Firstco, the technical consultancy, project management and systems integration specialists, have recently completed an upgrade to the Heathrow Express (HEx) Optical Transport Network (OTN) system. The OTN system carries all of Heathrow Express’s data and communication links and the loss of any part of the system would have a dramatic effect on their operations. However this improvement in communication efficiency was carried out without any disruption to HEx’s operations.

Firstco’s Project Manager, Cecile Searle, explained: “The project involved upgrading the OTN system – the primary means of transporting voice and data communications (including security) around the various HEx demises from Terminal 4 and Heathrow Central Stations all the way into Paddington.

“The OTN system allows different types of media to be transported over long distances via a dual fibre-optic backbone ring. At each point of input or output along the route, such as at stations and shafts, there are devices, known as nodes, which multiplex the signals onto the fibre backbone.”

In total the system has 19 nodes located throughout the stations, tunnels and platform areas. The fibre backbone ring is constructed in such a way that it allows communications to reroute should there be a break in one of the primary fibres. The existing system had limitations on available bandwidth and with the introduction of more and more IP based products it was necessary to significantly increase the bandwidth capability. Firstco specified the Siemens OTN 600 product for the upgrade project.

In order to minimise risk and potential disruption all of the works had to carried out during engineering hours, between 00:30 and 04:30. Such short working periods meant that the whole process had to be meticulously planned to ensure all systems were fully re-established at the end of each shift.

Steve Chambers, Head of Service Proposition at Heathrow Express said: “Reliable and up-to-the minute data and communication links are the backbone of Heathrow Express’ successful operation. This important project had the potential to cause massive disruption to the Heathrow Express service however the expertise and dedication of the Firstco team meant that work went without a hitch.”

The change out process involved the establishment of a new backbone ring supporting the new OTN 600. Once this system had been installed and commissioned the task of migrating the numerous services onto the new system could begin. These works which included migration of critical services such as Fire, PA /VA, CCTV, tunnel emergency systems, voice and data systems, were then completed over a number of nights until all services had been established onto the new system.

The benefits of the new system include:

  • The high bandwidth makes possible many extra services including Ethernet and video, with new interfaces which were not previously supported
  • In addition to operational systems, customer features such as WiFi can be provided – from Heathrow to Paddington – to further enhance the travelling experience
  • Ongoing development means that the OTN600’s facilities will continue to be extended and updated
  • Using modern technology and components will keep the product current
  • Additional nodes and interfaces are available for future system expansion