Archive for the ‘wireless’ Category
Based upon the study my team just completed in Egypt to evaluate the safety and efficiency of the Egyptian National Railways (ENR), I have posted a video on youtube, and is provided below, as to the design for a new traffic control, traffic management, and enforcement system. This system is referred to as Virtual CTC + Enforcement. It offers small to medium railroads across the glove, both freight and passenger, a cost-effective and pragmatic solution to delivering both efficient and safe railroading with enforcement capability that exceeds PTC, ETCS, and ATC. VCTC does not require either the extensive capital investment or extensive on-going maintenance of conventional or advanced traffic control systems.
Check it out!
I played a decent amount of basketball in my high school years. However, being 6’3” was not enough by itself to compensate for my lousy shooting. And, I wasn’t a good shot because I was unwilling to practice enouigh to build that “muscle memory” of the physics associated with putting the ball in the hoop. Therefore, I spent my court time mastering the interception of passes between the opposing team players by anticipating their moves. I was really good at “reading” their intentions in the passing of the ball. My skill, it seems, was a combination of perception and the ability to fake where my attention was in the other team’s handling of the ball. My strategy was if I could intercept their passes, then I could pass the ball to my team members who could make the shots. The point here is that there are those individuals that grab the ball, and there are those that can make the points once they have the ball. This is one ideal “team” perspective in my opinion given so very few individuals can do both. Unfortunately, in the U.S. railroads today, those who have the responsibility for obtaining the ball also have the responsibility for taking the shots – and they really suck at shooting. I am referring to the railroads’ technicians and their free-hand at designing and installing technologies without responsible upper management oversight. Simply stated: I think there is a great deal of faking going on in railroad management, whether it be intentional or just the nature of the organization.
Is there any doubt that there are times that each of us fakes it personally and professionally . . . but not necessarily for the wrong reasons? That is, we present viewpoints and take on tasks that are beyond our actual knowledge and skill set with the expectation (based upon past experiences) that we will succeed … and with the hope that our audience won’t be able to contest us either due to their lack of on-point knowledge or their lack of intestinal fortitude to take on the “authority”. Unfortunately, however, in the railroads I see faking-it to be a two way street between the technical and operational managers that is resulting in a horrific waste of capital and, in the case of wireless, the waste of valuable RF spectrum. That is, the technicians fake that they have done their due diligence in promoting that there technical solutions are absolutely the most cost-effective . . . and the operators feign (or worse don’t even participate) that they have done their due diligence in challenging and understanding what they are offered by the technicians. While I am sure that there are some excellent examples where it is clear the technicians and the operators have worked together to deliver cost-effective technical solutions, there are too many examples where they have not. Arguably, the most egregious is that of the ITC efforts to address the interoperability challenges of PTC. There are 3 primary examples.
- I have already exposed in this blog as well my articles in Railway Age, and my submissions to the FCC, that the grab for more and more 220 MHz by the Class Is is an intentional scam (IMHO). This is faking-it taken to an unprecedented level for the industry because it is not a single railroad that is the perpetrator, but rather a class(1)action, if you will.
- Having spoken recently with a supplier of NXDN, a digital wireless protocol, I am of the opinion that the availability of the significant increase in channels by narrowbanding VHF has afforded the railroad technicians the opportunity to once again forego their responsibility of using at least the 160 MHz band in a good-citizen, yet cost-effective fashion.
- As to positioning accuracy for PTC, the technicians are striving for levels of accuracy that are far, very far, exceed that which is really necessary due to their inability to understand what is really required, and rather to ensure that they will never be at fault regardless of the cost.
Fortunately, there are several railroads that don’t buy into these fatuous technology activities and recognize that there are solutions that are much more cost-effective. It would seem that these railroads have a team perspective of obtaining the ball and making the shot. But unfortunately for too many railroads, there is a lack of upper-management understanding and support for doing the right thing for the right reason. That is, for too many railroads the exploits of technologies by technicians goes unchallenged by the management teams that have the responsibility for their railroad’s bottom line, with or without consideration of what makes sense for a country with constrained RF capacity.
THE bottom line is that the technicians are in fact faking it as to providing technology-based solutions that are grounded in responsible economics. They are doing so because, IMHO, 1. they believe that it is their responsibility to provide the best (most complex) technology regardless of the cost and regardless of whether or not such complexity is required, and 2, railroad management has failed to get involved in understanding the business perspective of technology decisions. So! Who is at fault? In my opinion, it is the RRs’ senior management failure in developing a business strategy in sync with a technology strategy that has set up the situation. Could the focus on the current year’s bonus plan have anything to do with this? Hmmmm!
So! I ask you: When you fake it, are you doing so for the right reasons? Are you avoiding the critical issues important to your organization so as to “kiss up” to your management or to your annual bonus, whether you work for a railroad or a supplier? . . . or . . . Are you realistic as to what can be achieved and willing to speak up? . . . or . . . Do you really care one way or the other? As an independent consultant I don’t fake it with my clients. They will get both a short-term tactical and a long-term strategic perspective whether they want it or not. I will grab them the ball, but they have to make the shot.
