The most expensive railway in the world gets the green light

Eight of the UK’s largest cities will now be connected by rail, following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s approval of the High Speed 2 (HS2). 

During a parliamentary hearing on Tuesday, 11 February, Johnson declared the decision has been taken to proceed with HS2 following consideration of the independent Oakervee review.

Johnson told parliament he plans to appoint a dedicated minister to oversee and manage the project to ensure no “further blowouts on either cost or schedule”.

In a statement released by the Prime Minister’s office, a spokesperson said HS2 will become “the spine” of the country’s transport network.

Grant Shapps, UK Transport Secretary, said the government is clear the project must reform and improve, with clearer accountability and transparency.

“I’ve been clear that we needed all the facts to decide the way forward with HS2,” Shapps said.

“Fully informed by a comprehensive and detailed scrutiny of all the facts, now is the time to drive HS2 forward, alongside a ‘High Speed North’ plan to give the North and Midlands the capacity and connectivity it vitally needs.”

The total HS2 network will be 330 miles. Phase 1 from London to Birmingham and 2a from Birmingham to Crewe is confirmed by Johnson to be constructed, while Phase 2b to Manchester and Leeds will be reviewed.

The project was originally expected to cost around £33 billion and the plan is now estimated at £106bn ($205bn), making HS2 the most expensive railway in the world.

The first stage of the line was approved in 2017 but was put on hold by the Government last year.

Under the current plans, the line is due to be completed in 2040 and Johnson has stated he wants to bring the finish date forward by 5 years to 2035.

The Financial Times has reported that the China Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC) had written to HS2 Ltd’s chief executive last month, stating they could complete a build of the line in just five years and at a reduced cost.

However, Shapps said on air during a Sunday morning talk show that he has not been in contact with CRCC.

“They have clearly had a letter sent to HS2 Ltd, there has been no conversation with me as a minister, as the secretary of state.”

Shapps said the government would be “fools” to not have a conversation about whether the project could be built faster than the proposed 15 year time frame. 

The UK Department of Transport executives have previously confirmed that preliminary discussions had taken place between CCRC and HS2 Ltd, but there are no “concrete commitments” at this stage.

CRCC has built most of China’s 15,500-mile high-speed network.

Darren Caplan, chief executive of the UK Railway Industry Association, said HS2 could unlock “a new golden age of rail”.

“HS2 will not just boost the UK’s economy and connectivity, but will also enable other major rail infrastructure projects to be delivered too,” Caplan said.

“So we now urge everyone – whatever their previous view on HS2 – to get behind this important project and to work together with the railway industry to deliver the full scheme.”

Supporters say the project is necessary to ease congestion on the core of Britain’s rail network, as current lines share long-distance express, local, and freight services.

The Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) said the HS2 line is essential to tackling systemic congestion in the UK transport system. 

A spokesperson for CILT said the institute is urging the Prime Minister, in parallel with HS2 Phase 1 and in advance of HS2 Phase 2b and future HS3/Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) works, investment is also committed to improve the number and size of trains that can operate on existing routes.

The CILT spokesperson said the institute is pleased the project has been given the immediate go-ahead and believes HS2 has a greater benefit for freight.

“Britain’s manufacturers, retailers, and ports are keen to move more of their goods by rail. This will accelerate as the implications of achieving Net Zero carbon by 2050 become clearer,” they said.

“The Institute’s belief is that electric trains carrying goods on the trunk haul, linking with electric-lorries for final delivery to customers in towns and cities, offers an attractive option for near-full decarbonisation of the supply chain once goods reach the UK.”

The UK government appointed Douglas Oakervee to analyse the HS2. The review was published alongside the Prime Minister’s approval announcement last week.

The review that it strongly advises against cancelling the scheme.

“If HS2 were to be cancelled, many years of planning work would be required to identify, design and develop new proposals. The upgrading of existing lines would also come at a high passenger cost with significant disruption,” the review document stated.

Douglas Oakervee, Chair of the independently-led review into HS2 said he is proud of the work that the review panel has carried out.

“The Review’s Report is a comprehensive appraisal of a challenging project. I believe the recommendations help offer it a way forward,” Oakervee said.

Once it is built, journeys will be shorter. London to Birmingham travel times will be cut from one hour, 21 minutes to 52 minutes, according to the Department for Transport.

Victorian Intermodal freight hub seeking a developer and operator

Development Victoria (DV) is seeking a developer and operator of the Ballarat intermodal freight hub terminal.

The Victorian Government is requesting expressions of interest to develop the intermodal freight hub on the Ballarat to Ararat railway line which is part of the Ballarat West Employment Zone (BWEZ).

Development Victoria said the BWEZ will allow freight and logistics enterprises to have exceptional access to road, rail, and aviation infrastructure. The freight network will link Melbourne, regional and rural Victoria, Adelaide and the ports of Melbourne, Geelong, and Portland.

It is proposed that the successful respondent will take on design and delivery risk, demand and operational cost risk, manage the commercial return based on these risks and the services provided.

