Applying the lessons of Gotthard to the local market

Passenger rail owners and operators in Australia and New Zealand are keen to embrace the digital revolution to enhance the efficiency and capacity of their systems. What lessons can be learned from the European market, and one of its biggest ever projects?

Chris Glaettli is the Technical Solutions Manager for Rail Signalling within Thales’ Ground Transportation Systems business in Australia. Prior to a recent move Down Under, he worked with Thales to deliver signalling solutions for a pair of massive Alpine tunnels: the 35-kilometre Lötschberg Base Tunnel, and the world record, 57-kilometre Gotthard Base Tunnel.

The Gotthard Base Tunnel is the longest railway tunnel on the planet. At a maximum depth of 2,450 metres, it is also the world’s deepest traffic tunnel. Excavation began in 2004, 12 years before the tunnel was finished and opened to passenger and freight services, in June 2016.

As a member of the rail delivery consortium for the project, Thales integrated its ETCS Level 2 technology into the Gotthard Base Tunnel, facilitating the circulation of more than 300 trains per day at operational speeds of 200km/hr in both directions. After designing and testing in its Zurich laboratory, Thales managed the production, installation, integration and homologation of rail signalling for the tunnel, within the overall system.

Glaettli speaks fondly of his eight years working on the delivery team for Gotthard, and is keenly aware of the lessons learned along the way.

“The biggest lesson from the Gotthard experience was the importance of collaboration,” he tells Rail Express, “starting with a collaboration with the railway operator, to determine what the real need was.

“It’s really about understanding each other. More collaboration in the early phases of the project is a big reason we were able to deliver an optimal solution over a year early, despite the scale of the project.

“Collaboration is one of our key strengths at Thales. We’re close to the customer, we’re open to learn what the particular needs are, and we’re also open to share some knowledge about our product and the processes to apply our product. It’s a win-win.

“It’s really important that the operator understands the products of the suppliers, and the suppliers understand the needs of the railway, so when it comes down to tendering there is a much more informed set of requirements to fulfil which leads to a more efficient and targeted tender process.”

Glaettli believes Australian operators could benefit from this same level of collaboration during the early phases of major projects. “Australia has a different way to contract railway suppliers [to Europe],” he notes.

Collaboration and mutual understanding are especially important in the current market in Australia and New Zealand, where operators are keen to embrace the global trend towards the digitalisation of rail systems, to enhance their efficiency, capacity and reliability. Glaettli says he sees a number of opportunities in the region where digitalisation can impact passenger operations from the ground up, helping busy operators get more efficient, and boost their capacity.

“When we look at Australian cities, we see an increasing need for more trains, to move more passengers per corridor, across the whole rail network,” he says. “Just about everywhere we look, key railways are reaching their peak capacity, so they need to find ways to operate more efficiently.”

Glaettli says Thales is ready to work with operators early in the process to understand their needs.

“We have to deliver value for money, so first we need to carefully understand what is the best approach to an optimal outcome for the customer,” he explains. “Often the pressure on the operator comes from legacy systems which are end-of-life, and we will replace them or interface to them, depending on the specific need and operational requirements. Thales assesses the operational procedures of these legacy systems and will configure our systems to help improve them.

“The customer can choose what components they want to focus on, and we can configure for them the needed parts; all the way from the axle counter up to the interlocking, and up to the traffic management system.”

These components are what Glaettli refers to as the ‘building blocks’ of rail digitalisation. Whether the focus is on traffic control, scheduling, planning, routing, signalling or monitoring, there are advantages to be gained from a digital approach.

Digitalising a TMS

Glaettli says his team has developed a specific process when it comes to the digitalisation of a rail operator’s Traffic Management System (TMS). Thales has broken down the process of transitioning from a legacy TMS to a fully digital TMS, in three stages.

“The first stage is just for the TMS to assess the timetable, isolating its different routes and services,” Glaettli explains. “The second stage, interfacing, is where the TMS is allowed to ‘read’ off the network, but not ‘write’ into the system – instead it simply suggests changes when conflicts arise.

“The final stage is a fully integrated TMS, which can not only read the network, but make decisions based on its knowledge of the network, and directly set routes accordingly. We call this automatic conflict resolution.”

Thales’ TMS can be coupled with train control systems at varying levels of automation, looping in with driver advisory systems where applicable.

“That’s where it gets really interesting,” Glaettli says. “We can really make use of the Big Data we gather from the network, and we can go into flow control of the network, meaning every train journey is optimised for energy use and time.”