The concept of 6 degrees of separation was initially introduced in a play written by John Guare in the early part of the 20th century declaring that each of us is only six steps of introduction from any person in the world. In current terms, this concept is readily acceptable given the advancement in communications and travel that has shrunk the world as to providing such connectivity. In fact, with the predominance of social networks available via the world wide conduit of the internet, one could argue that the six degrees of separation is now substantially less, if not just one. Arguably, the most dramatic example is that of the Arab Spring that has brought the citizens of suppressed countries, including their expatriates, to the point of uniting against their respective governmental tyrants. One would like to think that our individual connectivity has no boundaries at this point as long as the paths of internet communications can be provided to the masses via wireless. However, as well demonstrated by the recent U.S. Presidential election, this same advancement in connectivity also provides the ability for those individuals that don’t have a rational understanding of facts to present their self-serving prejudices to misdirect those that solely place their faith in the written word, as to what can be achieved. To that point, only but the most uninformed or self-serving individuals would be quickly reminded by the Republican campaign for the recent U.S. President election which overwhelmingly (compared to that of Democrat’s campaign), consisted of a constant stream of a substantially misrepresentation of facts to present a phenomenally irrational, non-compromising right wing perspective that serviced those most-selfish individuals that have benefitted from the benefits of a capitalistic society, but without the recognition of the masses that have made their accomplishments achievable. Fortunately, for the benefit of the majority of the U.S. populace, President Obama was re-elected. With that stated, onward to railroads.
Playing on this concept of how technologies, most specifically wireless communications linked with Internet, have brought the world closer today, it also true the degree of train separation can also benefit from the introduction of technologies, again wireless data, and the use of advanced traffic management systems that can provide a substantial increase in traffic density for any given corridor by simply knowing the position AND speed of trains. With the availability of both position AND speed data, that doesn’t exist for the majority of railroads across the globe, a railroad’s operations can project and prevent conflicts that may occur even within fixed-block operations as determined by traditional electronic signaling operations that depend upon traditional wayside technologies that provide block-size positioning at best. I refer to this capability as Proactive Traffic Management (PTM) as is described in greater detail in various other postings on this blog.
The deployment of PTM is quite inexpensive both absolutely and especially relative to its value in that it can be provided as an overlay to a railroad’s choice of traffic control, whether it be signaled or non-signaled, WITHOUT replacing the dispatching platform. This is true because PTM is only a management decision tool and not an execution platform such as CTC or Track Warrant. As a decision tool, PTM can dramatically complement, if not replace in many cases, the skill set of the dispatcher who is a manager of the execution platform. This means that PTM is not functionally vital, i.e., it does not generate authorities that provides for the integrity of train movements. The ultimate deployment of PTM is when it is tightly integrated with traffic control thereby becoming some level of moving block – a vital system. But only a few high speed / high density railroads can benefit from a moving block capability. In fact, in the U.S. there are a number of operations-savy individuals that will note that moving block for the most dense freight traffic corridors would provide little benefit until the yard operations are optimized concurrently. So! As an overlay to traffic control, short of making a transition to moving block, what is holding back the deployment of PTM across the majority of globe? I believe the primary reasons differ between public and private railroads.
PUBLIC: Outside of the Americas, the predominance of rail operations are owned / controlled by the governments of the countries in which they operate. Again, in general, these are passenger operations without a clear responsibility for addressing financial bottom line, i.e., providing cost effective solutions that have to pass the threshold business test as to making a profit, or else it is out of business. In these environments it seems that the suppliers often rule the roost in designing the traffic control solutions that aren’t necessarily cost-justified. Technicians thrive on promoting systems in this environment; they believe that they are justified in delivering solutions without restrictions as to costs. However, for those countries that are confronted with growing their economies internally, as well as integrating with the world economy, they are being presented with technologies that they simply cannot be justified.
PRIVATE: In the Americas, the freight railroads are competing with road, barge, and pipeline transport and therefore have to maintain a for-profit operation to stay in business … or they are out of business. Indeed, in the U.S. there have been tens if not hundreds of railroad bankruptcies in the last century. The Penn Central bankruptcy in the 70s (which the largest bankruptcy up to that time for all industries and for which I was the lead financial analyst for the Trustee Staff, is the ultimate example. This railroad lost its understanding of what it was, and eventually went under. That railroad went into a downward spiral as it reduced maintenance expenditures . . . which resulted in reduced traffic speed . . . which resulted in the loss of revenue . . . which resulted in further reduction in maintenance expenditures … and the downward spiral continued to the point of bankruptcy. Conrail was the Phoenix rising from the ashes of the Penn Central. OK, back to the issue of separation.
