Trains keep a' rollin' with interoperable signaling software

A system that can integrate with multiple vendors' products is at the heart of a new European rail signaling system.

Transportation industry systems are carefully built to some of the most rigorous standards there are. Yet the systems must be updated. In areas like railway signaling, change is underway as new open standards and multi-country cross-border signaling systems come online.

The need for change and the need for rigor are depicted in the work of Invensys Rail Dimetronic, a Madrid, Spain-based rail signaling company, which worked with IBM Rational and Telelogic tools to manage the ongoing software development of a signaling system with over one million lines of code.

A center piece of the effort is Dimetronic's work on the FUTUR ERTMS signaling system. The system is meant to be open, working with other suppliers' ERTMS equipment, while adhering to European Train Control System (ETCS) specifications that promote railway safety – a daunting task in light of the fact that trains on these lines will travel as fast 200 mph. IBM and Dimetronic claim to be meeting higher-levels of safety while at the same time reducing costs and cutting time-to-market for products by 40%.

Dimetronic must manage its software efforts so that systems software elements, with appropriate local customizations, can be re-used in various parts of the world, said Francisco Lozano, ERTMS Program Manager, Invensys Rail Dimetronic.

"We are dedicated to defining the generic solutions for different markets. One may be used in Europe and another in Australia. But the core is the same," he said.

That requires a sophisticated software development effort.

"We follow the whole life cycle from requirements to testing and validation and commissioning of the first implementation. A major goal is to ensure that whatever we develop can operate with equipment provided by other suppliers. Interoperability is major goal of this system. It is an open standards effort," said Lozano.

Some of the software lifecycle suite replaces what were previously manual efforts. The system is characterized by a very high degree of code generation.

"We are using IBM tools from requirements to testing. We are using [IBM Telelogic] Doors for ensuring the usability. With [Rational] Rhapsody we cover the range from analysis and design to generation of code. We also use [Rational] Synergy and [Rational] Change for configuration control, because we have a core that has to be customized for different applications," said Lozano. "Sometimes we have to handle different versions [of code] at the same time."

Safety compliance requires controlled handling of bugs. Traceability and process are keys. "Any error that may arise in the code has to occur in a controlled manner," said Lozano, who indicated that the rail safety standards can be seen as more strict than those used for nuclear power plants.

The Dimetronic effort is an example of an ongoing trend which sees larger ''systems-of-systems'' and greater reliance on software in product building, according to Dominic Tavassoli, director, Industry and Systems Marketing, IBM Rational.

"Systems-of-systems is one of the biggest shifts we are seeing today," he said. "Companies wake up one day and realize they've become software companies. They include a lot of software in their solutions."

Dimetronic's challenge is like other companies' challenges to produce quality software fast, he said. "They had to evolve fast. They had to set up the right test suites to test requirements," he continued. Moreover, he added, they especially needed traceability to successfully comply with ERTMS standards.

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