How to purchase rolling stock in the age of AI and Big Data?

Post by Xavier Jaffré, Business Development at Railnova
February 25, 2020

When purchasing new rolling stock, engineering teams and purchasing departments should reach a balanced relationship with the OEM they’re buying from. Especially now, in the age of AI and Big Data, it’s important that fleet owners don’t just rely on what the OEM says or is willing to give them spontaneously.

AI, machine learning and big data analytics breakthroughs open up plenty of opportunities in rail. But, it’s not just the OEM that should benefit from these innovations. Fleet owners and operators should too! Safe, reliable and real-time data access, and negotiating the rights to the complete interfaces documentation, bus mappings and train logic are key to harness those benefits.

Having access to train data opens up possibilities for use cases such as:

  • Energy management,
  • Accurate usage predictions for preventive maintenance,
  • Real-time monitoring for condition-based maintenance,
  • Predictive maintenance,
  • Fault code monitoring,
  • Usage reporting,
  • Live hotline support for drivers,
  • ETCS supervision,

And much more.

Without access to real-time train data, many of the new technologies and digitalisation efforts won’t work properly and won’t show the desired results. That’s why it’s important to prepare the data access from the very beginning: from the moment new rolling stock is being purchased.

Don’t have a lot of time? Skip to the “What should you put in your telematics requirements when purchasing new rolling stock” checklist.

“I don’t really need the detailed specifications from my new rolling stock interfaces”

During negotiations, purchasers mainly think about the purchasing price and the TOC (total cost of ownership) of the trains, and not about the distant future of their assets. This means that, sadly, current processes of purchasing rolling stock often don’t take into account how fleet owners and operators can efficiently build return on experience for when their fleet becomes older, and more prone to failures.

Even in the age of digitalisation, we see that, when railway organisations are purchasing new rolling stock, telematics are not always high on the list, or not thoroughly thought through. The main reason for this is that railway organisations don’t always understand the value of staying in control of the rolling stock data in the long term. They only see the cost.

As most new rolling stock is already equipped with an OEM telematics solution nowadays, fleet owners might get the wrong idea that they are fully covered and don’t need the detailed specifications of their rolling stock interfaces.

Relying on OEM telematics is not enough

Although these systems provide a selection of data that might help operators or fleet owners to solve some use cases, there’s often no real strategy behind it. They don’t give fleet owners the control and flexibility they need to capture data from new data sources, and to tackle new, or more complex use cases.

So, even if the OEM provides a telematics solution, it’s important to get the rights to the train specifications and bus mappings. This will make it easier for the owner or operator to stay in full control of their data, and to work with an OEM-independent telematics partner that better answers their data needs.

Having the necessary information at hand from the start offers operators a greater independence. It also opens up the possibility to plan for the future and to solve technical issues case by case.

“I wish I had the detailed specifications of my rolling stock”

Both by scrapping telematics off the shopping list and by blindly relying on OEM telematics solutions, operators will lack valuable information in the long run to build return on experience. Because of that, maintenance and operational costs will go up.

Because, contrary to what railway organisations believe, the early problems they might experience with their assets during the warranty period, won’t be over when the warranty period ends. Purchasers need to think about the long-term serviceability of their assets. They mustn’t forget that, even if their rolling stock is under a full service contract, any failures, breakdowns or delays will impact their operations and the quality of their service. In the end, especially as assets get older, the cost of these disruptions will by far exceed the initial cost of installing telematics.

With lines getting busier and busier, it’s very important to avoid any disruptions during service and to keep the availability rate as high as possible. If operators want to be able to solve availability and reliability issues in the future, they need to prepare this at the purchasing stage and make sure they can access all the data they might need.

When they have all relevant specifications and mappings at hand, operators

  • have full data control
  • are prepared to start building return on experience from the minute they start using the asset
  • are able to accumulate time series on key subcomponent variables as the train runs
  • are empowered to identify patterns in the data that may lead to failures, to explain breakdowns and to prevent them in the future.

By building on the data from their assets and combining their internal knowledge operators will be able to solve issues much quicker and far more efficiently than ever before (e.g. like the Dutch operator NS is already doing for their Traxx locomotives). In the long term this dramatically increases the reliability and availability of their fleet.

Purchasing rolling stock in the age of AI and Big Data, what should you put in your requirements?

In conclusion, besides capacity, wheels and other technical parts, you also need to consider telematics and whether the diagnostics interfaces and data buses from the assets you’re about to purchase are documented thoroughly.

These are a few items to put in your requirements:

  • Safe diagnostics interface to read event logs from the main computing unit even when the train is in service,
  • Safe diagnostics interface on all critical sub-components (door control units, HVAC, traction controller, braking controller, etc.) for the read-out of events and signals when the train is in operation,
  • Complete specifications of ETCS telegrams (beyond subset-27),
  • Documented bus mappings, to make sure you are able to easily access new data along the way. This will enable you to e.g. create your own fault codes and to set up new counters for accurate usage-based maintenance.
  • Documented main computer logic is beneficial too, as it enables you to run the same logic on your telematics device and limit noisy alerts so you can focus on the relevant ones.

With access to the right documentation, mappings and train logic from the start, you are prepared and better able to tackle issues that might come your way in the future. If you don’t consider this from the start, you’ll be stuck with what you decided on when purchasing the rolling stock.

Want to discuss this topic with a Railnova expert or know more about what your specification should actually cover in detail? Get in touch, we’re happy to help!

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