Alstom to trial fully autonomous shunting in the Netherlands

French rail manufacturer Alstom has signed an agreement with Dutch infrastructure operator ProRail to test automatic shunting locomotives in 2021.

The tests aspire to a level 4 grade of automation (GoA4) where the trains will be fully automated, a first for shunting trains in the Netherlands.

Alstom will fit the automatic train operation (ATO) technology to diesel-hydraulic shunting locomotives owned by Lineas, the largest private rail freight operator in Europe. This technology will include automatic control technology, intelligence obstacle detection, and environment detection.

During the tests, train staff will remain aboard to ensure safety, however regular tasts such as starting and stopping, pushing wagons, controlling traction and brakes, and handling emergencies will be fully automated.

Bernard Belvaux, Alstom managing director for Benelux said that the trial would improve the operation of railways.

“This project is paving the way for fully digitalised railway. These tests will help the European rail system benefit from an increase in capacity, reduced energy consumption and cost while offering higher operational flexibility and improved punctuality. This test is fully in line with Alstom’s strategy to bring added value to our customers for smart and green mobility.”

Alstom has previously delivered ATO for metros around the world, including on the Sydney Metro, where the system also runs at a GoA4 level. This experience has enabled Alstom to demonstrate the benefits of an automated railway. By reducing headways and operating uniformly, automated trains can increase capacity, cut costs, and save energy.

ProRail has previously carried out tests with freight locomotives at GoA level 2, where a driver remains in control of doors and in the event of a disruption, with Alstom on a freight locomotive on the Betuweroute, a freight railway running from Rotterdam to Germany.

In May, Alstom announced that it would be trialling ATO on regional passenger trains in Germany in 2021.

COVID

The digital pandemic: How COVID-19 has accelerated digital rail

COVID-19 has upended many aspects of rail transport, however there are aspects of the disruption that provide an opportunity for digital transformation.

By March 23, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic had hit New Zealand.

Already, the country had closed its borders to anyone who was not a New Zealand citizen or permanent resident and those who could return had to isolate for two weeks. But in late March, the way that New Zealanders would get around their cities decidedly changed.

On March 25, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the country had moved to alert level four. This meant that New Zealanders could not leave their homes unless for essential services and in Auckland, the public transport network reduced to weekend level services.

Callum McLeod, who is in charge of Auckland Transport’s web presence, mobile app and journey planner, could see that there were still passengers making use of the network.

“There were still Aucklanders that needed to travel for essential purposes, be that workers in health care, people travelling to the doctor or the pharmacy, or even just getting their groceries in areas that had limited other options for transportation. We knew that these customers were wondering, ‘How do I travel and get to where I need to go while still being safe?’”

Physical distancing measures applied by that point required people to keep a distance of at least two metres between themselves and others, and this applied to public transport as well. McLeod understood that passengers wanted to know whether there was enough room on the buses, trains, and ferries that were still operating before they got on. Luckily, McLeod and his team had a solution.

“We had bus occupancy information available internally, as an operational tool, for about the last year or so, and we’d been using that to manage patronage and understand where certain routes might be getting a little busy.”

Up until then, however, that information was not available to passengers. Seeing how critical this information was, the team of software developers at Auckland Transport got to work.

“We’d been doing some design exploration, but we hadn’t intended to launch it as quickly as we did. Given the situation we pulled the team together and over the course of about a week implemented the capability to display occupancy data that from our real time streams and then present that in a way to the customer that made sense,” said McLeod.

While the Auckland Transport app had previously categorised capacity in terms of many seats, few seats, and standing room only, this needed to change for the COVID-19 reality, said McLeod.

“In the context of COVID-19, this function became even more important and it became less about needing a seat and more, ‘Can I travel while keeping enough distance between myself and others?’”

The system, initially rolled out for buses, was based upon passengers tagging on and off with their Hop travel cards. Every nine seconds, that information is transmitted back to Auckland Transport, along with the bus’s location, determined by GPS. With the system up and running for buses, the time came for it to be deployed for trains as well, however a different method of collecting data had to be used.

