Resilience – it’s about more than just technology

Author: Disney Schembri
Day: Introduction Day
Session: Resilience

Maintaining the safety of the railway when systems fail is only one aspect of resilience, when considered in the context of future command, control and signalling systems. Other factors against which the resilience of future solutions will be tested are changing environments, both natural and man-made, changes in passenger habits and human resource management as well as in the industry landscape and transport market.

It is predicted that the overall trends in climate change will be towards longer and warmer summers, increased rain and flooding, and colder winter periods, all of which impact the railway in different ways, whether that be through more lightning strikes on trackside equipment or wet weather causing train detection failures. It may become necessary to incorporate means of proactively detecting such phenomena into the overall control system so that trains are prevented from running on compromised sections of track. Equally, the exponential increase in the number of electronic and digitally connected devices in proximity to railway operations presents such challenges as electromagnetic interference, a rising noise floor and radio reliability.

As train ridership continues to increase, passengers expect shorter waiting and journey times; Yet much of the ageing infrastructure is becoming increasingly unable to support the higher capacity. To prevent the rising passenger numbers from having a significant impact, traffic management systems will need to employ smarter strategies, like accounting for how people pass through stations and the area surrounding them. Another limiting factor is the dependency on train crew and station staff. Recovering after a disruption is driven by the availability of skilled and qualified personnel, the management of which is complicated by considerations such as logistics around where each person will end their shift and how many rostered hours they will have remaining.

Resilience to the changing industry will require people with knowledge on all the legacy systems in use, but also on the more recent and upcoming technologies of network systems, software, and safety electronics. Attracting young professionals into the industry through early career schemes such as apprenticeships and graduate schemes is necessary if the demographic issue of maintaining the railway while the older experts retire is to be solved. The experience and perspectives of people from other industries are also very relevant to maintaining resilience against new threats and seizing opportunities for innovation.
New technologies in the wider context of mobility, like automated road vehicles and mobility-as-a-service, will have an effect on the rail market and will necessitate understanding global changes such as evolving work patterns, remote diagnostics and other connected services. The use of digital twins at present seems to offer the best hope of modelling the world as it allows us to design for resilience in all its forms, raising the question of whether as an industry and as a country we are investing sufficiently in the right technology. We don’t have all the answers, but knowing we will be asked the question may well be the first step on this path.