MobiliTalks: take a peek behind the scenes at RATP’s Rail Rolling Stock department

In our latest MobiliTalk, we take a look at the vital work done by RATP’s Rail Rolling Stock department. From fleet maintenance and modernisation to technology step changes, industrial innovations and preparations for the Olympics, department director
Côme Berbain reveals all!

Côme Berbain
Director, Rail Rolling Stock at RATP

You’ve just taken up your position as director, Rail Rolling Stock for RATP; can you tell us what your job consists in?

Our department’s mission is to ensure the availability, performance and safety of rail rolling stock for the 8 million or more people living in the Ile-de-France region who use our metro and RER express metro lines every day.

We cover the entire life cycle of rolling stock, from initial specifications to end-of-life some fifty or sixty years later including procurement from manufacturers, day-to-day maintenance, the management of upgrades and major renovations, optimising the total cost of ownership of each trainset as we do so. Over and above rolling stock, we also manage maintenance methods and resources including depots, which need to be adjusted to each new generation of train.
With 3,300 experts in maintenance, engineering and projects, we carry out maintenance on some 1,100 trainsets, drawing on our key strengths as we do so: technical excellence, a sense of public service, and personal commitment on the part of all concerned.

We’re currently in the middle of an unprecedented effort on the part of Ile-de-France Mobilités to overhaul its tram, metro and RER fleet, with half of all rolling stock to be replaced over the next ten years. This has already been completed on Paris metro lines 4, 11 and 14 with the arrival of MP14 trainsets.

In addition to this longstanding role, we also support RATP Group developments by providing our expertise in engineering and maintenance.

How does your department address industrial and environmental challenges at a practical level during rolling stock maintenance and upgrades? What specific actions have you taken to achieve your goals?

Maintenance is a fundamental part of all industrial business lines: we use industrial equipment that’s geared to our trains as well as to providing the best quality of working life for those in our workshops, some of which are quite small. To complicate matters further, our depots are located in the dense built-up environment of Ile-de-France (some of them actually within Paris itself), with all the challenges of engaging in industrial activity in the heart of a city.

What’s more, we conduct our own asset maintenance in workshops that implement today’s best industry practices: production lines, an integrated supply chain, lean management, internet connectivity, tablets for operators, digital engineering, augmented reality and 3-D printing, for instance.

Introduction of new rolling stock and upgrades to existing stock are opportunities for major technology changes, some of which are truly impressive: with the extension of Paris metro line 11, we’re completing the replacement of MP59 units from the 1960s with MP14 rolling stock just off the production line. This marks a real step change mechanically, electronically and in IT; we need to absorb this by adjusting our organisation, workshops and maintenance methods and carrying out large-scale operator training. One of the benefits of our business line is that we have a grasp of multiple generations of technology.

The environmental challenge is also a concern for us. For rolling stock, we’re increasing the use of electric braking on our trainsets and developing brake linings that give off fewer particle emissions. As to the work itself, we’re building and outfitting new workshops that include plants and use less energy and water.

Tell us about how your department uses participatory innovation to improve rolling stock maintenance and modernisation, and how doing so has helped address operational challenges.

Our culture of participatory innovation goes back a long way. All our people are encouraged to put forward ideas to improve safety, working conditions, day-to-day efficiency and service levels. Whatever their job, engineers, maintenance and support functions alike are all committed to this approach.

We also contribute to RATP Group’s drive for innovation by leveraging the potential of physical assistive technology to make certain tasks less arduous and improve quality of working life for our staff. The use of exoskeletons in maintenance operations and virtual reality for training and the design of new maintenance shops are some of the ways in which we do this.

Innovation also involves feedback from day-to-day experience informing the way we prepare the arrival of new rolling stock and test out new solutions, notably to improve passenger comfort.

How is your team rising to the challenge of preventive and corrective maintenance whilst at the same time providing ongoing quality service for operators and RATP network users?

Our teams carry out maintenance and fault repairs on a daily basis to help maintain good service levels. Thousands of maintenance operations are carried out every year to ensure our trains remain available over the long term.  We also have full part traceability and fine-tune our maintenance schedules to achieve train lifespans of up to fifty or sixty years.

What’s more, since the arrival of new-generation trains in the 2000s we’ve been using artificial intelligence to optimise maintenance and monitor essential functions such as door opening and closing, passenger information and air conditioning.

We’re also developing external train systems that can look out for faults and report them: these include pantographs that are monitored to optimise carbon contact strip replacement and detect any damage that may disrupt operations.

The forthcoming Paris Olympics are very much in the news; how will the Games impact rail rolling stock maintenance?

From a maintenance perspective, the Olympic and Paralympic Games have already begun! Over the past few months, we’ve been anticipating a large proportion of maintenance and implementing dedicated reliability plans for key rolling stock so that we have trains in the best possible condition available once the Games get underway.

We’re also adapting trains to address the needs of a rather different passenger profile compared to everyday operations, in particular in terms of on-board signage and audio information. We’re paying special attention to ventilation systems, too: an action plan has already been launched to service all ventilation systems on Line 9, for example.

The Olympics will also entail different commutes for our employees: we’re adjusting our organisation and logistics to take into account travel restrictions, in particular for one of our depots that’s located right next to one of the stadiums being used for events.

In addition, we need to be in a position to respond quickly in the event of an incident of any type during the Games, so we’ve provided extra breakdown repair and fault remediation resources and pre-positioned them across the Ile-de-France region.

Côme Berbain, a graduate of the prestigious Ecole des Mines in Paris with a PhD in cryptography, has had a varied career working in digital transformation and cybersecurity in both the private sector (Orange, Trusted Logic) and public bodies including France’s defence ministry, its National Agency for Information Systems Security (ANSSI) and its Interministerial Digital Directorate.

In 2019 he joined the RATP Group as Head of Innovation, contributing to the development of its self-driving vehicle programme as well as coordinating its AI, robotics and Smartercity programmes, with projects focusing on real-time multi-language translation, computer vision, and more especially real-time traffic measurement, the use of exoskeletons and the development of fuel cell buses. On 15 April 2024 he took up the position of director, Rail Rolling Stock (a department he had already got to know a year previously) where he is working on strategy and development.