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January 8th, 2008
GIS on the Qinghai-Tibet Railway

The control centre is the result of collaboration between the Qinghai-Tibet Railway Bureau and the State Key Laboratory of Rail Traffic Control and Safety, at Beijing Jiaotong University. They have jointly developed a comprehensive monitoring system for railway operation and safety for the Tibetan line.

Close monitoring is essential because the train will climb from Xining (2,275 metre) to cross the “roof of the world” a remote Himalayan plateau at 4000 metre altitude, before reaching their destination more than 1900 kilometers away.

When the railway section between Golumd (the second largest city of Qinghai province) and Lhasa opened in July, it set several worldwide engineering records.

More than 960 km of track run at extreme altitudes, and more than half of the track runs across permafrost; the world’s highest rail track crosses over Tanggula Pass at 5072 metre. At a cost of US $4.2 billion, the railway also holds the world record for the highest rail tunnel and railway station and has 675 bridges.

To safeguard passengers from altitude sickness, passenger cars are pressurised and have supplemental oxygen systems; even so, passengers must sign a health registration agreement before boarding the train.

Even the train’s diesel motor locomotives are specifically designed to operate at high altitudes. One year after the official Qinghai-Tibet Railway opening, the railway has carried about 11 million tons of freight and 2.02 million passengers—mostly college students, tourists, and business people—with very few incidents.

During the railway’s construction, planning engineers needed to design a control centre that would receive and display data from the variety of monitoring devices and combine them with data from the railway’s Microsoft and Oracle databases.

They also needed to display photographs and satellite images of the landscape surrounding the tracks to support the emergency response planning and rescue system.

The control system needed to help keep railway downtime to a minimum, monitor equipment, minimise maintenance needs, and provide a detailed record of environmental conditions along the track.

Consultant ESRI China (Beijing) Ltd., used its software to bring all this information together and display it on maps in the control centre. The State Key Laboratory of Rail Traffic Control and Safety, at Beijing Jiaotong University, and the Qinghai-Tibet Railway Bureau subsequently jointly developed the web-enabled enterprise GIS.

The main source of data are CAD design data and satellite imagery of the surrounding landscape. The Laboratory also collaborated with Leador CO., LTD to make a visual record of the track and landscape along the rail route, including precise location coordinates for the images.

Leador (a company in WuHan that specialises in mobile mapping and survey software) used a survey vehicle equipped with a camcorder, camera, GPS, and digital compass to record data.

Additional data comes from a digital elevation model, 3DS Model, and databases created in the ArcGlobe environment.

To resolve high altitude communication and data transmission challenges, a GSM-R cellular phone system was provided by Nortel Network and Beijing Xidian. GSM-R transmits the real-time location of moving trains and other data to the control centre

The resulting command centre fuses real-time monitor information such as the location and speed of the train, the staff and number of passengers, the temperature and pressure of the air inside the passenger cars, and the electrical system (voltage, current) and displays it on digital maps.

Weather conditions and images along the route can also be retrieved. The operator can change the area displayed and zoom in on any particular section of the rail line to a predetermined resolution. Message alert icons appear on the map to give the operator the location of any problems and point to the relevant data. Users are able to browse maps; query and display infrastructure features by location; retrieve geographic data, photographs, and video; and manage and search for metadata.

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