A Holistic Approach to Smart Rail in Smart Cities: A Conversation with Wasay Rashid and David Songer

By Jim Frazer

Industry Trends

Here's another installment in the ARC Smart Cities Podcast series.  In this episode ARC smart cities analyst Wasay Rashid is interviewed by Dave Songer of Smart Rail World.  You can subscribe to the ARC Smart Cities Podcast through Google Podcasts and Spotify, with more platforms available soon.  


Jim Frazer:                        Welcome to Smart City Viewpoints. I'm Jim Frazer, Vice President of Smart Cities at ARC Advisory Group. In today's podcast, we'll be listening to a recent conversation between Wasay Rashid ARC's own smart rail analyst and David Songer, editor of Smart Rail magazine. Without further ado, let's jump into the discussion.

Background on the Arc Advisory Group

David Songer:                  Can you tell me about the Arc Advisory Group?

Wasay Rashid:                 Alright, lovely. The Arc Advisory Group is a global analyst firm that offers thought leadership and research to manufacturing, energy infrastructure, transportation, and supply chain professionals worldwide for complex business issues facing organizations today. Our analysts have the industry knowledge and first-hand experience to help our clients find the best answer. We're a research company, that's into advisory services and strategic consultancy. We take our customers' opinions and then, we come together with a collective solution to help them guide their policy formation or their strategic vision. Basically ARC Advisory Group is not your typical consulting company, but more of an analyst firm. We have been in automation for the past 30 years and now as we see things are coming together, now we have expanded into other domains such as transportation as well and infrastructure.

David Songer:                  Great.

A Discussion on Smart Rail

David Songer:                  Yeah. Regarding the rail industry, could you tell me more about your involvement in that phase?

Wasay Rashid:                 I'm the lead economic analyst for railways and transportation. So what I do is analyze the industry in detail to provide technical and strategic solutions. We work with our partners along the way so they can make strategic decisions and informed decisions in policy formation and operational decisions. I work with private and public stakeholders across the industry. Some of the topics that I'm covering in rail include asset management and rolling stock signaling systems. These are my current focus, but overall in the railways, I'm covering, from, uh, the linear assets to rolling stock to power asset management. It's more of a holistic approach to railways.

David Songer:                  Yeah, what do you most like about being involved in that?

Wasay Rashid:                 The transportation industry is always been something that I have always wanted to work in. I previously was working for Merce line, which is a container shipping company and now, I've switched to Arc Advisory Group, to work in railways. What I find fascinating about transportation, in general, is that transportation just makes our world go around connects people, connects businesses. It's a flow of people, goods, and trains, and most importantly ideas.

David Songer:                  Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I looked at your Linkedin and I saw that you focus on intelligent infrastructure and smart cities? One more. Can you tell me about that?

Wasay Rashid:                 Infrastructure as you and I both know is the backbone of world economies. It moves peoples and goods. It powers our lives. It fuels growth. Whether it's a reliable transport system, electric gear, dependable energy supply or buildings that offer space for housing or commerce - safe and efficient infrastructure is the foundation on which economy is built. Yet around the world, the infrastructure systems are coming under increased strain due to unprecedented urbanization, continued globalization and effects of climate change. In addition to developing countries that are struggling to build new infrastructure, developed countries must replace their aging infrastructure. Between now and 2030 an estimated minimum of around $50 trillion in infrastructure investment would be required to fuel global development - it's very crucial.

What's in the Future for Smart Rail

David Songer:                  Yes, absolutely. Let's look into the future then. How do you think transport will look in perhaps in a decade's time and, or even beyond?

Wasay Rashid:                 Well, it's a hard call, but

David Songer:                  You can be as imaginative as you like with this,

Wasay Rashid:                 For now I can speak about the industry, the industry is definitely moving forward with electric vehicles. Most importantly, the second layer comes with autonomous vehicles, but we still have a lot of safety issues around that. But in the next decade, I would think that these industries are focusing to shift from more fossil fuel-based transportation system towards more electric and more clean energy, propulsion towards rails or electric cars. But what I also see to really important to have end to end clean energy. So it can't be producing electricity by burning coal and then supplying the same electricity to charge the batteries of these cars. We can also say hydrogen fuel cell technologies, something that will be in the future like hydrogen fuel powered trains.

Wasay Rashid:                 As we already saw, Ahlstohm has already launched this short distance train which is a fantastic innovation. I must commend them on this. It's almost a zero mission carbon train so it just exhausts basically water or you could say condensed steam. And so the future of the transport industry, um, looks bright to me, but there's a lot of work to be done because as you can see, the ships they're still running on heavy oil and as long as we do not, do something about that. There are innovative technologies, some ways of propelling your ships through saltwater or whatever they sail on. I think it's still a long way to go. But on land transport, I would say railway so far is offering the best solution. In the decades to come, I think people, and even in the European Union, they have initiatives such as the shift to rail. So they're trying to promote more rail transportation as compared to other means and modes of transportation.

