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Do you know how we’re developing safer and more efficient railways for the future?

Published on 5.8.2021

What will Finnish railways look like in the future, and how can we always stay one step ahead of transport’s evolving needs? How can railways respond to the changes brought about by autonomous traffic and provide users with even better service? These are just some of the questions that Fintraffic Rail is working towards solving.

Fintraffic’s development work is divided into three main themes: the development of people and expertise, the development of technical systems, and the development of premises and working environments. Development work is carried out from a variety of perspectives in many different teams. Currently, these projects are primarily seeking to increase automation in traffic management, enable dynamic and location-independent traffic management, and harness data in development.

“Regardless of the different perspectives and approaches, our development work revolves around our vision of having the safest, smoothest and most environmentally friendly rail traffic in the world,” says Timo Nieminen, Director, Business Development, at Fintraffic Rail.

Development work is done both in projects and agilely alongside everyday tasks

Two models are used in the development of rail traffic. A more traditional waterfall model is employed for projects that are developing familiar things that have been done before. These include lifecycle updates to existing systems when there are clear specifications for what needs to be renewed.

“A good example of the more traditional model is the development of remote control in the railway network. This development method is ideal for certain types of projects, even though I believe the use of agile development will increase in the future due to changing needs,” says Nieminen.

Rapidly evolving technology and automation will require railways to use brand-new operating models and technologies in the future. These new requirements are more challenging to predict, as in many cases they will evolve along the way. These projects therefore employ an agile development model that is easier to finetune during the course of the process.

“An agile model will be used in the development of things relating to data and analytics, as it’s more adaptable and supports learning. The dynamic traffic management development project is another good example. We have a long-term roadmap that we always keep in mind at all stages of an agile development project,” says Nieminen.

Not all of Fintraffic Rail’s development work occurs in projects – it is also done alongside everyday tasks throughout the organisation. Development work is carried out in a broad variety of ways, in smaller or individual teams alongside other tasks. This kind of development work may, for example, focus on a team’s own practices.

Teams are an important element in the development of dynamic traffic management

Dynamic traffic management means real-time traffic management that is independent of time and place. It seeks to bring efficiency and flexibility to work management, to increase safety, and to ensure that the right number of employees are present at the right time.

“Dynamic traffic management is not just a question of systems – it covers all of our operations and operating models. We identified a need for renewal several years ago, and extensive analyses have since enabled us to determine both the current state of rail traffic and the areas for development,” says Leila Toivakka, PMO Development Manager at Fintraffic Rail.

Teamwork has become one of the core themes of this development project, as traffic management is currently very individual-centric. Development work is aiming to create new operating models for teams with regard to working together, more effective cooperation and coping at work. Communication between different projects is another important aspect of dynamic traffic management.

Technology also plays a role via tools. The preliminary report on dynamic traffic management concluded that no major changes would be required in systems at this stage, as long as they support the testing of new operating models. However, a need to share data between systems was identified, as it helps to create a real-time situational picture of traffic.

“Our goal is a safer, smoother and more customer-oriented way of managing traffic. New operating models will be tested in practice to ensure that we’re heading in the right direction. Our development work will revolve around pilots, testing, analysis and observation,” says Toivakka.

The development of dynamic traffic management will initially focus on traffic control and control centres. Things currently under development include target models for traffic control, starting and ending shifts, and team formation. The analysis work has recently been completed, and the first stages of the pilots have been planned. It will soon be possible to test the new operating models in practice.

A grandstand view at the heart of an evolving transport sector

Fintraffic operates at the heart of an evolving transport sector, and is working towards better information sharing and a real-time situational picture of traffic. One of the cornerstones of Fintraffic’s development work is collating data about Finland’s transport network in one place.  Fintraffic utilises both in-house experts and partners, and development teams consist of anything from a few people to fifty. A couple of hundred people have already worked on national transport projects connected to Digirail.

“We have some really interesting jobs available in rail transport. Fintraffic is the place to work if you’re interested in the latest technology and the transport sector,” hints Nieminen.

Customers will have different needs in five years’ time. For example, data and trends from around the world indicate that autonomous vehicles will play a greater part in everyday life. Preparations are already being made for these changing needs. All of Fintraffic Rail’s development work blends seamlessly together – longer-term visions cannot be achieved without the success of short-term development projects.

“Our vision for Finnish traffic management in 2030 acts as our compass in development work. This is a long journey and we have no pre-drawn maps. Now is the time to experiment, challenge ourselves, and work together to make bold developments, because no one can do this alone,” says Toivakka.