The separation between trains, a.k.a. headway, is THE key issue in determining the type of traffic control that should be in place, whether it be freight or passenger operations. Those European suppliers that service the high speed, high density operations in place across that continent have developed sophisticated systems that provide for both safe and efficient operations. BUT, what about those countries in Africa, the Middle East, and elsewhere that need cost-effective solutions to bring basic rail infrastructure to grow their GNP, both internally and relative to the world market? They cannot afford the likes of traditional signaling, yet alone ETCS 1,2,3. These railroads need cost-effective solutions ; they need traffic control solutions generically referred to as dark territory that are used by railroads in the Americas that have a clear vision to the bottom line. They also need enforcement systems to prevent accidents due to human errors. I speak with experience on this point given my assignment as Project Leader to address the safety and efficiency of the Egyptian National Railways (ENR) that still uses token and token-less traffic control across 82% of its operations. With detail to be provide in the next posting on this blog, my team of independent consultants (we don’t represent suppliers and we don’t accept commissions) have designed a traffic control, traffic management, and enforcement system that greatly improves both the safety and efficiency of ENR’s operation at a mere fraction of the cost to deploy ETCS. This is a proven system as to the individual components that we have integrated. We have done so recognizing the true nature of ENR as to what they are and will be in the foreseeable future along with the realization of the capital investment that they can support. The approach I have titled as Virtual CTC (V-CTC) + Enforcement, provides CTC functionality with the ability to prevent accidents due to drivers AS WELL as mechanical interlocking operators and level crossing guards, as well as the loss of train integrity. For example, two horrific accidents in Egypt in November, 2012 resulted in 54 fatalities that could have been prevented with V-CTC + Enforcement due to errors by mechanical interlocking operators and level crossing guards. Both of these accidents would not have occurred in the U.S., but in Egypt with their antiquated traffic control systems dependent upon “vital employees” (see the previous posting on this blog), there were human errors for which there was no enforcement system in place to prevent. But, through the efforts of my team in performing our study there, we recognized and modified the enforcement concept of PTC to handle. Specifically, we have designed an approach that monitors the traffic control activities of these vital employees to ensure that they have performed in providing valid movement authorities. Most importantly, Virtual CTC + Enforcement minimizes the capital requirements to operate the railroad both safely and efficiently, versus slamming in signaling infrastructure and/or ETCS that would be 30 to 50 times more expensive by my rough estimate.
I can’t over emphasized the need for pragmatic, cost-effective solutions for traffic control, traffic management, and enforcement that traditional suppliers have refused to address for the majority of railroad operations across the globe. Shame on them. Enough said. The next posting here will present V-CTC + Enforcement for those railroads and suppliers that are looking for solutions that support the majority of railroads across the globe that don’t provide high speed / high density operation – both passenger and freight. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you which to discuss your particular interests. My team of seasoned railroad professionals can address the functional, technical, financial, and mathematical throughput analysis of considering V-CTC + Enforcement from both a tactical and strategic perspective relative to expanding the safety and efficiency of a railroad’s operation, especially when integrating freight and passenger operations.
The bottom line here is that I warn railroads from being fooled by the written and stated words of suppliers that have solutions that are not appropriate for their operations. There may be pragmatic, cost effective solutions of which they may not be aware.
This is the 2nd of 3 postings that address Industry INTRAoperability (I/I), i.e. the development of systems that support the business interest of the entire rail industry, versus the advances in technologies and systems made by each individual railroad for its singular purposes. I/I is not the same as Railroad INTERoperability, as is required to deploy Positive Train Control (PTC) as a safety enhancement to the traffic control systems that provide for the integrity of movement operations. Rather, I/I addresses the business perspective of the advantages to the industry by the improved management of key resources subject to the interchange of trains between railroads. The assets that I am referring include the full array: track time, train crews, yards, locomotives, rolling stock, and shipments of high value and/or involving security issues.
Yes! I did state track time, train crews, and yards even those assets don’t cross borders. The reason for doing so is that the use of those assets increases in efficiency as the degree of scheduled operations increases . . . And, the ability of an individual railroad to run to scheduled operations is partially dependent upon the schedule reliability of the railroads with which it interconnects . . . And, since most railroads have yet to demonstrate their ability to run to schedule to a significant extent, contrary to their claims, then a valuable opportunity of pursuing I/I is that of providing timely data of train movements, both position and speed, across all interconnecting railroads so as line-ups can be adjusted in a timely fashion. Unfortunately, even with such data, a number of roads are incapable of using it to any great extent given their lack of Proactive Traffic Management techniques that I introduced 6 years or so ago in my quarterly publication, Full Spectrum. However, it is encouraging that at least NS and BNSF have made such advancements via the deployment of pragmatic wireless solutions that can report the speed and position of their own trains on their respective properties.