Smart Rail's Largest Challenges

David Songer:                  What would you say are the biggest challenges facing the transport industry?

Wasay Rashid:                 I think the biggest challenge that it's currently facing to transport industries is the public opinion, regarding these modes of transportation. Well, let's take an example of America and the Middle East. So historically, Middle East people love their cars. They, they are not so big on using inter suburban trains or Light Rail Metros. They would rather drive their office in a car or a four-wheel drive that requires gallons and gallons of petrol or diesel, you know, uh, in comparison to rail. So I think the biggest challenge here is that the public acceptance and the public actually pushing the industries, uh, to bring new technology and innovative steps. I think where the industry would recognize there's a certain amount of demand for a certain type of transport. I think eventually the industry will fill in that gap.

Wasay Rashid:                 So I think right now the challenge is, I wouldn't say some, not so much from the industry side, but more from the public perception about, you know, sustainable transportation. It's slowly, you know, there's awareness campaigns going on and people are starting to realize what we should do or what we should not do. Like in Norway, we recently saw that the sale of electric vehicles was higher than fossil fuel-based cars. So that's a good indicator, but then, but we don't live in Norway or like not everybody lives in Norway. So I think one of the challenges, like I think people need to change their perception about how they want to use a certain type of transportation.

David Songer:                  Hmm. Yeah, absolutely. What's been your biggest professional challenge?

Wasay Rashid:                 I mean, my, my biggest professional challenge I would say is learning a new language. In my case would be German. I'm still not the best at it, but I worked through it and life is too short to learn German - but it's been successful so far. In terms of other professional challenges, I mean also the transition from university life to professional life -things are a bit different. You need to act in a certain different manner and you need to be more careful what you say and how it's perceived. I think a bit of transition from academia to a workplace setting has been slightly a bit challenging.

David Songer:                  Sure. That's a good answer. Um, and so you, your smart rail speaker event, what do you think you'll cover? -perhaps you can just give us a brief summary.

Wasay Rashid:                 Initially as I spoke to one of your organizers, I was tasked to moderate a session - but I think that is still open to discussion and debate.

David Songer:                  Oh, cool. Sorry, I've got that wrong. Of course. Where that, where, where that will head. Yeah.

Wasay Rashid:                 I mean so far the topic I was initially interested, uh, was, uh, regarding the rail asset management which I don't think I'll be covering because one of your sponsors is taking that over and then the organizing team has placed me into another slot. I still need to discuss with them on that. I'm still trying to adjust the agenda, but as it looks like so far I think I'll be speaking on building integrated mobility platforms, in terms of a comprehensive approach to the growing urban population and the expected future transport needs of cities in reducing the attractiveness of cars and supporting the development of public transport. So I think I'm going with more Intermodality of using different means of transportation. There are different concepts in the market such as podization where you have a certain amount of pods that could be retrofitted into a rail ferry, a car or even so to speak in a drone. So from door to door kind of operation, you know, but this is more like the futuristic approach. But also I think I'll be speaking about the environmental benefit of public transportation and shared mobility and so forth.

Favorite Smart Rail Journeys

David Songer:                  Hmm. Great. And finally then, and just to chuck it back to relevant and to ask where in the world are your favorite rail journeys.

Wasay Rashid:                 I think one of my favorite rail journeys was Moscow to St Petersburg during a FIFA World Cup recently.

David Songer:                  Oh, nice.

Wasay Rashid:                 Yeah, I would say it was pretty exciting. And it was more like a sleeper train and trains in Russia are not your typical trains in Europe. I could have said Munich to Berlin, but this was a long train and it was pretty smooth. I got to sleep, had nice tea and breakfast and everything. So, it was a nice journey. I would like to take the Trans Siberian express, but it's gonna take me a while to do catch that train.

David Songer:                  Yeah, Were you heading to a game.

Wasay Rashid:                 You wouldn't believe it. I was going to watch the third place, Belgium versus England and don't hate me. I was rooting for Belgium. The, that

David Songer:                  pretty cool. The sensible people were backing Belgium so don't worry about that.

Wasay Rashid:                 I did get to see the English team and it was a good show, you know, the third place. It was pretty interesting. I had great fun there and enjoyed myself and to my surprise, the train ride was actually included in the ticket.

David Songer:                  That's very nice. That's good.

Wasay Rashid:                 A good initiative by the Russian government?

David Songer:                  FantasticI didn't know that. Okay, great. Lovely. Well, thanks again for your time, Wasay!

Jim Frazer:                        All of us at the Arc Smart Cities team hope you've enjoyed this podcast. Keep an eye out for many more in this continuing series. And don't forget to visit us online at www.arcweb.com as well as on Twitter at https://twitter.com/smartcityvwpts

Jim Frazer:                        Thank you very much. And we'll see you again next time.

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