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GIS and GPS based asset management for Road and Railway Transportation Systems in India

Frank Hegyi
Managing Director, MaxSys Engineering Solutions Inc., Ottawa, Canada

Asok K. Mookerjee
Managing Director, LEA Associates South Asia Pvt. Ltd., Delhi, India

Transportation infrastructure represents one of the largest and most critical investments by any country. Movements of people and goods are vital to every aspect of the country’s economy. Geographic Information System (GIS) and Global Positioning System (GPS) based asset management for road and railway transportation system can greatly improve the efficiency of operations, while at the same time, can make significant contributions to safety, including responses to natural and man-made disasters.

The asset management system developed by MaxSys and LASA incorporates the following technologies:

  • Geographic Information System (GIS) based digital maps, high-resolution satellite imagery (up to 5 m), digital elevation models based on satellite imagery and appropriate data base management system;
  • Global Positioning System (GPS) based Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) hardware units with programmable micro processor to collect x-y-z coordinates at pre-determined intervals along road and railway networks, including storing the waypoints until requested to transmit them wirelessly;
  • Wireless data transmission hardware units that can operate in a seamless dual mode over terrestrial (GSM) and satellite (Iridium) based infrastructures, capable of transmitting GPS data on demand or as programmed via the microprocessor.

A particular focus of the technology is applications in disaster management, including the exact location of the site of an accident on digital maps, setting up infrastructures for first responders to accidents, as well as the implementation of efficient, cost effective and timely rescue operations.

Asset Management
There are many definitions of asset management in the literature (see References). They include:

“…a methodology needed by those who are responsible for efficiently allocating generally insufficient funds amongst valid and competing needs.”

— The American Public Works Association Asset Management Task Force

“…a comprehensive and structured approach to the long-term management of assets as tools for the efficient and effective delivery of community benefits.”

— Strategy for Improving Asset Management Practice, AUSTROADS, 1997

“Asset Management…goes beyond the traditional management practice of examining singular systems within the road networks, i.e., pavements, bridges, etc., and looks at the universal system of a network of roads and all of its components to allow comprehensive management of limited resources. Through proper asset management, governments can improve program and infrastructure quality, increase information accessibility and use, enhance and sharpen decision-making, make more effective investments and decrease overall costs, including the social and economic impacts of road crashes.”

— Organization for European Cooperation and Development Working Group, Asset Management Systems, Project Description, 1999

“In the transportation world, asset management is defined as a systematic process of operating, maintaining, and upgrading transportation assets cost-effectively. It combines engineering and mathematical analyses with sound business practice and economic theory. The total asset management concept expands the scope of conventional infrastructure management systems by addressing the human element and other support assets as well as the physical plant (e.g., highway, transit systems, airports, etc.). Asset management systems are goal driven and, like the traditional planning process, include components for data collection, strategy evaluation, program development, and feedback. The asset management model explicitly addresses integration of decisions made across all program areas. Its purpose is simple—to maximize benefits of a transportation program to its customers and users, based on well-defined goals and with available resources.”

— Blueprint for Developing and Implementing an Asset Management System, Asset Management Task Force, New York State Department of Transportation, April 22, 1998

A comprehensive discussion on asset management is given in “Asset Management Primer” by the U.S. Department of Transportation (1999), adapting the following definition: “Asset management is a systematic process of maintaining, upgrading, and operating physical assets cost-effectively. It combines engineering principles with sound business practices and economic theory, and it provides tools to facilitate a more organized, logical approach to decision-making. Thus, asset management provides a framework for handling both short- and long-range planning.” Guiding principles for asset management are defined in the Primer to be customer focused, mission driven, system oriented, long term in outlook, accessible, user friendly, and flexible. It should include strategic goals, inventory of assets (both physical and human resources), valuation of assets, quantitative condition and performance measures, measures on the achievements of strategic goals, usage information, performance capabilities, relational data bases to integrate individual management systems, qualitative issues, links to the budget process, engineering parameter, economic analysis tools, user friendly output presentation, and continuous feedback.

Asset management is needed because private and government sectors are required to include performance and return-on-investment considerations in the evaluation and project selection. This approach is considered to be essential for the improvement of efficiency, productivity, and the increase of the value of services and products to transportation users. Typical highway assets include descriptions of infrastructures such as pavements, structures, tunnels and hardware, including guardrails, signs, barriers, impact attenuators, electronic surveillance, monitoring equipment, and operating facilities. Other assets include but are not limited to construction and maintenance equipment, vehicles, real estate (such as buildings, property, roadside and right of way), materials, human resources, corporate data and information, as well as ground and water transportation facilities and equipment.