ETCS vs. CBTC

One discussion during a recent RISSB conference in Melbourne focused on the merits of both ETCS (European Train Control Standard) and CBTC (Communications Based Train Control) as contrasting options for operators seeking a modern signalling solution.

Speaking with Rail Express, Glaettli weighed in, concurring with the general sentiment that neither solution is universally better than the other. Thales offers both in its signalling portfolio, and Glaettli says finding the right option comes down to the precise needs of the customer.

“What we’ve seen is there are really two kinds of networks,” he says. “The first is a metro style network, more suited to CBTC, which is a linewide approach, benefitting from its isolation.”

CBTC is the technology being installed on new standalone metro lines being built in Sydney and Melbourne.

“Then there is mainline, or regional, where ETCS is more appropriate,” Glaettli continues. “Under ETCS there is a standard interface between the unit on the train and the track, so you can have different vendors at both stages.

“ETCS allows for multiple rollingstock types running through the same network, and for mainline use this is a basic need. ETCS is an open standard and is interoperable, because this is a basic requirement in Europe, where we have many countries and operators.”

Light rail proposed for Sunshine Coast Airport development

Sunshine Coast Airport has delivered a draft master plan for the development of the Queensland-based airport to 2040 that includes details for the creation of a light rail station.

The draft of the Sunshine Coast Airport Master Plan 2040 document was developed by Sunshine Coast Airport with key stakeholders and includes Sunshine Coast Council’s infrastructure plans under the Sunshine Coast Airport Expansion Project (SCAEP).

The airport’s document includes plans related to the provision of a possible direct rail corridor from the city to the airport. Sunshine Coast Council and the Queensland Government are investigating “numerous options for rail access” to help minimise a reliance on motor vehicle access to the airport, according to the draft master plan.

The ongoing development of the new Maroochydore central business district, a 53-hectare greenfield site development expected to cost $430 million, is also hoped to bolster the attractiveness of the region for locals, businesses and visitors, with the airport serving as a “gateway” for this development.

“[Sunshine Coast Airport] is a strong supporter of the introduction of light rail to the airport providing a fast, clean and efficient link to Maroochydore and on to broader destinations within the region,” the draft plan read.

“Both heavy and light rail infrastructure is planned for the transformation of the region, and a connection to Sunshine Coast Airport is a critical link in the effective public transportation visions for the region.”

The report went on to stat that a prospective light rail service would provide direct flights to domestic and international destinations by offering seamless connections between Maroochydore CBD and the airport.

ARA seeking next CEO; Broad endorsed to replace Herbert as chair

Danny Broad will finish up as CEO of the Australasian Railway Association, and has been endorsed to succeed Bob Herbert as Chairman at the end of 2019.

The ARA announced on Thursday evening both Broad and Herbert would conclude their terms as CEO and Chairman, respectively, at the end of the calendar year.

Herbert, appointed as Independent Chairman in 2015, said he was happy to leave the ARA in a strong position.

“The new constitution that was ratified by members in July 2016 has strengthened the governance arrangements of the organisation whilst providing an agreed structure that allows members to better direct the affairs of the ARA,” he said.

“Recognising the substantial contribution Danny Broad has made as CEO of the ARA and the importance of maintaining leadership continuity, the Board has unanimously endorsed Danny assuming the Chairman’s role at the end of 2019.”

Broad paid tribute to Herbert’s work helping transform the ARA.

“Bob is a hands-on Chairman, who played a leading role in setting up the new structure, and positioned the ARA to be advocating not just for increasing rail investment, but as a strong voice on key strategic issues, such as the need for a National Rail Plan and action on skills shortages.”

As for his news, Broad said after more than four years as ARA CEO, he feels the time is right to pass the reigns on to a new leader.

“Since taking on the role in October 2015, ARA membership has grown significantly, our engagement with member companies has strengthened, and the ARA has maintained its position as a respected industry body,” Broad said.

“The ARA is now well placed to work with the Australian and State and Territory governments as they implement substantial passenger and freight rail projects, and deal with significant infrastructure policy issues.”

The ARA Board has established an Appointments Committee, convened by Sydney Trains boss Howard Collins, to oversee the recruitment of a new ARA CEO over the next few months.

Herbert will maintain his role as Chairman of the TrackSAFE Foundation, the ARA-endorsed harm prevention charity for the rail sector.

Rail well represented at next Infrastructure Summit

Key politicians and rail leaders from passenger and freight sectors are part of a packed agenda for the Australian Financial Review’s National Infrastructure Summit set for June 12-13.

Australia has witnessed an unprecedented level of infrastructure spending in recent years, with major projects unveiled regularly by state and federal governments. But how are these projects really fairing?

