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When the Rail Manufacturing CRC closed its doors earlier this year, it spelled an end to dedicated rail innovation and technology funding in Australia.
While the loss has been felt deeply by the industry, the fact is the CRC’s significant gains were achieved against all odds.
A new report commissioned by the ARA has found rail innovation is in decline in Australia, and urgent changes are needed if the $155 billion in rail investment to come over the next 15 years is to deliver a truly modern, responsive and innovative rail network.
The report found rail patents are falling in a market where a lack of national focus and certainty, and wrongfooted procurement processes, have created a culture where innovation is simply not encouraged – and at times impossible to progress.
It has called for urgent action to establish rail innovation as a national priority and clearly articulated the need for a single Australian rail market that replaces state specific approaches with national local content policies.
As the federal government highlights the importance of manufacturing to help create Australia’s path out of recession, there is a real opportunity for Australian rail to embrace innovation and play a greater role in the $362 billion global rail technology market.
To do that, we need a national approach that provides certainty and longevity for the industry.
For all the benefits the Rail Manufacturing CRC delivered, the lack of continued funding beyond its term and relatively low level of public investment compared to international models saw the opportunity under-utilised.
Only 63 cents of private investment on national projects were secured for every $1 of CRC funding.
By contrast, the UK Rail Research and Innovation Network attracts $2 for every dollar of public funding, and Japan brings in 20 times its public funding from the private sector.
They achieve those results because the policy settings are right, the long term commitment is there and the focus on rail innovation recognises the invaluable role of both the public and private sectors working together.
A national approach, tied to clear commitments to invest in research, would help achieve that here in Australia.
The ARA has long advocated for a single Australian rail market to give the industry the scale it needs to invest, grow and innovate.
The report makes it clear that is more important than ever as we look to the future.
Current state procurement processes not only create inconsistent local content policies – making it hard to create true centres for innovation – but they focus on the up front capital costs in making their purchasing decisions.
That means innovations that requires investment up front in order to save time, money and boost efficiency over the life of a project or asset often don’t get to see the light of day.
Public procurement processes also err on the side of caution, calling for like-for-like replacement in many cases.
The private sector may have better, faster, or cheaper ways of delivering on requirements, but these conditions prevent them from being put forward.
Overall, these conditions create a risk averse culture that dampens the willingness of the sector to try new things.
And that is ultimately to our detriment.
Australia has great capability in the rail sector and could lead the world on rail innovation if the conditions were right.
The world-first use of autonomous heavy haul trains by the resources sector in the Pilbara is evidence of that.
Australia’s manufacturing sector features some of the industry’s brightest minds. But their big ideas are more likely to be sent overseas than developed here.
With only one per cent of rail patent submissions coming from Australia in 2019, the only way is up.
This next phase of rail investment is a chance to modernise and innovate like never before.
It is a chance to build new skills and capability in Australia to create jobs and opportunity for the next generation of rail workers.
All we need to do is take action and make rail innovation a priority for all of us.
Finding the fast track for innovation in the Australasian rail industry is available here.
Australia has the opportunity to harness the current project pipeline to improve rail manufacturing productivity, a new report has found.
The report, Finding the fast track for innovation in the Australasian rail industry, authored by L.E.K. Consulting on behalf of the Australasian Railway Association (ARA), highlights that rail innovation needs to be a national priority, and not fragmented between different state-based policies.
Caroline Wilkie, CEO of the ARA, said that the current investment in rail plus the renewed federal focus on manufacturing meant that the conditions were right for a rail manufacturing resurgence.
“The rail industry is expected to invest $155 billion in the next 15 years and we have to make that investment count,” Wilkie said.
“The world-first introduction of autonomous trains in the Pilbara region is just one example that shows Australia has the capability to lead the way on rail innovation.
“But the policy settings must be right to support innovation and technology adoption across the industry at a whole.”
Wilkie said that despite Australia having a large market for rail and the required network size, differing policies on local content in various states meant that the local manufacturing industry would struggle to compete.
