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Third International Esri Rail Summit

By Juliette van Driel and Yongjun Zhao

Last June, the third International Rail GIS Summit was held once again in the UIC (Union International de Chemin de Fer) in Paris, near the Eiffel Tower. The main goal of the conference to exchange information about best practices in the field of geoinformation provisions and to learn about applying new GIS technologies in the railway sector. For providers, the event is an opportunity to listen to the requirements of  railway companies. Due to the success of past events, the summit was extended to a two-day event including a ‘networking dinner’, which offered lots of opportunity for rail colleagues to exchange views and ideas.

Hans-Guenther Kersten (director Rail System Department) of the UIC offered a few words of welcome. As a recent newcomer to the GIS workfield, he acknowledges the fact that a system as complex as a railway network can gain a lot by applying GIS technologies. His interest for this work field was proven during the whole conference by his continued presence.

Geoinformational provision: the vision of Network Rail UK

Peter Bunett and Andy Kevell from Network Rail held a presentation about ‘Network Rail Roadmap for GIS’. At Network Rail, locations of objects are stored in a diversity of systems and a number of different reference systems are used. Additionally, some surveying data giving information about the state of the rail is utilised. It was apparent that, the notion that the power of location and GIS can greatly contribute to a more efficient business management is shared widely within the organization.

Through the development of one single network model, different data types (situation, surveyings, surroundings, etc.) can be linked. The goal is to augment the life expectancy of the rail and optimize maintenance work. To realize this, Network Rail has developed a vision and strategy from the present time until 2015. The ROI of the total roadmap is two years. Also, there was a great deal of consideration shown for BIM (Building Information Modeling), since all yet to-be-started projects have to be BIM compliant.

Fig.1 DTM from Russia

Applied techniques: Russia and France
A Russian presentation followed about the development of a DTM (Digital Model of Track and Infrastructure) in which topography network and diverse surveying data are saved (see Figure 1), on the basis of laser scanning, among others. A 3D model of the quay hood and the size of the material was shown. One could plainly see  from the model that the shown material didn’t fit longitudinally and that the quay hood would be driven off. At the  moment, the DTM is filled with data of the line Moscow-Saint Petersburg-Buslovskaya. In the future, the whole of the Russian railway network will follow. Not only is there a lot of attention for developing a model and filing data of a particular situation and the state of the railway track, but also for data in the whole lifecycle of the railway network.

There were two presentations from France. On day one, Nicolas Saint-Jean talked about efficient verge management. By combining different sorts of data, a specific management plan can be made to save time, money and pesticides. Different types of data means orthophotos showing the situation of the track, data of the state of the soil and LiDAR data (acquired by helicopter) about the state and type of coverage. On day two a presentation by Alail Lhote and Amaury-Xavier Marchal showed how by combining diverse GIS applications and different data types of both real-time (disruptions) and static (surroundings data), different problems are supported in daily operations.  

Underground Infrastructure
There were two presentations about underground infrastructure. Firstly, a talk  from Grzegorz Brodecki and Radoslaw Domurad of Poland from TK Telekom. The latter comes from the Polish State Railway Company and controls 30,000 km of cables underground. They encounter several problems managing this, which is a result  of lack of data and information about the underground network. A project to acquire current and reliable data about the underground network has been started in order to obtain faster disruption recovery.

This project had to start from a ‘green field’ situation which has its advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is that there’s no legacy system for which complex interfaces must be built. The disadvantage is that everything had to be developed and designed from the ground up., Silesia was chosen as a pilot area. The only available data were German analogue maps from the ‘30s of the last century, when Silesia was under German rule.

In the second presentation, Maarten Zanen from Arcadis spoke about the use of GIS to determine the most optimal route for new cable layout. There was also interest shown in BIM for the lifecycle of cables. There’s a lot to be gained from current and reliable data from what is present in the ground when it comes to underground infrastructure. N not only for preventing grub damage but also for detecting dead cables and dismantling them. This is because every dead cable is an obstacle for management and maintenance work. And, last but not least, digging up and selling dead copper cables brings in thousands of Euros.

Within the rail sector, schemati networks are just as important as geographic networks. Since the release of ArcGIS 10.1, it is possible to generate useful schemas for railways from the geography with ArcGIS Schematics. Patrick Dolemieux from Esri gave an overview of the possibilities and developments with ArcGIS Schematics. Important aspects of ArcGIS Schematics are that it is: data-driven, rule-based, flexible and extendable. In a number of live demo’s, Anne Yvonne Blin showed how we can generate a schema out of a geographic network.

