‘DriveSmart’: Humans, not machines, create meaning

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Ning Zhao
Ning Zhao

Dr Ning Zhao, Research Fellow with BCRRE and an expert in train control, explains about how to use DriveSmart to enhance train operation performance.

Rail systems use a considerable amount of energy in day-to-day operations, with the whole-life cost of the energy used to operate a train potentially amounting to about as much as the train itself. Due to increasing environmental concerns, rail operators are facing growing pressure to save energy. Driving is one of the key roles in the operation of the train, so the right strategy for controlling the driving can significantly influence energy saving performance. This operation is currently receiving increasing attention all over the world.

Here at BCRRE, our group of researchers in the Energy and Traction group of the Centre of Excellence in Rail Decarbonisation, led by Dr Stuart Hillmansen, have developed the DriveSmart product with Ricardo Rail and with initial sponsorship from UK Tram. The technology aims to provide enhanced control strategies for drivers to achieve energy-efficient operation. Compared with other similar technologies, this approach is more focussed on education, empowering drivers to apply more efficient behaviours when they see the conditions allow. We modelled the route in detail, including the gradients and curvatures en-route, added details about the characteristics of the trains themselves, and found locations such as where drivers could coast and optimum cruising speeds. DriveSmart uses this to build a driver strategy and passes this information to driver teams through bespoke training programmes.

‘We aim to improve drivers, rather than use machines to replace them.’
DriveSmart has been successfully implemented by Edinburgh Trams since 2019 and achieved significant energy saving outcomes. So much so that Edinburgh Trams received a Highly Commended award in the Best Environmental and Sustainability Initiative category at the 2018 Global Light Rail Awards

Global Light Rail award celebration
Global Light Rail award celebration

We are now also working with other rail operators all over the world to apply the technology into their networks.

In recent years, artificial intelligence (AI) based technologies are receiving increasing attention in all engineering subjects. However, AI is considered to be in its infancy and we hear of concerns over the safety of applying AI into railway systems. Therefore, in reality, providing effective tools to improve the efficiency of human working is still considered as a higher priority in rail industry. The result from the implementation of DriveSmart on Edinburgh Trams indicates that the traction energy of driving is reduced by approximately 17%. Furthermore, it approves that developed tools can help the drivers to improve their driving strategies effectively. This technology is cost-effective, which can be widely developed and applied in various rail lines straightway without installing any device in train cabs.

BCRRE will continue collaborating with Ricardo Rail to provide DriveSmart services and support to Edinburgh Tram and other rail operators all over the world. This includes tool implementation, driver training courses, field tests and daily energy consumption analysis, to contribute our knowledge and improve the rail industry.

Contact us at railway@contacts.bham.ac.uk, follow us at @bcrre and on LinkedIn at Linkedin.com/bcrre to find out more.
You can contact Ning directly at N.Zhao@bham.ac.uk

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