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Rail Transportation

An Approach to Standardizing Technical Documents in Railways

With the growth of advanced technology in high-speed trains, automated signaling systems, and a heightened focus on safety and cost optimization, the need for standardization in the railway sector has become more critical than ever. In my previous blog on this topic, I had touched upon the key benefits of technical documentation, the impact that a lack of structured and well-defined process could have on the rail industry, and the steps that could be taken to standardize the technical documentation.

Based on my experience of over 30 years in the aerospace and rail industry, I can safely say that there is a significant scope for standardization of technical documents in the railway industry. The standardization can start from the initial requirements stage, and follow through until the final stage of product delivery. The entire process comprising of the requirements stage, input stage, tools, development stage, quality check, and output stage can benefit from standardization. Let us take a closer look at what can actually be standardized:

  • The template for gathering requirements concerning the various technical documents
  • The inputs required from the OEMs for initiation of the documentation process
  • The tools used for authoring and their associated DTD software
  • The design template of the documents which includes elements such as the margins, paragraph formats, font sizes, use of sub-paras and their quantity, numbering style amongst various others
  • The overall structure of the document with system-wise content
  • The language specifications which includes the precise number of sentences in a paragraph, words in a sentence, grammar usage and many others
  • The format of illustrations in terms of the use of locators in the illustrations, preparation of the isometric view, and use of layers to prepare an illustration
  • The quality checking procedures using the standard checklists

But the real question here is how can we achieve standardization for technical documentation in the rail industry? Taking a cue from the aerospace industry that has already implemented S1000D to standardize its processes, here is how we can accomplish the same in railways:

A Representative Forum: An association consisting of major rail OEMs and service/solutions providers is suggested to be formed that can jointly discuss and develop standards for technical documents in the railway industry at a global level. This would not only ensure the development of cohesive and regulated standards that can be executed across the industry for a seamless and unified user experience, but would also help cater to the global requirements, while upholding the focus on safety and efficiency. This forum would provide access to the industry’s best practices and create avenues for significant research and development activities.

Having said that, bringing all the OEMs together on a single platform to create global standards will be no mean feat. In addition, factors such as initial cost management, investment of time and effort, and creating the impetus for this requirement will also pose challenges to this approach for the creation of a global body.

A mixed representation of OEMs along with their tier 1 and tier 2 suppliers, and the various service/ solutions providers is recommended to be a part of this forum. From my perspective, a technical service/solutions provider having extensive knowledge and experience of working with various OEMs in the rail industry would be most suitable to take an active role and leadership in the creation of such a forum. Aimed at developing a global industry standard, the technical service/solutions provider can also play a key integrator role across the various stakeholders in the industry. Now maybe the right time for the rail industry to kick off its own lobbying body similar to the ATA (Air Transport Association of America).

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By Chinmay Das | May 4th, 2018

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