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1 Name: Andrew Pollock
2 Student ID: 4137129
3 Title: The need for quality control in public transport automation software.
4 ------------
5
6 As we move into the 21st century, computer automation becomes increasingly
7 ubiquitous. In the area of rail transport trains, computer software is
8 taking a leading role in normal operations. It is important for such
9 software to perform in a predictable manner. To achieve this requirement, it
10 must be properly engineered and developed.
11
12 There are a number[0] of manufacturers of train control systems, which
13 suggests that the market for such systems is large enough to support them.
14 Interestingly, several of the manufacturers, such as Siemens and Alcatel
15 also produce equipment for the Telecommunications sector, and Alstom have
16 products for the electricity industry. These companies will be familiar with
17 the requirements and expectations that the general public have of utility
18 providers.
19
20 Automation is in many aspects of rail operation. Alcatel's SelTrac[1]
21 product touches many aspects of rail transportation, from signalling and
22 speed control to total automatic train operation and management. A software
23 failure in this system could be catastrophic. Software quality control is
24 paramount to the safe operation of the system.
25
26 The general public has high expectations of basic utilities, such as the
27 telephone and electricity supply. Given the public reaction to the impact of
28 the driver strikes in Sydney earlier[2] this year, the public also has high
29 expectations of the reliability and availability of the commuter rail
30 network.
31
32 The Australian Federal Government takes an interest in rail safety under the
33 auspices of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau[3]. However, the TSI Act
34 (2003) only applies to the Defined Interstate Rail Network, which doesn't
35 include the general commuter rail network that is used by the general public
36 on a regular basis. This is left up to the individual state governments'
37 train agencies.
38
39 In order to maintain software quality, it is important that a clearly
40 reproducible, and documented process be followed. This allows for easy
41 auditing and later analysis. This means that the software can demonstrably
42 be of a higher quality than software that cannot have its origins accounted
43 for. Such a process is the Systems Development Lifecycle (SDLC)[4]. Using
44 this, each design step is dependent on the preceding one, and analysis can
45 be done, or redone, as the project progresses. As coding occurs late in the
46 process, it makes the actual implementation thoroughly analysed by the time
47 it is executed. By having these processes in place, and having
48 accountability for them, it is easy for a third party to step in and
49 perform a quality assurance audit.
50
51 The general public have high expectations of public transport safety and
52 reliability. As this becomes more and more automated, and software controls
53 that automation, it is important that quality processes are used in the
54 development of that software. Not only is it unethical not to ensure
55 quality, there is the risk of legal action in the event of an accident, and
56 if it is not demonstrable that the design of the software was sound, those
57 responsible for the software and automation systems could be held to account
58 for the damage or loss of life resulting.
59
60 ------------
61
62 [0] http://www.tsd.org/cbtc/
63 This website provides a number of train control system suppliers,
64 and the names of their products, with links.
65 [1] http://www.tsd.org/cbtc/Suppliers/Alcatel/SelTracBrochure.pdf
66 This is a vendor product brochure, in this case, Alcatel's SelTrac
67 product.
68 [2] http://www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/content/2004/s1043819.htm
69 This is a transcript from the ABC's The World Today radio broadcast,
70 and a story on the Sydney train disruptions earlier this year.
71 [3] http://www.atsb.gov.au/rail/index.cfm
72 This is information about rail safety, on the Australian Transport
73 Safety Bureau's website.
74 [4] Modern Systems Analysis & Design, Hoffer et al.
75 This INFS2024 textbook covers the SDLC in great depth.

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