As to the locomotives, rolling stock, and shipments that do cross railroad borders I identified a number of I/I applications in the FRA-funded study I performed in 2008: A Demand and Supply Analysis of the Opportunities for Wireless Technologies in Passenger and Freight Rail Operations, (www.fra.dot.gov/downloads/Research/ord0802.pdf). As the result of that study, I decided shortly thereafter to take the same approach that IBM used in the 60s and 70s to bring about major changes in the traditional business processes of a full range of industries with the introduction of main frame computers. That is, IBM established major executive education facilities and curriculums across the U.S. to expose their prospective clients’ top management teams to what could be done with computers. As noted in the previous posting, the initial efforts focused on replacing manual data handling processes, e.g., payroll, accounts receivables / payables, with computerized data processing. However, with the introduction of affordable disk storage and the integration of telecommunications with computers, the curriculums expanded in scope by identifying how to change the traditional business processes given the opportunities to rethink the flow of information within and between enterprises (The process of structuring a strategic information flow architecture will be discussed in the next posting: It Takes an Industry: Process).
So, following IBM’s lead I put together an Strategic Railroading Symposium for top railroad executives that would be sponsored by the supplier community overall to remove even the perception of bias. The symposium schedule (presented below) that I put together consisted of 2 tracks, Operations & Engineering, with two categories of topics each, that addressed I/I opportunities as well as other possible applications that I believed at that time would be valuable exposure for railroad top management. Actually, this effort was progressing well with the expression of key suppliers to participate . . . that is until the ramifications of the just-ordered PTC mandate took effect. At that point, rail’s management teams withdrew into their caves rejecting the consideration of anything other than the challenges of implementing PTC. The suppliers, hence, backed away from the opportunity given their inability to market even their current products and services, yet alone the challenges and risks of developing a long-term strategic perspective.
As you will see in the agenda below, several of those applications have had sporadic initiations across the industry in the last several years.
|Delivering Proactive Traffic Management NOW without new CAD|
|The pragmatic application of meet/pass planning tools|
|Effective management of the line-up|
|The challenges and opportunities of effective interchange|
|The challenges to increasing scheduled operations|
|Reconciling the perspectives of Service Design vs. Operations|
|Integration of yard status with main line dispatching|
|Minimizing conflict between high speed passenger and freight trains|
|Optimizing crew management relative to the lineup|
|Balancing locomotive fleets across the industry|
|Industry tracking of key rolling stock and shipment status|
|A new look at work order reporting in light of TSA requirements|
|Maintaining chain-of-custody for critical shipments|
|Opportunities for improved yard management|
|Track & Wayside|
|Unattended, locomotive-borne track inspection|
|Enhanced safety for on-track workers without authorities|
|Enhanced safety for workers within work zones|
|Monitoring the position and health of critical maintenance equipment|
|Locomotive tracking & diagnostics across the industry|
|Performance-based locomotive maintenance|
|Industry-based locomotive maintenance|
|In-train monitoring systems of equipment and shipments|
When rail management surfaces from the PTC abyss, then perhaps there will be an opportunity to reconsider some version of the Strategic Railroading Symposium.
There is unlikely to be anyone significantly involved with the U.S. freight industry that has not been exposed to the phrase railroad interoperability given the Federal mandate of Positive Train Control (PTC), an overlay enforcement system. This mandate, via the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, has consumed extensive capital and human resources of the railroads and selected suppliers to design and implement PTC before 2016 in such a fashion that the movement across railroad borders will be transparent to the on-board PTC system. This transparency of interchange, a.k.a. railroad INTERoperability, is unprecedented in the U.S. as to both technologies and cooperation between the railroads, and only exceeded by the European countries in their development and deployment of ETCS, a traffic control system with integrated enforcement. However, unlike ETCS which has been handled by the supplier community, PTC is primarily an effort of the 4 primary Class I railroads, much to dismay of the commuter railroads that are basically at the mercy of what the Class Is provide (see a previous posting on this blog: A Wag of the Finger).
While providing for PTC interoperability across railroads is an extraordinary effort for which the Class Is deserve tremendous credit for addressing the technology challenges (albeit a tremendous overkill as to wireless – see previous posting: Don’t Drink the Kool Aid), the railroads are failing to an equal or even greater extent to address the functionality issues of this effort that are available to them. That is, the technicians for PTC are doing what they are required to do to address PTC functionality, but the Class Is’ senior management teams are not considering what can be achieved across the industry as to operations and resource management given the wireless network that is to be deployed for PTC. I refer to this industry-wide functionality as Industry INTRAoperability (I/I) as was introduced in the FRA-funded study I performed in 2008: A Demand and Supply Analysis of the Opportunities for Wireless Technologies in Passenger and Freight Rail Operations (www.fra.dot.gov/downloads/Research/ord0802.pdf).
