Pinpointing Train Locations for Better Scheduling with TIBCO Messaging
Optimizing system-wide train operations by controlling traffic flows
The Need to Modernize Systems Monitoring
The efficiency and on-time performance of the Swiss Federal Railway is the envy of the world, but the Swiss still see a need for improvement. Because building more tracks is impossible in parts of their mountainous country, SBB's goal was to bring more trains into the system to handle increasing passenger and freight loads.
To do that, the railway needed to reduce the distance and time between trains. One goal was to schedule trains with no more than 90 seconds of delay in arrival times.
The railway also needed precise, real-time information on train positions so it could improve its system-wide view of train traffic.
Traffic management staff wanted to be able to simulate the kinds of problem situations that can cause thousands of minutes of train delays, such as a train stuck on the tracks, so they could formulate contingency plans. To get the kind of information needed, they would have to modernize and upgrade the systems that monitor and control train operations. Many of these were at their end of life: one was written in Pascal and ran on Prodigy hardware, another was UNIX-based, written in C++, and included TIBCO Messaging software. The team realized that the enhanced Rail Control System it envisioned was not possible with its existing IT infrastructure.
Selecting a Real-Time Messaging Platform
To evaluate software for a new system, SBB conducted a proof of concept, which established that an application server environment using JMS (the railway's standard for messaging and application servers) would not be able to deliver the near real-time information needed for the planned Rail Control System.
SBB then proceeded to evaluate messaging systems, and after four months of testing, concluded that TIBCO Messaging software was the best solution. Its low-latency messaging is the leading product for real-time, high-throughput data distribution applications. It is the most widely deployed, most widely supported, and most widely proven low-latency messaging solution currently available.
"We selected TIBCO Messaging because it delivers benefits that are important to us, including lightweight installation, reliability, very high load capacity, low operational costs, and an easy deployment," says Marcus Voelcker, head of Traffic Management System IT program.
SBB deployed the TIBCO solution for high-availability, high-performance messaging of train locations and other traffic in the Rail Control System application.
Developing the system was a four-year, $51 million project involving some 200 people. To reduce the overall time needed for development, the project was divided into four sub-projects:
One sub-project established the physical layout of the tracks and included information on the trains so the railway can accurately forecast train movements. Next was simulating the train runs. The third project was dispositioning the railway operating system and the main component of the system, and the fourth was connecting simulations and signaling, which controls starting and stopping the trains.
When a train passes a signal somewhere in Switzerland, TIBCO software sends event messages to the business application center in under half a second. The message is received, executed in the business application, and distributed back to the client through the wide area network, a process that takes under one second. The new system includes 100 daemons and generates some 7,000 messages per second, which originate from 20 locations on the rail network around Switzerland. The business logic for the distributed system is in one central location.
"TIBCO Messaging has proven it is able to reliably handle our high volumes of messaging traffic," says Voelcker. "The volume of messages routed from the underlying security layer amounts to approximately 1.7 terabytes per day."
Benefits the railway is realizing include the ability to handle a far greater number of clients. The previous system had fewer than 100 clients (PCs at a remote location), while the new one, taking advantage of the increased message-handling capacity, accommodates 900. In terms of cost savings, the railway estimates it is saving three to five million Swiss francs (US$3 million to over $4 million) per year through reduced staffing costs.
The new TIBCO messaging system has enabled the railway to pinpoint the locations of trains, which is essential to increasing traffic safely on the railway. The new Rail Control System (RCS) is one part in an ensemble of tasks to increase punctuality, and it plays an important role. After RCS went live, the railway outperformed its international competitors by increasing punctuality by another one percent, with nearly 90 percent of all trains arriving under the limit of 90 seconds delay. The features in RCS generate real-time forecasts on the future of train operations by determining the impact of conflicts and recalculating connections. Moreover, physical changes to the railway that used to take months to appear in the control system now can be entered online in minutes, giving the railway staff access to a real-time topology of the tracks.
"Other countries have taken 10 years to complete similar projects, partly due to the difficulty of solving the technical problems of routing near real-time messages to clients. With TIBCO Messaging, we simply mark it 'Done'," said Voelcker.
The railway is using its ability to simulate problem situations to model and plan for traffic jams, equipment malfunctions, and other issues likely to cause delays. In the near future, such simulations will enable the railway to send real-time information to train drivers on such operational aspects as braking, and to monitor and analyze energy usage more precisely so that it can reduce both usage and costs. Through this new feature of the Rail Control System, SBB can reduce electricity costs by more than $10 million per year.