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A new ITCS for the Karlsruhe region – an essential step into the next decade

Posted: 30 April 2009 | Dr. Walter Casazza, Managing Director, VBK (Verkehrsbetriebe Karlsruhe GmbH) | No comments yet

The city and region of Karlsruhe is known in the world of public transport as the cradle of the tram-train idea, and also, since 2008 as the hosting city of the IT-TRANS – the leading fair for IT-solutions for the public transport market. With this background, it is obvious that the main public transport operators in Karlsruhe, VBK and AVG, manage their business with the latest state-of-the-art IT systems.

The city and region of Karlsruhe is known in the world of public transport as the cradle of the tram-train idea, and also, since 2008 as the hosting city of the IT-TRANS – the leading fair for IT-solutions for the public transport market. With this background, it is obvious that the main public transport operators in Karlsruhe, VBK and AVG, manage their business with the latest state-of-the-art IT systems.

The city and region of Karlsruhe is known in the world of public transport as the cradle of the tram-train idea, and also, since 2008 as the hosting city of the IT-TRANS – the leading fair for IT-solutions for the public transport market. With this background, it is obvious that the main public transport operators in Karlsruhe, VBK and AVG, manage their business with the latest state-of-the-art IT systems.

VBK and AVG in the Karlsruhe region: the capital of tram-train operation

Public transport in Karlsruhe and the surrounding region is operated mostly by these two public transport companies. While VBK (Verkehrsbetriebe Karlsruhe GmbH) organises and operates the light rail and bus lines within the city of Karlsruhe, AVG (Albtal-Verkehrs-Gesellschaft mbH), runs the light rail and tram-train lines in the surrounding region, what today is an area between Öhringen near Heilbronn, 100km north east from Karlsruhe, and Freudenstadt or Eutingen in the northern Black Forest, 100km south east from Karlsruhe. In addition to the tram-train operation as a key business, AVG operates several regional bus lines, freight traffic on rail and road and is also active as a tour operator with several luxury coaches.

To organise daily operation of such an extended rail network, VBK and AVG decided in the late 1990s to implement a CAD/AVL system. The primary approach of the system, which has been supplied by the local based and global acting company INIT, has been the monitoring and dispatching of the public transport vehicles in the city of Karlsruhe and the neighbouring communities, and to introduce dynamic passenger information systems as a new service for public transport passengers. Technically, the system is based on conventional data radio communication. Several special features made the system, at that time, modern and sophisticated. Those included for example, online positioning of unplanned vehicles, improved positioning in the inner city (with tramways running up to every 50 seconds through the pedestrian area) or logical positioning of regional vehicles outside the data radio coverage. Eight work stations in four different control rooms help to dispatch 260 light rail vehicles and 70 buses, amongst these, 20 buses of contract operators. Over the last number of years, 130 displays for the dynamic passenger information system have been installed on all major stations in the city and real-time information is also available via internet for all stops.

Nevertheless, the last ten years have seen a large amount of technical progress being made as well as a substantial increase in traffic, operated by VBK and AVG. New lines in the city, but even more in the region have led to a continuous growth in passenger figures for many years now. The use of internet and mobile phone has become a usual aspect of life for most public transport users. The challenges of an increase in the availability of private cars in the Karlsruhe region, requires continuous high efforts to convince customers to use public transport. For these reasons, the necessity grew to migrate the existing CAD/AVL to a new Intermodal Transport Control System.

The existing system has certain restrictions, which became more and more of a handicap to fulfilling today’s requirements, which include:

  • No online data communication to vehicles outside the area with data radio coverage, therefore no reliable dynamic passenger information available in the region outside Karlsruhe
  • The existing vehicle data provision requires long intervals to adjust to new traffic or operational situations; this makes it difficult to react flexibly
  • The state of technology of the on-board units, as well as the central system, is of the mid or late 90s and therefore provides unacceptable performance and/or data storage restrictions for todays needs
  • The existence of two major control centres (for VBK in Karlsruhe and for AVG in the neighbouring city of Ettlingen) and several further regional train control centres complicates an efficient operational management, especially in situations of interrupted or irregular traffic conditions
  • The existing system cannot serve the standardised VDV interfaces to exchange data with other systems nor can be opened to integrate further transport operators

Objectives of the next decade for a new ITCS

The demanding business situation for VBK and AVG and the restrictions of the existing system gave the impulse to define the objectives and requirements for the next generation of an IT solution for public transport operation, being:

  • One common monitoring, dispatching and information system for VBK and AVG throughout all areas of operation in the city and the outer region
  • With a high precision in the city area with its high frequency of vehicles
  • The capability to be easily expandable on new routes
  • Providing real-time passenger information everywhere in the region also including data of other transport operators
  • Automatic monitoring and dispatching of connections, also between different transport operators using the VDV 453 interface
  • Integration of further public transport operators in a common system
  • The use of additional new features offered by new communication technologies to improve the service for customers

Aside from all the technical requirements, it soon became clear that technical integration is not sufficient without the improvement of co-operation of the personnel involved in the daily operation. So it became the obvious and logical consequence to concentrate the control centres of VBK and AVG into a new integrated control centre, which will be incorporated in the new garage and maintenance area in Karlsruhe, just a stone’s throw away from the VBK and AVG head office.