Operational arrangements are likely to be effected through a lease agreement with VicTrack.

Federal government funding of $9.1 million was provided in the 2014 federal Budget for the development of the facility. Potential additional funding from the State via DV will be made available if required.

There is some flexibility around the physical configuration of the Facility to allow for rail siding (either linear or loop), and it is expected that the successful respondent will have operational access to the connected rail stub and associated signalling which will be delivered by the State up to the eastern boundary of the Facility connecting from the main-line.

The civil works for Stages 1 and 1B of BWEZ are complete with a large percentage of land having been sold. 

The head of Rail Freight Alliance has publicly said Victoria will only benefit from the proposed intermodal freight hub once the Murray Basin Rail Project is complete.

The Murray Basin Rail Project (MBRP) is improving key freight centres in Victoria and encouraging competition and private investment in the rail freight network.

MBRP stated that an increased axle loading will allow higher volumes of product to be safely freighted across the network, allowing trains to carry up to 500,000 more tonnes of grain each year.

The first stage was completed in 2016 and freight trains have returned to the Mildura line and to the reopened Maryborough to Ararat line. V/Line crews are working to finalise and bed in the track to complete stage 2 of 3 for the project.

Catherine King, federal member of Ballarat and shadow minister infrastructure, transport and regional development said the BWEZ facility is located alongside existing road and rail infrastructure, enabling the freight hub to connect with more locations.

“A truck will be able to come in straight off the Western Highway and either head in to a manufacturer or connect up with the rail line and deliver products further afield,” she said.

“The prospect of future infrastructure upgrades to the adjoining Ballarat Airport site will open up even more opportunities across the Ballarat region, but this will only come with support from governments at a state and federal level.”

Respondant registration closes on March 3 and EOI submission must be made by March 13, closing at 3pm.

Aurizon’s revenue rises to $1.53bn

Aurizon Holdings Limited revenue has increased by $73.4 million or five per cent in the 2019/20 first-half earnings before interest and tax.

Australia’s largest rail-based transport business has released a half year report for the period ending 31 December 2019, detailing new growth in the company.

Aurizon stated in the report that the higher revenue is offset by the sale of the rail grinding business.

A spokeswoman from Aurizon said the large sale transaction for the rail grinding business was completed with Loram in October 2019 for $167m with $105m net gain on sale (not included in underlying earnings).

With revenue up five per cent to a total of $1.53 billion, the company’s underlying net profit rose 19 per cent to $268.9m.

The group credited the UT5 Undertaking as a factor that improved revenue. In December last year, Queensland Competition Authority (QCA) approved the agreement that governs access to its rail network. 

Aurizon executives stated that the company’s financial position and performance was partially affected by the closure and sale of Acacia Ridge Intermodal Terminal. 

Two years ago the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) opposed the sale of Acacia Ridge Intermodal Terminal and commenced proceedings against Aurizon and Pacific National in the Federal Court. Aurizon and the proposed new owner of the terminal, Pacific National, both filed notices of cross-appeal that will be heard by the full Federal Court later in February. 

Aurizon executives highlighted its full-year earning guidance to $930 million from $880 million. This figure was noted before assumed impacts from the Australian bushfires and the world health emergency, coronavirus.

The coronavirus has delayed the arrival of 66 rail wagons being made in the epicentre of the disease, Wuhan in China. 

A spokeswoman from Aurizon said an initial order of 66 wagons have already been delivered and the remaining 66 wagons are planned for delivery in February or March.

The first batch of 132 coal wagons have been completed by our supplier. The construction of the second tranche of 132 wagons has been delayed due to a slow down of production in China,” the spokeswoman said.

Operating costs increased $13.9m or 2 per cent, which were identified as due to to increased labour costs.

Aurizon’s network operates the 2,670km CQCN, the largest coal rail network in Australia. 

Aurizon executives stated in the 2019/20 half year report that 58 per cent of the company’s revenue, a total of $887.5m, was from transporting coal from mines in Queensland and NSW to customer ports.

Operational performance across the network  “remained strong” during the first half of the new financial year, according to Aurizon.

Total system availability improved from 81 per cent to 82.2 per cent, and cycle velocity improved 4 per cent.

Aurizon’s executives said the focus has been on the trial and implementation of schedule adherence in the Blackwater system in QLD.

Compared to the previous half, the network delivered an average reduction in turnaround time of 1.2 hours per service and both on-time arrival to mine and to port increased.

Aurizon’s executives said the network is now working with operators to improve the current scheduling process by realigning maintenance constraints to unlock capacity and optimising the weekly Intermediate Train Plan to avoid pathing contests between operators. The report stated that system throughput is expected to increase, in the third quarter of this year.

Additional $2 billion investment to put Melbourne’s airport rail on track

A private consortium involving Melbourne Airport and Metro trains are offering to invest an extra $2 billion to build a dedicated track from the CBD to Melbourne’s West as part of the airport rail project.

