Level crossing Victoria - Photo: Creative Commons

New technology to dramatically improve level crossing safety

A new $4m technology being developed at Victoria’s La Trobe University could significantly reduce and help to eliminate collisions, injuries and fatalities at Australia’s level crossings.

By Jennifer Perry

The technology could warn vehicles as they’re approaching a level crossing by using “mobile phone style” wireless networks that are integrated with GPS.

“The technology will have cars and trains ‘talking to each other’ and be able to warn of approaching danger from up to one kilometre away,” Victorian roads and ports minister Tim Pallas said upon launching the research project.

“Nowhere else in the world is the trial of this particular technology being proposed to the extent that we are doing in Victoria and focusing on its level crossing safety applications.”

Pallas said the research team at the university’s Centre for Technology Infusion estimated the technology could save around 37 lives at Australian road level crossings every year, as well as about $100m by eliminating rail crossing collisions.

The project is being funded by the Victorian Government, road industry research group AutoCRC and a number of rail industry partners.

The research team hopes to have the technology available within three years.

Rail technology roadmaps: a Canadian perspective

The recent Rail Technology Workshop saw senior rail executives come together to kick-start the development of a technology strategy and roadmap for the Australian rail industry for the next 30-40 years.

By Jennifer Perry

While many rail organisations have developed individual technology roadmaps, the workshop marked the first time that industry came together to work towards a common technological base.

With Canada a few steps ahead of Australia, having already got a technology roadmap in place, delegates benefitted from hearing the Canadian experience that was shared by Mike Roney, chair of Canada’s Railway Research Advisory Board.

Roney said that the Canadian rail industry used the Association of American Railroads’ (AAR) technologyroadmap as a basis for developing a specific Canadian technology strategy, and took more of a freight focus because that’s where “the money is made”.

“The AAR technology roadmap started when our chief executives said that even if the railways don’t gain market share, we still have to be carrying 80 per cent more tonnage on our lines 20 years into the future which requires us to spend a great deal of money on capacity improvements,” Roney said.
“The target we came to was if we can do 50 per cent of that improvement in capacity through technology then there is a great deal of value in that for the railways.”

Canada took many of the AAR’s technology roadmap principles into consideration when developing its own strategy, including the need to develop capacity without spending capital; making assets sweat; fuel efficiency and advanced power systems; reducing in-service failures; automated health monitoring of track and rollingstock; interoperability; positive train control; and information technology that supports improved customer service.

“The next piece of evidence we put together was the visioning of the top operating officers within Canadian National and Canadian Pacific – the two major Canadian freight railways – who were basically asked what they would like their railway to be when they grow up,” Roney said.

The resulting vision highlighted key strategic areas such as the need for new technologies to lower stress states and for the rail network to be fluid, scheduled and precise; the need for safety systems to be more vital, predictive and condition based and for technologies that reduce emissions, amongst others.
Some of the technologies that featured in this vision were wireless train control systems to improve safety and capacity, friction management to control the friction levels along rail lines and reduce fuel consumption, ECP braking and longer trains with distributed power.

Key stakeholders then came together to decide on what research priorities would form Canada’s joint industry government research program for its technology roadmap; Roney said that with a lack of industry funding for research, it was paramount that funding went to areas that “everyone up the line” recognised as the top priorities.

Research projects included human behavior and compliance, energy and the environment, railroading and harsh and changing environments, infrastructure integrity, human factors, operational fluidity and capacity and emerging technologies.

Roney’s views were welcomed by the Rail Industry Safety and Standards Board’s (RISSB) general manager Kevin Taylor, who told Rail Express that with Canada “out there leading rail reform”, it had plenty of good case examples for Australia to follow including the development of a technologystrategy.
Taylor said that while the Rail Technology Strategy Workshop marked an important step in the industry’s development of a technology strategy, it was “just the start” of what may be a rather lengthy development and approval process.

