Integrated Control Centers Bolster Rail Service Efficiency

Posted on May 11, 2010 by Janna Starcic, Executive Editor

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[IMAGE]Alstom-2.jpg[/IMAGE]To stay competitive, rail operators need to provide their customers efficient, reliable service. To achieve this, it is crucial to supervise and control the entire network via an integrated control center (ICC). While early control center functions focused on traffic control, today's control centers feature increased automation and integration, providing more functionality than ever — from  supervision of traffic and fixed equipment to inclusion of security and information management systems.

"An integrated control system today is a highly sophisticated IT environment. It's gone beyond just the standard IT, it is ­generated by specialists in the field of transportation," says Roelof van Ark, president, Alstom Transport North America. "Integrated control centers vary from customer site to customer site. It really ­depends on what they want."


One of the key functions of a control center is supervising rail traffic, or automatic train supervision (ATS). Next is the supervision or control of all the equipment around the trains - tunnels, stations, etc. The technology used for the supervision of fixed equipment is called SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition). Other functions include the supervision of subsystems such as communications — radio, telephones or security systems, including surveillance cameras, access control, passenger information, etc. "It's about providing the brain to the transport system and supervision and control of all the subsystems," says Emmanuel Houriez, vice president, Integrated Control and Security Center, Alstom Transport.

Today, the technology is heading toward more automation and integration. The inclusion of security and information management systems in control center projects is growing substantially. "The data will tell you where the trains are located. It will tell you the state of the various devices, whether they are power devices," Houriez says. "The data can also tell you things like the position of the trains and the state of the signaling system."


With regard to control center development, Alstom manages two types of projects — revamps, where a new control center is brought in to replace an older installation, and turnkey projects, where a new control center is built from scratch. Currently, Alstom has approximately 50 ongoing control center-related projects. The company has two sites (Centers of Excellence) in North America dedicated to control center development: one in Rochester, N.Y., and the other in Montreal, Quebec. Alstom also has a team of more than 350 engineers specializing in control center implementation that it draws upon.

In its work for São Paulo Metro (Companhia do Metropolitano de São Paulo) in Brazil, Alstom provided the revamp of an existing control system for 49 stations and lines 1, 2 and 3 of the rail network. The project, completed in 2002, integrates traffic control, SCADA, and security and communications management.

"The São Paulo system is a completely integrated system where you have one control center in charge of everything and that brings efficiency in management of operation control center teams," Houriez says, adding that 12 operator control positions control the entire metro, which ­includes 49 stations.

In 2008, the company was tapped by the government of the State of São Paulo, Brazil, to supply a fully automated system for lines 1, 2 and 3 of the São Paulo Metro. The company is equipping the lines with Urbalis, a complete train control and telecommunication system based on computer based train control (CBTC). This technology allows more efficient operation and makes it possible to increase train frequency and transport capacity. Delivery of the system is under way and the metro system will remain in service during the upgrade.

The supplier's project under way for the Montreal, Quebec-based transit system, STM (Société de transport de Montréal), is similar. "We have a system that is going to manage four lines and 68 stations, which is also very centralized," Houriez says. The limited number of workstations and operator controls will bring efficiency and, with centralization of the controls, it will be easier to coordinate the activity of various subsystems and lines, he explains.

Another Canadian-based project is under way for the Toronto Transit Commission. This integrated control center project comprises 69 stations, 34 miles of double track running 842 trains per day on three lines. Functionality will include automatic routing, schedule and headway regulation, simulation and playback, alarm management and operations reports. Other specifications include 40 Intel Pentium workstations and interface with closed-circuit television and crew management.

"At this particular stage, we are supplying CBTC, an automated train control system," van Ark says. "The existing control center is being enhanced to accommodate this [driverless] technology."

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