Technology Holds the Key to Our Future Success

Written by Steve Cockrell, Industry Marketing Director, Rail, Bentley Systems, for Railway Age
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With around 55% of the world’s population already living in cities, and the United Nations World Urbanization Report predicting the number to rocket to in excess of 68% over the next 30 years, rail really is the only way to keep our cities moving. When you factor in the urgent need to respond to climate change and work toward meeting carbon neutral targets set by governments around the world, against a backdrop of tighter budgets, shorter deadlines, and fewer skilled people, one could be forgiven for thinking that as an industry we have an impossible task on our hands.

However, history gives me the confidence to say we will find a way to overcome any of the challenges put before us—rail and transit professionals have always focused on improving this method of transportation to be the safest, fastest and smartest means of moving people and goods, so why should now be any different? Well, increasingly, I feel it is about much more than simply getting people safely and efficiently from point A to B. It’s also about preserving the industry’s long-term future, including attracting the next generation of rail professionals, and this is where I think technology holds the key to our future success.

Whoever said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting to get a different result” was in my eyes spot-on. We are under pressure to deliver improved service, safety and reliability. Carrying on with the same traditional workflows, using a tablet to “digitize” existing work practice, or using the cloud to store project data is just not enough anymore. We have to work smarter and embrace the opportunity technology provides.

Realizing this, many organizations are already implementing new technology and reimagined “digital workflows” as part of a wider digital transformation of their businesses. At Bentley, we say they are “going digital,” due partly to the fact that it is a journey these organizations are on, but also because I don’t think anyone knows today where technology might take us tomorrow. Will an organization ever be able to say they have “gone digital”?

Of course, there is another challenge we all face currently, the COVID-19 pandemic. Personally, I’m one of those who hopes and believes that this particular challenge can ultimately be converted into an opportunity, that it can be a driver for going digital. Indeed, even today as the world continues to adjust and plan for whatever our new normal post-COVID-19 might be, rail organizations are placing an even greater focus on how the assets and workflows that support them will look, behave, and react.

Aligned with this, consulting firm McKinsey & Company published an article in May titled How construction can emerge stronger after coronavirus. If you read it, you will discover that in addition to advocating increased digitization, remote working, and the use of 4D and 5D simulation to re-plan and re-optimize project schedules, it references a relatively new phenomenon to the rail industry, that of digital twin solutions.

At Bentley we see digital twins taking center stage over the next 12 to 18 months, rapidly advancing BIM (building information modeling) to enable asset-centric organizations to converge their engineering, operational and information technologies into a portal or augmented/immersive experiences, and as a result deliver different and improved outcomes. I don’t think it is an understatement to say that digital twins have the potential to rewrite the rulebooks on industry best practice, and facilitate a digital revolution in the design, build and operation of our rail and transit networks.

On capital projects, digital twins can provide a risk-free way of simulating construction, logistics and fabrication sequences, optimize design for passenger flows, or visualize emergency evacuations. During operations, through their ability to consume data from continuous surveys, photogrammetry, LiDAR and IoT connected devices, owners can track changes to their assets and enabling those responsible for maintaining them to do the right work, in the right place, at the right time.

Bentley’s digital twin capabilities are already enabling organizations to visually immerse teams in the decision-making process, run all manner of analytics to predict and produce those different and improved outcomes, and manage the constant change that happens on our projects and throughout the lifecycle of rail infrastructure assets. Bentley users including Skanksa, Costain, STRABAG Joint Venture (SCS JV), AREP (a subsidiary of SNCF, the French national rail owner-operator), and Atkins (part of the SNC Lavalin Group of companies) have all spoken recently about going digital in rail and advancing BIM through digital twins.

In the case of SCS JV, which currently uses Bentley technology and a digital twin approach for its work on High-Speed Two in the United Kingdom, going digital means its multidiscipline team is better able to visualize the design and run analytics that lead to earlier detection and resolution of clashes, avoid rework, save time and minimize delay. Another benefit they highlight is an ability to derive not just material estimates directly from the data and models, but also perform rapid analysis of the carbon footprint generated by the design, which in turn can be used to optimize construction from a carbon perspective, as well as cost.

For AREP, Bentley’s pedestrian simulation software is used to ensure its station and platform designs not only correspond to different safety standards but also meet the ongoing needs of their users. Having developed video simulations of different design scenarios, they are used to show team members and stakeholders how the experience for station users might be enhanced, while maximizing the commercial opportunities for businesses within them. On a recent station renovation project in Paris, the team needed to provide a station that connected the suburbs to Paris’s Metro network and a shopping center. Using a digital twin of the station made it easy for AREP’s team to make changes to design proposals, highlight weak points and identify areas of the station where users might experience discomfort walking through the space.

Atkins also uses Bentley’s LEGION pedestrian simulation software on many projects in the United Kingdom, Australia, the Middle East,and Asia. Recently, due to COVID-19, the Atkins team in Melbourne, Australia shifted its focus to thinking about social distancing and providing ways for people to move through stations while still maintaining the safe and proper distance from others, and beginning to look at the difference between pre- and post-COVID-19 behavior. Committed to a digital future with ongoing investment in solutions that have the potential to transform infrastructure delivery, part of Atkins’ aspiration is to embed simulation models within a digital twin at the design stage. Then, as the project lives on, it will have the opportunity to model different operational scenarios and optimize the use of assets over time.

In spite of all the complexities that designing, building, and operating these critical infrastructure assets lay at our door, and whatever our new normal may bring, through the continuous feedback and insight they provide, digital twins can be one of the ways in which we work smarter in rail.

Digital twins can enable more informed decision-making that results in increased network or service availability, enhanced passenger and worker safety, ensure regulatory compliance or reduce environmental impact. As such, digital twins look set to be part of going digital in rail in the not-too-distant future.

Steve Cockerell is Industry Marketing Director – Rail and Transit at Bentley Systems. He joined Bentley Systems in 2002 and works as part of a team delivering knowledge and expertise to its users across the transportation industry. In his role, Cockerell leverages his 25 years of industry experience in helping develop and maintain Bentley’s position as the leading supplier of software and services to the world’s infrastructure community. Cockerell began by studying civil engineering, before working as a highway designer for local government in the U.K. Joining MOSS Systems in 1990 as an application engineer, he focused on communicating the benefits delivered by CAD-based design applications for highways, rail and land development projects. Following Infrasoft’s acquisition of MOSS Systems, Cockerell served as Channel Marketing Director, helping to develop and launch Arenium, an engineering collaboration platform that enabled multi-user access to 3D MX design models, and paved the way for technology that supports BIM processes and standards now demanded by governments around the world. Most recently, Cockerell was involved in the launch of Bentley’s OpenRail solution, which through its holistic approach from planning to performance, incorporates systems engineering methodologies to provide compliance and assurance over time, and leverages digital context, components and workflows, through a Connected Data Environment.

Rail Group on Air Podcast

Bentley Systems Director, Product Management – Building, Electrical, Plant and Structure Eduardo Lazzarotto discusses Building Information Modeling and Digital Twins technologies, especially how they can be applied to rail transit station design to support social distancing made necessary by COVID-19, with Railway Age Editor-in-Chief William C. Vantuono.

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