IFM Investors, a fund manager owned by 27 superannuation funds, as part of the AirRail consortium are proposing to build a 6km tunnel between Melbourne and Sunshine, 12km west of Melbourne’s CBD.

IFM Investors have written to the Victorian and federal government on Thursday last week to offer a further $2 billion investment on top of the $5bn initially proposed in 2018.

IFM are proposing a market-led solution to the new track, calling for a new rail tunnel in a letter sent to Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

“A project option that includes a tunnel between the CBD and Sunshine delivers the best airport rail solution particularly when compared with a MARL that utilises the Melbourne Metro Project,” wrote IFM.

The Age reported that federal and Victorian government plans for an airport rail line will involve a route via the Metro Tunnel to Sunshine, with a new track to be built between Tullamarine and Sunshine.

In 2016 a Metro Tunnel business case rejected a 2012 Public Transport Victoria plan to run airport trains through the $11bn metro tunnel, currently under construction until 2025.

The federal and Victorian state governments had previously agreed to a $10bn joint commitment to the Melbourne airport rail link.

A Victorian government spokesperson said in May last year that part of the budget also includes additional tracks between Sunshine and the CBD that would be part of Melbourne Airport Rail Link.

Every airport rail option being assessed would include a stop at Sunshine to connect to Geelong, Ballarat, and Bendigo services, according to a Victorian government spokeswoman.

The AirRail consortium, that also includes Metro Trains, Southern Cross Station, and Melbourne Airport will request that the State Government is charged a toll every time a Metro or V/LIne train runs through the new rail tunnel for operating and maintenance purposes.

IFM says it wants to operate the tunnel over a 40-year concession period.

According to the letter, the access payment from regional trains that use the tunnel would recoup an appropriate share of the significant capital cost of building the tunnel.

IFM have stated they do not wish to constrain regional or metro services due to frequent airport trains and decisions on service, pricing, and timetabling would remain wholly with the Victorian government.

AirRail Melbourne has been ready to commence construction on the infrastructure project since 2019 and IFM is waiting for the green light to start the build. Australian rail suppliers have also contacted IFM to propose their interest as potential contractors for the project.

In June 2019 the Victorian government announced that Rail Projects Victoria (RPV) will be developing a detailed business case for Melbourne Airport Rail.

The Victorian state Government said the business case will be delivered by 2020 and will assess station and procurement options, value capture and creation opportunities, and economic analysis of the recommended solution.

AirRail Melbourne proposed in a 2018 blueprint that 20-minute travel times will be expected to the city, using dedicated rollingstock.

“Our ambition is to have a train journey to the airport from the city that is fast, affordable and meets the needs of travellers,” a spokesperson for federal Minister for Urban Infrastructure Alan Tudge was quoted by The Age last year.

Alstom receives first order for battery-electric trains

To meet the demand for electrically powered trains on a non-electrified line, rail manufacturer Alstom will build, deliver, and maintain 11 battery-electric trains.

The Coradia Continental trains will operate on the Leipzig-Chemnitz route for German rail authorities VMS (Verkehrsverbund Mittelsachsen) and ZVNL (Zweckverband für den Nahverkehrsraum Leipzig).

The announcement follows the 2014 decision by VMS to purchase 29 Coradia Continental electric regional trains (EMUs), however 80km of the line between Chemnitz and Leipzig is not electrified, leading VMS to request a battery-electric version.

Alstom expects the trains to enter service in 2023, being built at Alstom’s rail yards in Salzgitter, Lower Saxony. The battery traction sub-system will be designed and supplied by Alstom’s traction centre in Tarbes, France.

The order is the first battery train order for Alstom, and represents a step forward for the company in providing emissions-free rollingstock, said Gian Luca Erbacci, senior vice president of Alstom Europe.

“Today, Alstom stands apart in being able to offer any form of emission-free traction currently on the market built into a proven solution. As a responsible company, Alstom has an intense focus on sustainable mobility, offering the best-fitting solutions that make it not only possible, but also cost-effective and attractive,” said Erbacci.

The 56m long and 150-seat Coradia Continental BEMU have a range of up to 120km. The trains can travel at a top speed of 160km/h in battery mode.

The order for the BEMU comes after Alstom has introduced the Coradia iLint which is powered by hydrogen fuel cells. According to a statement from Alstom the iLint trains have a performance comparable to diesel-powered trains, and have been in passenger service in Germany for more than one year.

NZ City Rail Link commences next stage of construction

Building works have started on the Aotea underground station in central Auckland part of New Zealand’s City Rail Link (CRL).

Dale Burtenshaw, deputy project director for the Link Alliance consortium which is building the stations and tunnels for the CRL project, said construction of the Aotea station under the intersection is “massive in scale”.

Construction of the station, platform and tunnels continues will continue below ground until 2021.

Wellesley Street West intersection with Albert Street and Mayoral Drive will close to road traffic from Sunday, 1 March 2020 and is set to reopen in a year.

