Centre of Excellence in Digital Systems

Delivering a step change in rail transport through digital technology


The Digital Systems Innovation Centre (DSIC) at the University of Birmingham will bring together existing academic and industry capabilities. It will innovate in new areas, supporting transformational change in rail technology across the globe.

The Centre will build on the expertise of the Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education (BCRRE) and the UK’s industrial base to deliver a step change in rail systems capability. It will secure a world-leading position in the sector and deliver jobs, growth and inward investment nationally and internationally.

What will the Centre do?

The Centre will focus on all aspects of Digital Railway Innovation, providing a system-wide approach to transforming research, development and innovation.

Initial areas of technological focus will include:

What will you see when you step inside and
connect with the Centre?

The exact form and function of the Centre will be shaped by the industry partners. Engagement with industry to date has highlighted particular needs and at least four types of activity or space within the Centre are currently anticipated:

  1. a) An entrance hall with technology demonstrators and visualisations showing the digital definition of the UK network at different scales, as well as seminar and meeting rooms.
  2. b) Multi-disciplinary project labs addressing the big challenges with clients sharing problems and researchers defining potential conceptual solutions (some open and collaborative, some behind confidential walls).
  3. c) Project labs developing systems to test in both virtual and real environments, and providing verification and validation.
  4. d) ‘Route to market’ activity which is more process based, but uses outputs from (c) to ensure they make it into the real world through procurement/contracts/regulatory routes providing the opportunity to explore innovative ways of addressing these challenges.

The Centre will house openly available facilities and also have the ability to host bespoke research for specific sponsors that enable the railway and its interactions to be accurately represented. Connected models, simulators, assets and humans ‘in the loop’ will enable system, sub system and component levels to be developed, integrated and optimised for performance, capacity, resilience, sustainability, usability (customer satisfaction) and cost. This includes optimisation of existing network and asset base management. It also comprises the technical and business evaluation of introducing technology change, and the staging plans to enable it to be implemented seamlessly.

Industry collaborators will be able to develop and integrate transformational new technologies much more quickly. There will be a greater level of assurance to reduce the costs and risks of the change, and to ensure the greatest improvement impact.

Benefits of collaboration

The Centre presents an opportunity for:

  • Accelerating the development of products, processes and systems through the TRL scale in a ‘safe’ virtual environment.
  • De-risking investment in, and development of, new complex systems delivering verified and better performing outcomes.
  • Quickly and confidently testing and verifying business cases.
  • Working closely with client and other suppliers on new products and systems in a collaborative work space.
  • Leveraging knowledge and experience from the best research from around the world. Through co-locating a critical mass of research and industry partners with access to a unique set of advanced technical facilities, insight will be gained into the next generation of technologies and the ‘innovation landscape’ for exploiting these digital technologies in rail.
  • Developing new skills and undertaking training on the exploitation of digital rail systems.

Our expertise

Research and knowledge transfer is crucial to improve the speed, safety, resilience, sustainability, operations and management of railways across the system.

Using expertise at BCRRE, we seek to translate our findings into tangible improvements and impacts on railways. Our integrated systems approach provides solutions to the railway’s grand challenges as well as at component level and sub-system level.

In addition, the Centre will provide a focus for enabling connections into centres of excellence for technologies being developed and applied in other sectors e.g. driverless, autonomous vehicles, robotics, smart grids, the internet of things, smart cities, etc.

Future Railway Operations and Control

BCRRE has an international reputation for developing advanced railway traffic management systems to make better use of existing rolling stock and infrastructure, and to manage disruptions. Our work in this area is helping to define the next generation of railway traffic management and control systems; the Centre will enhance this capability and accelerate its deployment.

Our capability includes:

  • Railway simulator development: macroscopic and microscopic railway simulator development for railway research, including a comprehensive microscopic simulator that analyses and evaluates different scales of railway networks with different signalling systems, rolling stock, operational rules and timetables. It has capabilities to integrate with other tools;
  • Key research for railway traffic management: advanced algorithm development for railway traffic management; research on application of Driver Advisory Systems; simulation, testing and evaluation for railway traffic management systems; and research on standards of next generation railway traffic management;
  • Railway system optimisation: energy saving, and railway wireless data communication system modelling and optimisation; and
  • Simulation and testing lab for railway systems: railway system design validation and verification, and hardware-in-the-loop testing.

Data integration and cyber security

BCRRE investigates fundamental questions about the use of electronic information in the transport domain, from the collection and structured storage of raw data, through efficient processing and algorithms, to the delivery of the appropriate information to staff in a timely manner. Current projects include work on large database design; open data; data exchange and modelling; cyber security; and asset management.

Smart Monitoring and Autonomous Systems

BCRRE’s condition monitoring work focuses on developing and configuring instrumentation and processing systems that can be used to measure, track and predict the health of various railway subsystems. Such systems improve the operational reliability of the railway, or support business cases for variations in existing maintenance procedures. The group operates over a number of Technology Readiness Levels, from producing systems to support fundamental understanding of a railway subsystem, up to working with companies to develop research into commercial products or applications. The group has worked with major organisations within train operating companies and infrastructure. It has received prestigious awards for engineering innovation at a national level for work using in-service instrumentation to target maintenance on a third rail network. Algorithms developed at Birmingham are also used within Network Rail’s Intelligent Infrastructure programme, which continuously monitor the health of over 5,000 sets of points.

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