“With our trains the tag on, tag off point is at the station level, it’s not on the train itself, so we weren’t able to use that information. But what we do have on our trains is automatic passenger counters in each of the doors and we’ve been using that historically for boarding and unboarding patronage,” said McLeod.

Similar to the deployment of the bus information in the AT App, a development cycle that was expected to take many months was compressed down to a week.

“We worked with CAF, who build and maintain our trains, to build and install that software update across all of the train units over the course of a week. Then we used the same model on the backend to turn that boarding and off counts into the appropriate category – empty, few seats available – and that fed in automatically to AT Mobile.”

With the programming now in place, Auckland Transport have updated display boards at stations and stops and expect the solution to be one of a number of permanent upgrades to service delivery.

Thales is working on a suite of measures that are designed to help operators overcome the disruptions of COVID-19.

A DIGITAL SANDBOX
While transport authorities the world over have had to make rapid responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, and associated lockdown and distancing measures, it has also been an opportunity for experiments. In particular, as Elias Barakat, general manager, ground transportation systems at Thales outlines, operators are looking for ways to get passengers safely back on public transportation systems.

“As the restrictions are eased off slowly, operators need to be putting measures in place to actually try and reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmissions.”

Barakat highlights that data will be a key resource for operators.

“The data that they need to manage patronage and provide a safe transport environment are things like crowding on trains, crowding on platforms, adherence to distancing rules and hygiene requirements.”

Just as important as the data itself, however, is how it can be used to manage the perceptions that commuters will have of how safe the service is.

Being able to source data from multiple different points is also important. Sources of this data include ticketing gates and CCTV systems.

“When passengers arrive at a station and they find overcrowding, they’re not going to feel safe and they’re going to avoid using public transport,” said Barakat. “Passenger crowding and passenger flow analytics are becoming more important in terms of the data that public transport authorities need to gather and use to try and control crowding on platforms and trains.”

“We have had positive reviews and social posts. One of them was ‘The latest feature on how full the bus is helps me with physical distancing. Thank you, AT.’ Another was, ‘Finally Auckland Transport added capacity checking for their buses. No more waiting at the stop only to have a full bus pass you by.’”

Already public transport operators in Australasia are having to deal with patronage levels that are at the upper end of what is permissible under physical distancing regimes. Using data to enable customers to make choices about when to travel is one area that McLeod is looking to explore.

“We’ve been looking at how we can use the occupancy information in broad ways. We are trying to work out how we do it at an agency level or route level, and show the occupancy levels across the day, particularly in our peak service periods. If we can break that down into 15 minute buckets and show that before 6.30am there’s plenty of room, it starts to ramp up and then ramp back down after the peak, that can help people make decisions about when they can travel, and allow them to shift their behaviours to maintain their safe distance.”

In other contexts where the wearing of masks is mandatory on public transport, Thales has deployed its facial recognition technology using CCTV feeds.

“We have systems that perfom data analytics to do facial recognition and detect whether some people are not wearing mask and highlight that to the operator in the operations control centre. Thales has solutions where we can do video analytics to measure the separation between crowds on the platforms and similarly on the trains themselves, to make sure that people are not sitting in seats next to each other and not standing next to each other in breach of social distancing rules” said Barakat.

These data feeds can then be configured to trigger an automated response.

“As soon as a facial recognition algorithm does the facial analysis and they discover someone is not wearing a mask, that would come up as an alarm in the control centre and you can automatically contact that person through an automated warning communicated via the PA system,” said Barakat.

Barakat highlights that as much as these technologies enforce physical distancing at an individual level, the deployment of such technologies can assure other passengers that the service is safe.

DATA DEPLOYMENT IN OPERATIONS AND MANUFACTURING
Just as important as keeping passengers safe is ensuring that the public transport workforce is safe as well. Reducing the number of hours on site via predictive intelligent asset management and maintenance can reduce the risk of staff infections and subsequent disruptions to the workforce. One tool that is enabling operators as well as equipment manufacturers to be able to flexibly respond to these requirements are virtual twins. Prashanth Mysore global strategic business development and industry marketing director at Dassault Systèmes, highlights how virtual twins are being adopted.