This and other key questions will be discussed at the Summit, which will be hosted by the Australian Financial Review in association with Deloitte at the Grand Hyatt Melbourne on June 12 and 13. Political debate, exclusive industry perspectives and a comprehensive overview of the project pipeline will be provided by a strong lineup of speakers and panellists.

More than 300 investors, planners, contractors, advisers and policy makers are expected.

Speakers include:

  • The Hon. Daniel Andrews MP, Premier of Victoria
  • The Hon. Andrew Constance MP, NSW Minister for Transport and Roads
  • Romilly Madew, CEO, Infrastructure Australia
  • Richard Wankmuller, CEO, Inland Rail
  • Graeme Newton, CEO, Cross River Rail Delivery Project (QLD)
  • Joe Barr, CEO, John Holland
  • Brendan Bourke, CEO, Port of Melbourne
  • Marion Terrill, Transport and Cities Program Director, Grattan Institute
  • Craig Carmody, CEO, Port of Newcastle
  • Duncan Edghill, Director-General, Transport Canberra
  • Dr Jon Lamonte, CEO, Sydney Metro
  • Matina Papathanasiou, Deputy Head of QIC Global Infrastructure
  • Marika Calfas, CEO, NSW Ports
  • Angela Davis, GM Technology – NSW & Westconnex Transurban
  • Andrew Head, CEO, WestConnex
  • Leilani Frew, CEO, IPFA
  • Michel Masson, CEO, Infrastructure Victoria
  • Kyle Mangini, Global Head of Infrastructure, IFM Investors
  • Jayne Whitney, Chief Strategy Officer, John Holland
  • Dr Sheelan Vaez, Head of Spatial Insights and Analytics, VicRoads
  • Sam Sangster, CEO, Western City & Aerotropolis Authority
  • Jim Betts, CEO, Infrastructure NSW
  • Henry Greenacre, Head of Operations, Uber Australia & New Zealand
  • Chris Birrer, First Asst Secretary, Defence Estate and Infrastructure Group
  • Adrian Dwyer, CEO, Infrastructure Partnerships Australia
  • Marco Assorati, Executive Director APAC, Salini Impregilo
  • Bede Noonan, Managing Director, Acciona Geotech Holdings
  • Derek Lai, Belt and Road Global Leader and Vice-Chair, Deloitte China
  • Peter Durante, Managing Director – Technology & Innovation, Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets (UK)
  • Daniel Adams, Project Manager and Economic Development Coordinator, City of Prospect, SA
  • Jon Davies, CEO, Queensland Major Contractors Association
  • Benedicte Colin, Director – Infrastructure Investments, CDPQ
  • Michael Cosgrave, Executive General Manager, Infrastructure Regulation Division, ACCC
  • Camilla Drover, Executive Director, Motorways, RMS
  • Martin Cutter, CEO, City of Geelong
  • Lorie Argus, Chief of Parking & Ground Access, Melbourne Airport
  • Alison Roberts, CEO, A4NZ
  • Nik Kemp, Head of Infrastructure, Australian Super
  • John Georgiou, Chairman, Georgiou Group
  • Kylie Rampa, CEO, Property Australia (Lendlease)
  • Professor Peter McDonald, Professor of Demography, University of Melbourne
  • Aneetha De Silva, Managing Director – Government, Aurecon
  • Rob Stewart, Managing Partner, Global Infrastructure Partners
  • Richard Timbs, Senior Director/Sector Lead, Infrastructure Ratings, S&P Global Ratings
  • Louise Adams, Managing Director – Australia & New Zealand, Aurecon

To find out more and to register, visit AFRinfrastructure.com.au

Labor to meet with stakeholders for Suburban Rail Loop planning

The Andrews Labor Government is due to meet with representatives from Melbourne suburbs for consultations on the first stage of the Suburban Rail Loop.

Labor will meet with representatives from the suburbs of Whitehorse, Monash and Kingston to discuss first-stage implementation of the proposed corridor for the $50 billion project’s South East Section. The talks will include consultation regarding ecological and geotechnical studies

The Victorian Government looks to be on its own in delivering the ambitious rail project, after Labor was defeated at the federal election over the weekend. Labor leader Bill Shorten had made a commitment to provide $10 billion for the project.

Billed as Australia’s largest ever public transport project, construction on the Suburban Rail Loop is currently pencilled for a 2022 start and may not be completed until the 2050s.

The project involves construction of a new underground rail line that will connect several Melbourne suburbs to the city’s existing major lines so that  improving connectivity and reducing commuting times. The line will run 90km from the Frankston line in the southeast to the Werribee line in the west via Melbourne Airport in the north.