“The international experience has shown that where governments lead a focus on rail innovation, private investment follows,” she said.
“We have the projects in the pipeline and we have the network scale to make rail innovation a real success.
“All we need now is for a true national focus to bring government and industry together to make the most of this opportunity.”
With the closure of the Rail Manufacturing CRC earlier in 2020, the Australian rail industry has lacked government funding for innovation specific to rail. The report found that Australia was also falling behind in comparison to other countries, with only one per cent of the world’s rail patents in 2019 coming from Australia.
In a report released at the beginning of this week, the Rail Manufacturing CRC reviewed projects that it had completed and highlighted the potential for further innovation.
“Australia’s research sector is world class and there exist many opportunities for the rail sector to utilise Australia’s R&D capabilities. With the closure of the Rail Manufacturing CRC, there will be a need for both government and industry to consider new models to support ongoing innovation,” said Stuart Thomson, CEO of the Rail Manufacturing CRC.
The report highlights four ongoing challenges for the rail industry. These include the need for national harmonisation, industry co-investment in R&D, the support for a culture of innovation, and the need to secure future funding for rail R&D.
“There exist significant opportunities for the sector to increase local manufacturing, develop supply chains and to train and educate a highly skilled workforce, however Government intervention and support will be required,” the report highlights.
Wilkie said that the industry was at a critical juncture.
“We run the real risk of being saddled with an inefficient, outdated rail network if we don’t support greater innovation and technology adoption to deliver the best possible outcomes for Australian rail users.”
Lifting data from the digital grave and into the cloud has opened up possibilities for rail maintenance. Autech explains how.
Twenty years ago, Swiss rail maintenance machine manufacturer Autech began providing its customers with an innovative way to measure their tracks. Using electronic measurement data collected by maintenance and measurement machines, rail infrastructure owners and operators could see the cross-sections of their rails, enabling an understanding of the wear and tear of this critical infrastructure.
Despite having this data on hand, CTO of Autech, Peter Merz found that it was not being put to use.
“What we saw is then they piled up the data, they printed it out and put it in the archive, and basically this data was lost.”
While some aggregated data was put into enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, the fine-grain measurements that could provide a maintenance engineer with insights were unavailable.
“The individual measurements were deleted or put in a storage system and were buried in the digital grave,” said Merz.
Having had this experience, Merz and the team at Autech began working on creating a cloud-based solution that would enable rail engineers to easily make use of the data they were collecting. The software system they developed has been named RailCloud.
“RailCloud really plots the view of the maintenance field engineers, so they can see their track, the overall condition of the track, but also the data on the individual section, even a single cross-section measurement,” said Merz.
RailCloud takes measurements collected in the field and combines them in a single, analysable database that is presented based on the geography of the rail track. The software’s base layer is a map of the system, and asset data stored in the cloud is overlaid on that map.
“It starts with the topography, the mapping, so the field engineer can go to this crossing, this intersection and so on. This is connected to the measurement systems, so the measurement systems automatically upload data, located by GPS,” said Merz.
“You can connect your measurement equipment to your network environment, so the data is automatically sorted, assigned, and allocated.”
The cloud-based software can then assign work orders and maintenance tasks based on thresholds set by the operator. In addition, having the data collected together, operators can now begin to predict rates of wear and trends, enabling predictive maintenance regimes.
“Of course, it’s a continuous thing – every year you make the measurements, every year you plan your maintenance. But with RailCloud we kept it quite light weight to make it simple and smart. You really can work on a daily basis with it, collecting measurement data, network, topology, workflows. Then you get data driven maintenance.”
DATA FROM THE SOURCE
To collect data on track condition and wear rates, Autech have recently developed RailXS, bringing together 30 years of rail measurement knowledge.
“The big advantage is it is very lightweight, it’s about 60-70kg and it can be mounted on any suitable rollingstock equipment,” said Merz. “This can be a dedicated equipment, it can be a small trolley, it can be an existing maintenance rollingstock, but it also can be a regular rollingstock.”