So! Why are railroads not pursuing I/I ? The answer involves two components. First, railroad executives are highly motivated, if not exclusively so, by the executive bonus programs that are provided them. Second, to pursue I/I requires resources that are not generally available in the railroads, i.e., technologists (not technicians) that can envision and develop cost-effective, strategic technology plans in sync with strategic business plans, a.k.a. Strategic Railroading. As to both of these components, I offer a primary example. If railroads truly wanted to pursue scheduled operations, then to do so would mean that the railroads with which they interchange must be striving for schedule operations as well. That means reliable cooperation within and between roads . . . which means that the executive bonus programs must be so structured – but they aren’t. If they were, then perhaps the railroads would provide for the second component, the technologists that could work together just as the technicians from the railroads have been doing for the last several years to pursue railroad interoperability for PTC deployment.
So! How can I/I be pursued given the lack of both appropriate executive bonuses and technologists? The answer to this question is two-fold: 1. Education and 2. Process. Both of these points will be addressed in the next two postings to the blog. So! Please check back into this blog during the next several weeks.
The elixir of fatuous rationalization being served up by PTC-220,LLC to gain more spectrum in the name of PTC has been poisoning the efforts of both freight and passenger operations to cost-effectively meet the mandated implementation of PTC before 2016.
Point 1: In May 20011, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of the U.S. released WT Docket No 11-7, with Public Notice, regarding the “Spectrum Needs for the Implementation of the PTC Provisions of the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008”. Subsequently, in addition to my written response, a number of submissions were made by various parties, most notably several passenger operations and PTC-220, LLC (the entity owned by BNSF, CSX, NS, and UP that owns and manages the 220 MHz spectrum to be used for the implementation of PTC). The FCC’s Docket was the result of the request by PTC-220 to obtain additional spectrum in the same band reportedly to service both the freight and passenger rail requirements of the PTC mandate.
Point 2: At the end of 2010, the Federal Transit Authority (FTA) released several RFQ’s for studies to be performed relative to PTC and CBTC. The primary study was to evaluate the issues associated with implementing PTC on commuter and regional rail systems. As I will be explaining in a posting I will be making shortly, this effort by the FTA is a very pathetic example of how a Federal agency can spend a fair amount of money and achieve nearly nothing of interest to the intended recipients. The proposal was poorly written as to both objectives and understanding of the subject, along with a process for evaluating and awarding the contract that was clearly inappropriate and unfair. (Yes! My team’s proposal was not selected. But, I will explain the madness of the process in the forthcoming posting). The point for now is that in preparing the proposal, my team discussed the wireless issues with a number of passenger operators and gained some understanding in a very short period of time as to the concerns that they have as to the use of 220 for PTC.
To be addressed in greater detail in the forthcoming issue of my quarterly journal, Full Spectrum, titled Wireless Gone Awry, I will highlight below a number of points as well as statements that PTC-220 made in their submission to the FCC’s Public Hearing, that are critical to understand in consideration of providing more 220 to PTC-220.
- First of all, I am not saying that PTC-220 is incorrect in requesting more spectrum if they really need it. However, by their own admission, they really don’t know what they need in that they have not done any credible data modeling relative to PTC. They are spectrum hungry and may even be looking at this spectrum as a “for profit” operation for dealing with the passenger operators.
- In their submission, PTC-220 likened PTC to advanced traffic control / management systems and the need for complex wireless networks to service the latter. I find such a comparison either to be shamelessly naïve or quite devious.
- The passenger operators have been led to believe by PTC-220, reportedly, that they must obtain 220 specifically for their own property to be compatible with the freight railroads. Hence, from some of the submissions by passenger operations, it appears that they were pressured, or unfairly influenced, to support PTC-220’s position. The requirement to use 220 only is clearly incorrect and could be very costly for those operators that will be extremely pressed to find the public funds to implement PTC.
- PTC-220 states that they had engaged TTCI (which is operated by the AAR and hardly free of conflict of interest), to perform data modeling nearly 6 months prior to the submission, and yet there were no results that they could include in the submission. Really? I have team members that could handle that analysis quite quickly.
- The onboard PTC platform, a.k.a. TMC, incorporates a Mobile Access Router (MAR) that supports the use of alternative wireless paths, including 220, WiFi, and cellular.
- The rail industry is poorly utilizing a fair amount of spectrum, including conventional 160 MHz instead of trunked operation, 44 MHz now owned by PTC-220 and which was the choice of BNSF for PTC, and 900 MHz that was given to the railroads 2 decades ago to do ATCS. ATCS was never implemented and the railroads have used the spectrum for business purposes instead of giving the spectrum back (BTW, using 900 for code line is a business decision and not a safety one).
In summary as to the above, PTC-220 should be required to define their requirements clearly and with the proper level of legitimate data analysis done by an independent entity. As a point of further consideration, there is also a need to break down that requirement as to the type of traffic control involved as well as traffic density. For example, deploying PTC across dark territory has a substantially different wireless requirement than deploying PTC across signaled territory with either medium or heavy traffic volumes. In short, there is a need to identify various PTC “wireless corridors” as to throughput and coverage requirements, and to model them individually.