“A project plan will be provided for RISSB’s approval in November, and subject to this approval, work will start in earnest,” he said.

Taylor also mentioned that it was important that broad industry buy-in was achieved in the development of the strategy and thus the RISSB process of consultation will be followed.

Bligh tells Waratah Coal alternative needed to Shoalwater Bay

Waratah Coal was left exposed politically today as Queensland premier Anna Bligh effectively backed federal environment minister Peter Garrett’s rejection of the export infrastructure plan.

The miner had planned to run a 500-km rail line from its proposed mine at Alpha in the Galilee, to the Shoalwater Bay military training area, but Mr Garrett rejected it.

“This proposal would have clearly unacceptable impacts on the internationally recognised Shoalwater and Corio Bay Ramsar wetlands and the high wilderness value of Shoalwater which is acknowledged in its Commonwealth Heritage listing,” Mr Garrett said.

“The impacts of the rail line and port facility are simply too great to effectively mitigate, and would destroy the ecological integrity of the area. They are impacts that cannot be reduced with offsets or managed through approval conditions.

“Destruction of fragile wilderness areas cannot be reversed. As minister for the environment, I am required by law to protect the environment from actions on Commonwealth land.”

“I have carefully considered the advice from my department on the broader proposal and agree that the plan to run a rail line through Shoalwater and build a coal port in the location proposed is clearly unacceptable.

“I wish to make it abundantly clear that I have rejected this proposal because of the impacts the route of the rail line and the location of the coal port would have on the environment.”

In response, Waratah Coal chief executive Peter Lynch signalled the miner’s intention to fight the decision.

“Waratah considers that the minister for environment has exceeded his authority in dealing with Waratah’s proposal in the manner he has and believes the decision is wrong in law, and not in the national interest,” chief executive Peter Lynch said.

“Waratah does not believe that the proposal has been properly considered or its impacts properly assessed.

“Waratah considers that its proposal should have been afforded the opportunity of scrutiny under a properly directed and formatted environmental impact study and its economic significance properly assessed.

“Waratah intends to proceed with an immediate challenge to the minister’s decision in the Federal Court of Australia.”

However, Ms Bligh indicated the miner should find an alternative.

“I also understand that the Federal Government has indicated to the developer that another site would be considered anew,” Ms Bligh said.

“If there are other possible ways that this resource could be brought to port, then the developer needs to look at that and come back to both the state and federal governments for another examination.”

ARTC gets $62.3m AusLink funds for better train communications

The Australian Rail Track Corporation will build a fully interoperable and compatible communications system for trains using its interstate and Hunter Valley networks.

The Federal Government-owned corporation will also develop the blueprint for an advanced train management system (ATMS) that will include satellite-based train location technology and in-cab signalling – developments that will enable greater coal train capacity in the Hunter Valley.

Federal transport minister John Anderson said $62.3m of AusLink funds would be spent on rail communications technology on ARTC networks.

This breaks down as $42m for the development of the train communications system and $20.3m for the ATMS blueprint.

“The communications system will be based on Telstra’s code division multiple access (CDMA)technology,” Mr Anderson said.

The technology will provide a single communications medium to replace nine separate communications systems, he said.

Mr Anderson said the ATMS technology would enable more trains to operate on Hunter Valley tracks with a higher level of safety than at present.

Fortescue starts second round of environment approvals

Fortesue Metals has released the environmental review of its planned Chichester Ranges mining operations and its connecting east-west rail spur for public comment.

The company released the first part of its environmental review, covering its planned port facilities at Anderson Point in Port Hedland and the main north-south rail line from the mine site to the port.

Fortescue said it has already acted on public submissions on the port and rail proposals.

The latest review will end in early March, and Fortescue chief executive Andrew Forrest said the company will act promptly on relevant proposals.

The two environmental reviews are crucial to the prompt completion of the feasibility study and a ministerial go-ahead for the $1.85bn iron ore export project.