Initial site investigations have been proposed for the second half of 2019, but the final number of stations has yet to be determined.

“The Suburban Rail Loop will change the way we move around Melbourne forever, and we’re not wasting a minute getting this vital project started,” said Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews.

“It will create and support local jobs and slash travel times, getting people where they need to go.”

Melbourne train stations ‘ripe for redevelopment’ says RMIT

RMIT researchers examining 230 train stations across Melbourne have stated that certain stations in the city’s suburbs should be developed to reduce car dependency.

The researchers said suburban Melbourne stations such as Murrumbeena, Mentone, Preston and Bentleigh had the structure in place to be redeveloped into transit-oriented developments (TODs) to reduce car dependency.

Stations identified by the researchers as suitable for TOD share common features such as shops and community centres, residential and retail opportunities.

RMIT Centre for Urban Research author Dr Lucy Gunn stated that many train station precincts in Melbourne lacked basic features and amenities such as supermarkets and bicycle storage.

A lack of residential density in the regions surrounding these stations was cited as another contributor to locals electing to use their cars instead of walking and cycling.

“If we want to reduce car dependency and get the most out of our train stations, redeveloping the area around them is the best way to encourage walking, cycling and active public transport use,” she said.

The team at RMIT assessed 14 walkability features at the train stations, including access to schools, convenience stores and access to other forms of transport, among other services.

Stations identified as being “highly walkable” by the researchers included South Yarra, Prahran and Balaclava. Stations in Melbourne’s outer ring were identified as having poor access in comparison.

The idea behind the research is to think of train stations as more than just transport hubs, according to RMIT.

“Rethinking train stations to make them about more than just transport is the future for a more healthy, liveable Melbourne,” Gunn concluded.

Inland Rail a huge win for agriculture: CSIRO

Australia’s national science and research unit has commended investment in the Inland Rail freight project between Melbourne and Brisbane, saying it stands to save the agriculture sector around $70 million per annum.

A pilot study of the CSIRO’s computer logistics tool TraNSIT (Transport Network Strategic Investment Tool) crunched the numbers on the section of Inland Rail which will run between Parkes and Narromine in central west New South Wales.

The program found once Inland Rail up and running, the agricultural industry could save between $64 and $94 per tonne on loads shifted from road to rail ion that region.

Based on close to a million tonnes of horticultural and processed agriculture moved from the region each year, that would equate to a saving of around $70 million each year, the CSIRO says.

Additionally, the science organisation’s analysis showed existing coastal trips which could instead use Inland Rail, would save between $28 and $35 a tonne by doing so.

“Our research has shown that Inland Rail would bring an improvement in rail travel time and transport cost, particularly important when considering perishable products,” CSIRO TraNSIT leader Dr Andrew Higgins says.

“This would make it a lot more competitive with the travel time advantages of road transport.”

Higgins noted transport makes up a large portion of cost in the agricultural sector.

“These types of savings with Inland Rail would mean food companies would have lower cost access to markets further away than they supplied to in the past,” he said. “The benefit is for those selling to market, basically large farming corporations, food companies and those behind processing facilities. You’d expect the savings would then be passed back onto farmers.”

ARA, UK rail body sign MoU

A ‘groundbreaking’ partnership has been signed between peak representative bodies for rail in Australasia and the United Kingdom.

A Memorandum of Understanding was signed last week between the Australasian Railway Association and the UK Railway Industry Association, with a reception on Thursday night hosted by the British Consul-General in Australia, as part of a UK rail trade delegation visit.

The partnership will see the two associations work more closely together, with the goal of benefiting both organisations’ memberships, and helping boost each country’s export potential for rail.

Australian deputy prime minister and infrastructure minister Michael McCormack said Australia and the UK have long been partners in many economic and community aspects.

“This agreement is yet another partnership which will build upon our strong trade relationship, help encourage even more jobs and opportunities in the rail sector, and be mutually beneficial for our economies,” McCormack said.

UK minister for state and trade and export promotion Baroness Fairhead said the agreement would further strengthen the countries’ trading relationship.

“The UK is a world leader in rail and has a particular focus on developing exciting new technologies,” Fairhead said. “Projects including those such as Crossrail and HS2 mean that the UK is well placed to share insights, expertise and knowledge to help build rail industry capability around the world.”

“This partnership is of immense value to our industry,” ARA chief executive officer Danny Broad added. “The opportunity to leverage the skills and expertise of UK rail companies will add breadth and depth to our industry, and give Australian businesses valuable insights and partnerships.”

