Integrated Control Centers Bolster Rail Service Efficiency

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

Page 3 of 3


Because of advances in technology, control centers work very differently from those of 10 to 15 years ago. For example, if there was an emergency in a subway system, an operator would work according to a handwritten procedure as to what he would have to switch on and off in a certain time frame and rhythm, van Ark says. "Say a fire happened in a subway tunnel, to close off ventilation shafts turning around the direction of the airflow, a lot of the work would be done manually."

Today, with the capability and integration of the additional control center functions, software algorithms and programs can be generated that would take over many of those functions. "The programming of the ­computer has become more capable, so if there were an accident, the ­computer will decide for you," van Ark says. "If there's a fire for instance in tunnel B, [the computer] would then make the ventilation changes, give the warning to the passengers and do the evacuation programs."

The operator would have more of a supervisory function because the computer would do more of the functions, he says, adding that the system would be safer by eliminating human error, particularly in a crisis situation.

Despite high-tech computers taking on a more active role in control center functions, the human factor still plays an important role. "The proper training and involvement of both operation and maintenance personnel of our customers during the development of the project is very important," Houriez says.

The customer is involved at all stages of development, from the specifications through the prototyping to the validation and, later on, the commissioning phase, he says, adding, "So that they know the system and can easily take ownership of it and begin operation."

Alstom provides a complete simulation environment, which includes all interfaces of the system and provides a system that is as close as ­possible to the real life experience, he says.

Implementation Challenges

According to van Ark, the biggest challenge with implementing ICC systems is the customer's desire to include the latest technological advances after the project specifications are set. "To implement a system, in particular a very complicated, integrated control system like this, you need to make sure that your operator is willing to freeze his requirements," he says.

Always waiting for the next technology to come along is detrimental to the execution of a project of this nature because of the time delay involved. "After it is implemented, then, of course, you can go in and do revisions. It's so attractive for any operator to see the great developments being done on all types of subsystems every day."

Other challenges include the lack of funding in the transit sector to pay for control system upgrades. "Very often an agency has a limited budget, so, obviously they are going to buy their trains first, or their power stations or substations," van Ark says. 

Despite the fact that control centers will provide them with more efficiency, transit agency budgets aren't as forthcoming these days. Many ­operations, such as the MTA's New York City Transit, have had to postpone control system upgrades due to budgetary restraints, he says.


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