By mounting on regular rollingstock, measurement does not have to wait for track maintenance periods or shutdowns and can be done many times in one day.
The data is collected through laser optical sensors, which can record track parameters and the rail profile. Data is then automatically uploaded to the cloud platform RailCloud either via WiFi or a mobile internet connection. If this is not available, the data is stored and then uploaded once the vehicle returns to the depot or an area of internet connectivity. Before uploading, the measurement data is tagged with a location, either through GPS locating or RFID readers. Having these automatic systems means the data is ready to be utilised by the rail maintenance engineer, rather than having to be sorted or allocated.
“By transferring the data into the RailCloud it’s automatically allocated, you don’t have to work again. You can introduce filters to smoothen, aggregate, or transfer the data, or to do additional calculations, but the real key is to automatically map the data to your network and then there is no manual interaction needed again,” said Merz.
THE KEY TO PREDICTIVE MAINTENANCE
During the development process, the focus for RailCloud was to keep the software as lightweight as the measurement systems that supported it. This has enabled the software to be adopted by smaller operators, without the need for expensive experts and consultants to set up the system. Already, the system is in use on the tram networks of Zürich and Amsterdam where it has driven smarter maintenance practices.
“In Zürich, one of the departments wanted to do a replacement and the maintenance department said no we don’t need this replacement yet,” said Merz. “Using the RailCloud data they could prove that instead of a replacement being due every 5 years, it’s only in 12 years. RailCloud is driving fact- based decisions.”
Due to its flexibility, and the lack of a need for scheduled measurements by specialised vehicles, RailCloud can help operators take the next step to predictive maintenance.
“The big advantage is that you don’t measure every five years or every three years, you can regularly measure four times a year or even once a month,” said Merz. “You can set your intervals according to your needs, but in fact if you measure five times a year or 12 times a year, you have much better prognosis points of your wear rates.”
As wear rates are not linear, having more data points can enable a clearer picture of the wear curve to appear than what would be possible if measurements are only conducted every few years, said Merz.
“If you measure once a month you really see the trend or the curve, of your wear rate, and you see also deviation or if it changes in behaviour. That’s a big advantage, not just to know the state the track is in but what will happen.
“It’s the key to go into predictive maintenance.”
Siemens explains to Rail Express how digitalisation in rail requires a focus on cyber security.
On June 19, Prime Minister Scott Morrison warned Australian businesses and agencies that they were under a sustained cyber- attack from a sophisticated state-based actor. Rather than describing the nature of a singular attack, Morrison outlined the constant and ongoing threat that Australia’s critical infrastructure was facing.
This reminder of the cyber threat that Australia was facing aligned with what Serge Maillet, head of industrial cyber security, Siemens Australia and New Zealand, has observed.
“Over the past 12-18 months there’s been a significant increase in terms of cyber-attacks that Australia is seeing across all industries. This is happening world-wide but unfortunately Australia is among the top 10 countries being targeted.”
Based on data from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a US think tank, Australia is the sixth most targeted country for cyber-attacks, with 16 significant attacks between May 2006 and June 2020. The nature of these attacks is not leaving the rail industry unscathed.
“Any entity attempting cyber threats, also known as threat actors, are increasingly targeting a lot of our critical infrastructure. Rail is certainly part of that critical infrastructure,” said Maillet.
The types of attacks that are occurring are the intrusion of malware due to failed security controls, in many cases, due to human error.
“The reality is that the majority of organisations in Australia are going to be attacked at some stage. The only variables are the type of attack vector, the size of impacts and if the attack is going to be successful or not,” said Maillet. “If it is a successful attack, you want to make sure that you’ve got measures in place to be able to recover from those attacks and bring the critical systems back online as quickly as possible, while minimising any negative impacts on public safety or production.”
