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June 22nd, 2011
Event: 2nd International GIS for Rail Summit

Railways are changing rapidly. This shift involves the use of more digital technologies across the workflows and networks related to railway operations. GIS is poised to play an increasing role in the infrastructure development including the design, planning, operations and maintenance phases of railway operations.

Railways are attempting to operate their infrastructure more efficiently. Trains need to be scheduled more efficiently across networks, particularly with respect to trans-boundary operations as high speed operations move between different countries.

Since maintenance of railway lines can account for 20% of down time for operations, approaches that include maintenance within routine operations more effectively and efficiently are highly desired. The use of GNSS and lidar technologies coupled to railway repair and maintenance machinery can help, providing accurate location and positioning for railway construction and maintenance operations in a timely manner.

In other cases, IT operations linked to GIS functionality is providing advantages, streamling collaboration and sharing of administrative and technical data. Maps can be linked to railway schematic drawings through the use of ArcGIS software.

Terry Bills, Transportation Industry Manager at Esri summed up the challenges of GIS for rail as follows:

  1. Better data collection and currency
  2. GIS integration within existing workflows
  3. How can we begin to move GIS into operations
“The drivers for accuracy can be applied to signals, track, electrical and bridges,” he said. Another issue that he touched on was maintenance of all the data, much of it flowing from sensors, and asked, “how can we begin to think about maintaining this information.” “We need to recognise that many of the capture technologies are high accuracy, and that we want to maintain that,” Bills pointed out.
He also suggested that the changes taking place include more than technical issues alone. “We need to think about changing workflows, and to consider that improved decision making is a result of these changes,” he said. “Since rail maintenance is 20-30% of overall railway costs, we need to think about reducing the lost 5-15% revenue related to these functions.”
“GIS has a major role in asset management,” Bills said. This includes:
  1. Location details
  2. Information from field to office – office to field
  3. Strategic planning
  4. Executive management
Finally, Bills pointed out that many rail users were not familiar with GIS necessarily and that a need existed to support workflows. “We need to develop simple interfaces for users,” he said.
Additional article and blog items related to this event:

GIS for Rail: Linking Maps to Schematics

GIS for Rail – Transport In a Changing Time