In addition to my initial submission, I made a subsequent submission commenting on the falsehoods and misrepresentation that were made in some of the other submissions, most notably PTC-220. Additionally, 2 weeks ago I made a presentation to the FCC to provide them with a modicum of rail domain knowledge that would assist them in understanding the true requirements of wireless for PTC.
Both of my submissions as well as the presentation to the FCC were on a fee basis for a client, Skybridge Foundation. SBF placed no restrictions on what I wrote / presented, and did not interfere with the objectivity of my material. Both of those submissions and a PDF of my presentation are of public record and can be obtained via the FCC’s website or by emailing a request to me at email@example.com. Additionally, those individuals that seek to further understand wireless corridors are encouraged to contact me on that topic as well.
In the November 2002 issue of Harvard Business Review (HBR) there was an article titled “The Six IT Decisions Your IT People Shouldn’t Make”. It was a great article about how Operations management for so many companies have abdicated responsibility for IT decisions to IT executives, thereby resulting in a significant loss in the return on their IT investments. The underlying truth is quite straightforward. That is, Operations management “failed to recognize that adopting systems posed a business – not just a technological- challenge. Consequently, they didn’t take responsibility for the organizational and business process changes the systems required.” The result of this lack of involvement was that the CIO, with a technology perspective exclusively, was constraining the advancement of the company’s business processes, and most likely the return on IT investment and, more importantly, the company’s bottom line.
Shift now to railroads and their nearly total dependence on managing mobile and remote resources. In this environment, the strategic IT environment extends to the “mobile node”, the locomotive platform, by incorporating a strategic wireless data perspective in sync with the IT strategy. And, has been so unfortunately demonstrated in the North American railroad industry, it’s the wireless technicians that are constraining the advancement of business processes by their pursuit of non-strategic wireless networks, most recently in the name of PTC. I refer specifically to the intended deployment of the 220 MHz band in parallel with the 160 MHz band that will be shifting to a digital platform to meet the FCC’s narrow-banding mandate. In line with the HBR article, the railroads’ Operations management have not been involved with the evaluation of how wireless technologies will be deployed. I stress that it is not the technicians’ fault that they have such a free hand, but rather that of the railroads’ upper management that have failed to be involved.
Paraphrasing the key points of the HBR article, below are the 6 decisions that a wireless manager should not make about the deployment of wireless technologies, from both a strategy and execution standpoint.
- How much should we spend on wireless?
- Which business processes should receive our wireless dollars?
- Which wireless capabilities need to be company-wide ( and industry-wide)?
- How good do our wireless services really need to be?
- What security and privacy risks will we accept?
- Whom do we blame if a wireless initiative fails?
Via several following postings to this blog, I will address some of these questions in greater detail.
Ron Lindsey was recently commissioned to write a white paper titled ” Wireless for Railroads”.
The paper addresses the extraordinary opportunities railroads have, both individually and collectively as an industry, to advance their operations via the use of advanced wireless technologies, as well as to improve the efficiency of their spectrum usage. This perspective is expanded to consider the relationship of the freight rail industry with passenger rail, other transportation modes, and the intersection with public safety. This is a STRATEGIC PERSPECTIVE based upon identifying both the DEMAND for and SUPPLY of wireless technologies which provides the basis for structuring an approach for MOVING FORWARD.
The white paper will soon be available for download. But, to request an exclusive advance copy email Ron Lindsey at firstname.lastname@example.org
In a previous posting on this blog, Hey! Watch This, I reported on some of the findings stated in the U.S.’s General Accounting Office (GAO) report on PTC dated December 2010. The bottom line of that report was that the cost / benefit ratio over 20 years for implementing PTC is hovering around 20/1; an absolutely unacceptable criteria for private investment. And yet, that is the burden, the cost of doing business, for the freight railroads it seems. For the commuter and regional rail systems that require public funding to stay in gear, the challenges of obtaining the necessary funding are likely to be even more severe. Given these circumstances, the question needs to be asked as to what can be done (other than obtaining Federal funding) to make the cost/benefit ratio more reasonable.
The opportunities to obtain a more reasonable cost/benefit ratio fall into three categories obviously, i.e., reduce the costs, increase the benefits, or do both. Until now, the only focus has been on increasing the benefits. However, as I have noted in the referenced posting, as well as others on this blog, there are no business benefits directly associated with PTC; PTC is only a safety-enhancement system. Those fatuous attempts by either naïve or mischievous individuals to identify business benefits have been rejected mostly by now, with only the occasional exception as discussed in my posting, Really! You Gotta Let It Go. So, the safety benefits that have been identified for PTC are all that there are.