This follows the removal of the information hub building in the middle of Beresford Square last month to construct the station under nearby Karangahape Road.

The CRL is set to be a 3.45km twin-tunnel underground rail link up to 42 metres below the Auckland city centre.

The depth of the two new underground stations will be 11m at Aotea and 33m at Karangahape Road.

The CRL will extend the existing rail line underground through Britomart, to Albert, Vincent, and Pitt Streets, and then cross beneath Karangahape Road and the Central Motorway Junction to Symonds Street before rising to join the western line at Eden Terrace where the Mount Eden Station is located.

The project was launched in 2017 and is estimated to cost $4.419 billion by the 2024 completion date.

Surviving a Digital Tsunami: the Rail Manufacturing CRC’s legacy

A digital revolution is underway in the rail manufacturing industry, says Stuart Thomson, CEO of the Rail Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (CRC).

 


With the growth of emerging technologies which will disrupt the way industry conducts its business, “the changes are going to be rapid and the rail industry needs to be ready,” Rail Manufacturing CRC CEO, Stuart Thomson, tells Rail Express.

In response, the Rail Manufacturing CRC has spent the last five years working with the rail industry to start tackling these challenges. Launched in 2014, the Rail Manufacturing CRC’s focus has been to increase the capability of Australia’s rail manufacturing industry. Industry participants include Downer, CRRC, Knorr-Bremse, Bombardier Transportation Australia, HEC Group, Airlinx and Sydney Trains, who collaborate on research and development programs with institutes such as University of Technology Sydney, CSIRO, Deakin University, University of Queensland, Monash University, CQUniversity, Swinburne, RMIT and CSIRO.

“By sharing the risk involved in the development of technology while building networks across the supply chains, this increases the Australian rail sector’s competitive global position and creates a depth of industry capability.”

Since commencing, though, there have been some changes in the centre’s focus. Initially focused on heavy-haul rail, the subsequent plateauing of the mining boom, coupled with massive growth in passenger rail thanks to state and federal investment in rail infrastructure, resulted in a shift in the centre’s focus.

While its projects have contributed to a more innovative rail manufacturing industry, the most important contribution of the Rail Manufacturing CRC is the newfound strong engagement between universities and participating rail organisations. Australia’s universities have highly skilled and worldclass levels of research capabilities, and the challenge lies in the capacity for the rail sector to use that knowledge.

“With less than half of one per cent of scientists and researchers working in rail, it is key to attract and train the next generation of employees, while recognising the new skills that research graduates can bring to Australia’s future rail industry,” Thomson shared.

Planning for the future has, so far, consisted of 32 industry projects, 48 PhD scholarships and the involvement of 35 organisations over the entire six-year life of the Rail Manufacturing CRC, with the centre now working towards a closing date of June 2020.

“Over our full six-year lifetime, we will have achieved a wide range of leading research and commercialisation activities across the centre’s program areas of Power and Propulsion; Materials and Manufacturing; and Design, Modelling and Simulation,” says Thomson.

In its Power and Propulsion stream of projects, the centre has focused on energy solutions for better rail efficiencies, looking at battery and supercapacitor development and manufacture, new composite braking materials and rail-wheel-interface projects. Some of these projects involve the testing of lithium storage technologies.

With Australia’s great lithium reserves, this has wide reaching benefit across the resources sector as well as for rail, and according to Thomson, there is a boom in the use of lithium in energy storage devices. In regard to battery technology, Thomson says the centre is looking at fundamental studies to create better and more efficient lithium batteries, supercapacitors and energy storage systems.

“The ultimate goal of our energy storage projects is to develop technologies that will make overhead rail catenary systems obsolete, resulting in reduced infrastructure and maintenance costs. We’re working with companies such as Downer, Knorr-Bremse, CRRC, and the HEC Group, all of whom have different applications in a very active field of endeavour.

“We’re also using energy storage devices for emergency applications in rail as backup batteries. We’re looking at using lithium and new battery technologies to decrease the cost and also increase the life cycle of those devices. Obviously, the less servicing needed means significant cost savings in terms of maintenance.”

Meanwhile, the Materials and Manufacturing stream of work focusses on component durability, maintenance optimisation, composite material design and assembly automation. The projects in this stream intend to create replacement materials that are much more light weight, yet still with similar or better structural properties and the safety properties required.

“The challenge in rail at the moment is that we’re creating more energy consuming rail rolling stock, so it’s ideal to reduce energy consumption by light-weighting light rail and heavy rail.”

Within this, the centre is investigating with Swinburne University, metallic cellular materials, such as recycled aluminium honeycombs and foams for rail sandwich panels. One project is researching the manufacturing methods to best make these materials, while another is looking at experimental works and simulations to investigate the mechanical properties of the sandwich panels.

Another centre project collaboration with the University of Queensland and Bombardier worked to predict the wear rates of axle bearings used in suburban passenger trains. Through the development of a software model, bearing life is predicted using algorithms that aim to optimise the bearing selection, lubrication and overhaul maintenance schedule with significant economic benefits.

