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Swiss railway SBB monitors mobile radio infrastructure in 3-D with Google Earth Enterprise

Posted by Kurt Metzger, Project Manager, Swiss railway SBB Infrastructure division

Editors note: Today’s guest blogger is Kurt Metzger, Project Manager within the Swiss railway SBB Infrastructure division. His team needed a geo-information system for documenting and monitoring the internal GSM-R platform to visualize infrastructure data in 3-D.

In a single year, 357 million travelers catch their trains at more than 800 train stations run by the SBB, the largest travel and transportation company in Switzerland. To make sure that our travelers reach their destinations safely and on time, a major part of our strategy is the digital Global System of Mobile Communication-Rail platform (GSM-R). This technology covers all mobile voice and data services for rail communication. But to control the functionality of such a mobile communication system, we need technical configuration information and infrastructure data, which can best be visualized using a geographic information system (GIS) like Google Earth Enterprise.

The GIS solutions we used previously had one critical disadvantage: they didn’t support 3-D components, so any attempt to visualize the data was unsatisfactory and only two-dimensional. For example, we could not represent radio antenna geometries such as height, elevation and mast lengths. We needed a solution that would allow a high quality 3-D visualization that was clear to understand and easy to use for everyone.

We found Google Earth Enterprise to meet these requirements, and we’re using it as part of our solution for documenting and monitoring SBB’s own GSM-R network. For example, Google Earth Enterprise draws specific parameters from our existing database, generates geographical 3-D objects dynamically, and visualizes them on the Google Earth Globe. Google Earth Enterprise also simplifies our interdepartmental cooperation and our reporting to supervisory authorities. As it is intuitive to use, it provides us with valuable support in the areas of network operation and optimization, rollouts and general network upgrades.

Using Google Earth, our team can literally fly over the GSM-R infrastructure as if we’re in a plane. Thanks to this, I have the ability to observe each GSM-R location’s masts and antenna systems from every perspective. Because this is all done remotely from my computer, I don’t have to set up a security measure in advance – like closing the tracks – as is usual in the railway business.

We at SBB are more than happy with our choice to adopt Google Earth Enterprise. Over the long term, we are seeing a considerable savings in time and are able to significantly improve the quality of our data and thus our decisions, too.