“We’re seeing a surge in an adoption of technologies such as virtual twin experience to automate factories and operations, so they can be more flexible and agile.”

With much of the workforce encouraged to continue working from home, cloud-based platforms are providing businesses continuity.

“Virtual twin experience provides a way to interact, collaborate, and control the real-world operation while remotely working,” said Mysore.

In product design, digital twins can be used to recalibrate designs to accommodate physical distancing measures, while also virtually testing the spread of diseases within confined environments such as a rail carriage.

“There is an increasing adoption of simulations of design for safety, for example railcoach designs and cabin designs are using this widest propagation simulation technology to better design for safety,” said Mysore.

Working with a model-based design on a virtual platform can allow for the rapid altering of existing products.

“Model-based design will really give a lot of flexibility in implementing concepts such as scientific simulation models that really helps with adopting those safety principles,” said Mysore.

Dassault Systèmes SIMULIA technology shows how particles are distributed during a simulation of a sneeze in order to design and create better personal protection equipment.

UPDATING DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION
While it is too early to definitively state what aspects of our lives have been permanently changed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Barakat sees a shift in how willing passengers may be to have their movements captured as data, and how disposed operators will be to apply the collected data.

“What we are finding now with COVID-19 is that, because it’s about the personal safety of each passenger, including their own, commuters seem to be more accepting of CCTV data being captured and analysed to detect safety breaches,” he said.

One area where passenger data could be used more, highlighted Mysore, is in workforce planning and schedule optimisation.

“For the transportation sector more frequent workforce planning is needed in order to have your business continue amid the developing norms of social distancing and minimal workforce availability. Platforms have the capability to focus on scheduling agility. To accommodate disruptions, you need to have workforce planning agility and the scheduling agility, both on the production side and the operations side.”

In order to reduce crowding at the station and on carriages, Barakat foresees an appetite for more integrated transport management.

“What could be improved is interconnectivity between multimodal transport and ensuring that the timetables are coherent so that when a ferry or a bus arrives at a hub there’s a train ready within a few minutes so that you reduce the dwell time of the passengers.

With reduced patronage during this period of COVID, operators need to maintain a reasonable level of train and public transport operations, so by having an intelligence train management system you can have time table management in real time to deal with passenger flow unpredictability as commuters stagger their working hours and balance work from home and work from the office.”

Alstom

Alstom using AI solution to manage social distancing in Panama

Alstom is using artificial intelligence (AI) technology to manage passenger flow and maintain social distancing.

The system is currently in use on the Panama Metro, where Alstom has deployed its Mastria multimodal supervision and mobility orchestration solution.

Initially used to manage passenger crowding in peak periods, the system has been adapted to maintain social distancing requirements due to the coronavirus (COVID-19).

“The ability of this tool to analyse millions of pieces data in real time makes it an indispensable ally for operators at all times, but especially in the current context. Simply put, it matches transport offer to demand, no matter the conditions,” said Stephane Feray-Beaumont, vice president innovation & smart mobility of Alstom Digital Mobility.

The system gathers data from a various of data sources, including train weight sensors, ticketing machines, traffic signalling, management systems, surveillance cameras, and mobile network.

This data is then fed into an algorithm, which determines when the network is reaching its capacity limit. The operator can then carry out actions in response to the data, whether that be increasing train frequency, adjusting entry to the system, managing people on the platform, or suggesting changes to transport systems that feed into the rail network.

Since being installed on the Panama Metro late in 2019, Mastria has been mining the system’s data to be able to intelligently predict when the system will be reaching capacity through machine learning techniques. After three months, the system could predict saturation up to 30 minutes before it was visibly observed, enabling remedial action to be taken, and reducing wait times in stations by 12 per cent.

During COVID-19, the system has been used to limit train loads to 40 per cent of maximum capacity. To achieve this, new features such as real time monitoring of passenger density and flows, simulating limiting access to stations, and analysing the distribution of passengers along trains have been developed.

When the COVID-19 threat recedes, Panamanian operators will be able to use the new features to manage the return to public transport, said Feray-Beaumont.

“All experts agree that public transportation, and particularly rail, will continue to be the backbone of urban mobility. Artificial intelligence will be our best travel partner in this new era of mobility.”

