Technology Drives Public-Transit Efficiencies

Tammy Shipps | April 21, 2014

26 March 2014

Neil Roberts, Yarra Trams


An Australian tram operation uses a centralized data system to improve maintenance and performance.


Public transportation systems depend on a complex combination of equipment to function, from wheels and axles to power lines and tracks. The infrastructure that makes a transportation system run must be efficiently maintained to prevent service delays and ensure that passengers arrive at their destinations safely and on time.

What if trams and trains could tell operators that a wheel needed to be fixed before it broke, or that a particular route was delayed because of bad weather? Advances in technology are unlocking this type of insight into the health and efficiency of public transit systems, enabling operators to improve maintenance efficiency, reduce downtime and better meet passenger demands.

As the Director of Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) for KDR Victoria, operator of the Yarra Trams system in Melbourne, Australia, my job is not just about making sure that our servers run well and our email functions properly. My team and I implement technology to enhance the passenger experience and operational effectiveness of the largest operating tram network in the world. Thanks to technology, our trams can now alert a maintenance team when and where a repair needs to be made, or tell passengers via the free tramTRACKER smartphone application when the next tram will arrive at their stop.

Our iconic tram system has been in operation for over 100 years. Today, it encompasses more than 91,000 pieces of equipment, including 250 kilometers of double tracks, eight different classes of tram, 500 kilometers of power lines, wheels, axles, bogies and much more. Maintaining this infrastructure is a complicated web of overlapping schedules, necessary repairs and the very different upkeep concerns of new and old equipment.

Service disruptions can be caused by anything from equipment failures, to bad weather, to heavy vehicle and pedestrian traffic. Our safe, efficient transport of nearly 200 million passengers annually calls for a rapid response to such disruptions, along with effective preventive and predictive asset-management practices and frequent customer communications.


The main operations center of Melbourne’s Yarra Trams relies on smarter technology to enhance the passenger experience and operational effectiveness of the largest operating tram network in the world.

Details in the data
To keep everything running smoothly, we’ve implemented a technology system that incorporates data, smarter infrastructure software and analytics and both mobile and cloud computing. This system turns 91,000 different pieces of equipment—from trams to power lines and tracks—into 91,000 living, talking data points, some with data-transmitting sensors. The data, which is not only collected through sensors but also via employee and passenger reports, unlocks the visibility of vital signs to help us understand the health and efficiency of our network.

Data collected about tram service and functions is hosted on one centralized system—IBM’s Maximo—and is accessible by certain employees to encourage cross-organization collaboration. Using IBM Smarter Infrastructure software, different functions can analyze the data to garner information about improving response to maintenance issues, preventing service delays and re-routing trams. Insight gathered from the software is also used to send work-order alerts to maintenance teams.

Maintenance workers remotely access work orders and receive up-to-date asset information on mobile tablets, helping to improve repair management and respond quicker to potential disruptions. After a work order is completed, maintenance crews use the tablets to log how much time was spent on a repair and details about any follow-up that may be necessary. Repair logs are then used to identify trends and triggers that cause delays that can be avoided with predictive maintenance.

Trends or patterns in tram and infrastructure repair history are identified through data analysis and used as a guide for scheduling predictive maintenance, which minimizes service downtime by enabling maintenance teams to fix equipment before it breaks.


Embedded in the tracks, smart sensors like these provide a range of critical operational data, including information on needed tram maintenance.

Responding to an out-of-shape wheel: An automated wheel-measurement machine detects a tram wheel that may have become out of shape after wearing over time on tram tracks. Information about the impending repair need is used to alert maintenance crews, who complete the work and can record all details on a mobile tablet. The repair log is compared to previous wheel repair logs and used to schedule preventative maintenance.

Keeping trams running rain or shine: Melbourne has an annual rainfall of more than 24 inches, and it is common for some streets and tracks to flood when it rains. Collected data has indicated problem-prone areas, enabling maintenance crews to take precautions to prevent flooded tracks. Additionally, if tracks do flood, response crews are quickly alerted via mobile devices, making a quick response possible before service is delayed.

Allocating equipment to accommodate heavy passenger traffic for special events: When events like the Australian Open tennis tournament are held, we allocate trams to specific areas where heavy passenger traffic is expected. Passengers are alerted about service changes via tramTRACKER.

Deploying the technology system has been a gradual, ongoing process that has involved retrofitting older trams, equipment and power substations with sensors, as well as building and installing new equipment, such as our E-Class tram. The E-Class trams are equipped with Wi-Fi to enable information about tram health and efficiency to be downloaded when a tram returns to the depot. The next-generation E-Class tram began carrying passengers in November 2013.

The new technology system has also allowed our entire organization to transition from a paper-based asset-management system to IBM Smarter Infrastructure software. The enterprise-wide initiative has enabled us to consistently exceed our key performance measurements around tram service and punctuality. In October 2013, service delivery was 99.11% and tram punctuality 82.70% (against targets of 98% and 77% respectively). That was a great result given that 80% of the network shares road space with motor vehicles.

The future of public transportation is wide open with opportunities to apply technology in innovative ways to improve efficiency and reliability, in turn boosting passenger usage and stakeholder confidence. The way Yarra Trams uses sensors, data, analytics, cloud and mobile technology today is just the foundation. We look forward to evolving our transit system to benefit from what technology makes possible. MT&AP





Tammy Shipps

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