Articles by Lesley Brown

Based in Paris, Lesley Brown is a journalist specialised in (and passionate about) rail, urban transport, and new mobility services. She writes for major companies about their latest products and innovations.

  • September 2018

    Towards railway-specific, bearer independent communication

    Towards railway-specific, bearer independent communication

    Over recent years, the railways have realised that placing sole reliance on a single radio platform for their voice and data needs is not the best of approaches.

    Essentially because it creates dependency on one single technology, one single platform, and results in deeply integrated yet inflexible services. Railway-specific, bearer independent communication offers an appealing alternative already adopted by the Finnish Transport Agency (FTA).

  • July 2018

    STEVO Electric
    testing you can count on

    Testing you can count on

    DC-high speed circuit breakers (DC-HSCB) have been used on the railways since their electrification at the end of the 19th century. To ensure these vital devices perform effectively, the BALTO line of testing equipment by STEVO Electric is at your service.

    Why is it so important to test DC-HSCBs? “To protect passengers in trains, rail staff and assets,” said Wim D’Hooghe, Head of Global Sales, STEVO Electric.

    “There have been cases where the current on lines has increased, due to faulty circuit breakers, leading to metal melting in the trains operating along them. Also, it’s important to protect the switch gear in traction sub-stations – again, there have been accidents in the past here too.”

    When DC-HSCBs cut off the power, they also handle arcing internally to reduce the risk of electrocution for maintenance workers.

    Another factor to consider, DC-HSCBs are robust devices with impressively long service lives – “up to 40 years and even longer,” pointed out Mr D’Hooghe. “During this time, their springs and other components are simply replaced in the workshop then returned into service, typically without prior testing to check whether they are functioning correctly.”

  • July 2018

    BLASCHKE – Cleaner air is our passion


    In railway maintenance depots, hands may get grimy but Blaschke Umwelttechnik GmbH keeps the air clean.

    For over 40 years, the Bavaria-based manufacturer has been supplying exhaust extraction systems to the sector, with French Railways (SNCF) its longest standing and biggest client outside Germany.

    Exhaust fumes emitted when servicing and maintaining diesel motor blocks in closed workshops pose a health risk to workers.

    EThe particle components released – such as carbon monoxides, nitrogen oxides, benzene, hydrocarbons and rust particles, depending on the engine and fuel types – are classified carcinogenic by the World Health Organization (WHO).

    In response, over the years Blaschke has developed a range of extraction systems designed to control exhaust fume emissions in workshops.

  • May 2018

    INCIDENT MANAGEMENT SOLUTION – Dealing with the unexpected


    As public transport services become increasingly customer-focused (the name change from ‘passengers’ says it all), what helps an operator really stand out and strengthen or weaken their brand is how they respond to the unexpected.

    Yet when these events occur, an efficient incident management solution can really make the difference. It puts operators in a position to communicate information to the relevant parties and trigger the right processes, thus ensuring the necessary steps are taken to revert to normal operations as soon as possible.

    Disruptions to normal service are inevitable for all operators, no matter how efficient their overall performance. Signalling or power failures, or the U.K.’s infamous ‘leaves on the track’ moments(!) for example, may cause ‘minor delays’. And then there are emergency situations such as a bomb alert, where passenger safety is at risk.

  • December 2017


    A leader in wheel detection and axle counting, Frauscher Sensor Technology is looking to take track and train monitoring into the next dimension. Since launching its Frauscher Tracking Solutions FTS, based on Distributed Acoustic Sensing (DAS) technology, in 2016, the Austrian supplier has been busy demonstrating its applications on networks across the globe.

    Given the growing numbers of rail passengers worldwide, operators and infrastructure managers are under increasing capacity pressure. Keeping track and train downtime to a minimum, while maintaining high levels of safety, has never been so critical. Maximum availability across entire networks is now the name of the game.

    Yet delivering such highly efficient rail operations calls for consistent monitoring in real time of components of every track and train. This explains why, over the past five years, interest in fibre optic acoustic sensing, based on technologies such as DAS, has gained momentum among railway operators and signalling experts.

  • September 2017

    INIT revolutionizes e-fare with open payments system in Portland-Vancouver Metropolitan Area

    Karlsruhe/Portland, 9 September 2017.

    In partnership with TriMet, C-TRAN and Portland Streetcar, INIT has delivered the final element of the newly launched Hop Fastpass™ e-fare system. Since August, the open payments component has been in operation within the Portland-Vancouver metropolitan area.

