All European countries have economically benefited from the free exchange of goods and the freedom to travel. Ideas, concepts, people and businesses today can move effortlessly across national borders. In this vein, MENTZ has developed a new data hub for the exchange of timetable and real-time data for the border region between Switzerland and France. The project makes cross-border ticket offers a distinct future possibility.
The basis for this optimism is two products developed by MENTZ: the “Dynamic Data Integration Platform” (DDIP) and the “Dialogue-controlled Information and Transport Information” system (DIVA).
Just in time for the timetable change on December 15, 2019, the largest cross-border commuter train network in Europe at 230 kilometers began operation in the region around the Lake of Geneva (French: Lac Léman). It includes six lines that operate under the name “Léman Express” (LEX). A core component of the network is a new line that provides a better connection between Geneva in Switzerland and Annemasse in France.
The network is operated as a cooperation between French Rail SNCF (Société nationale des chemins de fer français) and Swiss Rail (SBB). Both railways provide trains and drivers. MENTZ developed the data hub required for exchange between the country-specific systems.
In order to ensure optimal passenger information, both railways have agreed to a direct exchange of timetable and real-time data – not only for their own train journeys, but also for the neighboring local transport services, which include buses, trams and cable cars. It was agreed to use European CEN standards NeTEx (Network Timetable Exchange) for timetable data and SIRI (Service Interface for Real-Time Information) for real-time information.
Because timetable data in Switzerland is exchanged via “Hafas Raw Data Format” (HRDF) and real-time data via VDV format, MENTZ was commissioned to convert between the different standards.
Timetable Data Exchange Between Switzerland and France through DIVA
In the Swiss Confederation, INFO+ serves as a collection system for the target data of public transport from various sources. The data is imported into DIVA in HRDF format as a yearly timetable. It is then possible to uniquely assign NeTEx specific elements (e.g. the NeTEx offer category) to the data from HRDF, so that they can then be exported in NeTEx format and supplied to the French railway SNCF.
From France, NeTEx data is supplied from two different sources: one dataset contains the rail data from SNCF, the other includes data from various bus companies in the region. Both data sets are imported into DIVA using the newly developed NeTEx import. Each data set is also made available to INFO+ and enables the SBB to include French target data near and across the border in its timetable.
Handshake with the Swiss DiDok Interface
DiDok is the stop directory of the Swiss Federal Office of Transport and is operated by the SBB. All stops in Switzerland are documented with a unique ID consisting of a country suffix and DiDok number. This number is also used in other systems, e.g. INFO+. Through conversion of the French NeTEx data, new stops are added to the Swiss INFO+ system, which would subsequently have to be entered into the DiDok. However, the DiDok interface now provides the option to directly control the DiDok system in DIVA. For example, it is possible to check whether a stop already exists in DiDok or directly transfer it to DiDok. A unique ID is assigned to the stop.
Controlling the Processes
All processes, from data retrieval to converted data supply, are configured through the MENTZ DIVA workflow. The DIVA workflow enables processes to be defined and supplemented as required. For example, e-mail notifications can be integrated for each process. This considerably reduces the effort required to control data and data flows.
Hosting in the AWS Cloud
The entire project is covered by MENTZ as a service called “SaaS” (Software as a Service). In this arrangement, MENTZ takes on responsibility for technical management and the implementation is cloud-based. The software is operated using computers and services provided by Amazon Web Services (AWS).
To secure the exchange of real-time data over the internet, the OAuth procedure was implemented in addition to the existing option using a VPN tunnel.
Real-time Data Exchange via MENTZ DDIP
The SBB operates the nationwide real-time data platform “CUS” (Customer System). The MENTZ DDIP collects the real-time data for all of Switzerland and supplies it to the French partner system SNCF. On the SNCF side, there are two source systems for real-time: one for the train data – this is directly linked to CUS – and one for the bus data. The latter still has to be implemented on the SNCF side and in the future will be linked to CUS as a source through the DDIP.
Converting Between Data Formats
In order to supply journey planners with real-time data, VDV has a data processing service called AUS for actual data and SIRI has the estimated timetable service (ET). In DDIP, the input or output format can be defined for each coupling partner. The incoming data is converted into an internal data model and can then be converted upon output into a format suitable for the recipient. Because the SIRI and VDV formats differ in certain small details, improvements were made to the DDIP data model to make the conversion as precise as possible. Due to recent developments of the VDV format as compared to SIRI, there is also VDV information that cannot be converted to SIRI. To enable this exchange, the SIRI standardization committe, which includes both the SBB and MENTZ, is working to expand the SIRI standard to meet this need.
Easy Conversion Through Defined Rules
The metadata supplied via VDV must be converted to make the SIRI real-time deliveries as compatible as possible with the NeTEx data. As an example: a VDV stop ID “858834102”. In NeTEx and thus SIRI, the stop is designated as “ch:1:ScheduledStopPoint:858834102”. Normally conversion would have to be done through cumbersome maintenance of conversion tables. But a newly developed feature in the MENTZ DDIP makes it easier by allowing precise rules to be defined on how to convert the data. In this simple case the rule states: “Put ‘ch:1:ScheduledStopPoint:’ in front of the stop ID”, but more complex rules across various metadata are also possible.