Within the Design, Modelling and Simulation stream, the centre is focussing on passenger information systems and dwell time management, cabin airflow monitoring, data transfer and analytics, and virtual and augmented reality rail training.

One of the more visible of the centre’s projects is the Dwell Track technology created in collaboration with Downer and the University of Technology Sydney. The technology enables operators to anonymously monitor passenger numbers and movement using 3D cameras to extract the relevant spatial and temporal information in real-time.

“We are able to monitor passenger flow and pathways. The information collected is used to better understand how platform infrastructure can be designed and operated in a more efficient way to limit congestion at certain points and times. By understanding where the congestion points are on platforms, operators are able to redesign or tailor solutions based on the information collected, so it’s really data driven.”

Thomson credits rail operators for providing the facilities to keep improving the Dwell Track technology.

“Queensland Rail, Sydney Trains and PTA Western Australia have all participated in testing and trialling the technology over a number of years. This has enabled the project team to tweak the technology to make it better as we’ve gone along. It is a real example of how operators have come to the fore to assist the development of new innovations,” he said.

While at the moment this technology enables decisions to be made or exceptions to be identified efficiently, Thomson believes this technology will eventually have an artificial intelligence component. “If we could automate some of those functions, such as if gates can be closed or opened based on computers rather than having staff on the platforms doing that work, we’d be able to free up staff time to concentrate on other critical issues.”

Ultimately, however, the goal is to take the data captured by the technology, analyse it and understand what responses can be taken to alleviate congestions at stations.

When asked about his predictions for the future of innovation in the rail manufacturing space, Thomson says data analytics is the key.

“I think we’re going to see a lot more use of data for modelling and prediction. We’re seeing a huge focus on condition-based monitoring applications and being able to monitor and understand all components to provide the operators and customers with information relating to the rollingstock’s use and performance in real-time.”

One of the critical uses for this is also to provide maintenance when its needed, rather than in the aftermath of issues. “Being able to predict when something’s going to happen before it does and fixing it prior to breaking down will have huge benefits for operators and manufacturers.”

One example of research being undertaken in this area is a Rail Manufacturing CRC, Deakin University and Downer collaboration to provide data specialists for Downer’s TrainDNA project. Aimed at improving data collection, analysis and interpretation, the team are developing algorithms and system platforms to provide real time information to customers, maintenance staff and engineering specialists.

The implementation of TrainDNA is likely to have significant benefits for those who operate and maintain rolling stock. The growth of new digital systems and data analytics in rail will require an ongoing adaption of the rail workforce.

“That’s where we see some of the challenges and the opportunities for rail companies in the future. Building new skill sets into the rail workforce is going to be key to unlocking these digital benefits that can flow into the sector.”

Where previously the skilled workforce in rail was confined to a few specific domains of engineering expertise, a new breed of skilled workforce is now needed.

“We no longer primarily need mechanical and electrical engineers, we also need people who can code, we need AI specialists, data scientists, virtual reality specialists, and more.” As such, the rail sector must be able to attract a whole new digital workforce.

“We’re not only competing with other transport providers for specialised blue and white collar workers, we’re also competing with other industry sectors such as finance, mining and tech giants like Google and Amazon,” Thomson said. “Too often, we focus on the technology, but a lot of the future solutions within the digital field will be expertise driven, they’ll be people-driven. The focus should be on a culture within the industry to build research and innovation capacity, but also to bring the right skill sets and expertise to utilise these new technologies most effectively.

“The biggest thing we have seen [during the CRC’s six-year term] has been a change in innovation culture. There are very talented young people who need to join the rail industry to propel it forwards, so the focus should be on the next generation of rail workers. I think that we’ve partly contributed to the industry realising that.

“We’ve got young researchers working on very exciting areas. At Monash University, we have multiple PhD students working on automating systems that can send drones onto tracks, into tunnels and even into the Pilbara region to automatically assess and monitor railway lines and the integrity of those systems.”

The main benefits to this are to get people out of danger, off the tracks and out of harsh environments, not only for safety reasons, but also to free them up to do other skilled jobs.

“It’s one thing to collect data, that’s the easy part, but it’s another thing to be able to automate, transmit and analyse it instantaneously, in real-time,” Thomson said.

The innovations that the Rail Manufacturing CRC has seen with the rise of the Internet of Things and other such emerging technologies has enabled a whole range of critical information to be captured, such as the integrity of rail infrastructure, the performance of equipment above and below rail, and the capacity to plan for future growth and safe operations of the networks.

Upon the completion of its term in June next year, Thomson tells Rail Express that a large part of the Rail Manufacturing CRC’s legacy lies in its initial commitment to collaboration.

“I think we’ve contributed to a realisation that collaboration between researchers and industry is a very good thing,” Thomson said. “The legacy that we’ve created is that collaboration between research organisations and the rail industry is assured.”