    Regional riders can now pay for fares using a mobile wallet such as Android Pay, Apple Pay or Samsung Pay, as well as any contactless bank card. They simply tap their phone or card on any of the 1,200 INIT validators and hop on board the Portland Streetcar, C-TRAN buses including The Vine, TriMet’s buses, MAX light rail and WES Commuter Rail.

    “My vision was to build innovative, open payments, open architecture fare collection system for all of our regional riders,” says Chris Tucker, TriMet Project Manager. “We now have open payments, real-time fare calculation, daily and monthly fare capping, and seamless travel across three regional transit agencies and two states.”

  • September 2017

    Rail's future under discussion at Railway Forum Berlin

    Today, TE Connectivity joins industry event focused on global competition between rail and new modes of transport

    SWINDON, U.K. – August 3ß, 2017 (revised) – TE Connectivity (TE), a world leader in connectivity and sensors, exhibits at stand E03 in the 5th Railway Forum Berlin 2017 in the Estral Convention Center in Berlin, Germany, August 30-31, 2017.

    "There has never been more innovation in the rail industry and at the same time, never so much competition from other modes of transport from autonomous vehicles and electric cars to low-cost air travel,” said Robert Ullstrom, manager of sales and marketing, TE Connectivity`s Industrial Rail group. “Connectivity is the catalyst for innovation in all modes of transportation. This is an opportunity to showcase how TE leads in connectivity and sensors, and discussing with customers and industry insiders how we can work together to design a greener and more cost-efficient future for rail."

    In addtion to being involved in conversations about the future or rail, TE will display its solutions for the rail industry. For the first time, JAQUET Technology, a TE company, will join TE at its stand. TE’s product highlights will include its JAQUET ALPHABOX and its next-generation roofline system.

    ALPHABOX is JAQUET’s predictive diagnostic system for combustion engines. It allows operators to optimize maintenance by monitoring the condition of diesel engines and their components as well as bogie bearings. For example, an engine’s time-based maintenance schedule may require all injectors to be replaced at a cost of several hundred Euros each, whether or not they are defective. However, the diagnostics from ALPHABOX will give the operator confidence to delay the replacement of injectors until they are approaching the end of their life, thus saving unnecessary costs.

    ALPHABOX achieves this using non-invasive speed sensors to measure the torsional vibration of shafts, such as crankshafts, camshafts and shafts in bogies. All such shafts experience torsional vibration; however, the pattern of vibrations changes over time as components age. ALPHABOX picks up subtle but significant changes to vibration long before other signs become apparent. A single sensor on an engine’s crankshaft will give insight into the general health of an engine. Adding a second sensor on the camshaft enables the system to pinpoint the precise location of faults in bearings, fuel injection or wear inside cylinders. Additional sensors can be applied to turbochargers and bogies.

    TE’s next-generation roofline system, another product they’ll be exhibiting at the rail forum, can help limit the overall height of double-decker rolling stock and, most importantly, reduce the train’s energy consumption and carbon emissions by improving aerodynamic performance. Its role is to transmit electrical power from the pantograph to the traction transformer in electric trains. TE produced the new modular system by replacing air gaps with high-performance, solid, dielectric material. Whereas the insulating performance of air is affected by factors such as humidity and pollution, the new dielectric material performs consistently in all environments so that manufacturers can use a single design for any operating environment and all weather conditions.

    Vsit TE at stand E03 at the 5th RAILWAY FORUM, Estral Convention Center in Berlin, Germany.

    TE, TE Connectivity and the TE connectivity logo are trademarks of the TE Connectivity Ltd. family of companies. Other logos, product or company names mentioned herein may be trademarks of their respective owners.

  • June 2017

    SNCF/DB – ten years of high speed

    This 1 June at Paris Gare de l’Est station, French and German rail operators SNCF and Deutsche Bahn (DB) celebrated a decade of high-speed cooperation.

    Their joint subsidiary Alleo, created in 2007, has since transported 16 million passengers between Paris, Munich, Stuttgart, and Frankfurt. Journeys that have saved 283,000 tonnes of C02 compared to the plane.

    “The success of Alleo is down to our teams of drivers, train and traffic managers, to everyone involved,” said Patrick Jeantet, managing director, SNCF Réseau (entity in charge of the French rail network).

    “Also among the positives is the fact trains run city centre-to city centre, with journey times as good as the plane. For instance, best times include 3 hours 38 for Paris-Frankfurt and 3 hours 08 for Stuttgart-Paris.”

    New destinations for 2017 are Paris-Berlin, -Hamburg and -Heidelberg; Frankfurt-Bordeaux; and Stuttgart-Montpellier.

    To celebrate this 10th anniversary, ‘end-to-end’ Wi-Fi will be introduced to both ICE and TGV (or inOUI?!) trains serving the Franco-German routes from this summer.

