Tech and digitisation not optional for Middle East rail projects
Adopting technology such as BIM remains a challenge for the global rail industry, but some Middle East stakeholders are paving the way for greater digitisation in the sector
Steve Cockerell, industry marketing director for rail and road at Bentley Systems, outlines how connected data can benefit the Middle East's rail schemes, and why the region's future railway construction projects will depend on technology for success.
Transportation is fundamental to our economy and society. Mobility is vital for the internal market and for the quality of life of the world’s population as they enjoy their freedom to travel. However, considering the new challenges presented by an ever-evolving digital world and economy, it must be made sustainable, in addition to its contributions to job creation and economic growth.
Since the construction of the first railways, rail professionals have focused their effort on improving this method of transport to be the safest, fastest, cleanest, and smartest means of moving people and goods. With rapid urbanisation causing environmental degradation and congestion in our cities, there is increased pressure for public transport, particularly rail, to take on a larger percentage of modal share.
Rail travel is 50% more environment-friendly and nine times safer than road travel. However, to sustain these benefits, the industry must ensure the safety of the asset – avoiding accidents, injuries, or fatalities; ensure availability of the asset – delivering the promised service; and maximise the performance of the asset – delivering the most economical solution across its lifetime. It is a complex challenge, but each of these benefits and requirements are dependent on one thing: access to trusted, accurate information, for whomever, wherever, and whenever it is needed.
A McKinsey & Company report titled Imagining Construction’s Digital Future published in 2016 indicated that the construction industry had yet to adopt an integrated platform, spanning project planning, design, construction, operations, and maintenance. As a result, most organisations are missing an information source that relates to a project’s design, cost, and schedule, or the condition of assets during operations.
"The digital transformation will require
a profound shift of business and organisational
activities, processes, competencies, and models."
To date, establishing or adopting building information modelling (BIM) standards and processes to solve this challenge has been a significant focus of rail infrastructure organisations and professionals around the world. My role at Bentley Systems provides me the opportunity to travel and meet regularly with owners and maintainers of infrastructure assets who, having realised the criticality of up-to-date information on the assets they are responsible for, are working hard to achieve both legislative and self-imposed objectives.
The UAE, which has a relatively short history in rail versus its global competitors, is part of this effort. Some examples include Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority, one of the first three organisations globally to receive the British Standard Institution’s Kitemark for PAS 1192-3; alongside Atkins, a highly regarded design, engineering, and project management consultant firm; and Engie, a major energy and services group. These organisations understand how important it is to have reliable information about their assets. It’s not part of a digital future imagined for them by an analyst – it’s real, it’s happening now, and it’s very much part of the digital challenges that they face every day.
Bentley understands the importance of creating, managing, and distributing accurate information that relates to rail infrastructure assets across their life, and enables them through OpenRail’s connected data environment (CDE). OpenRail’s CDE allows users to access, manage, share, and utilise the correct designs, documents, and other relevant project information from any location and at any time.
Many Bentley users also highlight the potential benefits to asset owners and their supply chains resulting from integrating requirements capture and compliance management within project delivery and asset operations. This approach simplifies delivery of assurance on complex rail projects, and reduces the cost and time typically associated with poor design visibility and build non-compliance, while providing greater visibility into asset health during operations.
As an example, Bentley’s ComplyPro allows its users—including Riyadh Metro in Saudi Arabia—to clearly define, record, and manage project requirements through a cloud-based register, allowing each and every requirement to be recognised and managed efficiently.
Looking ahead, the rail and transit industry cannot carry on doing what it has always done. It must advance by embracing new digital technologies throughout the planning, delivery, and operation of the world’s rail and transit networks, as well as the systems that support them. This digital transformation will require a profound shift of business and organisational activities, processes, competencies, and models for all involved. It won’t be easy, but in spite of the many challenges that will be faced along the way, there will be great opportunity too. Without taking this journey, we will never realise the full potential that digitising rail construction can and, I believe will, deliver in the future.