Rail Manufacturing CRC

Closure of Rail Manufacturing CRC leaves room for R&D investment

The Rail Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) held its last event on June 25 and officially closed on July 1 leaving a gap in the Australian rail industry’s research and development landscape.

Established in 2014, the Rail Manufacturing CRC has left a legacy in the form of new products for commercialisation, including passenger information systems installed at Wynyard Station in Sydney and prototypes of supercapacitor control systems and composite brake discs.

Stuart Thomson, Rail Manufacturing CRC CEO, said that more work needs to be done to build off the centre’s successes.

“New models of cooperation between industry and researchers, individual state governments and the Commonwealth Government will need to be explored. A national strategy for rail and rail innovation would be a great impetus for ensuring a future innovative rail sector.”

Caroline Wilkie, CEO of the Australasian Railway Association (ARA), said that the CRC’s work is already having an impact.

“The Rail Manufacturing CRC has worked alongside rail manufacturers and operators to deliver new technology and innovation that will make a real difference to the industry,” said Wilkie.

“The CRC’s collaborative focus has delivered some great results and the team can be very proud of its record of achievement.”

With the CRC now closed and no immediate plans for a replacement, Wilkie notes there is more need than ever for support for collaboration between industry and research organisations.

“New funding is now essential to keep the focus on technology and innovation in rail.”

Thomson said that with the current levels of investment in rail, there is an opportunity to grow local manufacturing.

“There is a need to strengthen the domestic rail supply chain. By providing incentives for SMEs to invest in research and development, and encouraging global suppliers currently not investing in local innovation or local supply chains to invest in the long term future of the local rail sector, this will create future advanced manufacturing businesses and employment opportunities.”

As the Australian rail industry adopts digital technology and smart systems, this investment should be supported with local research and development.

“Technology will play an increasing role in the rail industry and continued investment is essential to make sure Australia remains at the forefront of innovation,” said Wilkie.

“It is more important than ever that this work continues as the industry prepares for new growth.”

Projects conducted by the Rail Manufacturing CRC have been highly regarded, with the Dwell Track technology winning the CRC Association’s annual Excellence in Innovation award. In addition, projects have led to industry implementation, with CRRC, Bombardier, and Downer having already put the projects to work.

In a recent interview with Rail Express, Thomson said that the CRC was able to design research that met the needs of industry.

“The industry has faced, and will continue to face, infrastructure and innovation challenges in Australia. By developing research projects and teaming up experts to support the industry, we are ensuring innovation meets industry’s needs and requirements to deliver the transformational change required in the rail sector.”

Projects completed by the Rail Manufacturing CRC can be found here: https://www.rmcrc.com.au/.

Thales to support NSW digital strategy

Global technology provider and rail signalling manufacturer Thales will develop a leading digital control, communication, and signalling centre in Sydney.

The announcement follows Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s $1.6 billion Digital Restart Fund which aims to make NSW the digital capital of the southern hemisphere.

Thales Australia CEO Chris Jenkins said that the announcement enables Thales to commit to basing its digital innovation in Sydney.

“This is incredibly exciting for the many innovative companies operating in this state. To back the NSW ambition, we are committed to establishing a digital innovation lab in western Sydney to develop digital solutions for public transport,” said Jenkins.

Thales supplies digital transport systems to Sydney Metro and has supplied telemetry solutions to Sydney Trains.

Jenkins said that Thales would be drawing on its global expertise and tailoring the solutions to the needs of NSW and Transport for NSW, focusing on Metro, light rail, transport cyber security, and digital rail signalling.

“The Digital Innovation Lab will continue to grow smart jobs in western Sydney, enhancing our existing team of world-class engineers and software developers already based in our Transport business.”

NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said that investment in digital technology would drive the state’s economy.

“This record investment in technology recognises that digital infrastructure is as important as transport infrastructure to the State’s economic growth.

“We must be fast followers in the Digital Revolution to accelerate agility, lift productivity and generate the jobs of tomorrow.”

The $1.6bn in funding also includes $240 million to enhance NSW’s cyber security capability, the biggest single investment in cyber security in Australia’s history, said Minister for Customer Service Victor Dominello.