    Also, from 2-10 June, 10,000 tickets per market (20,000 in total) will go on sale costing a special 29 euro rate for 2nd Class, 39 euros for 1st. They will be valid from 19 June to 30 September.

    Planes, trains and automobiles: Alleo is clearly determined to give air and road transport a run for their money, and time!

  • May 2017

    GPTS Montréal:
    Alstom, how smart can you go?

    Paris, April 27:A bus-inspired-by-a-tram and systems designed to boost the IQ of transport took centre stage at Alstom's press conference today.

    "Our vision of 'smart mobility' goes beyond digital tech to better integration of rail into urban mobility," said CEO Henri Poupart-Lafarge.

    Rather than reinventing the wheel, Alstom's take on 'smart mobility' is very much a question of improving the existing.

    Solutions range from the 100% electric Aptis bus and self-driving shuttles to real-time metro maps, train carriage occupancy info., and predictive maintenance for rolling stock. All-in-all, a portfolio due to be further showcased at UITP's upcoming Global Public Transport Summit (GPTS) in Montréal.

    First and foremost, Aptis. Twelve metres long with capacity for 100 passengers, the current prototype is low floor, feels more about standing room than seated, has deep bay windows and 'lounge-style' seating at the back. Charging can be ‘opportunity’ – at night in the depot, or rapidly at the end of each line during daily operations – or ‘fast’, either via inverted pantograph or Alstom’s SRS ground charging system.

    Electric bus or tram? I asked Dr Harry Hondius (expert in the field) the obvious, confident he would (as always) say it like it is. "Can you see any rails? It's a bus, a bus I tell you!" he told me. That's that sorted then.

    Worth noting, the axles are located at the extremities of the vehicle (giving it crab-like allure) to deliver a smoother ride and reduce the draw-in radius required for drivers to dock at stops – "which is, for example, typically around 15 metres in Paris," pointed out Mr Poupart-Lafarge. "Aptis is designed to considerably reduce, if not eliminate these metres altogether.”

    Refusing to be drawn on the purchasing price, he focused instead on its purported range of 200km, low maintenance and operating costs. According to a press release, '[the vehicle has] total cost of ownership equivalent to current diesel buses.

    Developed by Alstom and its Alsace-based subsidiary NTL, Aptis is due to be tested in Paris and its region in the coming months.

    'Ville de Paris, transport authority the Stif, and operator RATP are currently working out the details of an ambitious programme baptised Grand Paris des Bus. Likely to be put into action from end-2018, early-2019, this highly complex plan seeks to restructure and upgrade the network serving the city and its surroundings'.

    Bridging that gap

    Having acquired undisclosed shares in self-driving shuttle start-up EasyMile (see photo below), Alstom is clearly seeking to boost its chances when bidding for higher capacity public transport tenders (rail, metro, tram, bus) in years to come.

    Offering these autonomous vehicles (AVs) (software developed by EasyMile, vehicles built by manufacturer Ligier), as a first/last mile 'add-on' to its system offers is probably a good move for Alstom. As part of the drive to encourage multi-modal travel, public transport operators and authorities (often cash strapped) are increasingly seeking ways and means, such as bike and ride sharing, or better buses, to efficiently fill crucial journey gap; to avoid the need for cars.

    'Last week, New York City Council passed a bill that requires the NYC Department of Transportation to study and propose solutions to subway deserts — neighborhoods with poor access to a system whose average weekday ridership is more than five million'.

    Source: – 1 May 2017 – ‘New York City Council Wants to Find a Cure for Transit Deserts’, by Josh Cohen.

    ‘Autonomous vehicles: a potential game changer for urban mobility’, a paper released in January 2017 by UITP, details the challenges ahead and outlines a way forward for introducing AVs to cities.

    From building trains making mobility happen... better

    Paris, April 27: A bus-inspired-by-a-tram and systems designed to boost the IQ of transport took centre stage at Alstom's press conference today.

    • Optimet OrbanMap, an intelligent metro map that passengers can consult in stations. Developed by Metrolab (Alstom's 2011 joint venture with public transport operator RATP), it provides real-time traffic and city information (via social media).

    • Linked to OrbanMap and also developed by Metrolab, the Optimet real-time train occupancy system is designed to enhance passenger flow and reduce crowding on trains. "It should enable time savings of around 10 to 15% during boarding and alighting," said Mr Poupart-Lafarge.

    • Alstom's acquisition of Nomad Digital has given it a strong foothold in the fields of passenger Wi-Fi, infotainment, driver assistance, and remote condition monitoring systems for the rail.

