Even today, planning operations of equipment generally involve the production and exchange of 2D designs with little computerisation. As a result, systems are more vulnerable to faults and processes are less efficient. To significantly increase in both planning efficiency and planning quality in future, the RIMcomb project by TÜV SÜD’s subsidiary, SIGNON Deutschland GmbH, aims to develop an integrated IT approach that supports collaboration-based multidisciplinary planning of rail infrastructure equipment.
Planning is still primarily a manual process
Planning and construction of rail and track infrastructure are similar to structural engineering including input from a large number of different service sectors. Thereby, various planning phases and work steps have to be combined. As the vast majority (90%) of rail infrastructure projects are based on existing infrastructure, site examinations are required as a minimum where data about these existing systems are inadequate. These examinations may involve track geometry as well as the equipment technology installed on-site. This information (e.g. position, signal type etc.) is still transferred to planning documents by hand, often resulting in inconsistent and inaccurate existing data. Further, the preparatory work of this kind is extremely labour-intensive because the data has to be assembled individually for each service sector and incorporated in the plans (often manually). Any errors at these stages may impact the safety of the entire system to be constructed. The problem is exacerbated by conducting three-dimensional planning and the high requirements of new technological systems for rail equipment (such as ETCS, the European Train Control System).
A further major problem is that planning information is generally captured in technical drawings (2D plans). Yet planning for the various service sectors requires the usage of diverse range of plan types which include topological representation of the track network, abstract representation of track systems or 3D representation of design details. When plans are produced and saved purely as drawings, interconnections and contexts are lost. Changes to plans must be added manually, frequently causing inconsistencies and serious errors, and resulting in higher project durations and costs. An efficient exchange of data is not supported by this process. Coordination of the various specialist planners (service sectors) is an area which is currently particularly lacking in adequate cross-disciplinary data models and software solutions, of the kind that are becoming increasingly standard in structural engineering projects – at least those on a larger scale.
The diagram shows sections of 2D plans from various service sectors of rail equipment technology. Today manual management is the rule for all data (e.g. the rail crossover shown) including also redundant data, requiring all plans to be aligned and updated by their respective planners whenever a change occurs. Practice has shown that managing these changes requires high communication and coordination effort, with no guarantee of reliability in aligning plans to the new status.
Enhancing efficiency by using IT-based data modelling
RIMcomb therefore adopts the approach of a vendor-neutral data model supporting description of track systems and infrastructure equipment and permitting visual representation at various levels of abstraction, from 2D track topology to highly detailed 3D representation. The system applies methods taken from Building Information Modelling (BIM) to achieve genuine improvements in efficiency on the basis of systematic consideration and inclusion of all processes. Based on the data model, a platform is designed and developed that ensures consistency throughout the various visual representations and permits collaborative planning on the basis of synchronised technical models.
The platform must be designed as a central repository for all relevant data for all service sectors, from planning, execution and any changes and at the same time ensuring data consistency. In relocation of track switches, for example, the platform should allow all changed planning data to be entered directly and centrally and should provide the new information to all service sectors simultaneously, tailored to each sector’s respective tasks. This leads to cost reduction of equipment planning for track and rail infrastructure construction while increasing planning precision and speed; the approach eliminates time consuming conventional change planning and the efforts as well as risk of error involved.
For the comparison of process models new methods for transferring model changes (“patching”) are used which ensure consistency throughout overall planning, improve change traceability and allow distributed sub-models to be synchronised automatically.
In addition, procedures for describing and testing the rules valid in equipment planning are established to apply semi-automated analysis in planning processes. Rather than working on a common model that is continuously updated, a far more realistic approach involves phases of separate work on process models, interspersed with regular collation and synchronisation. Thereby, correct recording of existing systems is an important cornerstone of planning. A further focal area is the design and prototyping of a rules-based plausibility control system. Technical equipment planning is governed by an array of rules, such as distances between track switches and their accompanying signals. Research is currently investigating procedures for mapping these rules in a formal language and implementing appropriate testing procedures on this basis, with the aim of supporting planners by providing corresponding information and warnings.
The overall research project, carried out by SIGNON jointly with TU München and AEC3, receives funding from the Bavarian Research Foundation (Bayerische Forschungsstiftung).