Andrey Romanchikov:

«Locomotive and infrastructure must begin to intercommunicate»
The main task of any control system in the railway sector is to ensure sufficient carrying capacity of the infrastructure and to provide safety. Amid an increase in traffic, however, the potential of existing
systems is exhausted. We asked Andrey Romanchikov, Director General of LocoTech-Signal, why it is not always necessary to build new tracks to improve the efficiency of transportation and what role digital
technologies can play in fulfilling the task.
Machines do better than humans

Mr Romanchikov, your company focuses on the development of innovative railway control systems. Does it mean that traditional approach can't be used to develop available systems any longer?

Firstly, any traditional solution requires a large number of floor equipment and, as a result, serious efforts for its maintenance. Secondly, their efficiency today is almost exhausted. Even if a locomotive is able to go faster, it cannot affect the time interval between trains. Also, large-scale investments are made to replace some systems with others at railway stations, but it has almost no effect.

Today, a locomotive and the infrastructure are developing separately, while the key to a higher efficiency is their interaction – they must start to intercommunicate! We are talking about a harmonious integration of the infrastructure and locomotive components of the transportation process into a single ecosystem, a reduction in the number of floor devices and risks of their failure, and the need to maintain them. This is how we begin to consider digital technology as the only and easiest way to achieve efficiency.
In the subway, we can easily withdraw motormen
from the direct control of the trains
How does it work?

Two-way communication with a train is essential. We should be able to receive information from any train to the control center online and to transfer control commands from the latter. This is an absolutely technical task, which is solved by digital radio communication systems and opens up a lot of opportunities. The train reports the coordinates of its location, and on their basis, the movement of the following train is regulated: it is given a point to which it can go, it builds a braking curve, and ensures its making. The calculation is made on real time basis, and since the train has a long braking distance, a higher efficiency and accuracy are required, and that's where machines do better than humans. This is similar to the principle of road transport traffic.

This system will contribute to achieving revolutionary effects. We will give up a breakdown into block sections and bring trains as close as their braking systems allow, which will significantly increase the throughput and the carrying capacity of the infrastructure.

At the next stage, this system allows to control flows, i.e. smart dispatching. Practice shows, machines can also cope with it better than humans. A man is efficient as long as there is a schedule and everything goes according to the plan. In case of any failure, however, problems begin—there appears that very human factor. The smart dispatching system, basing on the coordinates of the trains, will automatically find the best flow control algorithms considering priorities—energy saving, meeting passenger train schedule or compliance with the terms of delivery of goods. Thus, the efficiency of the entire transportation process increases.
Will the system be able to solve problems, for example, with a car stuck on an unprotected level crossing?

There are a lot of technologies. Stereo cameras or smart tracks can automatically detect the presence of a car at a railway crossing and transmit this information to the train by means of a two-way radio channel. Using this data, the train will adjust its movement.
As for level crossings, we are also dealing with another problem – reducing the time limit of their closing. Now it depends on train traffic on block sections. It does not matter whether a heavy and slow freight train has entered a section or a passenger train is standing at the platform for boarding passengers—crossing gates are closed. And this means traffic jams, people waiting... When train traffic parameters become known in real time, we are able to adjust the time of closing the crossing gates, which will have a positive impact on road traffic.

Can the introduction of a smart train control system change the role of a railroad engineer in the transport process?

It depends on how closed the system is. In the subway, we can easily withdraw motormen from the direct control of the trains, because it is easier to isolate the traffic circuit. On the railway, he is more likely to become the operator of the process, as well as the dispatcher. Our goal is not to remove specialists from workplaces, but to provide them with assistance systems, as for example in the road transport sector, and to minimize the human factor.
Turn-key solution

How long does it take to implement such projects and where such systems have already been put into operation?

It will take from one to three years to implement any of our projects, the time period depends on the territorial coverage. When we understand how we control traffic, what the infrastructure limitations exist, we will be able to move to the next stage and start building services for consignors and passengers, as well as carrying out more complicated logistics tasks. Simultaneously, a new level of investment planning will be reached: getting pinpoint information about bottlenecks, infrastructure owners and railway rolling stock operators will be able to make targeted (and more efficient!) investment.

