One of the ways of assessing a country’s economic growth is by evaluating its rail and transit system, which not only showcases the nation’s infrastructure, but also exhibits the pivotal way in which it keeps the country and its people moving.
India’s rail and transit system plays a critical role in its socio-economic development. A large chunk of the country’s population depends on suburban trains, also called “locals,” and metros (in urban cities) for their daily commute. For instance, India’s busiest rail network is the 459 kilometer suburban train in Mumbai.
It carries 60,000 passengers per kilometer each day, the highest among all the leading commuter rail systems in the world. Moreover, India is projected to occupy a 40 percent share in the total global rail activity by 2050. Undisputedly, the Indian transport system continues to remain a vital catalyst in supporting the economy and is a key contributor to jobs, sustainable mobility, and overall gross domestic process (GDP).
The Indian Railway and Transport authorities have demonstrated agility and ingenuity in catering to the new requirements that have come about in India. These requirements pose a bigger challenge to their sustainability and their ability to develop a more efficient and sustainable railway. For example, India currently has more than 700 kilometers of conventional metro lines in service. Another 1,000 kilometers of metro transit systems lines are planned for delivery by 2022. Such an expansion will cause great change in many cities in India, especially those that are heavily reliant on rail transportation. The change will also result in reduced carbon emissions, which will benefit society as a whole. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in serious impacts on the economy as a whole, the lingering effects of which will be felt for a while.
With the help of the transport sector, new solutions can bepioneered to address these issues. But, the question at present is not a matter of “if” but rather “when” these rail projects return to help revitalize both the industry and the wider economy.
A recent United Nations World Urbanization Report states that around 55 percent of the world’s population now lives in cities and it is expected to skyrocket to around 68 percent over the next three decades. Also, the International Energy Agency (IEA) considers rail to be the most efficient and lowest emitting mode of transport in comparison to aviation, water, and road. This makes rail the most effective and sustainable way of keeping cities moving, especially those in rail-dependent nations like India.
Hence, as we continue to face these extraordinary times, many companies and organizations are now proactively making a digital shift. They are looking to invest in newer technology in support of re-imagined digital workflows, helping the wider digital transformation of the organizations involved. As part of this shift, I am confident that digital twins will continue to gain greater prominence in the months and years to come; successfully advancing the use of building information modeling (BIM) methodologies across organizations working in the rail and transit industry, to deliver different and improved outcomes.
Digital twins possess the potential to rewrite the rulebook in terms of how as an industry we plan, design, build, and operate networks now and in the future. Rewriting the rulebook will undoubtedly include the evolution of industry standards and best practice, for example, in helping to provide a significant reduction in risk organizations are exposed to through the simulation of fabrication sequences, construction activities, logistics during delivery of a project, or to optimize passenger flows, or visualize emergency evacuation situations (with or without COVID-19 restrictions) on an operational network.
In other operational scenarios, digital twins can consume data from the continuous survey, photogrammetry, LiDAR, and Internet of Things connected devices—giving users the ability to track changes to asset condition or performance and, for example, enable those responsible for maintaining them to perform the right work at the right time in the right place.
Rail and transit are not alone in facing other challenges such as tighter budgets, shorter deadlines, fewer skilled people, compliance with evolving standards, including targets set by governments around the world to combat climate change. However, perhaps the most immediate challenge we face is the change that has been brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
I don’t think anyone could have predicted just how much our lives would change. During this time I have seen many organizations convert the challenge (of COVID-19 to their business) into an opportunity, and ultimately serving as a major driver for going digital. As we all hope for a gradual return to normalcy, I think many rail organizations are now placing increased focus on the processes that support how assets appear, behave, and react to change.
In effect, the combined challenge of COVID-19 and others I have mentioned, have served as a trigger for increased momentum of digitalization and as a result, advancement of the global rail industry. In part, I think this can be attributed to the increased pressure to deliver improved service and safety to the end-user.
The revenue stream that passenger fares provide to owner- operators has been hit hard, and I think that getting people back in numbers onto public transport, including rail and transit, will require increased focus on the safety, security, and the comfort of passengers. We need to prove to passengers that it is safe to travel, build their confidence, and assure them in time that it is safe to go to different places – locally, regionally, and internationally.
The professionals, in India and around the world, who are working in the rail industry have always worked to ensure it is the safest mode of transport, with or without a pandemic, and I genuinely think there is a desire among them to make it the smartest and most sustainable mode of transportation. We know that as an industry we cannot stand still, and there is a need for change.
So, even though all the complexities that designing, building, and operating these critical infrastructure assets present us with, and whatever our new normal might usher in, digital twins can, and I believe will be a significant part of helping enable that change to happen. Change that will ultimately lead to further innovation within the industry and firmly cement rail and transit’s position globally as the safest, smartest, and most sustainable way of moving people and products.
Mr. Steve Cockerell,
Industry Marketing Director – Rail & Transit, Bentley Systems
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