Transportation: A moving target of opportunity

The transportation market is one of the most diverse verticals, with numerous mass transits including rail, seaports, ground transportation, airways and the pipeline system, a mode of transportation for natural services. Each requires different technologies that adhere to addressing its issues and expectations, a challenge in itself as each of these five modes can be broken down further to include smaller specialized areas that have to be monitored and secured against potential security threats. Coastal ports that serve as the country's mode of waterway transportation cover large areas and often times include smaller ports, terminals and other facilities within. Ground transportation offers opportunities for systems integrator who offer solutions for Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) while some of the smaller jobs consist of deploying mobile DVRs to provide real-time surveillance of activity on public buses and shuttles. In addition, technologies in each of these modes is only becoming more robust, with: text-to-speech audio announcements sent directly to a public address system over an IP network; video and audio verification becoming more prevalent on rail; a number of major airports adopting intermodal transportation hubs and seaports interfacing radar and sonar technologies with surveillance systems.

Know the pain points

Transportation holds opportunities for systems integrators but one of the challenges for those who want to stay ahead will be to keep up with current technologies and fine-tune their approach to a specific area of transportation and its needs. End-users are looking for ways to integrate different technologies under one system to eliminate redundancy. Yet, an even bigger picture for leading systems integrators in the transportation space is that cities across the country are starting to look at ways to interface the different transportation modes together with seamless communication systems. For example, when a train arrives five minutes late, the operator can send that message back to the central command center and that message gets out across the board, to rail and buses and whatever other transportation modes are interconnected.

One of the biggest challenges for systems integrators is the glacial pace it takes for new technology solutions in transportation to be implemented. This vertical market changes at a slow rate, mostly because of the amount of money it takes to outfit an entire transportation system for a metropolitan area. In addition, with state agencies, rail administrations and other transportation stakeholders, there are issues such as procurement and securing the fund, that may take years before technology on a project is actually implemented. Baran Design Associates, Bergenfield, N.J., which has worked in conjunction with the New Jersey Transit for the past 10 years, knows all too well the intricacies involved at this level.

"The New Jersey Transit is a very large state conglomeration of agencies-they have separate people for rail, bus, for design and data-so when you sit down with them, you are already at a disadvantage because there is a certain amount of internal bureaucracy that has a tendency to slow things down," said Mark Ramsay, president of Baran Design Associates. "Everyone has their own area to defend and their own things that they want to push forward. We know that the design and data people are chomping at the bit, ready to change things, but the reality is that it takes a lot of money, time and effort to get a project going," he explained.

Bureaucracy and funding

Another overriding factor in visible funding for these transportation modes is identifying which modes are public and which are private. The funding and technology deployment in these areas will also differ because the codes and regulations between public and private sectors differ.

For the U.S. Department of Transportation, two areas that seem to be driving the most cost are surface and air transportation. According to the Department's fiscal year 2009 summary, surface transportation program costs represent the largest investment at 76.4 percent of the Department's net cost of operations, while air transportation is the next largest investment, at 21.6 percent.

There's no question that there is a need for infrastructure improvement with available multi-billion dollar programs, according to Richard Martinko, director of the Intermodal Transportation Institute, University of Toledo.

"The problem is those jobs instantly created by the technology sector are not as many and not as visible as the kind of surface transportation improvement projects that you see," he explained. "I think part of what the government wants to do is to find transportation that needs to be improved and that creates a lot of jobs quickly. That's why you see surface transportation getting the majority of the funding. A lot of the stuff in the technology area has to be researched and well-thought-out and it is expensive and it's worthwhile but you don't see anything immediate happening," Martinko continued.

Integrators address the challenges

Systems integrators know that it is key to find their specialty, whether it is in vertical markets such as transportation, enterprise or education, or whether it is finding their niche in one of the five transportation modes. For systems integrator Adesta Group, Omaha, Neb., having such resources as a project development team made up of engineers, estimators, technical writers and formatters and vertical account management provides them with an efficient way to target each of the five transportation modes.

Issues that systems integrators are also faced with in the pipeline transportation mode include environmental issues, with hazardous liquid spills occurring in high consequence areas. But there is another challenge that is less spoken of, according to Jayson Swope, director of Engineering, Adesta.

"And that is the expectation of the customer," he explained. "Not all customers understand the complexity of what it is they are asking to have built. They might say that they want this integrated security solution but I'm not sure they understand how difficult it is to build these systems and also how difficult it may be to support it and keep it running at its proper condition."

Freeways, highways, roadways-technologies for ITS, are only getting more intuitive as transportation authorities work to solve such issues as congestion and managing traffic flow. And, with President Barack Obama's recent initiative to put $50 billion in spending in the hands of the nation's roads, airport runways and railroads, construction workers may find themselves back to work rebuilding aging infrastructures.

Technologies implemented include roadway information sensors and microwave detectors that meter the volume and speed of traffic. This method follows a predictive modeling approach to project what the delay might be on the road. Other technologies present in this space may include surveillance cameras; license plate recognition; and video management. But part of the biggest issue right now is the cost in upgrading the surface transportation system, according to Martinko.

"Figuring out how to work around that congestion is critical," he explained. "Surface transportation is pretty congested in many parts of the country and that is why rail and water are getting a more robust look. The cost of fuel and surface transportation is probably the most expensive mode to move product," Martinko continued.

In the ground transportation space, wireless video is becoming a viable opportunity with small, low- power, DVD devices that can record video and download it for viewing.

But for Adesta, the opportunities in the ITS space offer more possibility of a bundling of a variety of solutions.

Add value for the user

"A lot of times when you build an infrastructure along the roadways, it allows for building a larger infrastructure for the end-user which allows them to resell some of that capacity," explained Swope. "For example, if you put in two fiber cables, they use one and they can sell the other to carriers looking for capacity, so they can offset some of their costs," he said.