How can companies in the rail manufacturing space be more innovative?

“It’s simple,” Thomson concludes. “Hire, support and trust smart young people.”

Smarter all the time: Local firm enhancing remote condition monitoring technologies

As the rail industry trends towards more efficient operating practices, MRD Rail Technologies managing director, Rob Gersbach, sees no limit to the application of predictive asset maintenance technology throughout the rail corridor.

 


“In the future, we believe all major rail assets will be remotely monitored by condition monitoring systems,” MRD managing director Rob Gersbach tells Rail Express. “These will be either built in by the manufacturers (smart) or implemented by third party integrations such as TrackSense. MRD are also working with points machine manufacturers to include TrackSense in their products.”

TrackSense is MRD’s predictive asset condition monitoring system. Relying on Australian-manufactured plug and play loggers designed to be robust, compact and affordable, TrackSense’s primary goal is to give meaning to data to allow the customer to make data driven maintenance decisions.

MRD has 30 years’ experience designing and manufacturing electronic equipment for the rail industry. Three years ago, it launched TrackSense to capitalise on this with a push into the growing space of predictive maintenance and condition monitoring. Now, Gersbach explains, MRD is moving to ensure it can help customers apply predictive asset condition monitoring to improve each of its core maintenance tasks.

“We see all trackside location cabinets (LOCs) being transformed into ‘Smart LOCs’ containing remote condition monitoring systems capable of monitoring all assets within the LOC using one Remote Condition Monitoring (RCM) Logger,” he said. “Price has been a major barrier to achieving this in the past but this has rapidly changed due to competition and technology such as cloud hosting. MRD has adopted this technology and is at the forefront of the movement towards affordable open platform RCM solutions.”

Gersbach says one of the key benefits of TrackSense for his customers is that it is open protocol.

“Open protocol solutions will become the standard in RCM solutions as this gives the customer security, independence and the flexibility to shop around for the most competitive hosting solution and analytics package of their choice,” he said. “It also allows for easy integration with the customer’s Asset Maintenance System.”

This preference towards open protocol is also being driven by specialisation of analytics platforms from major computing vendors.

“We are also seeing the emergence of sophisticated big data analytics packages by vendors such as IBM, Microsoft, and Amazon to name a few,” Gersbach explained. “TrackSense provides API integration with these systems as standard which allows the customer to tap into the power of these systems including advanced machine learning and AI systems as they emerge.”

Since it was launched three years ago, TrackSense has grown to now collect data and measure various parameters of condition in thousands of railway assets across Australia and in international markets.

Product manager Yvie Hough says through a continued focus on listening to and communicating with customers, the TrackSense team hopes to refine its state-of-the-art approach, and help new and existing customers best take advantage of what it has to offer.

“The MRD team has been working closely with our customers to refine and improve our solution to provide a robust, easy to install system that is user friendly and provides valuable information to users,” Hough said.

Despite operational savings being a core benefit of condition monitoring and predictive maintenance systems, one major obstacle MRD has seen operators struggle to overcome is simply the cost of installing and maintaining a condition monitoring system, and the inflexibility of many common solutions available in the market.

“Some vendors charge exorbitant amounts for hardware and lock customers into fixed contracts,” Gersbach said. “The obvious downside to this is that should you decide to break ties with the vendor or they go out of business, you’re basically left with an expensive paperweight.”

Taking a different approach, the MRD loggers used in the TrackSense solution are not bound to that system.

“Yes, we offer a local or cloud server option for accessing the data, but this is optional as our loggers are capable of stand-alone operation,” Gersbach explained. “Our loggers log, process and alarm directly from the device without the need for external servers or software.

“This gives the customer total ownership and control of their hardware and data.”

MRD has recently expanded monitoring capabilities of TrackSense through the addition of new sensors and communication protocols for its range of loggers.

“This sets our customers up for future expansion,” Gersbach said. “They can start off monitoring points machines, then expand to monitoring track circuits, batteries, boom gates, earth leakage and more just by adding additional sensors.”

Another recent addition to the TrackSense offering is a mobile App, which literally puts key data in the operator’s hands, providing a convenient way to view asset performance both on and off site.

Auto-tuning

One misconception Gersbach says he always aims to address is that a condition monitoring solution will provide maximum results from day one.

“When implementing a condition monitoring solution it’s important to understand it’s not a set and forget solution. It requires operator training, tuning and data input from the user,” he said.

To address this, MRD has developed tried and tested workflows to help operators get started with condition monitoring. The TrackSense team will also work with the customer to refine that workflow to their individual needs.

“Our auto-tuning feature will get you up and running fast and our teach feature will keep the system performing optimally,” Gersbach added. “We use shape recognition to identify anomalies, and KPIs are extracted from logged parameters and used to gauge an assets health and identify trends. All positive alerts and alarms are sent to the system’s fault library and fed back into the system to improve the systems performance. This library is also available for reference and training purposes.”

Critical to this is the use of machine learning to refine how data is analysed.