Cyber security is also a focus for Thales.

“It’s never been more important that our public transport systems are protected with the highest levels of cyber security, which Thales delivers to public transport operators around the world,” said Jenkins.

associations

Global railway associations highlight post-COVID mobility improvements

A trio of global railway associations have noted that rail is part of the solution to the linked crises of climate change and coronavirus (COVID-19).

In a joint statement, the associations highlight how mobility is key to creating trade and prosperity, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In Europe, rail accounts for 7.6 per cent of passenger and 17.6 per cent of freight transport, while only producing 0.5 per cent of the continent’s greenhouse gas emissions.

During the COVID-19 crisis, rail also provided an essential service, by enabling the movement of essential workers and crucial goods.

Noting that the current ways of doing business are not enough in future, the International Union of Railways (UIC), the International Association for Public Transport (UITP), and the European Rail Industry Association (UNIFE), set out areas where mobility will need to be improved, committing to a sense of urgency in updating transportation.

“Railways have demonstrated their resilience and their capacity to deliver essential services even in these difficult circumstances. We all know that railway and public transport are the key for a sustainable future, provided that they are able to implement seamless multimodal mobility networks,” said François Davenne, UIC director general.

The three primary areas for change are customer experience, increased capacity, and an increased recognition of the importance of collective travel on rail rather than in individual vehicles. Technologies such as flow management to adapt to consumer patters, the design of intelligent infrastructure networks to optimise existing systems, and autonomous rail vehicles are identified as areas for rail to pursue.

Together, the associations welcomed work done by the EU to boost rail travel, but also pointed to the need to continue to invest in infrastructure, rollingstock, and research to meet future challenges, said Philippe Citroen, UNIFE director general.

“UNIFE believes that the [European Commission]’s recent Multiannual Financial Framework and Next Generation EU proposals are powerful recovery instruments that can help complete EU Green Deal objectives, but they must be mobilised for the decarbonisation of European transportation. This is only possible through a greater multimodal mobility shift with rail at its backbone.”

Recognising the value of public transport will be indispensable to ensuring the resilience of cities in the future said Mohamed Mezghani, UITP secretary general.

“Public transport and the environment are inextricably linked and with a strong local network, emissions are lowered and our cities become healthier and more sustainable.”

laser sensors

Targeting accuracy and precision with laser sensors

Bestech is providing the local rail industry with access to products such as laser sensors that are used in driving advanced solutions.

The fundamentals of rail wheel interaction have been established for many decades. The conical shape of the wheels allows for the wheel set to shift while rounding a curve, and for the train to stay on track. These engineering principles have served railways well for centuries, however engineers are now looking for a way to reduce rail wear, allowing the tracks to operate longer without maintenance.

In a trial underway in the UK, an array of optoNCDT 1420 compact laser triangulation sensors from Micro-Epsilon have been installed to provide the measurement behind the ActiWheel solution. The sensors guide the ActiWheel traction system to produce more driving force on one side of the wheelset to ensure the train travels down the centreline of the track. The solution would overcome the compromises and issues that result from the combination of a solid axle and wheel coning and reduce wear on the wheel and the rail.

ActiWheel relies upon precise and accurate measurements from the optoNCDT sensors to provide the information for the artificial intelligence software that drives the motors that are individually affixed to each wheel. The optoNCDT sensors measure the lateral position of the wheel, relative to the rail, and according to Neil Cooney, technical director at the UK company behind ActiWheel, SET, the particular specifications of the sensor made it the perfect fit.

“We initially approached Micro-Epsilon for a suitable sensor and were very impressed with the application engineer who demonstrated the optoNCDT 1420 sensor to us. The sensor met all our technical requirements in terms of its flexibility, resolution and robustness. We are measuring down to 0.1mm accuracy and lateral movement can be up to a maximum of 20mm,” said Cooney.

This is not the only application of laser sensors in the rail industry. Sensors such as the optoNCDT have been widely used for maintenance of rail tracks and to measure wear and tear. This is in addition to track guiding devices that are installed below the train, which also use laser sensors. The conditions within these applications require a certain kind of sensor.