So! If the benefit denominator of the cost/benefit ratio can’t be increased, then the only option is to decrease the cost numerator. Interestingly, there are three very significant ways to do that, although they still may not provide a reasonable cost/benefit ratio. The first possibility, again, has been addressed on this blog already. I am referring to tightly integrating the PTC platform with an IT / wireless data platform to provide a mobile node architecture for a railroad’s management system just as a manufacturer would do with fixed nodes to manage its facilities. The second possibility to reduce costs is to go after the wireless infrastructure that is being developed by the Class Is. As also addressed on this blog, this network is a tremendous overkill for what is needed for PTC as currently structured. And as will be described immediately below, the wireless infrastructure is even more irrational if the third method of reducing costs is taken into consideration, i.e., significantly reducing the number of Wayside Interface Units (WIUs).
Why Oh Why the WIUs ?
The implementation of PTC requires 4 primary components.
1. On-board PTC platforms (clients);
2. A back-office PTC platform (server);
3. Wayside interface units that provide for the interchange of data between the critical wayside infrastructure components and the PTC clients / server; and
4. A wireless communication network to deliver the necessary data between the other 3 components.
There simply is no way to reduce the number of PTC clients or to eliminate the server. However, when it comes to the WIU’s there is in fact a major opportunity to minimize the number of units required, that is if one doesn’t accept what is being said by the industry. Specifically, the estimated number of WIUs that will need to be installed to implement PTC across the U.S. has gone from 75,000 for shock value by the freight railroads following the mandate, to the current estimate of 50,000. Now, with the recent agreement by the Obama Administration to reduce the amount of trackage requiring PTC by 10,000 miles, due to changes in traffic by 2016, the estimated requirement for WIUs is probably now around 45,000. But, the kicker is that such a number is still way too high, at least from a regulatory standpoint.
To understand what can be done to reduce the WIU requirement first requires understanding the functionalities that are provided by the use of WIUs, as follows:
1. Reporting status of a manual switch to the PTC server for routing a train in dark territory;
2. Reporting status of a manual switch to the PTC server or clients for supporting enforcement of a train to prevent unauthorized movement through a misaligned switch;
3. Reporting aspects of the control points to the PTC server or clients so as to set up the “targets” for possible enforcement; and
4. Report aspects of the intermediary signals (ISs) to the PTC server or clients so as to set up the “targets” for possible enforcement.
There is a 5th functionality supported by the use of WIUs that is not directly associated with PTC deployment, i.e.
5. Permitting the operator to operate a switch remotely from the locomotive either within the train’s authority if PTC is operable, or without checking for authority should PTC not be available.
Now, like everyone else, did you accept #4 regarding ISs without question? In fact, to incorporate ISs into PTC functionality is not a regulatory requirement of PTC. Additionally, not only does incorporating ISs into PTC not provide any true advantage, but one could argue that to monitor ISs could become more of a hazard than a benefit, as well as a source for decreased velocity, due to the increase likelihood of false enforcements.
Note: the issue of false enforcements is primarily due to the significant variance in determining the braking curve necessary for enforcement, thereby possibly enforcing the train to a stop when it fact the operator could have managed to handle the train properly.
So, why have ISs been incorporated into the PTC platform? It all stems back, in my opinion, to one individual at one Class I who took the dark territory solution for PTC for which I was the architect at CSX, and put a non-pragmatic signal territory spin on top of it. However, it may go deeper than that it seems. Just as with the resistance that existed by Labor to reduce the trackage that requires PTC by 10,000 miles, as noted earlier, it seems that Labor has had its hands in the design of PTC as well. I guess it comes down to jobs. In short, not only is PTC not a rationally justified safety system, but there is an irrational level of infrastructure being required to satisfy Labor.
I am not quite through as to reducing the use of WIU’s. I now look at point #3 as to the WIUs for control point. The point here is that the control points are already connected to the CAD platform via a wireless or wired pole line. These communication links provide the same data to CAD that are required by PTC. That means that WIUs are not required for control points either in that the code line infrastructure can be tapped by the PTC server at the back office to get the information required to generate targets. Wait, I am still not done with reducing the number of WIUs.
Consider point #2 as to ensuring no movement through a misaligned switch. This situation is somewhat similar to the approach I developed for handling work gangs and the Employee in Charge (EIC), which by the way is the approach being used for PTC by the freight railroads. That is, the on board PTC client notifies the operator of the train’s approach to a work gang and requests that s/he indicates via the on board PTC display whether or not s/he has approval provided by the EIC to proceed into the work zone. If no positive response is received by the PTC client within certain distance / speed / time parameters, then an enforcement is made. This same approach could be used to notify the operator of an upcoming switch and to request an input by the operator that s/he can verify that the switch is properly aligned. Again, as with the work gang, if a positive response is not received within a certain combination of distance / speed/ time, then an enforcement is made. While this approach may seem a bit awkward, it is in fact a solution that is directly aligned with the operating rules.