“The primary output of any condition monitoring system is data. Performing complex analysis of data collected from hundreds or thousands of sensors is a tedious and time-consuming activity, beyond the capabilities of human operators.”

By putting machine learning to work, Gersbach says TrackSense can help operators maximise the value of predictive maintenance while keeping costs down. MRD designs and builds hardware, and develops its software and applications locally in Australia. Along with TrackSense, the company also provides EarthSense, a solution for detecting earth leakage; and RelaySense, a solution to test the condition of relays.

 

Contact: TrackSense.com.au

AusRAIL: Innovative train detection solutions

The Australian railway market has a growing demand for innovative solutions that support them in dealing with increasing requirements. These range from challenging environmental conditions and rising train density on track to the implementation of new technologies and possibilities.

At this year’s AusRail PLUS, Frauscher Sensor Technology is presenting a selection of its products and latest innovations that enable the development of appropriate solutions. Covering global requirements at one place Travelling throughout Australia as a passenger gives you the possibility to experience tropical climate or deserts – as well as snowstorms and heavy rain falls.

As inductive wheel sensors mark the state of the art in terms of reliable train detection, they have to maintain maximum availability under all of these conditions. Frauscher has installed a global base of approximately 200,000 wheel sensors – which have proven their appropriate capabilities on all continents.

Based on their robust design, their functionality is not affected by extreme temperatures, moisture or even floods, mechanical impacts or electromagnetic interference. Additionally, the possibility of mounting these sensors using a rail claw allows for quick installation without drilling – and weakening – the rail.

Flexible evaluation for individual requirements The establishment of inductive wheel sensors in different regions and railway segments around the globe means that new areas of use are constantly being discovered.

Due to its open, analogue interface, the Frauscher Wheel Sensor RSR110 can be easily and quickly integrated into any infrastructure. Evaluation of the sensor signal can be realised by the system integrator or operator themselves.

“This allows for the economic realisation of wheel detection-based applications, such as weighing, lubrication, imaging and others in different areas, for example depots or yards. To provide support if required, Frauscher has developed a Wheel Signal Converter WSC, which converts the analogue signal into a digital signal and creates the corresponding interface”, Lee Walker, technical support manager at Frauscher Australia said.

Proven axle counter

Other Frauscher wheel sensors, such as the RSR180, come in combination with evaluation boards, forming full SIL4 wheel detection systems and axle counters. The Frauscher Advanced Counter (FAdC) provides flexible interfaces and high modularity.

It allows for individual solutions to be developed in close collaboration with the customer according to project specific requirements.

Additionally, innovative functionalities, such as Supervisor Track Sections STS and Counting Head Control CHC can increase the system’s availability even when unavoidable external influences occur.

“Connection to a high-performance electronic interlocking is possible both via a customer-specific interface and the freely available Frauscher Safe Ethernet FSE protocol. On that base, centralised architectures and decentralised architectures can be realised, as can a mixture of both. The Frauscher Diagnostic System FDS provides diagnostic data via remote access – which is extremely beneficial for widespread systems. We have realised several projects using the FAdC throughout Australia. We look forward to seizing the opportunity at this year’s AusRail to meet known customers and new interested experts to discuss their experiences and requirements – and how we can support them in meeting them in future”, Walker said.

New intelligent sensors

As a highlight, Frauscher will present their new SENSiS system.

“We presented SENSiS for the first time at InnoTrans 2018 and were overwhelmed by the great interest and positive feedback. With a newly developed sensor, which works as an intelligent device on the track, this system sets new standards. The evaluation of the sensor signal takes place in the sensor – i.e. directly on the rail. Using a dedicated bus system, digitised data is transferred directly from the SENSiS Detection Point SDP to the SENSiS Processing Unit SPU in the indoor location. The possibility of building ring architectures enables immense savings by reducing the cabling required. In addition, the sensor is able to collect information on temperature and vibration. In the overall package, this system opens up completely new possibilities and represents the latest generation of track vacancy detection against the backdrop of an increasing digitalisation of the railway industry”, Walker said.

 

Visit Frauscher at AusRAIL PLUS at Stand 182.

Waratah

AusRAIL: Staying agile in the changing rail industry

Tim Young explains how Downer is helping realise the benefits of passenger rail growth.


A Deloitte Access Economics report found each passenger journey made by rail instead of road generates benefits to society of between $3.88 and $10.64 by reducing congestion, accident and carbon costs. In September, 1.2 million trips were taken on Sydney’s trains and trams each day.

There is no better time to realise the societal benefits of rail travel. But the transport and infrastructure sector is changing, and the challenge for rail operators, maintainers and manufacturers is keeping pace with the evolving industry and expectations of an evergrowing customer base. That’s an opportunity – and challenge – the industry is keenly aware of, Downer’s Rollingstock Services executive general manager Tim Young says.

