"Ultimately, working closely with our customers helps us become better at what we do. Not only do we get to share our industry expertise, we also learn..."
There are few companies that can offer as expert a view on our industry than Trapeze Group. For over 25 years they have helped evolve journeys on public transport, working with hundreds of government and commercial organizations across North America, Europe and Asia Pacific. With a reputation as the providers of some of the most advanced software, intelligent transportation systems and mobile technologies in the industry, Luke Upton recently caught up with Marcelo Bravo, their Director of Rail Solutions to talk about understanding the customer,autonomous vehicles, future plans and of course, his favourite rail journey...
Luke Upton (LU): Many thanks for the time today Marcelo,Trapeze’s tag line is ‘Here for the Journey’, so what has led you to a career in the transportation industry?
Marcelo Bravo (MB): The short answer is my father, Raul Bravo. He started in the automotive industry and moved almost exclusively over to rail in the mid-70s. I remember my father taking me to his office and special business events. Particular VIP events I recall included when Amtrak first began to look at higher speed trains for the Northeast Corridor (NEC), a service today known as ACELA. Major railcar builders including ABB and Siemens brought high speed rail equipment from Europe to demonstrate not only features but viability of operating on the corridor. I remember then riding the X2000 and ICE trains, including passenger cars stripped and loaded with data gathering systems which measured various aspects of ride comfort and quality, lateral and vertical accelerations, forces, loads, vibrations, among other things. Exciting stuff!
Before chasing my girlfriend (now wife) to Denmark in 1993, I spent a few years with my father’s consulting firm and established a preliminary foundation about the rail industry which I serve still today. Later in my career, I spent another 11 years with Raul V Bravo + Associates (RVB+A) and can honestly say that most of what I know about the rail industry, my father taught me.
LU: What’s Trapeze’s major focus at the moment?
MB: There are many. But, one which is true to my heart, is a major investment in rail. Before joining Trapeze Group I honestly had no idea the extent to which Trapeze was established in rail. One aspect of the investment is to showcase how well established we already are in the rail space.
Beyond that, we’re working hard to keep well-informed of rail industry needs to ensure our products are continuously enhanced to fit an evolving rail industry. For example, in the U.S., a major concern is the FTA’s Final Rule and how rail agencies are going to deal with State of Good Repair (SGR). Being ahead of the game, we made sure to implement a SGR module into our current EAM system.
We are also keen on making sure that agencies are aware that, since Trapeze is transit-specific, we offer a whole enterprise suite – from operations, scheduling and planning, faring, asset maintenance (as mentioned above), workforce management, passenger information and much more.
LU: What do you enjoy most about your role?
MB: My favorite part of my role here at Trapeze ( @trapezegroup ) is working closely with customers to understand their needs and their day to day challenges. I like to solve problems and find even greater satisfaction in helping people solve theirs.
Ultimately, working closely with our customers helps us become better at what we do. Not only do we get to share our industry expertise, we also learn from our customers. Understanding customers’ strengths and challenges leads to trends, helping us improve our products, which eventually results in our customers’ ability to more effectively carry out their work.
LU: What is the biggest professional challenge you’ve faced?
MB: When I was with Adtranz Denmark, responsible for introducing our Flexliner DMU rail vehicles to North America, we determined the best way to enter the market was to prove value and viability by actually bringing and operating vehicles into North America. A couple of major challenges had to be tackled immediately, including where we get the equipment, and how to get the FRA to waive at least some U.S. rolling stock requirements.
Leasing back from an existing customer was the only economically viable solution. But, which one would be willing? Which vehicles were best suited based on interior configuration and climate requirements? Ultimately, we worked out an arrangement with the Israeli Railways (PRA) to lease back two three-car DMUs in exchange for buying two highly discounted DMUs.
With some clear direction from the FRA, we carved out some space and time from our Israeli final assembly plant and started re-configuring the vehicles to meet FRA requirements, along with other configurations we felt would be expected from North American passengers.
The vehicles were transported to Haifa, shipped to Baltimore, and re-assembled prior to doing a VIP tour at key locations throughout the market. As planned, the vehicles were used by Amtrak for several months carrying passengers from Los Angeles to San Diego, and later by VIA Rail Canada from Toronto to outlying suburbs.
LU: What will be some of the biggest differences between rail now and in 10 years’ time?
MB: With all the hype surrounding autonomous vehicles, Uber and other developing alternatives, I’m certain there will be a place for rail transit as we know it for decades to come. This is not to say that I’m against autonomous vehicles, actually I support the idea of them. I’m just cautious about which parts of the transportation challenge they will help to solve. As we’ve been discussing for decades, autonomous vehicles are just another piece of the puzzle. The biggest difference will be that transit will feed an integrated network of modes. Modes working seamlessly together is the target and something I expect to see more of in the coming 10 years.
Additionally, due to PTC and SGR requirements, I’m also confident that collisions and derailments will be significantly reduced 10 years down the road. While experts agree that PTC is not the solution for avoiding all collisions and accidents, it’s certainly a step in the right direction. Regarding derailments, I’d like to think that that better and more effective care of rail and infrastructure assets will result in fewer derailments. The result will be safer railroads and thereby passenger journeys for all.
LU: What’s your favorite rail journey?
MB: I’ve been on many rail lines and modes from streetcars to high-speed rail all over the world (from Shinkansen in Japan, ICE in Germany, TGV in France, to name a few), but I’d have to say my favorites have to be certain stretches of the Alaska Railroad (pictured left) both North and South of Anchorage where the views and scenes are incredible.
The other favorite I have is more nostalgic due to the number of times I ran the line from Copenhagen to Arhus in Denmark. Not more than 20 years ago, the trains would actually roll aboard a ferry to cross the Great Belt between the islands of Sjaelland and Fyn. Even today with the tunnel and bridge, the excitement and views are still incredible when crossing the Great Belt.
LU: Many thanks for the time, and good luck with the upcoming projects!
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