RailTopoModel (RTM) stands for a project initiated in 2013 by several European railway companies. It led to the publication of RTM 1.0 by UIC in April 2016. Its kernel addresses the issue of providing a single repository for railway infrastructure description, that is scalable, extensible, and platform-independent.
Current developments are oriented by urgent business needs, namely Building Information Modelling (BIM) level 3: replicating the rail domain in IT, in the interest of prompt system certification and handover to operating and maintenance companies. This extension of the application scope to all components of the railway transport system is taking place by joining forces with the IFC Rail project coordinated by buildingSMART.
In parallel, UIC drives the expansion of the technical scope of RTM to operations, for the purpose of traffic planning, autonomous driving, or for disturbance recovery optimization.
Another obvious challenge is no less exciting, namely governance. Given the complexity and long life of railway systems, RTM aims at becoming one useful piece in a set of cooperating models with well-defined responsibilities and a clear evolution path.
Connected cars and autonomous car driving occupy the newspapers highlights as a bright and promising future where safety and full automation of car transportation are globally ensured by vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication and by artificial intelligence, in one or two decades to come. When looking at railways, we can observe that the wide deployment of ERTMS-ETCS systems on high speed lines as well as on freight corridors is already a working witness to the possible achievement of high safety standards by means of distributed control algorithms that span over geographical areas and are able to safely control large physical systems.
But still, crucial decisions needed to guarantee safety are taken at centralized places (such as the Radio Block Centre - RBC), that concentrate communications with mobile objects. Several proposed advancements in these schemes, aimed at increasing capacity and automation of rail transport, go in the direction of a more dynamic network connection among mobile component, in which decisions are actually taken in a distributed way. An example is the virtual coupling concept, in which the strict cross-control between coupled trains has to be negotiated locally.
Distributed consensus algorithms, as well as distributed configuration and reconfiguration are needed in such dynamic contexts. On the other hand, the increasing importance of communication introduce sources of uncertainty that must be addressed so that they do not harm; cybersecurity is also another main issue induced by communication-based control schemes. A concept of dynamic safety envelope within which a train can safely move then emerges, whose shape and size continuously varies with the availability of reliable information coming from the infrastructure and from other trains, as well as autonomously harvested by on-board "intelligent” sensors.
This talk will present some challenging scenarios of this kind and will discuss the basic concepts needed to address such challenges.