Generic asset management system components include the following:

  • Goals and policies of the organization
  • Asset inventory
  • Condition assessment and performance modeling
  • Alternative evaluation and program optimization
  • Budget allocation
  • Short and long range plans
  • Program implementation
  • Performance monitoring and feedback

Asset management provides the ability to show how, when and why resources need to be committed. Making asset management a reality requires new information and analytical tools, new approaches to organizational communication, and new management practices. Technology enables an Asset Management system to function. Asset Management relies on technology in two key areas. First, in the collection, storage, and analysis of data. Data can be gathered more quickly with higher quality and spatial accuracy than ever before. The data can then be stored, retrieved, and analyzed with powerful data servers and software. For example, with the advances in geographical information systems (GIS) and global positioning systems (GPS), the important spatial component of analysis can be more fully explored. With the development of faster and more capable computers, the application of more robust and sophisticated modeling software is possible. The second important aspect of technology relates to the presentation and communication of the analytical results to decision makers inside and outside the agency. Most highway organizations have their computers on networks, which allow for greater levels of communication than ever before. Again, advances in software, including GIS, allow for the presentation of these results graphically. Through advanced multimedia capabilities, today’s software can paint a picture of what the analysis predicts, markedly improving the communication of ideas. The success of program strategies and practices is measured by changes in performance and remaining structural life. Performance criteria and measures also help decision makers identify and target critical system requirements.

IS Based Spatial Information
GIS is used to determine the location of an asset and its proximity to another asset, or location of an event and its relationship to another event. Such information may then be used to make decisions in design, construction and maintenance.

The MaxSys-LASA approach to asset management, with focus on roads and railway transportation systems, is based on integrated information technology designed to provide solutions to our clients. In this framework, we recognize that our clients have made choices in terms of acquiring GIS from different vendors. We further consider it as a given that our clients already have, or are in the process of documenting, the classical components of GIS based asset management relative to the transportation industry. These components include road and railway networks in terms of decision-making segments with the appropriate assets linked to each, condition of each segment, costs and economic considerations, construction and maintenance requirements, operational information, traffic flows, safety related information, and linkages to infrastructure data bases.

While GIS have played a major role in the development of spatial information data bases of municipal, state, federal and private sector agencies, the tools supplied by the various vendors have not always been fully compatible and owners of the digital data had to use translation programs to accommodate integration and seamless access. The open GIS environment, introduced in the 1990’s, enabled organizations to combine datasets from multiple sources to form enterprise solutions for spatial data access and analysis. The MaxSys-LASA team has the relevant software to access GIS based information in the format of most major vendors. However, in our operations, we use GeoMedia Professional of Intergraph that includes data capture, maintenance and management to create an open and standard product. GeoMedia Pro is a GIS software that uses Microsoft Windows technology for collecting GIS data, populating an enterprise data base, and turning information into precise, finished maps for distribution and presentation. Combined with GeoMedia Web Map, GeoMedia Pro facilitates the sharing of GIS information across the Web, as well as integrates seamlessly with other Windows-based applications, such as Microsoft Word, Excel, Power Point, Access and creates presentations. An important feature of GeoMedia Pro is the capability of integrating CAD files and other GIS data from multiple products into a single database. For example, files from AutoCAD, ARC/INFO, ArcView, MapInfor, MicroStation, MGE and FRAME can be read directly and the editing tools provide workflows for edge-matching, hence an integrated GIS data base can easily be built from sources representing multiple map sheets. In addition, GeoMedia Pro supports a wide range of image formats such as TIFF, Geotiff, MrSid, ESRI World, CALS, JPEG, BMP, Intergraph formats, Hitachi and IGS.

We also recognize that digital maps, due to the dynamic nature of assets, may be out of date shortly after they are completed (Figure 1). Hence, along road and railway corridors, we use up-to-date and high resolution satellite data, such as SPOT (5 m resolution) and IKONOS (1 m resolution) and Quickbird imagery (0.61 m resolution), (Figure 2), to complement the GIS based digital maps.

Figure 1. Example of GIS based spatial information.

Figure 2. Example of high resolution imagery (Quickbird).