Juliette van Driel and Marlies van der Goot from ProRail Nederland held a presentation about applying schematic networks and the last test they did at ProRail  with ArcGIS Schematics for determining if a presentable schematic network could be generated with Schematics. There are diverse applications for the use of ArcGIS Schematics at ProRail: the planning of maintenance work, for example. A geographic map is required as soon as maintenance workers are sent into the field to carry out their work. Also, users have the need to switch between geography, the aerial image and a schematic overview (see Figure 2). ArcGIS Schematics is suitable for generating a useful schematic representation of the railway network. However, it’s not a ‘cure all’ solution. In order to implement it into the organization, a number of technical and organizational problems have to be solved first.

Fig.2 Geographic network with aerial image and generated schematic from it

European Directives

Erika Nissi from the UIC spoke about the role of the organization as a ‘railway GIS contact point’ for the INSPIRE Directive. The aim of the Directive is combining, sharing and reusing geospatial data. There are 34 themes, transport being one of them. For the railway sector this means that geographical data for railway as per 2017 has to be available and conform to the INSPIRE Directive. The project ERIM (European Rail Infrastructure Masterplan) from UIC has chosen INSPIRE as a reference point. ERIM supplies a detailed infrastructure database of 32 countries that is updated yearly and presented in the UIC Atlas.

Nathalie Delattre of EuroGeographics Association gave an overview of their pan-European products, mostly EuroDEM (European Digital Elevation Model), EuroRegionalMap (ERM), EuroGlobeMap and EuroBoundaryMap, and then spoke in more detail about its users, partners, markets and the railway network data model of ERM.

It’s safe to say that geospatial railway data and exchange between countries is considered important. A uniform standard is very important in all this. On a national level standards are created, on a European level there’s INSPIRE and on a global level there are OGC standards.
Techniques from Trimble and Nice
Ron Bisio from Trimble held a presentation about the different methods of data collection in the field. For example, what happens when collecting data with an unmanned airplane, handheld devices and devices on the train. The vehicles that are used in the US to collect data are very similar to cars. A rapidly developing market, is the Chinese handheld devices market. These devices  are used to inspect freight trains, for example. When an inspector notices a defect on a freight train, the details (location, character of the defect and photos) are submitted directly to the office through the device, and the appropriate action is subsequently taken. This, of course, leads to faster solving times.

Hannan Saltzman from Nice Systems illustrated with a fictitious scenario of a suicide accident how the use of technology could assist in dealing with such an incident, how . from the initial registration of the incident, through localizing it and contacting emergency services, to organizing substitute transport.


Investing in current and reliable geodata is rewarding. There are lots of examples where efficiency gain can be attained but also an increase in safety and avoidance of damage to the environment. The public receive a better service , including the fast availability of substitute transport, shorter incident problem-solving times  and prevention planning. Quality geodata should be a precondition for management in the railway sector and ideally one shouldn’t set up a business case for the improvement of data quality. In different countries there’s attention for BIM and geoinformation in the whole lifecycle of the railway network: from feasibility study, design and construction to the maintenance and management phase. 
What was put forward from the presentation of Terry Bills from Esri about trend and challenges in Rail GIS data, is that geospatial data and GIS are playing a more important role in asset management. Not all geospatial potential is used, but a lot of progress has been made during the last few years. GIS is not only being used as a visualization tool, but also as a powerful instrument for analysis, planning and to attain pro-active planning out of reactive maintenance. Virgin territory for GIS within railways is in operation management, for example in traffic control and capacity distribution; something that is strongly dominated by schematic solutions. The challenge here is to combine the strong parts of schematic solutions with the possibilities of GIS applications.

This Rail Summit was largely a European affair. It would be interesting to hear about the experiences of Asian countries where high velocity trains are constructed and magnet floating trains are in use. This year’s summit  wasn’t without obligations, as the participants were given homework: try to schematize your own railway network and look at which project is a GIS success story. Maybe this could be used in a success gallery at next year’s event?

On November 7 and 8, the UIC is organizing a seminar about Geoinformation provision for Business Executive Managers:

“This two day seminar provides a comprehensive understanding of GIS and many illustrative examples how railways in Europe and North America are using this integration technology to bring together different work streams in order to optimize organizational efficiencies, planning, accountability, communication and decision making.”