Transportation authorities worldwide are becoming more competitive in technology adoption and resilient in adopting sustainable systems. The high modal share of public transport in Southeast Asian (SEA) countries has led the governments of these countries to improve accessibility and user experience and reduce travel time. This has been enabled through improved automated solutions, efficient train control, and signalling methods, the uptake of high-speed transit systems, and newer digital models. Moreover, the global target to lower net carbon emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 from 2010 levels is being met steadily with green and smart technologies, including electrification of the urban rail and metro systems in SEA. A round-up of the predominant developments that have taken place in the region…

Advanced control and automated technologies

There has been rapid progress towards the automation of metro rail operations across SEA countries. The integration of automatic fare collection (AFC) into the ticketing system is also being done in the sector. It helps reduce operational costs for fleet operators, enables transparency, and reduces the number of free riders. In March 2022, the Philippines’ Department of Transportation awarded Thales a €156 million contract for an AFC system and the supply of integrated communications and supervision systems for the under-construction Manila metro. This will be developed as an integrated and secure communications network that will include radio, multi-service networks, wayside telephone, and Wi-fi systems. Similarly, Line 2 of the Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC)

metro, also known as Saigon Metro, plans to deploy a communications-based train control (CBTC) signalling system to ensure automatic train control, automatic train stop, computer-based interlocking, train detection, speed measurement capability, signal data transmission, etc. It will also feature terrestrial trunked radio (TETRA) technology for the communication system and platform screen doors.TETRA is a modern standard for private mobile radio and public access mobile radio, which offers many advantages including flexibility, security, and ease of use, and offers fast call set-up times.

In another development, Alstom, a rolling stock manufacturer signed a memorandum of understanding with Singaporean rail operator SMRT Trains Limited to innovate in the fields of railway operations and maintenance in November 2022. The agreement involves developing 3D-printed spare parts, robots, and vision computing to enable predictive maintenance automation. It also secured a long-term services support (LTSS) contract from SBS Transit Limited for the Urbalis signalling system on Singapore’s North East Line. This system works on CBTC technology, which ensures standardised supervision and control.

Initiation of high speed rail network

Many high speed rail projects are also being initiated in the region. Indonesia’s first fasttrain rail link between Jakarta and Bandung is a part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. It was supplied with a high speed inspection train in September 2022 and will receive the remaining 10 bullet trains by 2023. It has a length of 142.3 km and will cost an estimated $8 billion. Currently, it is under construction. In another development, Bangkok-Nong Khai high speed rail development in Thailand is also under construction as of July 2022. The network spans a length of 609 km and the trains will run on standardgauge tracks at a maximum speed of 250 km per hour. It is expected to reduce the trip time between Bangkok and Nong Khai. The project is expected to be completed by 2028 at a cost of $12 billion.

Similarly, the Johor Bahru-Singapore rapid transit system link is an upcoming project in Malaysia and Singapore. It is designed to connect the southern Malaysian state of Johor Bahru with Singapore. It will be a standalone light rail transit system with a capacity to serve up to 10,000 commuters per hour in each direction during peak periods. The Boten-Vientiane electrified high speed railway in Lao has already been completed. The line is a part of the Lao section of the China-Laos railway, which was officially opened in December 2021. It runs between the capital Vientiane and the northern town of Boten on the border with Yunnan in China. It is built for a single track that is electrified to China’s class I trunk railway standards, suitable for 160 km per hour for passenger and 120 km per hour for freight trains. As of September 1, 2022, the ChinaLaos railway had made a total of 6.71 million passenger trips.

Integration of green and smart initiatives

There has also been a shift to solar energy in rail and metro projects like the Cross-Island Line Phase 1 of Singapore, to ensure greater sustainability. Singapore’s Land Transport Authority started construction of the project on January 18, 2023, as the eighth and longest fully underground metro line. It links major hubs such as Jurong Lake district, Punggol Digital district, and Changi. The trains will be stationed at the 57 hectare Changi East Depot, where photovoltaic solar panels have been installed to generate electricity for depot operations. Ways to integrate electric energy with coach designs are also being developed. The China Railway Construction Corporation’s Fuxing train is one such example that has been implemented on the JakartaBandung Line. This series of high speed trains are made to operate at a maximum speed of 350 km per hour using electric multiple units (EMUs). EMUs are equipped with intelligent sensing technology and earthquake monitoring systems.

Moreover, they are designed to withstand salt spray and ultraviolet exposure. In another development, HCMC in Vietnam has piloted artificial intelligence-based technology for use across infrastructure sectors. It will be used for urban railway supervision systems, forecasting passenger demand for the metro, setting up traffic forecasting models, and analysing traffic behaviour through geographic information system data sources. Similarly, building information modelling (BIM) is another tool being adopted by large-scale rail projects now. The Jurong Region Line in Singapore is using BIM to enable a more efficient construction process, which can reduce the carbon footprint of the project. BIM could also be used to plan the expansion of rail networks, optimise cable routings, and position equipment like cameras and speakers in train stations.

The way forward

The emergence of modern technologies, sustainable initiatives, and public transit upgradation will offer opportunities to construction contractors, technology providers, and equipment suppliers in the sector. However, many transportation solutions are expensive, leading to the stalling of projects as happened in the case of the HCMC metro. Besides, there are other issues that dampen the enthusiasm to adopt newer technologies such as the technical inadequacies in the case of the Kelana Jaya light rail transit line in Malaysia and inefficient operations due to the lack of an integrated ticketing system in Bangkok. Regulatory authorities will need to ensure strict compliance with technology standards while introducing innovative digital solutions to resolve such challenges. „