    • HealthHub – a predictive maintenance system for trains, signalling, and infrastructure.

    • To boost management of multimodal operations, the Mastria control system brings together the different transport systems serving a city (bus, metro, train, tram). Algorithms are used to anticipate increases in passenger demand (weather, big public events) and so allow operators to deploy fleets in consequence = smarter capacity and energy use.

    Future forward – power of partnerships

    When it comes to innovation, Alstom is clearly not seeking to reinvent the wheel from A to Z. Nor does it intend to do anything new all by itself. Instead the company strategy appears to be based in large part on channelling its existing expertise into new fields. Forging partnerships with tech firms and other outfits doing things it can't, or doing them better, is also part of the plan.

    Alstom owns undisclosed shared in EasyMile with two objectives in mind – to include AVs in its system offers and, at a later date, integrate the technology into Aptis. A recent development, this April Alstom signed a cooperation agreement with Airbus to exchange knowledge on cybersecurity.

    "We are proud to cooperate with Airbus, the world leader in aviation, on this programme, which will provide operators with innovative and efficient cybersecurity solutions for safer transport," said Pascal Cléré, senior VP of Alstom's Digital Mobility division.
    "This cooperation is fully in line with our ambition to be the precursor of the field of railway cybersecurity."

    The autonomy of intercity trains and leadership of the market come 2020 are also in its sights. On this topic, Mr Poupart-Lafarge was keen to point out how the benefits of this technology will go beyond cost savings on drivers. “It will enable greater flexibility of fleets with regards infrastructure and factors external to the trains.”

    On the hot topic of consolidation, Alstom's number one remained elusive: "We are in a good position to benefit from developments over the past five years."

    He doesn't see hyperloop technology (French Railways/SNCF has invested in it) and flying vehicles (as in Dubai) as direct competitors to rail; but doesn't dismiss them altogether either. Indeed, the message is clear – “if integration opportunities arise from these technologies in the years to come, Alstom is interested.”

    Alstom at the GPTS Montréal – Stand N°: 2K104

    Photo sources: Alstom and Passion4Transport

  • March 26 2017

    Writing Transport

    Bearing in mind ‘April is the cruellest’ month, I’m glad my March has been the kindest so far this 2017.

    It kicked off with a whistle-stop press trip to the US, courtesy of Siemens Mobility (more of which in detail at a later date).

    Over three days, our group of journalists discovered the constructor’s rail business stateside – from rolling stock to services.

    The Sacramento plant was impressive; Chris Maynard gave the best presentation ever (“I want to avoid death by Powerpoint,” he reassured us upfront); the team at SFMTA so patient as we took photo after photo after photo of everything tram at their depot in San Francisco.

    Highlights outside of the work programme were getting to ride San Fran’s historic, open platform tram, seeing crazy M&M’s flavours, and talking about Dashiell Hammett in a top floor bar, all gilded gold, late into the night.

    Back to earth to a Paris with spring in the air, missing the Orly incident by a day and by landing at Charles de Gaulle airport on the other side of the city.

    Onward and upward

    Next up: interviewing two inspiring gentlemen on matters of transport; one French, one American, both charming. The pleasure was all mine as I steered the questions (and to a certain degree the answers) in MY direction.

    “A designer has to have a new idea every three minutes,” Frédéric Simon from NIMOS Design told me.

    A journalist too. But juggling many different topics, even when all under the umbrella of transport in my case, is a challenge.

    ‘Curiouser and curiouser’

    Next stop was the SIFER rail fair in Lille, north of France. Here I met some interesting suppliers with stories to sell about their products and systems.

    Curiosity is definitely the name of the journalist’s game – ask a question and therein usually lies a tale.

    This was the case at the Rosehill Rail stand, with its Anti-Trespass panels (approved by Network Rail) made from recycled tyres moulded into what looks like a form of medieval torture rack.

    ILME explained its new coupler, innovative because capable of withstanding 3,000 hours of saline exposure compared to the standard 500.SNCF Réseau was presenting Altametris, its new subsidiary dedicated to drones/UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles).

    And so flows writing transport…

  • FEBRUARY 04 2017

    Eurostar Business Premier – consume in moderation

    Paris, February 3: Eurostar invited journalists and other guests to discover its new Business Premier Lounge at Paris Gare du Nord.

    Spread across a lavish mezzanine (formerly housing French Railways/SNCF offices) overlooking the interior of the C19th station on one side, rue de Dunkerque on the other, this VIP (very important passenger) hideaway features high plastered ceilings, marble fireplaces, cosy nooks, artworks, and to-die-for cocktail station.

    Chef Raymond Blanc is very much on board too.

