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East Japan Railway Company (JR-EAST) Software-Defined Networking (SDN) Solution NEC has built a common station network and robust IT infrastructure for JR-EAST, successfully improving the quality of service.

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Introduction

Railways in Japan are a major means of passenger transport. Japan's leading railway company is JR-EAST, which carries out railway operations and lifestyle service businesses in Eastern Japan and throughout the Tokyo metropolitan area.

Challenges

photo: Hajime Yamada
Hajime Yamada
General Manager,
Electrical & Signal Network System Dept.,
Railway Operations Headquarters,
East Japan Railway Company
Given the complexity of the rail system, a lot of preparation was needed to realize these planned new services in a short period of time. An integral component to this preparation was implementing a robust IT infrastructure, but the networks that carry the communications posed major challenges.

A railway station is equipped with a high number of networks. For example, Tokyo Station—one the largest railway stations in the world, boasting 13 train lines and catering to 400,000 passengers each day—is equipped with several dozen types of networks:
  • Train service information network
  • A network of cameras used to manage the operating status of escalators and various other types of equipment
  • Surveillance camera network
  • Business system network for all onsite tenant shops

"We originally built each of the networks separately as the need arose," explains Hajime Yamada, General Manager of Electrical & Signal Network System Department at JR-EAST. "This resulted in extensively jumbled wiring on the backend, creating an extremely complicated situation for us." Adding to this complexity was the level of workloads and bloated timeframes involved when adding and/or modifying a network.

photo: Ichiro Sone
Ichiro Sone
Group Leader,
Electrical & Signal Network System Dept.,
Railway Operations Headquarters,
East Japan Railway Company
A railway station undergoes frequent improvement work and each time it does, configuration changes have to be made to the respective network devices.

"The situation was such that the wiring was so disorganized and complex that it was almost impossible to get an overall assessment of the system," says Ichiro Sone, railway ICT solutions project group leader at JR-EAST. "We couldn't even figure out which cables were connected to which pieces of equipment. The contractors and people in charge of overseeing the work had to repeatedly run back and forth between the meeting room and construction site to verify they were on the right track."

To add to the challenge, construction work inside the station could only be conducted when there were no passengers. This meant that the time window for work started three hours after the last train arrived at night until the first train arrived in the morning.

Under these circumstances, planning new services is one thing but realizing them is not easy.

Solution

In order to solve the complex network problem and provide an infrastructure designed to facilitate the expansion of services in the future, JR-EAST devised a plan for the construction of a common station network (JR-STnet). This plan called for integrating the vast array of networks laid out around the station and centralizing their management. It also aimed to achieve an environment in which networks could be added and modified as quickly as necessary.

To accomplish this, JR-EAST selected NEC's Software-Defined Networking (SDN) Solution. The NEC SDN Solution, which virtualizes a network using software control, makes it possible to quickly put together a smart, independent virtual network called a Virtual Tenant Network (VTN). "Network additions and updates can be handled flexibly without having to revise the physical configuration or individually reconfigure each individual machine," says Mr. Sone. "For folks like us, who have had to struggle with the networks each time an improvement was made or a system added, this is the optimum technology."  This is the world's first implementation of SDN in the railway industry.  (Source:  NEC)

For a company like JR-EAST, which has the responsibility of maintaining a social infrastructure, reliability is of utmost importance. "NEC already had experience providing SDN solutions to major corporations and large organization like university hospitals, so we knew they had the proficiency and expertise based on their numerous achievements in this field," said Mr. Yamada. "We also took into consideration the inherent technological prowess for which NEC has long been acclaimed. Selecting NEC gave us peace of mind."

NEC's SDN Solution is well suited to phased transitions. It was not realistic to rapidly modify the networks inside Tokyo Station, where, as noted above, work could only be performed for three hours each day.  Instead, work would have to be pushed forward in a methodical, phased order on an area-by-area basis.
    
The decision to go with NEC's "UNIVERGE PF Series," which supports OpenFlow, was a logical one because the UNIVERGE PF series makes it possible to construct a logically independent VTN without being concerned about the physical configuration, and enables a network to be expanded without impacting systems that are already in operation. Normally, when integrating systems that have been running on physically independent networks into a single system, IP addresses must be reassigned and revised. But if the characteristics of the VTN are put to good use, there is no need to be concerned about the IP addresses even if there is duplication. This is because even though the physical networks have been integrated, each machine is connected to a different VTN, thereby making it possible for the same IP addresses to coexist.

Results

photo: Mitsuhiro Yasumoto
Mitsuhiro Yasumoto
Electrical & Signal Network System Dept.,
Railway Operations Headquarters,
East Japan Railway Company
The common station network has already been deployed and is in operation. JR-EAST plans to push forward with integrating the various systems inside the station, and is now constructing a "wireless LAN" backbone VTN linked to the major carriers and a VTN for determining locker availability inside Tokyo Station, and is operating these on the common station network.

"The time and trouble spent when adding a network in the past, and/or relocating equipment and changing configurations due to construction projects inside the station have been eliminated," says Mitsuhiro Yasumoto, railway ICT solutions project group member at JR-EAST.  "The common station network not only makes it possible to greatly reduce construction times and processes, but also enables the rapid deployment of new services, and is expected to serve as the driving force behind strategic IT activities."

"When the network goes down, a lot of problems occur, such as the provision of train service information coming to a halt," says Mr. Sone. "The station network must be kept operational. Thus, the common station network, in addition to providing equipment redundancy, ensures alternative routes in two directions at a minimum, and achieves high availability. In addition, even in the unlikely event that trouble should occur, the cause of the problem can immediately be discerned using an easy-to-understand graphical user interface. Our perfect environment has been realized."

JR-EAST plans to make good use of the common station network to provide a variety of services in the future, too.
"As a public transportation company, we feel a strong obligation to strive to enhance the quality of our services," emphasizes Mr. Yamada.  "Not only for our Japanese patrons, but for the foreign visitors who ride our trains as well."

One such plan is aimed at utilizing a wireless LAN and tablet PCs to expand and improve operational support services for station personnel. If train delays and other such scheduling information could be transmitted from the control room directly to tablet PCs being carried by station personnel, this would not only be useful for the station personnel in carrying out their jobs but would also enable the provision of more detailed information and guidance to passengers.           
The company is also exploring a variety of new service possibilities, such as to detect and display passenger congestion in the concourse and train platforms by using IP cameras, and to display train service information at the required location.
    
By leveraging the SDN Solution, JR-EAST has successfully improved the quality of service at Tokyo Station. On the basis of this success, the company intends to actively create common station networks at other major train stations where similar circumstances exist.
    
NEC will continue to contribute toward the realization of a better society through railway services, as well as the construction of a variety of social infrastructure systems. To achieve this, the company is prepared to further accelerate the strengthening of its IT solutions, commencing with the SDN Solution.

About

Tokyo Station

East Japan Railway Company's business areas are passenger railways, freight services, bus transportation, and travel agency services. In recent years, the company has also placed emphasis on the development of new lines of business besides the railway transportation business, such as the expansion of stores inside the station building as well as inside the station itself.

Customer profile

East Japan Railway Company (JR-EAST)

 
Type of business Transportation Logo: East Japan Railway Company (JR-EAST)
Established April, 1987
URL http://www.jreast.co.jp/e/

(SEP 4, 2014)