, so as to allow for third-party, innovative solutions to be built. Concluding the segment, a presentation was given to address how the Knowledge Transfer Network envisions the ‘digital railway’.
The following segment covered applications. A Knowledge Transfer Network delegate provided a brief introduction to the competition, opening up the stage for applicants. The themes covered by the applicants included, amongst others: asset management, monitoring and maintenance; train, service, logistics and infrastructure operations; vehicles systems integration; cross-industry information sharing; and customer services. Each proposal was put forth to attendees during rapid, two-minute presentation slots. Interesting and innovative blends were clearly visible in the solutions presented. For example, one applicant suggested that security threats can be identified through extensive behavioural analytics that draw on data from station monitoring. In another case, an applicant suggested that trains can be transformed to ‘location-aware’ assets, by improving and normalizing the current wireless communications standards and technologies. A further applicant provided a solution for active yield management through electronic ticketing. In combination or standalone, and with varying intensity of usage, most of the capabilities requested by the funders were covered by the pool of applicants.
The session concluded with a networking opportunity for all participants. The organisers provided a loose structure of thematic areas for easing the communication between interested parties. These themes were: safety and security; customer experience; reliability and dependability; cost and value; energy and sustainability; and capacity, delivery and effective operations. Additionally, one-to-one sessions with delegates from the key organisations were conducted for participants keen to discuss organisation-specific information and consultation.
The selection process for this competition will follow a number of key dates, concluding on the 24th of July. Applications are assessed on individual merit by an independent panel of experts.