Editor’s brief: Rail, whether light rail, mass rapid transit, maglev, etc, are fast becoming the backbone of land transportation in many advanced and developing economies. With the endemic ongoing, domestic logistics are also driving up the need for dependable and fast transportation where rail is a key enabler. Rather than rely on proprietary technologies for signaling and safety controls, the industry is looking at future-proof COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) technologies, according to smart safety solutions leader HIMA. Read more below.
Singapore – HIMA, one of the world’s leading provider of smart safety solutions for industrial applications, shares insights on modernizing railway systems using commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) technology, to empower rail operators with better cost containment, faster speed of deployment, and ease of maintenance.
According to the UNIFE Global Rail study, the rail supply market has seen constant growth in recent years driven by considerable investments in services, infrastructure and rail control, where Western Europe and Asia Pacific leading in investments. While leading consulting firm McKinsey posits that the future of rail is digital.
“With COVID-19 ravaging economies worldwide, there is a need for rail operators worldwide to provide dependable service for the long-term, while containing costs in areas such as proprietary or antiquated technologies, maintenance, and manpower. With the control and signaling market highly fragmented and dominated by proprietary or tailor-made technologies, there is a need for product standardization and going digital,” says Mr Friedhelm Best, Vice President, Asia Pacific, HIMA.
Digital transformation as an opportunity
Since rail digitalization requires financial investments, some operators keep systems beyond their lifespan. There are still many single-market proprietary solutions in use that make interoperability and consistent data exchange nearly impossible. The digital transformation of the rail industry may present opportunities for rail operators, to improve operating efficiency, and competitiveness. Digital interlocking systems allow for a denser train sequence and thus optimum utilization of the existing infrastructure. A large-scale implementation of standardized digital interlockings will significantly reduce maintenance costs.
COTS: Future-proof for the digital era
For railway operators, the need for modernization and rail digitization, together with a need for system longevity, means that investments must be manageable, low-maintenance, with little or no vendor lock-in, and preferably never becoming obsolete. Considerations for such safety and control technologies to manage high usage rail systems must be easily expanded and modernized with software. To keep pace with the times, rail systems should have interoperability with current and future components and systems, provide remote management capabilities on LAN, WAN and mobile networks and nodes, and feature easy-to-learn and manage user interfaces and experiences.
HIMax and HIMatrix COTS Controllers
Certified standardized COTS safety controllers from HIMA make it possible to adapt a solution relatively quickly for any rail operator, with the option to start small in a modernization project, and scale up whenever needed.
CENELEC SIL4-certified HIMax and HIMatrix COTS controllers, with its certification, are considered pre-approved and pre-certified components that rail operators can immediately deploy in modernization. The COTS controllers allow for project extensions that are easily implemented by system integrators (SIs) and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) over decades, with spare parts easily and expediently supplied worldwide. The HIMax and HIMatrix COTS controllers can be quickly adopted in retrofit projects, where an electronic interlocking has been implemented in parallel with existing relay technology.
Interoperability is paramount for quick retrofit and modernization projects. The HIMA COTS controllers’ programming systems are based on globally available standard programming languages in accordance with IEC 61131 and provide interfaces to all important technologies such as the Ethernet, RS485, or RS232. Communication takes place via broadly accessible protocols such as CAN bus (implemented via COM-User-Task) or Profinet. For even greater security, rail operators can use Safe Ethernet, a high-performance HIMA internal protocol to relay traffic.
HIMA COTS systems offer a number of clear advantages in comparison with proprietary systems:
- The standardization and widespread use of the commonly used industrial programming languages in accordance with IEC 61131 make the COTS controllers significantly easier to operate and maintain.
- HIMA COTS systems can be obtained at considerably lower prices, because of their standard components and high production figures.
- Commissioning and maintenance are simpler and they give rail operators greater freedom and completely free from vendor lock-in.
- HIMA COTS systems are easier to program, resulting in short delivery lead times and high availability.
- The long life cycle of up to 30 years is another advantage of HIMA COTS technology and is a guarantee for investment security.
“HIMA COTS technology is available today. It is based on international standards and permanently reduces running and lifecycle costs. Proven in numerous railway projects, HIMA COTS solutions gave rail operators a clear plus in terms of value,” continued Best.