Wireless technology on rail and across other transportation networks is not a new concept. And while rail does boast a lot of opportunity for wireless devices, the reality is that the network of fiber cables is not going anywhere, anytime soon.

"Wireless is a supplemental technology," explained Swope. "I don't think you're ever going to see wireless replace fiber optic communications. There's not enough RF capacity to replace what you can do with fiber-based capacity."
One of the issues with wireless is getting signals in a robust manner, because of the environment.
"Wireless signal is notorious for being affected by a lot of different environmental factors such as metal in areas, noise, or other obstructions; especially when you're talking about a moving vehicle, clear line of sight is extremely important," explained Ariana Drivdahl, product marketing manager, Industrial Wireless, Moxa Americas Inc., Brea, Calif.

"If you don't have line of sight, the integrator will have to know what types of factors can affect a wireless signal and what types of antennas they can use to optimize the wireless signal. They need to do site surveys of the area to ensure there is continuous wireless coverage whenever the train operator requires it."

The solution is a hybrid approach of both wireless and fiber technologies.

"On the trackside networks, we're seeing a high predominance of fiber being run along the backbone but that fiber can't communicate by itself back to the train so you need a wireless interface between the fiber and the train," continued Drivdahl. In regards to integrating it within the different train systems, it depends on the current communications infrastructure. "Nowadays, most modern systems are going to be based on TCP-IP and that is the default for Ethernet and wireless communications," said Drivdahl. "So if you have a system that is based primarily on TCP-IP, it's going to essentially be a rip-and-replace install, where it's going to be much simpler because there is no protocol conversion that needs to go on in order for that communication to take place. You essentially just plug them in, configure them so they are talking properly to each other and in the most simplistic terms, you're basically up and running."

Other things to consider in rail include: extremely high and low temperatures; higher shock and vibration than on traditional transportation networks; and a lot of extra voltage fluctuations.

Since its inception over 100 years ago, the Port of Freeport located in south Texas became one of the fastest growing ports on the Gulf coast. This 400-foot wide, 45-feet deep channel ensures a fast turnaround for many cargo ships.

In typical port applications, it is common to find the radar system acts independently from the video surveillance system, having operators respond to incoming vessels by manually prompting cameras deemed closest to validate the vessel in question.

"The radar application is key for ports because you can draw boundary areas or a virtual fence around the sections of port that require more security," said Steve Rogers, vice president and managing partner, LANAIR Group, Los Angeles. "The Port of Freeport sees a lot of traffic from commercial fisherman and if the port was alerted on every one of those commercial fish boats that went through the port, it would become useless information very quickly," Rogers explained.

Looking to incorporate a more advanced IP system that would allow integration with the port's vessel-radar system, Port Freeport worked with LANAIR to install Genetec's Omnicast IP video surveillance solution.

"One of the biggest challenges was in the distance and in the lack of physical infrastructure in place," explained Rogers. "A lot of these locations are very remote and there is not a lot of hardline or fiber infrastructure. We installed a lot of wireless connectivity and also ensured the equipment could handle the weather in Freeport."

In addition to the custom codes for the Omnicast and radar system integration, written by LANAIR, 40 Pelco cameras were placed throughout the land and water side of the port and additional wirelessly-connected cameras were installed on radar towers miles away. Using Omnicast's gateway server, LANAIR assisted Port Freeport in firewalling to prevent intrusion into the closed and secure network where the system is running and used the Web client to redistribute video feeds out to end-users outside the port so they could access the cameras via a browser.

"As ports advance in their security infrastructure, they realize they have a lot of disparate systems that are difficult to manage and train folks on all these different systems, so they would rather have a unified front-end for each of their operators to use," explained Rogers. "In ports, there is still a push for more situational awareness and there will be another big push on TWIC. Geospatial Information Systems (GIS) and BlueForce asset awareness tracking applications are also going to play more of a role in security applications."

Intermodal hubs come on strong

'Intermodal hubs' is the new buzzword in airway transportation as airports serve as the location of choice for these central station 'hubs' where people go for a variety of choices in ground transportation. But while some may see such centers as the next logical step in tying these transportation modes together, others are skeptical as to its presence in airports, questioning whether airports have the funding or interest to take on such massive projects or the capabilities to integrate all these different solutions. Still, deployments of these hubs in California, Oregon, Florida are evidence that the need for such solutions exists.

"Too many times in the past, the modes of transportation systems have been siloed," explained Martinko. "Water improved their structure, airports had their projects, surface transportation had their piece, but you have to connect those modes, especially between rail and water as they are internal to a city or a county."
Other similar technologies being implemented in airports include video surveillance (cameras at a security checkpoint), access control, LCD video monitors and software that provided situational management.

"Any of these systems in a seaport or in an airport are going to be very large camera systems, and once you go to an IP-based system, it makes it much easier and cost-effective for an airport to add cameras in specific areas where they might need them," explained Tony Olan, account executive, Johnson Controls, Charlotte, N.C.

Transit opportunities for the future

Although the transportation market can be tough to navigate, their future is definitely based on new technologies and the systems integrator who is up on them can help. The age of siloed systems is over as the transportation market begins to embrace a true intermodal approach. Systems integrators need to understand state and federal processes and polish their approach and knowledge of technologies to provide end-users with suitable integrated solutions.


A fifth mode of transportation may be overlooked. When we think of transportation, we think of the four main modes that we typically are accustomed to-water, air, rail and ground transportation. The pipeline system makes up the last piece to the puzzle. Pipelines are the mode of transportation for natural services including oil, ethanol and other material. This mode requires security to forewarn and prevent against certain environmental risks including hazardous spills.