Last updated on July 25, 2020
by Mr Friedhelm Best, Vice President Asia Pacific, HIMA
In the thawing of nations through various epidemiologically-driven initiatives, Asia Pacific is getting ready to get its economy back to speed as safely and as expeditiously as possible. The fragility of the economy and the potential health hazards weigh heavily on the minds of leaders and public servants.
Moving people, enabling lives
In many of the Asia Pacific nations, public transportation is the crux to a safe re-opening of economies, since the populace depend on an affordable and dependable infrastructure for work and leisure, especially in highly congested metropolitan cities around the region. Domestic air travel, whilst perhaps faster from point to point, may not be as affordable as rail or bus networks, especially when rail systems become fast and meticulously engineered into urban planning. Domestic high-speed rail for larger nations in this region will certainly become more important.
The region boasts some of the most advanced mass transit rail networks in the world, including the likes of Singapore, Hong Kong SAR, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, and China. For example, a McKinsey report accorded Singapore the top sport for public transport affordability, efficiency and safety. Hong Kong SAR has an extensive mesh network of heavy and light rail, with its more tenured and dependable MTR (mass transit rail) system put through a 5-stage assurance process for safety-related and safety-critical systems.
Australia is one of the forerunners in containing the COVID-19 pandemic, and is also re-opening its economy cautiously. Being a large continent, there are parts of Australia which is ideally suited for rail networks, and there are already pockets of successful rail networks, such as the Newcastle Light Rail with 6 stops connecting the waterfront and the key parts of the city, as part of the Newcastle Urban Transformation and Transport Program (NUTTP). The Great Southern Rail is a 400 kilometer railway corridor that now serves mostly freight, but promises to revitalize passenger mobility from Adelaide to Melbourne. This will increasingly become a great enabler for tourism and hospitality, and business travel as well.
Looking at Smart Safety and Cybersecurity design for rail
Rail safety as well as cybersecurity are mission-critical. For example, should a person falls onto a rail track with a speeding train towards the him, there must be safety controls to enable early braking. Likewise, should there be electrical failures on parts of the train or rail controls, there must be early warning controllers linked to a control panel for operators to intervene early. And in the modern era of incessant hacking, any system, including rail and transportation, that has computers and networks involved, are subject to potential intrusions.
Standards are everything in safety and cybersecurity. For rail systems, we need to cater for the functional safety foundation of IEC 61508, IEC 61511 for process-control and safety systems, IEC 62443 for IT security, as well as rail-specific safety standards such as IEC 62278 for RAMS (Reliability, Availability, Maintainability, and Safety), IEC 62279 for rail software, and IEC 62425 for rail system safety.
When looking at the safety aspects for rail systems, companies can consider either proprietary safety solutions, or commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) solutions. Proprietary safety solutions may accord certain unique functionality and controls that some companies may prefer, but a great majority of rail networks built for longevity, cost-effectiveness, and ease of maintenance, may prefer to look at COTS solutions for functional safety instead, such as the HIMA SIL4 technology. The Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) is one such adopter of the HIMA COTS solutions for its rail safety with success and relatively lower costs.
From Safety to Hygiene
The functional safety of rail networks are mandatory, as such transportation move many people from different points at high speeds with zero tolerance for errors or failures. With the COVID-19 pandemic raging through every inch of the world, the demand for functional safety is compounded with a new challenge for hygiene and safe distancing of passengers, all the while still conforming to consumer demands of a dependable and fast transportation system that never fails. In the pre-COVID-19 world, regular or daily general cleaning of the cabins and floors may suffice.
But now, cabins in Singapore’s MRT (mass rapid transit) and LRT (light rail transit) are practically cleaned and disinfected laboriously inch by inch, with more frequency throughout the day. The various entry and exit points of rail stations also demand much more rigorous disinfection and hygiene, while thermal scanners are increasingly deployed at every entry/exit point. In Hong Kong SAR, besides cleaning and disinfecting cabins and stations, air-conditioner filters at MTR stations are replaced at a shorter frequency, while automated robots on wheels spraying hydrogen peroxide to disinfect nooks and corners are deployed.
Surmounting Safety, Security and Hygiene Challenges
The SARS-CoV-2 pathogen that causes COVID-19 is still confounding experts, and there may be a long time before effective treatments and vaccines arrive. At the same time, cybersecurity threats are ever present and escalating. Therefore, the global control and tracing protocols will continue to change our lives even as economies slowly unravel to manage the crises and damages already done. To enable large populations to move from home and workplaces safely enabled with functional safety, cybersecurity, and medical hygiene, will become the thrust of all rail network operators and government officials alike. The current and emerging technologies are rising to these challenges and we are surmounting these challenges. After all, we have all braved through economic and pandemic crises before.