The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Insight -

WHILE the train­set and tracks are read­ily vis­i­ble to ca­sual ob­servers, con­struct­ing a mod­ern rail­way sys­tem is ac­tu­ally a very com­pli­cated task. Rail­ways, be it any­thing from a mono­rail to high-speed rail, com­prise many in­ter­ac­tive sys­tems, mean­ing there’s plenty of scope for things to go wrong.

For ex­am­ple, the rails, other than sup­port­ing train wheels, can also carry elec­tri­cal cur­rents which could be part of the sig­nalling sys­tem. Other parts of the rail (such as sys­tems that in­cor­po­rate a third rail) could be part of the trac­tion power sys­tem, and this could gen­er­ate elec­tro­mag­netic waves that could in­ter­fere with other parts of the sig­nalling or com­mu­ni­ca­tions sys­tem.

Other than the trac­tion power sys­tem, there is a wide ar­ray of equip­ment to en­sure the op­er­abil­ity of any rail­way, and these in­clude ra­dio and tele­phonic voice com­mu­ni­ca­tions; con­trol, com­mand and mon­i­tor­ing func­tions; and rout­ing of power, gas and wa­ter sup­plies, along with a host of ca­bles. All these vie for the tight and lim­ited space in sta­tions, on plat­forms, in de­pots, on bridges and em­bank­ments, and in tun­nels. There are also other con­straints that have to be taken into ac­count, such as the band­width used for com­mu­ni­ca­tions and data chan­nels, with data for cus­tomer in­for­ma­tion, CCTV trans­mis­sions, and fire de­tec­tion and in­truder alarm sys­tems all jostling for the ca­pac­ity of­fered by telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions net­works.

Lastly, the many types of rolling stock have to be com­pat­i­ble with the in­fra­struc­ture. Or­der­ing train­sets is not a mat­ter of go­ing through the cat­a­logue and pick­ing some­thing, as each train – on, for ex­am­ple, the MRT – has to be cus­tom-built for each line. In view of the many de­mands im­posed by the need for safety, re­li­a­bil­ity, se­cu­rity and ef­fi­ciency, each sys­tem has to be de­signed with not just its own func­tion­al­ity in mind but also those of the other sys­tems, and how all these in­ter­act with each other. The task of en­sur­ing that all these seem­ingly dis­parate sys­tems work in har­mony with each other in all pos­si­ble sce­nar­ios, in­clud­ing ac­ci­dents, emer­gen­cies, and ex­treme de­mands, is called sys­tems in­te­gra­tion (SI).

SI ex­per­tise is one of the most sought after engi­neer­ing skills in the rail in­dus­try any­where in the world, in­clud­ing in Malaysia where we are still play­ing catch up.

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