Contributed by Mr Friedhelm Best, Vice President Asia Pacific, HIMA

With nations now much more prepared in dealing with the pandemic, Asia Pacific is slowly but surely getting its economy back to speed as safely and as expeditiously as possible. 

Moving masses through the veins of the cities

In many of the Asia Pacific nations, public transportation is the crux to the 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 has become more important, especially as they began to link up provinces.

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. 

A large continent like Australia has begun to see 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 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.

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. 

Surmounting Safety and Cybersecurity Challenges

Cybersecurity threats are ever present and escalating, just as we deal with the pandemic daily as individuals and as institutions. Therefore, the global 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. 

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