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Revolution on rails… in services! Integration of data and IT systems in European railways

The digital transformation is an unavoidable process impacting a host of sectors and industries. How will it revolutionize the European rail market?

According to the European Statistical Office, 465 billion people used rail passenger transport in 2017, a 3% jump in the percentage of people using railways in the European Union. This data shows that rail transport continues to play a very important role. Despite strong competition from road transport, rail is an important element in the supply chain, critical for the smooth functioning of enterprises and one of the key factors affecting economic growth.

Rail transport includes cross-border transport, which forces carriers to adapt to the specific requirements of national regulators and different IT systems. For this reason,  the European Union has launched an initiative to ensure interoperability and standardization in European rail traffic. The guidelines are known as Technical Specifications for Interoperability or TSI.

Railway interoperability

The Directive of the European Parliament and the EU Council of May 2016 on the interoperability of the rail system sets out specifications containing technical and operational standards that must be implemented by each subsystem or part thereof so that they meet the requirements and ensure the interoperability of the European Union’s rail system.  It defines both structural and functional subsystems and applies to sectors such as energy, infrastructure, security and telematics. At the same time, each of these subsystems must meet specific requirements related to safety, reliability and accessibility, health, environmental protection and technical compatibility with the railway system functioning in a given country.

A change in the approach to railways can also be seen in the report “Digital transformation of railways” prepared jointly by representatives of SGH and Siemens. It discusses the main technologies supporting digital transformation and presents the dominant trends in the digitization of rail transport. It also elaborates on such topics as the vision of the operation of Rail 4.0, based on cloud computing, the “Internet of Things” (IoT), analytics of large data sets and automation.

The main goal of digital transformation in the railway sector is the employment of new technologies that facilitate the operations of all entities working on and for railways: infrastructure managers, carriers, and enterprises providing railway solutions. Digitization will lead to the implementation of the main assumptions of Rail 4.0, such as mobility as a service (MaaS), automation and interoperability of traffic control systems (GoA4), Internet of Trains, the networked passenger and preventive maintenance of rolling stock (PMaaS).

Data integration in rail traffic

Technical specifications regarding the exchange of data for the freight (TAF) and passenger (TAP) sectors are also included in EU documents and are closely related to the transmission of information between the IT systems of European rail traffic participants. These include entities such as WK (Wagon Keepers), IM (Infrastructure Managers) and RU (Railway Undertaker), which should exchange certain data within a given subsystem in a pre-imposed manner such as location codes, information on the movement of wagons, or data on transported loads.

A technological standard has been created for this purpose, the so-called Common Interface, specifying the exchange of messages specified in the TSI for both freight and passenger transport. The solution is responsible for ensuring compliance with EU recommendations and requirements.

Although compliance with these requirements is not mandatory at present, and no penalties are imposed for non-compliance, in the near future the transport market may “naturally” oblige rail carriers to comply with applicable standards. For example, one of the major players on the European rail market, such as Deutsche Bahn, will start demanding that partners using the German infrastructure exchange data with the company in a specific manner compatible with TAF TSI. If this demand cannot be met, non-compliant carriers may be banned from using German tracks. Although this is a hypothetical scenario, it is the most realistic vision for the future and one for which Polish carriers must begin preparing today.

Support in adapting to EU requirements

For years, the Unity Group has taken the lead in supporting enterprises in their digital transformation. Unity employs a range of recognized solutions, such as service buses and dedicated software, created in all relevant technologies. In this way, it helps companies whose business involves rail traffic to adapt their IT systems and architecture to the requirements of the EU, TSI and Common Interface. Unity delivers business value to its partners, ensuring they can achieve further growth and gain a competitive edge.

The digital transformation of railways is an inevitable process the EU will impose on railway companies that have so far struggled with digitization. Europe-wide standardization, which enhances the accessibility and attractiveness of European rail transport, is expected to help in implementing this assumption. Although the implementation of the TSI is ongoing, more and more companies operating in the railway industry are adapting to EU recommendations, with the understanding that only harmonization of regulations across the EU will enable its further development.



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