The Railway Fleet Planning – Digital way!

By Sairam Bollapragada & Rajesh Mohandas

In our last blog on the topic (https://itservicesdelivery.wordpress.com/2016/11/30/digital-in-rail-fleet-management-a-viewpoint/), we had a perspective about the railways fleet management.  In this sequel, we wish to bring on the aspects of Fleet Planning through levers from digital perspective and highlight a few important KPIs today as eyed by the railway planning commission. Fleet planning for any logistics entity is a continuous activity.

Fleet planning basically need to answer two most important questions, which locomotive is needed where and when – and when to acquire (buy / hire) one.

The most critical KPI the fleet planners need to be equipped with is a 360-degree view of the enterprise connecting the decision makers with information regarding its Vendors, Customers, Fleet Assets, the market intelligence to meet expectations. The very reason for such an infrastructure lack exists today due to disparate and disintegrated systems where in most of the countries data collection is still manual in many ways.

The rail network is increasingly busy – the number of passenger journeys made has risen by 70% across the globe over the last decade while US alone operated 1,471,736 freight cars and 31,875 locomotives and originated 39.53 million carloads (averaging 63 tons each) generating $81.7 billion in freight revenue for FY ‘16. So it’s important to make best use of the capacity through effective timetabling, and the right decisions about where to invest in developing the network, Planning and operating the network as seamlessly as possible in line with the existing and future demand. A few of the global KPIs measured and monitored by all railway operators are

  1. Asset Utilization (Train Km per Track Km)
  2. Efficiency (Planned track possession KM hour per track possession km hour)
  3. Service Quality and Reliability (Trains delayed due to Infrastructure)
  4. Innovation and Growth (Average relative age of fleet assets)
  5. Accessibility (Service coverage) and
  6. Safety (Accidental equivalent facilities per train km).

 

  • Asset Utilization

Logistics have a single goal even in asset planning, targeted at effective error-free stock management. Knowing item location, quantities on-hand, stock-outs, re-order triggers, space and scheduling, and how to minimize movement and manage assets in a harsh, high pressure environment, demanding growth patterns are only some of the challenges faced. Planning commission of Railways is constantly worried about the aging vehicles and tracks that need constant attention beyond the environmental and safety threats. Another critical area is to ensure consistency in operations while maximizing utilization. The statistics International Rail Journal show freight traffic is at a seven-year high with revenues reaching over $70 billion and customers are continuously demanding faster cycle times.

Focus on investments in real-time data analytics for smart DSS and IoT based sensor analytics solutions is mandated to provide critical continuous inputs to the fleet and asset planning exercise with constituent factors addressing the mobile workforce, data mobility and data quality for the fleet planning and management.

  • Efficiency

Railways use real-time telematics data and all the data that can be collated from the sensors and actuators to monitor, improve, optimize, the fleet plans with a singular goal of peaking at the efficiency of the operational process excellence. Apart from efficiency, the continuous need to reduce energy costs and minimize human intervention, reduce maintenance costs through real-time diagnostics and predictive analytics, eliminate waste in fleet scheduling through fleet instrumentation. Efficiency and productivity can be increased multifold leveraging intelligent technology, like digital tagging that can be automatically read without the need for a direct line of sight; towards a more real-time inventory intelligence, replacing all other manual efforts required otherwise.

  • Service Quality and Reliability

Railway infrastructure is under consistent heavy stress to do more with limitations at physical expansion. In countries like India and China where the fast-demands-up is a way, the need for better reliability, safety and QoS without much physical elbow space for infrastructure capacity increase is a continuous challenge.

Clubbed with this is to operate with the optimized OpEx with increasing pressure on the price point which needs to keep low as alternative completion threatens. Even passenger services are facing such a price competition from roadways and low cost Airlines. Customer satisfaction is what guarantees the future of railways. Predictive pricing through predictive analytics is increasingly finding space in the planning exercise to ensure all such pressures are catered to. The same holds for fleet procurement and phasing out plans for the obsolete fleet elements, etc.

Also it is an era of two-way communication between the passengers’/business houses and authorities leveraging mobility solutions as a constant feedback on improving the above continuously.