    “It combines the best of Paris with touches of London,” said Nicolas Petrovic, managing director, Eurostar.

    (Above) Nicolas Petrovic (left), managing director, Eurostar, with Patrick Laval, journalist, La Vie du Rail

    Designed by the London-based architectural studio Softroom, highlights include elegant blue-grey Bleu de Savoie marble and an overhead lighting fixture suggesting (to some) the points and switches of rail tracks.

    Overall, the feel of the space is Parisian apartment chic meets British cosy quirk – sofas, rugs, cushions, soft lighting, copious mags and papers (albeit sleek and meticulously ordered, French formal garden style, rather than lying around crumpled à la British).

    With available seating in all shapes and forms for 160 guests, Softroom founders and directors Christopher Bagot and Oliver Salway talked about “generosity of space that is quite tightly organised.”

    The catering, overseen by Mr Blanc in his Business Premier culinary director’s toque, is, as one would expect, world’s apart your typical station fare (depressed jambon-beurre baguettes and desperate coffee).

    “Top quality nuts and crisps, and much more besides,” said Mr Petrovic. “The choice of food ranges from very healthy to a lot less healthy.”

    Light bites in verrines or more substantial plated delicacies, saucisson, cheeses, enticing fruit and vegetable juices, ‘grown in England’ tea by producer Tregothnan, and four coffee machines to ensure nobody is ever kept waiting.

    Upstairs downstairs?

    The circular cocktail station, in gleaming black and gold with velvet stools, is a real eye-catcher. Sunken below floor level, it certainly gives drinkers the upper hand as they scrutinise every move of the staff below concocting their tipples. However the aim, it seems, was more to avoid the bar dominating the lounge and ensure an unbroken vista of the space as a whole.

    Move over Tom Cruise, mixologist Florent, 27 (above) is on top of his game. He’ll shake you up a Lady Marmalade, but Sex on the Beach is a big no no.

    The menu, lovingly crafted by the London Cocktail Club and Mr Blanc, not only features ingredients such as the humble marmalade, but also the chef’s beloved angelica, Eurostar’s signature Toujours 21 gin, coffee, and even Tregothnan tea.

    Operation seduction led by JJ Goodman, ebullient CEO of the London Cocktail Club & an enthusiastic Raymond Blanc

    Obviously feeling a need to justify the presence of alcohol in a railway setting, Mr Petrovic described the bar as a great way for business people to network, a place for productive time. “Whether a good or bad day, it’s nice to relax over drinks – of course when consumed in moderation!” he hastened to add.

    One of the guests, a banker (sipping an alcohol-free beverage) told Passion4Transport she would definitely be back at the bar on her next trip.

    (Above) The uniquely chic Gilly Smith, podcast producer for ‘Delicious’ & husband Jed Novick

    Making its (m)art

    Today art is often used by businesses as an extension of their corporate image. It may serve to render spaces more aesthetically pleasing, to stimulate the workforce, and/or to impress visitors. For its new lounge, Eurostar has commissioned The Hospital Club to curate contemporary artworks, all for sale, on its generous stretches of wall.

    Enter another dimension

    Flanked by dynamic, bird’s eye views – Paris street and station panorama – the up-in-the-air lounge exists in its very own time and space dimension. The only downside – it takes longer to reach the Eurostar trains than from the previous VIP retreat, located flush above the platform. “But it shouldn’t take more than a three-minute walk and we’re confident the enhanced ‘experience’ is well worth it,” said Philippe Mouly, COO, Eurostar..

    Very Important Passenger – Very Important Segment

    Business travel is big business for Eurostar, representing “a very important segment for us, with Paris, Brussels and London as the key pivot points,” said Mr Petrovic.

    Given the stakes a play – the niggling presence and popularity of low-cost flights, plus the impending arrival of a rail rival in the form of the German Deutsche Bahn (which obtained the right to run passenger services through the Channel Tunnel from the British and French authorities in 2013, but has yet to launch) – improving the business experience and perceived value for money is an absolute must if Eurostar is to stay the pace.

    Indeed the Business Premier lounge forms part of Eurostar’s ongoing investment in its stations and services.

    A new fleet of longer and higher capacity trains, the e320 by Siemens, cost the company an impressive €600 million. Check-in facilities at Gare du Nord are visibly expanding to cope with more passengers and ensure the smoothest possible flow.

    Following on from the new London-Avignon/Marseille offer, introduced in May 2015, this year will see the opening of a direct route between London-Rotterdam-Amsterdam.

    Eurostar system: home-from-home for the elite traveller, this lap of luxury retreat is not beyond the wildest dreams of those of us mere mortals!

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