“The ways in which passengers use transportation networks (and their expectations) are rapidly developing, particularly in a city like Toronto. Everyone is busy and using the transit system to get somewhere else, and while doing so they want to stay informed, be productive and be entertained.”
Over the last decade, the rail and metro industry has gone through an unprecedented period of change and a rapid drive towards the digitalisation of the industry. This has been underpinned by large scale deployments of transit communications networks. Operators need to get infrastructure in place without disrupting existing operations and build in the facility to keep pace with technological advancements. In addition, operators and network providers need to work together to deliver both on operational safety and efficiency requirements, taking into consideration the rapidly evolving demands of passengers who expect 24/7 connectivity. Today we talk to Ken Ranger, CEO of BAI Communications Canada, about how he and his team approach these challenges and his views on the best options for operators.
SmartRail World (SW): What had led you to your position at BAI Communications?
Ken Ranger (KR): I have had a long and varied career in the telecommunications industry working for organisations such as AT&T and Genivar (now WSP). Most of this time was spent on designing and building large scale communications networks across North America. It was very rewarding, but when the opportunity came up to join BAI Communications, I saw a great deal of appeal in having the opportunity to work on localised networks with the power to have a genuine impact for a local community, my neighbours. Transit communications networks are the lifeblood of the system, connecting cities and ensuring safe, fast, efficient and value-added travel.
SW: It’s a busy role, but could you talk us through what a typical day looks like?
KR: I enjoy the fact that my role as CEO is extremely diverse. Typically, I will spend a mix of time across internal team coordination and managing external stakeholders (including liaising with governmental officials to ensure that we’re delivering as per their expectations and the expectations of the transit operator). Of course, I’ll also spend a great deal of time on the technical side and getting out on-site to check with the team building and installing the infrastructure. Finally, I need to set aside time to keep track of industry news and technological developments. There’s always something in the news regarding subway systems and it’s vital that I stay on top of this.
SW: Your home city of Toronto, is gaining a burgeoning global reputation for digital leadership, what role does its transport network play in this?
KR: I really believe that a city’s transit network plays a vital role in connecting daily life in the city. One good example is in Toronto; the subway connects to several universities, and while it is moving people, it is also connecting the universities digitally as well.
Beyond that, I think the ways in which passengers use transportation networks (and their expectations) are rapidly developing, particularly in a city like Toronto. Everyone is busy and using the transit system to get somewhere else, and while doing so they want to stay informed, be productive and be entertained. The Toronto subway connects people to places, but also gives them a deeper level of connectivity across voice and data, whether it’s for work or play.
SW: In a world of constant digital change, what practical steps can rail and metro operators take to keep pace with the demands of their passengers?
KR: In a world of increasing connectivity, we are seeing similar trends in the transit industry. Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) is now a reality, so rail and metro operators need to build in plans to connect to different modes of transportation. With large portions of rail and subway services running below ground, it is critical that transportation operators have the connectivity in place to connect with traffic above ground; both so that operations can connect with other modes of transport and so passengers can stay in touch with others (that they may be going to meet). Both operators and passengers need that information at their fingertips.
There are some key challenges, particularly with older systems, that operators need to be aware of. Most of these systems were originally built in an era before personal communications and mobile networks were in existence. Therefore, space has not been allocated for network infrastructure. So there is a big time and cost challenge around finding the space to install infrastructure and getting the access needed to deliver these projects without disrupting operations of the subway system.
In order to keep pace, operators need to partner with organisations that understand both sides of the telecommunications and rail industry. This is where BAI Communications has a lot of expertise and provides a lot of value for clients. We get infrastructure installed cleanly and efficiently and then we are able to manage and update the system remotely; minimising further disruption to subway operations.
SW: With transportation telecommunications an ever-evolving industry, what might a journey on a metro or railway that has worked with BAI look like in a decade?
KR: Whatever mobile device(s) we are carrying will be able to fulfil all our requirements. Whether that’s dynamically routing and updating a journey or providing entertainment, it’ll all be at our fingertips. And whatever vehicle you’re in will also be connected, allowing for telemetry offloading, passenger information systems, diagnostics and data. So from an operational perspective and a passenger experience perspective, connectivity will have evolved to cover every need, and all of this will be provided wirelessly.
SW: Finally, then, we always like to round off the interview with a question about a favourite rail journey. Where’s yours?
KR: In my youth I travelled by train through the Rocky Mountains of Canada. While these journeys evoke good memories, I would look to Asia for my favourite journey. I travelled on the Seoul Metro in Korea, and was impressed by how modern, vast and efficient it was. As a telecommunications professional I had a great deal of respect for the level of connectivity – for example, to be able to look up and see where you were underground. Another impressive rail experience I had in the late 90s was travelling at 320km on a Japanese bullet train. I remember being amazed that my tea on the table was not moving!
SW: Thanks very much, Ken.