“We’re seeing a huge shift in what passengers expect from their transport providers, and in turn, what our customers expect from us,” Young tells Rail Express. “From technology to sustainability, urban services is changing across Australia, and being agile in these circumstances is key to the industry’s success. It is the passengers that we really need to start to focus on and service better. As we know, passengers don’t measure averages, they measure variation, and the old adage, that you’re only as good as your last game, could never be truer than today.”

Partnering for success

“At Downer, we talk about relationships creating success – and that’s a commitment we take seriously across our business. It means partnering with our customers, suppliers and academia to address challenges across our industry, recognising that we can do much more together than alone,” Young says.

One partnership Young says has proved immensely successful is Downer’s work with the Rail Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (CRC). Launched in 2014, the initiative works to foster, sponsor and direct collaborative research and commercialisation partnerships in rail manufacturing.

By bridging the gap between industry and academia, Downer has been able to develop innovative solutions to complex problems and tap into a nation-wide network of expertise.

“We’re investigating diverse issues ranging from data analytics to virtual reality, exploring how they can help us improve various aspects from engineering design, to maintenance, to operations. We’ve got some really smart people working with us thanks to these partnerships, bringing their expertise to the table to help us develop real, industry focussed solutions to improve the lives of everyday Australians,” Young explained.

The Rail Manufacturing CRC has actively worked with Downer on a wide range of innovative projects over the last five years, including predictive maintenance, passenger dwell time management, and battery systems. “Downer has committed to engaging with the Rail Manufacturing CRC to support the creation and adoption of new domestic rail technologies, including Dwell Track and TrainDNA. This is in addition to generously providing support to several PhD students working in leading research on miniature robots for rollingstock maintenance, and virtual and augmented training for rail,” Rail Manufacturing CRC CEO Dr Stuart Thomson said. “Not only will this research drive innovative improvements to Australia’s rail sector, it also highlights the value that Downer places in collaboration, and the resulting benefits that this provides to their organisation’s competitiveness on a global stage.”

Integrating operations

With passengers expecting a seamless transport experience, closer partnerships are just part of the answer. Organisations must also look into how technology and knowledge can be integrated for better maintenance and operations outcomes.

In May 2019, Downer launched their Integrated Operations Centre (IOC), a hub of cutting-edge technology, co-located staff and integrated systems.

The IOC brings together critical functions such as planning, engineering, mobile response and materials supply personnel to enhance operational asset management. Young says the IOC is another piece of the puzzle to improving the passenger experience.

“With the growing pains of the heavy rail networks and potential capacity gap along the east coast of Australia, we see the IOC as an opportunity to aid in the passenger experience and bridge the capacity gap through enhanced fleet management, stimulating greater reliability, capacity, availability and immediacy of response. In addition, it will unlock value to operators in the form of enhanced driver education, timetable development and passenger satisfaction,” he says. “Not only that, it provides an opportunity for us to work more closely with our customers to enhance operations, through better sharing of data, recprical information flows and real-time reporting.

“Understanding passenger experience is key, and they too can help in this process,” Young adds. “For example, the IOC also monitors social media, enabling real time monitoring of asset condition and passenger sentiment. On several occasions this has resulted in us sending a technician to the train to rectify an issue whilst it remains in revenue service.

“In the future, I think we can expect to see this kind of integration and innovation take hold across the transport industry – embracing the full ecosystem of operations, improving the passenger experience while enabling ease and speed through the rail network.”

A commitment to sustainability

Young also emphasises the increasing importance of sustainability and environmental concerns to business outcomes. “The drive towards a more sustainable future continues to gather pace, and it’s something investors are becoming more passionate about and the industry must address, while delivering an efficient, reliable and cost-effective service,” he says. “An emphasis on sustainability is core to achieving our goal of Zero Harm, and for several years Downer has focussed on developing solutions to reduce energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and repurpose trade waste across our business.”

Earlier this year, Downer delivered the first Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) in the Southern Hemisphere for a rollingstock asset – the Waratah Series 2 train – and was recognised as an industry leader at the 2019 Australasian Rail Industry Awards.

“The EPD shows the environmental impact, resource use and carbon footprint of our trains across their 30-year lifecycle and can also help predict the future performance and environmental impact of the train even at the end of the vehicle’s life. It’s something that our customers are increasingly asking for and demonstrates Downer’s commitment to environmental responsibility across the life cycle of our assets,” Young says. “With an improved understanding of our rollingstock’s full carbon footprint, we are leveraging this to shift our thinking to investigate what we can do to improve both our end of life management and through life management options during . maintenance and overhauls, to reduce the carbon impact as opportunities arise.

“For example, we’re currently investigating opportunities in cradle to cradle asset recovery in Victoria, where we’ve been working with local suppliers to understand how we can recycle laminated glass and what re-use potential there is for it within our business.

“Thought leadership is fundamental to our success, and we need to continue to collaborate and innovate across the value chain. It’s these alliances and arrangements between academia, suppliers and industry that will unlock even greater value for the rail sector.”

 

Visit Downer at AusRAIL PLUS at Stand 175.