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Smart travel for future cities: Integrating and connecting Nottingham’s new tram lines

There has been much talk about smart cities over the last few years. Defined as urban areas that use information and communication technology (ICT) to enhance the quality of urban services, smart cities are meant to reduce costs and energy consumption and, ultimately, become better living spaces for their inhabitants. One essential aspect of the smart city is public transport, an interconnected network of trains, buses and trams, capable of remote monitoring and predictive analysis.

In a smart city, the road and transport network fulfil a similar role to that of the circulatory system in the human body: facilitating the movement of essential elements that ensure the wellbeing and efficiency of the whole system.

However, the advantages of smart public transport go beyond energy efficiency and sustainability. They also include cost-efficient travelling, higher road safety levels, better mobility for urban dwellers and the availability of analytics that help predict and manage traffic flow.

To accommodate such challenging requirements and complex projects, construction companies, local authorities, industrial automation suppliers and systems integrators have to work together closely and harmonise their activities. Perhaps one of the most difficult tasks falls to the systems integrator, who has to incorporate several generations of equipment from different vendors into one network, while also combining traditional systems integration skills with the latest ICT, industrial security and networking experience.

Nottingham Express Travel Phase Two

In a bid to become one of the UK’s first smart cities, Nottingham has recently expanded its existing tram network to include two new lines to serve the South and South West of the city. The first new line crosses the river Trent to Clifton and the second connects the Queens Medical Centre, Beeston and Toton. The new routes join the existing line at Nottingham Station, with the entire network accommodating over 20 million passengers every year. With its seven free park and ride sites, the tram offers a convenient alternative to the stressful city centre traffic.

NET Phase Two added 17.5 kilometres of track, 28 new stops and 22 new trams to the existing network. Nottingham City Council estimates that the second phase of the Nottingham Express Transit (NET) will take three million car journeys off Nottingham’s roads, significantly improving the traffic levels in the city.

Fibre optic network

The main feature that makes a public transport system smart is enhanced control and monitoring features. In the case of Nottingham trams, these functionalities became a reality through the collaboration of big industry names such as Taylor Woodrow, Alstom (TWA) and Boulting Technology.

In a joint venture with Alstom, Taylor Woodrow was contracted to design and build phase two of the Nottingham Express Transit project. Systems integrator Boulting Technology was called in as a consultant to design and implement the fibre optic infrastructure that allows the access, visibility and control of the traffic lights system for Nottingham’s two new lines. This feature allows NET to monitor and control tram junctions, with the facility to also monitor traffic and control traffic movement. Collaboration was at the very heart of the project, with Boulting Technology working alongside other stakeholders to design and implement a large-scale, real-time Ethernet network to provide monitoring and control facilities to a series of locations and junctions.

Boulting Technology was already familiar with the NET Phase Two project. In 2014, the systems integrator worked alongside TWA to introduce an automated tram ticketing system using an existing and proposed long-haul fibre optic network infrastructure. Boulting Technology’s network solution securely integrated OTT LAN, W-LAN and WAN connections from several system vendors across the NET structure.

Requirements

NET Phase Two involved Boulting stepping in as a design consultant to identify technical gaps in the existing infrastructure, integrate the existing fibre optic network and design and build a secondary network for the Urban Traffic Control (UTC) system. The secondary network would allow NET to have full control of traffic signals and manage the flow of traffic information to the local authority.

System integration expertise

Integrating the existing optic fibre backbone installed by Alstom into the NET Phase Two, meant Boulting Technology added an extra 37 junctions, across 20 kilometres of tracks. The network itself had to be high speed, with all the components able to provide 1GB per second operating speed. Due to geography and existing fibre optic infrastructure, Boulting Technology also integrated a small set of junctions on the existing tramline to meet this requirement.

Boulting Technology installed single-mode fibre optic cables to achieve the required Ethernet communications links between tram stop equipment cabinets, miscellaneous equipment cabinets and traffic signal-controller cabinets. There were 74 new connections proposed in total across the entire network.

The nature of the project also meant the optic fibre network had to be high availability, highly secure, scalable and very robust. Working to these requirements, Boulting Technology collaborated closely with Hirschmann™ to verify the design for active components, network performance and redundancy.

Finally, to allow secure communication with the network’s central monitoring station, the Urban Traffic Control (UTC) system, Boulting Technology also designed the firewall and internal networking for external users.

“One of the big breakthroughs of the project was the modular off-site build Boulting Technology facilitated,” explained Robin Whitehead, solutions manager at Boulting Technology and project manager for the NET Phase Two programme. “We designed, built and tested everything in our Stafford facility over the course of several months. We then dismantled the system and migrated it on-site in a live state.

“This approach allowed us to reduce the manpower required on location and minimise any risks to people and equipment on-site,” continued Whitehead. “Our intervention was as non-intrusive and rapid as possible. The modular design also permits easy migration and expansion paths, should additional plant or equipment be added to further increase the capacity of the network.”

Results

“A smooth cooperation between contractors and subcontractors was essential to the success of this smart transport project,” revealed Rob Cullen, systems manager at Taylor Woodrow. “Working with Boulting Technology meant the network integration design was delivered in less than six months and tested without any errors. The project was fully operational at the end of August 2015 and it has been running smoothly ever since.”

“We’re particularly pleased with the skill and versatility of Boulting Technology’s team and its ability to work within the whole supply chain to achieve a common goal,” continued Cullen. “Throughout the project they offered valuable systems integration and ICT input that allowed us to react quickly and make junctions live with minimal delays. We’re very pleased with the results and recommend the Boulting Technology team for its expertise and professionalism.”

Most large cities today struggle with congestion, mobility and carbon emissions. The move from individual cars to smart and sustainable public transport systems is already a clear trend, but the change will take time to materialise. If the road and public transport network truly is the circulatory system of the smart city, it means the efficiency and wellbeing of our urban jungles depend on it. For all these reasons, complex infrastructure projects like the Nottingham Express Transit network will play an essential part in the move towards the smart city.

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