A new integrated control centre for VBK and AVG – head and heart of tram-train operation

The new integrated control centre will provide room for up to 21 dispatchers who are until now working in seven different locations spread over the operational area of VBK and AVG. This includes the VBK control centre in Karlsruhe and the AVG train control and dispatching centre in Ettlingen, as well as five local train control centres along the routes in the operational region. All train control systems of the regional routes will be controlled remotely from the new integrated control centre, only the routes operated by the federal railway are controlled by the Deutsche Bahn themselves. Here, AVG is only dispatching and monitoring the tram-train operations. The new integrated control centre is, of course, also the operational centre for the new tunnel section below the central pedestrian area ‘Kaiserstraße’ in Karlsruhe, which will be constructed starting early 2010. The call-centre of the public transport corporation (KVV, Karlsruher Verkehrsverbund) is situated just next door to the integrated control centre, allowing the synergy of real-time information about the acute traffic situation for clients.

To fulfil this important function as the head and the heart of expanding public transport operation in a growing region, high standards of technology, security and reliability are indispensable for the new integrated control centre. And of course, the new ITCS generation plays a key role for efficient dispatching work and a convincing customer service.

Modernisation of the onboard equipment – a requirement for improved communication and service

The migration process from today’s CAD/AVL to an advanced ITCS started last year with a call for tenders of new on-board equipment for all 330 VBK and AVG vehicles. Besides, from an essential enlargement of the data storage capacity, the new on-board computers – COPILOTpc also supplied by INIT – are able to communicate with the central system via conventional data radio as well as via mobile phone technology (GPRS/UMTS). UMTS will also be used to deliver all data and software needed for the ITCS and IBIS functions on the vehicles as well as to transmit statistical data collected on the vehicles to back office purposes.

The decision to use public mobile phone communication instead of implementing our own radio or WLAN infrastructure was made to enable maximum flexibility for daily operations as well as in the case of further network extensions. A wide-spread regional operation requires a high level of investment in infrastructure, so the use of existing commercial communication systems was the more economical and more flexible solution for AVG’s special demands of a regional tram-train operation. The new central on-board unit also manages the data management for supplying the information displays in and on the vehicle, the fare collecting system and the automatic passenger counting system.

To make the handling of the on-board units even easier for the driver, all buses and most of the light-rail vehicles will be equipped with new touch screen drivers’ terminals. The vehicles communicate in the Karlsruhe city via data radio and in the region via UMTS/GPRS with the central system to exchange vehicle position and real-time timetable information. Speech communication is also available for drivers and dispatchers via analogue radio transmission or UMTS/GSM depending on the vehicle’s position. And of course, the buses are able to influence traffic signals on their routes via data radio to receive traffic priority (the light rail vehicles use a separate train control system for this purpose).

To fulfil these technical requirements, the on-board units will be produced by INIT using industrial PC technology with MS-Windows XP embedded software as the operating system. The other systems on the vehicles can be connected using VDV-IBIS-Wagenbus or Ethernet as the bus systems.

Improved tools for dispatchers enables improved customer service

The most relevant improvement for dispatchers is based on the continuous positioning and monitoring of all vehicles throughout the whole operational area. At the moment, different systems without interfaces have to be used, but not all systems are available for all dispatchers in all control centres. The migration to the newest generation of the INIT MOBILE-ITCS gives dispatchers improved tools to help them make the correct decisions in difficult traffic situations and to manage chosen measures easily, quickly and reliably. Interfaces to other systems, like the operation reporting system NETTRO, offer further possibilities for the employees in the operation control centre. And of course, the improved knowledge of vehicle positions or traffic situations enables dispatchers to give detailed information to public transport users in case of any irregular situations.

And the winner is…the public transport customer!

So, the most outstanding result of the new system for customers is the possibility to install dynamic passenger information displays all over the VBK and AVG operational area and to supply reliable real-time information to each station. Of course, it is not realistic to install such displays on all minor frequented stops, especially in regional bus traffic, but with today’s widespread use of internet and mobile phone technologies, everyone will be able to carry their own passenger information display ‘in their pocket’. It is already possible to view all stop departures via the KVV-Homepage (www.kvv.de) via the existing system. So far, real-time information has only been provided in the Karlsruhe city region. At stops outside the data radio coverage area only timetable information has been shown.

Although VBK and AVG carry more than two thirds of all public transport passengers in the KVV area, customers using other operators’ vehicles cannot enjoy the benefits of the new ITCS for as long as these operators are not integrated into the system in any way. With exception of the train control and dispatching systems of the DB, no other operator in the Karlsruhe region uses an ITCS or a similar system. For all customers changing operators during their trip, there is no continuity as no continuous real-time information can be given.

Providing benefits of the ITCS to all public transport customers and operators

To integrate further operators and their public transport services, two different approaches will be considerable with the new system:

  • Online communication between different ITCS of different operators using VDV 453 interfaces
  • Integration of the other public transport activities in the area into the ITCS for a joint use of the system by different operators

While the first way is probably the right approach together with the federal railway, the offer to integrate their services in the VBK/AVG system has been made to all other operators in the KVV area. Of course public transport clients receive the greatest benefit of ITCS integration, but other transport operators can also take profit out of integration. VBK and AVG can offer help with implementation and use of the new technology as well as to even provide dispatching support in daily operation.

Making public transport operation fit for the next decade

Of course it is an ambitious project to implement the new system with all of its facets and to have the benefits within a foreseeable time. An efficient project management on both sides is a pure necessity, for INIT as well as VBK and AVG. For the first step, the new central software and hardware will be delivered and tested in the middle of 2009. In the second half of 2009, the VBK operational control centre will be the first to move into the new integrated control centre, quickly followed by the central train dispatching of AVG. The other AVG dispatching and train control centres will follow during the next few years, depending on the necessary modernisation of the different train control systems to be controlled remotely.

With the decision to modernise the existing system and to implement the latest technology for ITCS, VBK and AVG made an essential step towards a customer oriented public transport service ready to cope with the next decade’s requirements.

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