Reims tramway. Photo: Oliver Probert

Alstom keeping its options open with catenary-free choices

Alstom Systems Solutions Director Jean-François Blanc says the company’s flexible approach to light rail projects is ideal for a mode designed to fit into an existing transport setting.

Blanc recently spoke at the Australasian Railway Association’s Light Rail 2019 conference, about how the company is pressing forward with battery and supercapacitor onboard power supply solutions to facilitate ‘wire free’ operations, but is also delivering its alternate, third rail ground-based power supply system, known as APS.

“Alstom aims to have the widest range of catenary free solutions,” Blanc told the Melbourne conference last week. “The approach for us is not one system that we want to compare to the competition, but instead to say, ‘What’s the best fit for a city or environment?’

“I can tell you that no environment, no project is like another. There’s a lot of factors that go into that choice.”

Broadly speaking, he says those factors break down into three categories: environmental, including temperature and climate factors; desired cost, both capital and ongoing; and the key elements of the proposed asset, including uphill and downhill sections, the number and type of intersections, the desired number and length of rollingstock, and so on.

Blanc, who spoke with Rail Express ahead of the event, says this versatile approach to light rail solutions is ideal for a mode which is desired for its flexibility.

“Light rail is expandable, in terms of range but also in terms of capacity and performance,” he said in January. “Light rail can handle from around 3,000 passengers per hour per direction, up to around 13,000, and once you’ve got the infrastructure you can go up to 13,000 with minimal major infrastructure construction.”

Blanc says Alstom encourages customers to leave the specifications of light rail projects as open as possible, so a thorough analysis can be conducted during tender stage, both on capital expenditure, and operating costs. He says striking the balance between capital and operational expenditure goes a long way towards finding the best solution for catenary free operation.

A system like APS may represent a higher capital expenditure than onboard energy systems, but in turn has the same performance outputs as catenary in terms of gradient, and represents a relatively low operational cost. Onboard energy systems represent a different balance of costs, with the energy systems certainly not designed to last as long as the 30-year lifetime of the rollingstock. The dynamics of these different options are further influenced by the length of the route, the length of desired catenary free sections, and the number of vehicles in the fleet, which contributes significantly to the capital and operational expenditures of the onboard energy system solution.

For now, Blanc says Alstom is doing a good job of presenting all the options to the market.

“In July 2018 we opened the Nice Line 2 system, fully with supercapacitors using a safe ground charging system. Today in Taiwan we are delivering trams to expand their light rail system, with supercapacitors using overhead charging point,” he told Rail Express.

“But in Qatar we are delivering APS, because the temperatures are so high that there would be too much energy demand to keep onboard energy systems cool.”

ARA names eight to Youth Leadership Advisory Board

The Australasian Railway Association has appointed eight rail professionals to its Young Leaders Advisory Board (Y-LAB), after almost 50 applications were made from around Australia and New Zealand.

ARA boss Danny Broad on Thursday said the naming of the new leadership group was an exciting way to engage the future leaders of the rail industry.

“Our industry is changing fast,” Broad said. “We need to engage the future leaders of our industry in key decisions and we are excited to do this through Y-LAB.”

The eight inaugural Y-LAB appointees are:

  • Neysa Arland, Control Communications Manager, Transdev Auckland
  • Tegan Ball, Program Manager, Principal Workforce Planner, Queensland Rail
  • Jessica Ghaleb, Track and Civil Engineer, Jacobs
  • Mike Groves, Infrastructure Maintenance Engineer, Network Rail Consulting
  • Abdul Jamal, Design Engineer, John Holland Group
  • Amy Lezela, Head of Engineering, Rolling Stock, Metro Trains Melbourne
  • Liam O’Shannessy, General Manager Maintenance and Operations, Downer (on secondment to Yarra Trams)
  • Jamie Ross Smith, Commercial and Compliance Manager, Unipart

In addition, four reserve Y-LAB members were also named:

  • Toby Briggs, Operations Manager, Martinus Rail
  • Jane Gillespie, Senior Consultant, Arup
  • Charlotte Moss, Project Engineer, Bombardier
  • Josh Steed, Team Leader Vehicle Services, SNC Lavalin

Broad said the successful applicants “demonstrated a breadth of vision with some innovative yet practical ideas to be progressed through the ARA for our industry”.

“The eight appointed individuals represent the diversity of roles and segments of the rail sector, bringing young engineers, planners, compliance and general managers from rail operators, manufacturers, suppliers, contractors and consultants to the table,” he said.