By Billy D’Arcy, Chief Executive Officer, BAI Communications UK

Following London Mayor Sadiq Kahn’s commitment to roll out 4G services on the Tube by 2019, I’ve launched a series of five blogs exploring the key challenges BAI has experienced installing similar services in cities like New York, Toronto and Hong Kong. Where part one focused on the issue of air quality, today I’ll be taking a look at how large-scale infrastructure projects can be completed without any disruption of train timetables.

Adapting to 24-hour transport

Underground metros are busy places – the London Underground, for instance, sees an annual ridership of 1.379 billion passengers and five million journeys every day. Many cities operate train services that stop for just a few hours a night, and some even run 24/7. In Hong Kong, there are lines that close at 1:00am before resuming service as early as 3:30am, while last year in London, 24-hour tubes were introduced on five lines on Friday and Saturday nights.

Popular with passengers, this provision of almost constant service presents transport authorities with a challenge – how can they find the time to conduct essential maintenance without disrupting the timetable? Furthermore, how do they integrate the new technologies required to modernise their offering?

Plans change, deal with it

This issue is especially pronounced when it comes to the telecoms equipment used to provide ubiquitous high-speed connectivity. Due to the sensitivity and complexity of the technologies used, extra care must be taken during installation to ensure they deliver the required level of service while also resisting the heat, damp and dust found in hostile underground environments.

Getting this right relies on two things – flexibility and preparation. Work must be scheduled whenever there are breaks in service, typically over weekends or overnight. What’s more, a transport authority’s technology partner must be flexible enough to reschedule planned works due to changing circumstance.

For example, on occasion, work scheduled to take place in one location will need to be postponed – having contingency plans in place is vital to quickly relocate teams to another site where work can continue. Putting in this kind of preparation during planning means the overall project continues to progress, even when the unforeseen happens.

Thinking out of the box, in the tunnel

The ability to innovate is also incredibly important to the success of this type of project. During BAI’s work on Hong Kong’s metro communications network, the height and large size of tunnels presented challenges that had the potential to push back completion. In this instance, safety requirements prohibited the use of conventional ladders, requiring scaffolding instead – considerably more time-consuming to set up and move.

Keen to avoid delay, we decided to look into alternative approaches to the problem. After a short period researching the options, we were able to source a new solution that was lightweight, easy to transport, and, most importantly, saved at least 30 percent of the time needed to use traditional scaffolding.

The importance of planning

Anyone who’s worked in the transport sector knows that service disruption is incredibly unpopular with passengers. As a result, it’s vital authorities work with experienced technology partners that can adjust to changing circumstances and innovate in the face of adversity, guaranteeing the smooth deployment of new solutions.

That said, it’s important to remember that flexibility is more than just being agreeable to change, and innovation is more than just coming up with new ideas. The ability to roll with the punches and think on your feet is rooted in planning and preparation. It’s just like the old adage says, by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail – this is especially apt in the world of underground communications.