Our projects have already been carried out both in passenger transport sector (in particular, in the Moscow metro) and in industrial transport sector, where there is an owner interested in getting a quick result. This year will be indicative in terms of the efficiency at Kuzbassrazrezugol (a part of UMMC). To form trains at one of its stations, the company had to rent public tracks from Russian Railways. Nowadays, due to a proper organization of work, trains are formed at the station, while its track network isn't extensive.
How to manage projects at such a distant infrastructure?

The main center of project development and implementation is our laboratory located in the Moscow office, where a specific station is modelled, the efficiency of the systems installed on it is tested, and a customer is trained to deal with their main parameters. While the locomotive design industry is just beginning to make digital twins, we have been using them for a long time, due to which our specialists bring the finished product to the infrastructure and spend minimum time on its installation and putting into operation.

Who are your key customers?

The perimeter of our interests includes the entire 1520 mm space. We work with all the major railway administrations of the CIS. We already have our own projects in a number of countries—Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. In partnership with TMH-International, we're entering the markets of Latin America, Africa and the Middle East, offering comprehensive solutions to customers. The main global trend for large railway administrations is a request for "turn-key" products. It is risky and costly for a customer to buy separately rolling stock, a controlling system, and infrastructure for it. Therefore, there is a growing demand for a large player who will supply and put into operation a complex product and will be responsible for it throughout its entire life cycle.
The main value of our technologies is software,
and it is made in Russia by the domestic specialists
Progress cannot be stopped

Who are you competitors at foreign markets?

It's all global largest players: Siemens, Alstom, CRRC, Thales, etc. Due to a lower cost of an engineering hour in Russia in line with a comparable qualification level, we can offer a competitive product for the whole world.

Your partners are reputable high-tech companies, including foreign ones. Can we say that products made by LocoTech-Signal are Russian developments? What is the share of domestic solutions in your technologies?

In the case of partnership with foreign companies, the import component is most often the platform on which we implement a particular product, i.e. so called "hardware" that accounts for about 30% of the cost. The main value of our technologies is software, and it is made in Russia by the domestic specialists. We try to create the most flexible system, independent of the hardware on which it will be implemented—so-called cross-platform software, which allows to control, for example, a railway point using a tablet or a phone or from the server.

At the same time, we are actively working with Russian electronics makers. We use, for example, the products of Roselectronics. Anyway, our philosophy is to minimize the dependence on hardware. Apart from possible sanctions, this dependence does not allow to manage the cost. Hardware, which is made for a specific task, is always expensive. And this approach is one of our competitive advantages.
What is your opinion about the current level of digitalization in the Russian transport sector?

Today, 90% of Russian infrastructure is equipped with systems made in the middle of the 20th century, which ideologically are at least 70 years old—this is an unprecedented lag. If nothing is changed, railway transport will be inefficient. Domestic and foreign transportation is a market, where you will not be in demand without development. I'll repeat: digitalization is the only possible way to become more efficient.
Today, 90% of Russian infrastructure is equipped with systems
made in the middle of the 20th century, which ideologically are at least
70 years old—this is an unprecedented lag
Russia invests a lot in state-of-the-art solutions. Our main problem, however, is the unsystematic implementation of technologies, the use of "patch" solutions. We lack the integration function. And that's what we should develop first of all. I am sure that progress is a natural phenomenon: it cannot be stopped. In any case, we will come to a digital railway, a digital locomotive, and automatic control over the transportation process. The idea is to come as soon as possible.

  • Nowadays, locomotives and railway infrastructure are developing unevenly and autonomously, which prevents from improving the efficiency of the transportation process and applied technologies. To improve the situation, they should begin interacting.
  • Smart train control system will be put into operation as well as a digital dispatchers' room, which will automatically find the best algorithms for the distribution of flows considering given priorities.
  • The main global trend for large railway administrations is a request for "turn-key" products. It is more profitable for the customer to deal with a large player who will supply and put into operation a complex product and will be responsible for it throughout its entire life cycle.
  • In Russia there are state-of-the-art developments, but so far they are rather chaotic. It is very important to develop integration functionality.
Photo: Alexey Antonov
Daria Topilskaya
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