GPS And Wireless Data Transmission
We provide dual mode wireless data transmission, optimized for cost effective operations and reliability. Depending on the application needs of our clients, we may configure, for example, Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM), Cellular Digital Packet Data (CDPD) or Global Packet Radio System (GPRS) for core applications where costs are affordable, backed up by more reliable (continuous coverage) but relatively higher cost satellite based wireless data transmission. Our wireless data transmission includes GPS coordinates, images and text files. For example in India, we configure GSM and IRIDIUM based wireless data transmission, packaged in hardware units as illustrated below.

Figure 3. Automatic Railway Car and Automobile Location hardware units

The Automatic Railway Car and Automobile Location hardware units, manufactured by WaveCell International Corp., (Figure 3), contain a 12-channel GPS receiver, dual mode wireless data transmission modems (GSM and Iridium), and a microprocessor to store GPS data and to control operations with embedded code.

In cases where the location of assets and events along the road and railway corridors is not available on the digital maps and high resolution satellite imagery, we use GPS to collect the relevant information, store it in the hardware units, then transmit it wirelessly to the Monitoring or Control Centre for integration into the GIS based spatial data base.

Application In Disaster Management
The asset management described in this paper is illustrated below in an application for disaster management in India, following a railway accident. Information that is used in this example include:

  1. ICONOS satellite imagery (1 m resolution), 20 m wide with the railway track in the middle;
  2. SPOT imagery (5 m resolution), 10 km wide with the railway track in the middle;
  3. Digital GIS-based maps that are currently available, 100 km wide with railway track in the middle;
  4. Details on railway stations, villages, towns, hospitals, fire stations, law enforcement agencies – by segments, including who has land line phones and cell phones;
  5. Major towns within 50 km from corridor, and with what facilities, e.g., hospitals, air strips, road network to corridor, availability of rescue operation equipment;
  6. Food and water supply along the corridor;
  7. Financial aid to injured and relatives of deceased;
  8. Documentation of existing facilities to deal with accidents;
  9. Existing railway personnel and equipment along corridor;
  10. Existing categorization of accidents and appropriate response procedures, including copies of manuals and procedures;
  11. Train schedule (or volume of traffic) along corridor, including type of trains;
  12. Bus stations and traffic;
  13. Administrative boundaries/states/districts/talukas along corridor
  14. Details on NGO’s, including authorities and facilities, e.g., schools, churches, charitable institutions, specialization of NGO’s;
  15. Road conditions along corridor;
  16. Information to prepare risk maps;
  17. Longitudinal profiles along corridor;
  18. Communication nodes along corridor; and
  19. Availability of social workers/government employees along corridor

Monitoring Software controls the interface with multiple hardware units, street level digital mapping, access to spatial data sets in their native format, and the Graphic User Interface (GUI) that displays the positions of mobile units and personnel on digital maps along with other relevant user specific information. The monitoring software can be set up in the Control Centre on a server, with digital maps and satellite imagery covering the project area

Operational logistics of the system can be set up as follows:

  1. Monitoring software is set up at the Disaster Management Control Centre on a server, with digital maps and satellite imagery covering the project area.
  2. The automatic railway car and automobile locator hardware units can be installed in less than 5 minutes. We recommend to install one unit in the locomotive and one in the rear car.
  3. When an accident occurs, an emergency button can be activated on the hardware unit either in the locomotive or in the rear car. Upon activation, the unit will send through the wireless data transmission the GPS coordinates of the accident site.
  4. When the monitoring software receives the information that an accident has occurred, it will zoom in on the digital maps and high resolution satellite imagery and show the exact location of the accident. At the same time, an audio signal is activated with “Emergency Accident Located” message repeating until the operator accepts the information. At the same time, the locations of first responders are displayed on the digital maps within a defined radius, such as 10 km (this can be increased by the operator).
  5. The official in charge of the rescue operations can then instruct the operator to select on the appropriate first responders. A message is sent to them through the Iridium phone, and an audio message is repeated that an accident occurred in a nearby location, as well as the location of the accident is printed with a map.
  6. Upon notification, the first responders proceed to the site of the accident.

The above scenario illustrates how our technology can be used to mobilize first responders to railway accidents. Similarly, the technology can be configured to operate in disaster management following natural disasters such as earth-quakes, flood and cyclones. The common elements of such applications are summarized in terms of the following components:

  • GIS based spatial information must be up to date and at an acceptable level of resolution;
  • The asset management system must contain relevant information for the targeted application.
  • Wireless data transmission must have complete coverage over the targeted areas.
  • GPS installations must be configured with wireless data transmission in order to locate the site of accidents in a timely manner, as well as to monitor the mobilization of first responders.