“These require a compact sensor that can be easily installed and provide accurate and reliable measurement at high speed,” said Wirhan Prationo, marketing engineer at Bestech, which distribute sensors from Micro-Epsilon in Australia.

As seen in its adoption for the innovative ActiWheel solution, the compact optoNCDT is optimised for the rail industry as a laser triangulation sensor.

“It combines speed, size, performance and versatility for measurement applications in the rail industry. This compact laser triangulation sensor is suitable for measuring distance and displacement up to 500mm with maximum sampling speed of 4kHz. It also can be easily integrated in restricted and narrow installation space,” said Prationo.

In the ActiWheel case, the sensor was particularly useful when it came to ensuring that the data collected was only that which was required, said Cooney.

“We’ve also been impressed by the filtering function, which filters out noise from dirt, dust, grease and pieces of bent metal on the rail head, which means we can trust the measurement data,” said Cooney.

To use the sensors, SET created a frame that lies beneath the wheel axle of the train, 400mm from the rail head. The sensors are located in front of the flange and point towards the rail head. The data from this assembly is then transferred to the ActiWheel control system via a 4-20mA analogue signal. Operation and configuration can be done using the web- based interface. While these are the settings used by the ActiWheel team there are other information channels available.

“The optoNCDT laser triangulation sensor offers a range of different output signals that enable easy integration of the sensor into any industrial control system,” said Prationo. “The sensors are operated through the web interface and they also have additional analysis features, such as video signal display, signal peak selection, background noise filtering and signal averaging. A mobile data acquisition unit can be used to collect the data, which can be connected to the computer on board.”

With the trial ongoing in the UK, the optoNCDT’s technical specifications have been tested in a variety of environments. Rated to an IP65 protection level, the system is housed within a casing that is impenetrable by dirt and dust.

During the demonstration, the optoNCDT sensors were able to read accurate data in the harsh environment underneath the train, where dust, dirt, and moisture are present. They also delivered consistent reading irrespective of whether it’s a cold, wet, rainy or bright sunny day. After running for a couple of thousand miles the sensors did not need cleaning.

While the further development of ActiWheel promises much for reducing rolling contact fatigue, this is only one potential application of the optoNCDT sensors.

Located in Australia, Bestech is able to collaborate with rail organisations seeking to leverage the precision and accuracy of laser sensor technology.

“Bestech have more than 40 years of experiences in sensors and instrumentation for solving test and measurement challenges in the industry,” said Prationo. “We offer not only high-quality products, but also our technical expertise and support to assist with real-time application to correctly gather the data you require. Bestech can also customise the product to fit into certain requirements, such as different cable length, integration with mobile data acquisition system or signal conditioning to fit into the existing devices.”

“Our team is supported by highly- trained applications engineers and product specialists with a wealth of experience in sensor applications for measurement of physical parameters in the industry.”

rail manufacturing

Culture of innovation

Stuart Thomson, CEO and managing director of the Rail Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre shares how the industry has collaborated on innovation, research, and development across the past six years.

Formed in 2014, the Rail Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) has continued to work closely with the industry to assist the rail sector to adopt future digital technologies and address coming workforce needs.

Stuart Thomson, CEO and managing director of the Rail Manufacturing CRC said engagement from the rail sector, universities, and research institutions has been the key to collaborative research and development. Co- funded by the Commonwealth government, the Rail Manufacturing CRC provides a platform for the rail industry to work together to increase its capacity to innovate.

COLLABORATIVE FRAMEWORK
Thomson said what distinguishes the Rail Manufacturing CRC is its approach to cross- sectoral research. Bringing together the depth of research in universities and the applied knowledge of the rail industry, along with the support of the federal government, the Rail Manufacturing CRC can advance innovation across manufacturing, design and modelling. After six years in operation, the Rail Manufacturing CRC is coming to the end of its tenure on June 30 this year, with the Centre now working to complete its final projects.

“The Rail Manufacturing CRC has worked closely with the rail sector to deliver industry focused projects. During this time of uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the team has been working to wrap up projects and manage financial and reporting requirements required before the Centre closes,” Thomson said.

