Yarra Trams to sense when tracks need maintenance

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Yarra Trams to sense when tracks need maintenance
Yarra Trams ICT director Neil Roberts (courtesy: Yarra Trams)

Posts incidents on Instagram to make customers less angry.

Yarra Trams will fit its next-generation E Class trams with wheel-based sensors that will help engineers determine where to perform track maintenance.

The trams, which are due to be delivered mid next year, are being built by Canadian firm Bombardier, which won an initial order for 50 units.

Yarra Trams director of ICT Neil Roberts told IBM InterConnect 2012 delegates in Singapore this week that the firm was "still trying to grapple with all the wonders" that the E Class would provide from an IT perspective.

"It has huge telemetry systems [and] sensors in the wheels that sense the condition of the track," Roberts said.

"One of the challenges for us is where should we do track maintenance first, where's the best bang for buck?

"This system will gather data as it runs around the network. [When the] tram comes back to the depot, we download the data over wi-fi, we analyse it and figure out where to spend our maintenance."

Roberts said the E Class systems would also enable predictive maintenance to be introduced to the fleet.

"It'll actually tell us when things are going to fail, before they fail," he said. "We're very excited about the opportunities."

Roberts showcased Yarra Trams' considerable investments in mobile technology, both as an enabler for staff and for commuters.

The transport operator has put tablets into the hands of field crews that enable them to interact with the central enterprise asset management system, IBM Maximo.

The Maximo system was installed at Yarra Trams by March 2007 (pdf). Mobility extensions have come in recent years.

A recent extension is a mobile app that staff can use to photograph graffiti on trams or tram stops.

The app uses the phone's GPS to tag the location of the graffiti, and the data automatically feeds into Maximo, where a work order is set up to have it rectified.

"We get that graffiti fixed up far quicker than we ever would have in the past," Roberts said.

Issues to Instagram

For commuters, Yarra Trams has introduced mobile offerings based on its tramTRACKER system, which provides real-time information about tram arrival times, routes and delays.

Initially an IVR and SMS service, tramTRACKER was introduced as an iOS app in June 2009. Last week, an Android version of the app was also launched.

Yarra Trams' real-time data is also surfaced in desktop widgets and on screens at more than 200 major stops in the tram network.

The system does not use GPS due to the potential for "CBD canyoning (interference)". Instead, "trackside monitors transmit the tram's speed, direction of travel and the distance the tram has travelled from the terminus, according to a Yarra Trams backgrounder.

"This information is compared to the tram's schedule, as well as the time of day and other variables to make the prediction" about a tram's arrival timing at a particular stop.

Roberts said that real time information empowered commuters to make better transport decisions.

"We're now taking another step further," he said. "We publish photos on Instagram of our incidents so people get a visual of why a service has been delayed, and that makes them much less angry."

Data analytics

Roberts also talked up Kestrel, an internally developed methodology and analytics platform that Yarra Trams is using to get a better lid on punctuality and service delivery.

The company generated "massive amount[s] of data which we're still trying to get our heads around", Roberts said.

"We have a huge amount of data thats gathered every day from our 6000 services about the actual versus planned times," he said.

"[Using Kestrel] we're able to dig into that data and match it up to the incident data and figure out what are the incidents that are causing the most delays and where should we be focusing our investment dollars in terms of maintaining infrastructure.

"This is still a journey but the power of analytics is becoming a big thing for us in Yarra."

Roberts also noted the requirement for agile infrastructure to deal with the complexity of Yarra's IT needs.

He said that the company was virtualising its infrastructure using IBM technology, and "also now looking at the cloud for hybrid applications", though he did not elaborate further.

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