THE CONVERGENCE OF IT AND OT
What has made the rail sector and critical infrastructure particularly susceptible to cyber-attacks, and why governments are concerned is the convergence of what were previously two separate systems, information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT).
“While cyber-attacks have been able to target data in an IT environment, the interconnection of IT with OT opens the potential for threat actors to penetrate machines and processes, causing significant harm,” said Maillet.
“If we look at OT in the context of rail, it’s really about machines and process control. This could be rail signalling, rail control, automation, telemetry and more.”
Previously, these systems were insulated from cyber-attacks due to their lack of connection to external or untrusted networks. While IT systems were constantly being patched with new software, OT systems ran on their own proprietary technology, and did not require regular updates.
“Because of that there’s been a lack of focus from organisations on their own OT systems from a security perspective,” said Maillet. “Now that we’re seeing a lot of convergence and hyper convergence happening between IT and OT it’s creating a lot of new challenges, especially for industrial applications, and it’s increasing the risk profile of our critical infrastructure.”
In addition, while enterprise IT is expected to have a lifecycle of three to five years, OT devices are often expected to run for 20 years, if not longer. As these older systems are beginning to be integrated with the wider rail IT network through the process of digitalisation, safety critical technology is becoming increasingly vulnerable to cyber-attacks, said Maillet.
“The challenge from that perspective is that a lot of the legacy OT devices that are still in operation today for a lot of critical infrastructure were never designed with security in mind, because they were never intended to be converged with IT.”
While digitalisation promises and has delivered many benefits to rail networks, the issue of cyber vulnerability and exposure are sometimes overlooked, and the cost of digitalisation is only accounted for in financial terms, not in terms of cyber security, cautioned Maillet.
THE CONSEQUENCES OF DIGITALISATION
To some, the solution may look simple. Why not just update the software that runs these safety critical systems, or install the latest security patch? This is easier said than done, Maillet points out.
“In OT infrastructure the priority is always going to be to maintain the safety, reliability, availability, and integrity of those platforms. So, when you look at putting in a new patch or making a configuration change, that will always introduce potential risk to jeopardise the availability or performance of that system. Often, these elements will take priority over the actual integrity of the system.”
That’s not to say that the patches are not available. Many OT systems run on operating systems such as Microsoft Windows, which have has regular security patch updates to account for vulnerabilities identified in the system. Trying to find a time when the system that controls a rail network can be taken offline for an upgrade is tricky.
Another limit on the possibility of upgrading these systems is the potential for human error. Stephen Baker, head of product innovation and through-life support at Siemens Mobility says that this leads to a bunker-like mentality.
“The problem is that you end up with an infrastructure that is safe and reliable, but you can’t do anything with it, you can’t run analytics, you can’t do downstream processing. The convergence of OT and IT can’t be put on hold.
“Let’s face it,” said Baker. “You can imagine what would happen if all of a sudden you stopped running trains in Melbourne or Sydney because the operation of a vital network has been compromised.”
DEALING WITH AN EVOLVING THREAT
To mitigate the threat of a cyber-attack while still reaping the benefits of digitalisation Siemens have developed a full cycle of expertise that is focused on the people, processes, and technologies that can keep a rail system functioning.
“Industrial security, which includes rail security, is really a dynamic topic. Because the risks are constantly evolving and changing in nature, it’s creating a lot of challenges. So, our job at Siemens is to help our customers better understand where those vulnerabilities are and what types of solutions are best to maximise the security posture of a system,” said Maillet.
When working in the rail industry in particular, Siemens have developed solutions designed for rail.
“When we look at mainline train systems or metro systems, we know that they are deploying a lot of Industry 4.0 technologies, a lot of digitalisation, which is increasing the operational efficiency and reliability of those systems,” said Maillet. “We also have to ensure that we implement technologies that enhance cyber security for the network that the trains systems operate on, as well as the control systems that manage the rail infrastructure.”
With 90 per cent of successful cyber- attacks due to human error, the solution must begin with people.