Since 2014, the Rail Manufacturing CRC has been driving the development of products, technologies, and supply chain networks to enhance the competitiveness of Australia’s rail manufacturing industry. Thomson said that despite the closure of the Centre, the CRC has created a culture of innovation that will continue to grow.

“The industry has faced, and will continue to face, infrastructure and innovation challenges in Australia. By developing research projects and teaming up experts to support the industry, we are ensuring innovation meets industry’s needs and requirements to deliver the transformational change required in the rail sector,” Thomson said.

DEVELOPING AUSTRALIAN RAIL MANUFACTURING
Thomson said multinationals have invested in the programs run by the Rail Manufacturing CRC because there is technical expertise based in Australia’s heavy-haul and passenger rail experience that companies know can genuinely assist their businesses. The next challenge for the industry is making sure there’s a pipeline of work to enable investment in capital, research and development, and innovation.

Within the Australian rail sector, a great deal of focus in the last six years has been devoted to the development of condition-based monitoring systems and applications. Thomson said the Rail Manufacturing CRC has worked on a variety of condition-based monitoring projects, including the development of battery control systems that can extend maintenance cycles, the modelling of wheel bearing wear to determine the best maintenance practices, and developing weld modelling software to assist in improving the quality of welding in rail manufacture.

In collaboration with major rail operators, the Rail Manufacturing CRC has initiated projects to develop models to assess predictive maintenance of rail switches for an operator’s network. Predictive monitoring of rail infrastructure has also allowed the Centre to innovate the use of vision systems to identify maintenance needs on overhead wires and associated infrastructure.

The Rail Manufacturing CRC has worked with Downer and the University of Technology Sydney to develop a new technology called Dwell Track. The new innovation utilises 3D infra-red vision to measure passenger congestion on platforms. This information can be used to better understand passenger movement and to assist operators make decisions to limit congestion, alter platform designs, and – in the future – provide real time information to rail staff and passengers. The technology has since been tested in real time at a train station in an Australian capital city.

Thomson said many of the projects at the Rail Manufacturing CRC have a high probability of future commercial success. “We have six technologies that are likely to yield commercial returns in the near future, so that’s quite an achievement,” he said.

Thomson credits the input of the Centre’s PhD scholarship students who have contributed to research projects. Thomson noted they represent the next generation of highly skilled rail employees. “There is a great deal of discussion around future skills gaps and developing the next generation of rail employees. We anticipate that the vast majority of our rail postgraduates, 51 in total, will seek careers in the rail sector, especially if the sector increases local manufacturing post COVID-19.” Thomson said.

CONTINUING INDUSTRY-FOCUSED RESEARCH
Thomson wants Australia to maintain core national manufacturing and capabilities. “Particularly in Victoria there is a lot of movement happening around local manufacturing because there’s a requirement for at least 50 per cent of components in the rolling stock be produced in Victoria,” he said. Thomson believes the industry is working towards a harmonisation of standards and operations. Putting further policies and governance structures to support rail manufacturing in place will allow market growth and further investment in rail.

Further research and development in the rail sector will support the industry in adopting new technologies, building new local industries, and assisting the sector to increase productivity, safety, and sustainability. The Rail Manufacturing CRC expects its programs will benefit ongoing collaboration after the Centre closes its doors.

“A culture of collaboration has evolved over the past six years and will continue to develop. We’ve seen some incredible outcomes and, for example, I think over the next few years there will be a major interest in energy storage for rail,” Thomson said. The Centre has conducted research in energy storage control systems, and also in the battery area looking at lithium technologies for use in trains. Thomson said back-up systems, rolling stock, and below rail condition monitoring are a highly focused research area too.

“The growth the rail industry needs will most likely happen in the next few years,” Thomson said. Improvements in technology and data collection has aided the acceleration of innovation and Thomson believes automation across rail manufacturing and operations will be heightened. “The sector can expect to see increasing automation and the use of artificial intelligence to monitor and control systems and subsystems above and below rail,” he said.

“New skill sets and innovation from the Rail Manufacturing CRC programs has provided a springboard for industry to engage and collaborate,” said Thomson. “I think it’s a very exciting time for the future of Australia’s rail sector. The industry can expect to see advancements in technology that will be highly relevant for major train operations within the country, and will have global reach and applicability.”

