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.

Digital in Rail Fleet Management: A viewpoint

By Sairam Bollapragada & Rajesh Mohandas

Rail is a vital service to global society and the transport backbone of a sustainable economy. Many of the Rail entities around the globe are sprinting towards Digitization.  In the Global Vision for Railway Development (GVRD) document by the International Railway Research Board (IRRB) the core themes include delivering smart solutions as regards to safety, security, punctuality, availability, accessibility, seamless operation, capacity, connectivity and sustainability. These are the critical success factors of a rail network across any country.

The overall rail supply market has witnessed a substantial growth at 3%, driven for the main part by the Asian Pacific region. At over EUR 159 bn, the world rail supply market has reached a record high level. From a product segment perspective, the largest contribution to the market’s growth in the 2013 – 2015 stemmed mainly from the rolling stock and services segments. Added, these two segments clock at 72 % of the total rail market in the 2013 – 2015 period; and still growing. In line with overall market growth, the infrastructure in operation grew by 26,000 km, primarily in the urban and very high speed track segments, with track infrastructure in sum reaching more than 1.6m kms of urban and interurban tracks.

Some of the salient points to understand and take forward in this segment are:

  • The bulk of the additional track kilometres are attributed to the Asian Pacific region due to the construction of new routes in China and India.
  • As reported by UNIFI: European Research Firm, the total market for rail supply is set to continue its growth of recent years at 2.6 %. The rail supply market is foreseen to reach approximately EUR 185 bn per annum in the 2019 – 2021 period.
  • The highest growth rates are expected in Western Europe and Africa/Middle East, 3.1 % and 3.0 % respectively.
  • Frost and Sullivan claims in its research report that Europe alone is set to replace 10,298 locomotives and 1,860 rail cars between 2015 and 2022.
  • With the above, Africa and Middle East market size is expected to double by 2022, while India and Malaysia in the coming 5 years will see 2x infrastructure expansion.
  • India and China, due to the population challenges, are considering increasing the network length to lower the load while in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Russia and the US private fright operators own most of the rail network.
  • Spain, France and Turkey are expected to have the largest networks by 2022.

Growth Brings Challenges and opportunities too…, one of the areas where the challenges are widely seen is the FLEET MANAGEMENT, the exponential growth followed with high expectations and customer experience certainly needs to be addressed and people are now looking at DIGITAL solutions to ease Strategic and Tactical Operational issues. Key issues with respect to Fleet Maintenance today can be broadly categorized as below:

  1. MAINTENANCE PROGRAMME REDESIGN by comparing experiences of key maintenance approaches and methodologies to assess how each impacts cost and availability, energy flooring and driverless pods become the innovative elements of redesign driven by cost of Energy which is the biggest expenditure incurred by the railways.

  Not to forget the railway telematics through plug and play applications on mobile devices allowing you to report the availability and utilization of locomotives. If we bring in more rigor into planning, safety, operations and execution, with the existing railway infrastructure, we can take an additional capability of 40% through digital means and so on. The overall operational aspects can be improved through digitization as is being proven over the past few years.

  1. INFO MANAGEMENT by examining approaches and new systems for transforming raw data into information to optimize maintenance planning and cost-effectively trigger automatic maintenance operations leveraging the power of BIG DATA and ANALYTICS. Analytics can help us in bettering the routing algorithms, better connectivity, and hence multiple better options, optimize operational costs, a more reliable railway, a better dashboard in the driver’s cabin plugging in critical information for increasing safety (helps avert any mishaps when trains need to cross busy junctions), reliability, punctuality, arrival accuracy, planned travel duration, SoS,etc.
  1. REMOTE CONDITION MONITORING: with so many locomotives on the move, one should continuously know about their health so that you know when it needs attention. One can create the ecosystem whereby all the drive-data is stored (on cloud?) and enabling immediate notification for any anomalies. It will also allow you to anticipate a potential problem and help plan a predictive maintenance. Drones will play a vital role in predictive maintenance and improved security. Electronic tagging or cargo for reliable tracking and reduced delays will improve remote monitoring efficiency.

While solutions like Smart windows are a given for an enhanced customer experience, the bigger offerings are around features like wireless locomotive monitoring and checks for better asset utilization, optimized asset planning with reduced shed times, near real-time locomotive inventory, with component level monitoring bringing in huge efficiency in the entire maintenance processes.

  1. RELIABILITY-CENTRED MAINTENANCE by Identifying a best practice model for applying RCM and examining the extent to which the methodology has increased reliability and eliminated unnecessary maintenance costs leveraging the power of Artificial Intelligence. Swarm robotics is another area for future transport and infrastructure projects, the intelligent robots will be used more and more for repair and maintenance activities. Automatic Gauge change for cross border travel powered by IoT will be the new norm.
  1. MANAGING SUPPLIER CONTRACTS by Identifying opportunities to increase control of the supply chain with optimized material costs through efficient supplier contract management and using Cloud based solutions coupled with Social CRM applications as the global consumption of resources will nearly triple to 140 billion tons per year by 2050. The Fleet of tomorrow will be digital enabled with virtual shopping mall experience for the user to benefit adding convenience and ease.
  1. EXTENDING FLEET LIFESPAN: Optimizing component life-cycle, fleet connectivity, fleet integration plans and obsolescence management to extend lifespan of the fleet with the best in class asset management solutions that can be plugged into the existing architecture. Advances in nanotechnology may lead to new materials that are lighter, stronger, smarter and greener. Availability of information of a hub-spoke inventory management through mobility services from the cloud stored data for access will enable Just-In-Time services optimizing the shelf dwell times and hence the level of re-orders needed to be maintained.

While the above 6 key factors can be essential to improve the operations and maintenance, there are multiple other areas (both Strategic and Tactical) like Fleet Planning, Fleet Acquisition, Fleet Distribution and Fleet Disposal which are being addressed leveraging Digital Technologies. We will discuss in a sequel about how the Digital world would bring about strides of changes in these areas. Collaboration between business and IT will drive efficiency and strengthen engagement benefiting both the industry and the economy.

The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” …our focus and goal in line with Digital 2020 should be to tap into these opportunities and assist the players overcome the challenges in the  Collaborative Digital Transformation that will enable a Win-Win situation, thus embarking into a new journey, partnering and contributing to the overall GROWTH…!