Finally, as to point #1, the use of WIU’s for routing trains in dark territory. Actually, that one is still appropriate in that it was the solution I conceived for the development of PTC at CSX. As mentioned above, that PTC project was for dark territory and the other alternatives for routing trains at that time were too outlandish and/or too expensive, including the failed pursuit by the joint venture of GE and Harris to deploy Precision Train Control (not positive train control), a vital, moving block operation.
One last thought here. If indeed the railroads were to greatly reduce the number of WIUs based upon the above, then the cost of the wireless network would be significantly reduced as well, me thinks.
I await your comments.
At the PTC Congress last week in Miami, a Union Pacific (UP) panelist was asked about the real estate on top of the locomotive as to the placement of antennas in the light of the 220 MHz band that is to be used for PTC. The UP manager stated that, in fact, there can be up to 14 antennae mounted on a locomotive, and Yes! they are getting crowded. The number was quite a surprise for me in that my quick count could only come up with 10 (which is a pathetic number in itself), i.e., GEO satellite, 40MHz, 160 MHz-voice, 160 MHz-data, 450 MHz, 900 MHz, cellular, WiFi, GPS, and 220 MHz. Now, moving into the cab, the large number of antennae implies that there is a significant number of radio units mounted in nooks and crannies, with each unit most likely servicing singular applications with singular protocols via singular frequencies, e.g., voice, end-of-train (EOT), locomotive diagnostics, event recorder download, and distributed power.
Ah Yes! I can’t help but think back just 20 years ago when railroad communications engineering was so straightforward. At that time, wireless on the locomotive was limited to voice radio with the introduction of EOT as the first major use of radio telemetry across the industry. Granted, railroads were even less efficient than they are today, but there was plenty of excess of everything, so what the heck? We didn’t need wireless data to advance resource management processes. The big thrust then was the transition from crystals to the use of synthesizers to provide a full slate of channels on a single locomotive radio unit. While the railroads’ communication forces may consider their expansion of wireless data technology since then to be progressive, as suggested by the locomotive’s antenna farm, I view the transition as being totally tactical and not at all strategic. So! Is that being progressive … or is it just being evolutionary? The difference between those two perspectives is extraordinary. That is, the additional cost of being tactical instead of strategic includes an extraordinary amount of capital investment, maintenance, opportunities to delay trains due to inoperable equipment, as well as an extraordinarily poor IT architecture (both physical and logical) due to the lack of system integration resulting in an extraordinary inhibiting of advancing railroad operations in a revolutionary fashion instead of an evolutionary one. By this last point I mean that railroads have failed to use wireless technologies to advance the management of their key resources from that of being reactive to that of being proactive, as discussed in other postings on this blog.
Unfortunately, the technicians have been free to do what they like to do most, i.e., design communication solutions that are tailored to specific applications. If they were asked to justify why they didn’t consider pooling applications on a single radio, for example, they would have a number of seemingly good technical reasons, of which some would have some merit. However, the bottom line is that they have not been required to build a multi-function or multi-band wireless platform that would reduce many if not all of those extraordinary items mentioned above. This is where software define radio (SDR) comes into play.
With the term SDR being introduced as recently as 1991, it can most simply be described as replacing a number of hardware components of a radio unit with software. The underlying principle for doing so is the use of some form of digital signaling processers (DSPs) that can replace specifically designed hardware such as RF filters, mixers, amplifiers, and modulators/demodulators. While that sounds interesting, the truly great point is that a single signal processing platform can service an unlimited number of combinations of bands and protocols. It only needs the appropriate software; software which can be accessed instantaneously to provide a different radio platform to the same user.
The real breakthrough in SDR began with the rapid, exponential increase in the power of general purpose processors to service the PC market. Again, simply stated, that meant that a standard computer and the corresponding advancements in software programming could advance SDR much more rapidly than continuing to rely on the much slower advancement in specialized DSP technology. What better example of this is there than the iphone and its competitors that can handle multiple protocols, e.g., 3G, 4G, in a fashion transparent to the user?
It was a decade ago that I reached out to several companies that were then beginning to use the general purpose processors found in PCs instead of specialized DSP to deliver SDR to the military – industry complex. One such company accepted an invitation to present their concepts, using a laptop computer, to the AAR’s wireless committee. They came, they saw, and they retreated. The interest by the railroads’ technicians was one of moderate curiosity without any incentive to do anything different than what they were then doing to avoid the inevitability of meeting the FCC’s narrow-banding push of the railroads’ 160-161 MHz band. That was then, What about now? Interestingly, the answer is that the technicians have totally swung to the other extreme of the pendulum. That is, instead of spinning wheels to achieve nothing, they are totally involved in creating the ultimate wireless data network and thereby ignoring all other possibilities as to advancing technologies as well as alternative approaches to spectrum usage.
SDR is only one possibility for advancing the cost-effective and efficient use of wireless across the rail industry that will be discussed in future posts on this blog. For example, I will be addressing soon the software defined antennae (SDA), that in sync with SDR, provides the basis for cognitive radio.