Some areas technology is being leveraged today is addition of intelligence with sensors for cold storage, capacity utilization and mobile-based condition monitoring, improving quality of the systems that trigger warnings, alarms and alerts generated after an event, incident or action by advanced measuring and modeling methods to eliminate the need for maintenance intervention.

  • Innovation and Growth

With Digital levers opening up doors to innovation and many impossibilities like real-time planning, open traffic data, social customer service, should ring in few disruptive trends around. User experience will increase manifold if the Digital fleet planning includes disruptive innovative features for better customer satisfaction and experience.  The solutions would need changes in the approach to planning based on user priorities, data flows, and dynamic response to disruption.

Another factor to fleet planning is the increasing need for an integrated and intelligent network leading to sense demand, measure performance, and monitor physical asset health.  Intelligent systems to respond in real-time to manage capacity and predict /avoid disruption.

Automation and safety will be another area of prime focus where exponential potential of the cognitive techniques will be relied on to save millions of lives, assets, pressing insurance industry as well to innovate.

Collaborative platforms for public and private will be created to meet the mobility challenges while fleet planning exercise would need to take innovative strides to take advantage of creating “low costs to scale” with high levels of participation globally.

The disruptive need to get the Innovation into the DNA of the Fleet Planning is seen as with the advent of autonomous vehicles and improved freight management. Legacy infrastructure is gradually being replaced by train management systems in which trains become interconnected communication hubs, transmitting data among themselves and to network control centers, and receiving instructions from control centers. M2M communication, with a dash from cloud, enabling operators to utilize equipment, tracks and stations more efficiently, while dramatically reducing safety risks. The IoT can further improve the system’s level of automation and its integration with the signaling system.

But all this needs meticulous planning. The yearly railway budget, coupled with a plan laced with the deadly combination of mobile-cloud-analytics as technological levers can bring in drastic improvements in fleet planning.

  • Safety

Though mentioned last, the railway safety is not merely an area of utmost criticality, but also poses challenges to the R&D to continuously create safety access mechanisms deterring crimes in railways infrastructure. As we incline more towards better digital equipped railways, an equal emphasis becomes mandatory for tighter data security and more on physical safety of the railway assets. While planning for the fleet through the year, a Q-o-Q Security is recommended to ensure all aspects of safety are addressed.

Today globally, we have 48,000 locomotives, more than 1.4 million rail cars and enough rail to circle the earth more than 13 times, railroads are relied on heavily by civilizations that be. To keep the vast 140,000 freight rail network and the equipment moving across it SAFE is definitely not an easy task for all the railway boards. The rail safety standards across the globe is getting addressed through the ISO/TS standards.

Managing high density areas challenges traffic regulation. T2T (Train to train communication) communication will allow drivers to understand the speed best adopted to ensure smooth flow of traffic. A real-time dashboard with surveillance video providing access information, where on board and ground staff are all on the same page for the traffic information, all powered by intelligent data gathering-dissemination systems, all alluding to predictive actions in the ecosystem providing safety as well as better functioning.

Digital features like sensors for diagnosing the condition of a motor, infrared sensors for counting the number of passengers, high quality on board internet connection, a suitable information system, onboard information kiosks, create rolling stock in order leveraging technologies, etc. Sometimes cost of such facilities on larger scale can be prohibitive and hence should be factored cautiously into fleet asset planning in a systematic phased manner.

However, the data points across rail locomotive logistics across the globe show that there is a drop of 14% on insurance costs, a drop of 15% on fuel costs, 21% drop in labor costs, 30% drop in operating costs and 21% Upward trend on safety and a similar 19% increase in profitability – all indicators to the fact that the railways across the globe are drastically improving. However, when all this can be factored into the fleet planning across railway authorities  it would be a perfect recipe for an outcome based fleet.

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One thought on “The Railway Fleet Planning – Digital way!

  1. One area where high ROI can be achieved is on investing in communication networks based on real time algorithms (GPS + Push messaging notifications) which enable system to fleet personnel communication as well direct person to person communication for fleet management. This communication platform could potentially enable to service a host of on-demand services as well for e.g. requesting a coach service , cleanup, quick engine check at upcoming stations etc..

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