Mar 28, 2014
Last week I was in the UK and had an opportunity to get an update on the Hitachi Train project, which was initially installed for the London Olympics. There has been a lot of progress in the past four years.
Mechanized rail transport first appeared in England in the 1820s, almost 200 years ago. Today there is a major initiative underway in the UK to convert its 40-year-old, diesel, intercity train system to electric trains using innovative technology from Hitachi. The Internet of things, where sensors and machines are interacting with each other, will play a major role in this project.
These trains are based on the high speed Shinkansen (bullet train) design, which has been running in Japan since the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. Hitachi designs the trains and the Automatic Train Control system that is used in Japan. The Shinkansen has provided social innovation, which has had a major effect on Japan’s economy, society, environment and culture. Environmentally it produces only 16% of the carbon dioxide of the equivalent journey by car, saving over 15,000 tons of CO2 per year in Japan. Switching from conventional to high speed rail has been estimated to save 400 million hours, an economic impact of 500 billion yen per year and the high speed connectivity it provides enables rural towns to participate in the growth of major cities. Similar social benefits are expected to be realized in the UK.
As in IT, the migration to a new generation technology, electrified rail system must be minimized. These trains will be bi-modal, meaning that they will run on electricity where the rail lines are electrified and on diesel were the rail lines are not yet electrified. The Hitachi design uses under-floor diesel engines for self-propulsion, which can be removed and converted to electric power in the future. These trains will reduce power consumption and pollution, and provide a safer, faster and more comfortable travel experience for passengers on the Intercity East Coast and Great Western Mainline routes. The East Coast Mainline is projected to be in service by late 2016, and 2017 for the Great Western Mainline.
With a minimum top speed of 125 mph, the train control system is a key component of this design. Hitachi has demonstrated successful operation of its onboard control system with the European Train Control System. This will enable train services to cross frontiers and boundaries between different countries without the need to change signaling systems or locomotives. This system requires a standard trackside controller and a standard controller in the train cab, which communicates over GSM radio signals for real time signaling, control, and train protection.
Trains are a capital-intensive business with a lot of rolling stock. Maintenance and scheduling is key to its profitability. In addition to the technical innovation that has gone into the UK Intercity Express System, there is also innovation in the business model. Hitachi will own and maintain the trains and the Network Rail System in the UK will only pay Hitachi for “on time service”. Hitachi will be providing “Train as a Service”, converting the capital cost of trains into an operational expense. As you can imagine, Hitachi is taking on a tremendous amount of capital risk. Hitachi is confident that they can manage this risk through the use of “Big Data” analytics. Sensors are built into the trains to provide real time monitoring, analysis, control and maintenance. An example is how GPS is integrated into the control system to control the operations of the train doors in relation to the station platform, so that doors are not opened where the platform may be shorter than the length of the train.
A lot of the Big Data analysis will be done in real time at the end points, and the down stream data will be stored and analyzed in converged Unified Compute Platforms provided by Hitachi Data Systems. This is a joint Hitachi effort with different divisions in Hitachi, including Hitachi Consulting Corporation, Hitachi Rail, Hitachi Control Systems, Hitachi Smart Information Systems, Hitachi IT Platform Division, and Hitachi Data Systems. This is a Big Data project that is committed for 27 years. Big Data projects of this size utilize the “Internet of Things” and require deep expertise and experience in many vertical disciplines. Very few companies will have the scope and scale to deliver these types of Big Data Projects. Fortunately, Hitachi is one of the few companies that can.