Bombardier

Filling the gap

Bombardier is helping rail operators achieve zero emissions on unelectrified track with its battery electric units while slashing lifecycle costs.

One of the key benefits of rail travel to the community is its low emissions. Whether powered via overhead lines or an electrified rail, trains offer fast, high volume mobility, and if powered by renewable energy, emissions free. That is, until the wire runs out.

In Australia, nationally there is 36,064 kilometres of track, but only a small portion of that in the major cities has an overhead power supply. In New Zealand, out of the total 4,128 kilometres of track, 589km is electrified. As the non-electrified sections of the network are often outside of major urban centres, getting regional travellers to travel by train presents the issue of running higher emitting vehicles, or undertaking costly electrification works on lines that have fewer services. These factors present an impediment to the zero emissions potential of rail transport, however one that is recently being overcome.

Launched in 2018, the Bombardier TALENT 3 train is a battery-electric multiple unit to fill the gap in-between electrification of entire rail networks and continued reliance on diesel-powered units. The TALENT 3 train can provide an operator with a 30 per cent reduction in the total cost of ownership, when compared to a conventional diesel multiple unit over a 30-year service life. The train is powered by Bombardier MITRAC traction batteries and can run on non-electrified lines for distances of up to 100km. The batteries utilise recent technological innovation in fast charging and high-density lithium ion batteries which can be charged in less than 10 minutes while running on an electrified section of track, or through recuperating otherwise lost energy when the train is braking.

The research and development work that went into the TALENT 3 train was supported by the German federal government, research institutions, and regional German transport operators. Additionally, the technology behind the train was developed by Bombardier in its Mannheim laboratory in Germany. The newly inaugurated €1 million ($1.72m) facility contributed to the battery components for the TALENT 3 train. In Europe, the demand for battery electric units is increasing, as shown in recent orders for trials of the trains in multiple countries.

In Germany, the innovation involved in the development and production of the TALENT 3 train was recognised in late 2018, when Bombardier won the Berlin Brandenburg innovation award. In particular the jury singled out the role that battery electric trains could provide to Germany’s non electrified network. The train could already operate on 30 per cent of the country’s non-electrified lines, and if cost- effective electrification was done at end points, 75 per cent of lines that currently run diesel-powered services could be operated with battery power.

Commenting on the project, Bombardier’s head of sales – Australia and New Zealand, Todd Garvey, highlighted how the train would overcome network limitations.

“It was Bombardier’s goal to develop a quiet and eco-friendly train for passengers, while also offering operators the best alternative to higher emittting diesel trains on both cost and safety aspects.”

In Australia and New Zealand, where there are already proposals for the electrification of sections of regional and intercity track, the Bombardier TALENT 3 train could readily operate on lines such as the Hunter Line, a variety of V/Line services in Victoria, and partially electrified sections of track in New Zealand. However, the flexibility of battery- electric trains enables new connections to be made.

“The BEMU – as we call it – has massive potential in the ANZ market as the cost barriers to deploy widescale electrification are considerable.

“Our BEMU provides operators and governments with a zero-emission alternative to diesel propelled vehicles across their extended networks. Once the electric line runs out, the batteries kick in and the vehicle can continue running as normal for up to 100 kilometres.

“The only additional infrastructure then would be strategically placed charging stations throughout the regional network that the vehicle can plug into, to recharge the battery,” said Garvey.

“This presents big savings and reduces the need for a large-scale civil works program. These battery trains are also quieter, and this is good in greenfield residential areas, for example, where diesel trains might not be the preferred option.”

The key to realising the benefits of battery trains is their flexibility. Not only do they reduce a network’s total emissions but eliminate the immediate impact of emissions caused by the trains themselves. Emissions from diesel powered vehicles can limit their use in inner city areas and confined spaces such as tunnels. In addition, Bombardier’s TALENT 3 can achieve a significant reduction in noise, when compared to conventional DMUs.

Combining the latest in battery technology and a pedigree of innovation, the TALENT 3 provides zero emissions mobility to a much wider audience.