Opinion: Best-in-Class Systems Engineering for High-speed Rail

Opinion: Best-in-Class Systems Engineering for High-speed Rail

In every major railway infrastructure project, there will be complex challenges to overcome, each distinct but also interrelated.

High-speed systems are perhaps the most complex of all. Designed to be an optimum mode of transport for generations to come, they are often expected to feature cutting-edge technologies, with bespoke vehicles operating on smoothly aligned infrastructure (yet also able to ‘drop’ seamlessly on to branches of conventional tracks whenever required).

Emergence of a Systems Mindset

Perhaps it is no coincidence that the global growth in high-speed rail during the past three decades has also been an era when Systems Engineering has become increasingly influential within the sector.

Systems Engineering can be an antidote to complexity.

It requires us to understand the challenges ahead and thoroughly explore all options. It encourages us to look at the relationships between components within a system and ensure all parts will work together in a safe and efficient manner.

Moreover, it is the art of establishing what stakeholders are trying to achieve and only then determining what they need.

It is about understanding the inter-dependencies and conflicts between individual components. And using proven techniques to not only manage sub-system interfaces, but also validate whether the end result has met its requirements.

In an article for the Ricardo website, Jonathan Dorny, Business Development Director for Ricardo Defense (US), explains how techniques developed in the Defence sector – where the concept of Systems Engineering first emerged – can deliver similar efficiencies during the development of major high-speed rail programmes.

Jonathan Dorny, Business Development Director for Ricardo Defense (US), said:

“High Speed Rail shares many characteristics of defence programmes. You will have unproven, high-value hardware that must integrate with yet-to-be developed software. You will have long project timescales and strict procurement rules. And you have a highly competitive supply sector that has invested heavily in their products and is protective of intellectual property.

“It was in this environment that we created a set of optimized Model-based System and Software Engineering (MBSSE) processes and supporting tools.

“They are techniques for improving coordination between stakeholders in a programme, creating checks and balances to reduce complexities and protect future stages from decisions that were mis-informed or too short-term in their thinking.

“MBSSE espouses an incremental build-up, moving from model-based to white box, to grey box and to black box components, to draw out key risk points and introduce integration and qualification activities.

“In a recent project for the US military, the introduction of our white, grey and black box stages reduced integration and test time from multiple weeks to a single day. And whilst these methodologies were developed in the defence world, they are completely transferrable to complex railway projects.”

Read Jonathan’s article: What is best-in-class Systems Engineering for complex safety-critical systems?

This article was originally published by Ricardo Rail.

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