“We know that even if you have all the right technology put in place, if your people do the wrong thing due to lack of awareness or not having the right level of training in cyber security, then that’s likely to expose a vulnerability,” said Maillet.
“Sometimes it’s as simple as plugging a USB into a computer. If it’s a computer asset in an OT environment, that USB could easily introduce a vulnerability. Another common breakdown is when someone clicks on an email that they shouldn’t which can create a virtual doorway for a threat actor to bypass the security measures that have been put into place to protect critical assets.”
The next step is the processes. In a rail organisation these processes could include how staff fix issues, how assets are managed and what procedures are in place to ensure that assets are maintained securely.
The final piece is the technology, and here Siemens is working on solutions that can enhance the secure digitalisation of rail. Andrew Chan, development engineer at Siemens Mobility’s Centre of Excellence, describes how the company is looking at extracting information from a digital rail asset without the potential risk of exposing it to external attacks.
“A data diode basically allows data to flow in one direction and in that way, we can safely get safety critical information from our axle counters and interlockings out into the IT environment. That’s where we can do amazing things with data.”
Other technologies that Siemens are deploying include edge processing for intrusion detection, and cloud services to mine data for cyber security analytics.
Servicing all areas is an example of Siemens’s distinct approach, said Baker.
“We’re probably one of the few total solution providers – we design the interlocking hardware, we design the control systems, all the network requirements and defences are part of the safety case, we design the networks and even the analytics, so every layer is internal. We’re one of the few organisations that can give you everything from broad level design of the signals and the railways, right through to the cloud analytics which tells the asset owner how the infrastructure is performing.”
While Siemens has a number of areas of the business which deal with rail cyber security, its industrial security services provide the hardware and software services, as well as professional services to rail customers.
These industrial cyber security solutions are provided across three key pillars, security assessments, security optimisation, and security management, all underpinned by holistic approach to industrial security, known as the Defence in Depth security framework.
“Defence in Depth is having as many security measures and layers in the infrastructure as possible based on well-known security best-practices and frameworks. It provides us the ability to have a depth of staggered defences in infrastructure,” said Maillet.
As Australia grapples with the increasing cyber threat, increasing resilience will be a key factor in the success of the digitalisation of rail.
A $4 million Australian research project will look to automate the construction of embedded rail track (ERT), with the potential to apply the technology in the construction of heavy-haul and high-speed rail.
The project has received $1.5 million in funding through the federal government’s Cooperative Research Centres Projects (CRC-P) grant scheme, as well as cash and in-kind contribution from the research partners.
Currently, ERT is only used in limited lengths due to the high cost and length of time that it takes to lay the concrete-embedded slab track. However, ERT is much safer than regular ballasted track, and with fewer components, needs less regular maintenance.
The University of Wollongong (UoW) is one of the project participants and project leader Philip Commins from UoW said the project would look to utilise advanced robotics to lay the track. Over the course of the project, the team from UoW will be looking into how this technology can be used to lay slab track with millimetre-level accuracy.
“Do you need multiple robots, or, is there another process to do this? Do you need material handling or is there another process where you remove material rather than trying to hold material, or add material in place? There’s a whole host of ideas that we’re going to be investigating to find which one works best and how do we then proceed to make this process robust in a harsh Australian environment,” said Commins.
With ERT laid in concrete, there is less room for error in construction than when construction ballasted track. In the current manual process, this need for accuracy means that track is laid in 50 metre segments. To overcome this, one area the project will explore will be how to continuously lay ERT.
“Ultimately we think that to drive down the cost the time of installation we want to do this in a continuous fashion,” said Commins. “We want to say, ‘We’re starting here today and we need to get to there by the end of today,’ and the machine ideally shouldn’t stop.”
To get to this goal, the research project will take two years to identify challenges, and find the hardware and software solutions required, as well as the needs for materials and logistics.
The project also involves the University of Technology Sydney, Downer, Embedded Rail Technology, and Antoun Civil.