Level crossings in the Hunter network are undergoing maintenance to improve safety for trains and motorists.
The Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) is carrying out the works during a shutdown of the network from Newcastle to Ulan and Turrawan.
From September 22 to 25, 1,000 workers will conduct 500 maintenance jobs not limited to level crossings. These will include upgrading 3,500 metres of track, replacing 13,200 metres of rail, and regularly scheduled maintenance activities.
ARTC General Executive Hunter Valley Network Wayne Johnson said the level crossing work was in addition to regular maintenance.
“In the upcoming rail shutdown, in addition to our regular maintenance work, level crossings will be getting some special attention with tamping being carried out on 34 level crossings,” he said.
“A tamping machine is used to pack (or tamp) the track ballast under railway tracks to make the tracks more durable. The base of the level crossing is replaced and stabilised to improve the geometry of the track and this also helps improve the surface so vehicles will experience a smoother ride as a result.
“Tamping the levels crossings allows safer access across the railway crossings for vehicle traffic.”
Level crossings, of which only 21 per cent nationally are active, are a critical safety concern for the rail industry, and Johnson warned motorists of the consequences of not driving safely near level crossings.
“Tragically, every year too many people lose their lives in level crossing collisions, while there are more than 1,000 ‘near misses’ each year – the difference between a fatal collision and a near collision can be just seconds,” he said.
“With a bumper grain season ahead, we can expect high volumes of freight trains coming from the central areas of the state, so people need to be vigilant with level crossings in the regional parts of New South Wales.”
Maintenance is expected to finish on September 25.
Metro Trains Melbourne has released a new app to more safely and effectively manage track access.
The Work on Track app enables employees and contractors to determine the safest way to access track across the Metro network on a mobile, tablet, or desktop device.
Based on data collected by Metro trains that is then presented through a web-based map, the app generates the most appropriate track protection option and excludes unsuitable options.
According to Metro CEO Raymond O’Flaherty, the app reduces more inefficient processes.
“The track access process is largely paper-based across the Australian rail industry, so we created a smarter and simpler way to complete the maintenance that our passengers rely on for a reliable journey,” he said.
In developing the app, existing processes were inputted as requirements. Users must follow a workflow to deliver against those requirements.
Asset data is mapped to a GIS base map that includes geographic features. The app takes into account maximum line speed, structures, gradient, and curves in the corridor to determine whether there is adequate line of sight. If the app determines that the site does not meet the line of sight requirements or in more complex areas, users can select lookout-only protection.
With the technology now in use, contractors and Metro staff have been able to reduce the use of lookout only protection, indicating that safer options are being used.
“This shows it is already helping us to manage our safety risks,” said O’Flaherty. “And using the app before our crews arrive onsite allows us to get works started and completed faster while keeping our people, passengers and plant safe.”
RISSB’s projects in the next year expand the organisation’s role.
The Rail Industry Safety and Standards Board (RISSB) has released its 2020/2021 industry-driven work plan, which includes close to 30 publications and 16 major projects that will be delivered over a two-year horizon.
This work plan is a result of RISSB’s overhauled project planning process and heralds a new era for RISSB. In addition to delivering standards, guidelines, codes of practice and rules, RISSB now has a new major projects portfolio set up to address industry- wide issues focusing on business imperatives. This holistic approach demonstrates that RISSB is future-focused and is equipped to address industry’s current and future challenges, now.
Input from stakeholders directly informs the development of our priorities and the vital publications that we make available to industry. The work plan was developed after significant consultation with CEOs, other senior industry executives, and RISSB’s standing committees helped us determine the priorities that will create a safer and more productive industry.
Throughout the year, RISSB will be managing the development of a total of 29 publications comprising reviews, resubmissions from the previous year’s priority planning process (PPP), AS 1085 series of documents still transitioning from Standards Australia, and projects put forward and endorsed by Standing Committees.
A list of our Australian Code of Practice (ACOP) projects is available in the table below.
Achieving compliance at railway station platforms with DSAPT
Firmware, software and configuration management for operational rail assets
LED Locomotive Headlights, LED Ditchlights
Safety Critical Comms
Light Rail Interfaces with Roads (Signals and Signage)
Australian Rail Industry Management System Framework
Fatigue Risk Management
SPAD Investigations Proforma
Operation of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (Drones) on the Railway Network
Reliability, Availability and Maintainability (RAM) Guideline for the Australian Rail Industry
Track Structure & Support Systems
Turnouts and Special Trackworks
Wheel Rail Profile Development
Railway track materials – steel sleepers
Taking into consideration the impact of COVID-19 on the rail industry, improved workflows, revised Development Group membership requirements, and streamlined internal processes will ensure ongoing Development Group commitments are optimised during what continues to be a challenging time for all.
Our new Major Projects portfolio will enable RISSB to address key challenges facing the industry, focus on activities that directly address the needs of its stakeholders, and deliver step change improvements for the benefit of the Australian rail industry through a number of workstreams: Track Worker Safety, National Rules, National Vehicle Register, Train Control Interoperability, Noise, Technology Benefit Realisation and the National Rail Action Plan.
The table below shows all 16 major projects.
Exploration of Technological Solutions (RISSB / ONRSR joint project)
Action Plan from Technology Study
Good Practice for Planning Works in the Rail Corridor
Achieving a Positive Safety Culture in the Rail Corridor
Explore the Viability of Nationally Recognised Protection Officer Training
National Communications Rule
Produce a Pipeline of Harmonized and Rationalized National Rules
Glossary of Terms
National Vehicle Register
Interoperability Technology Solutions and Funding Models
The Case (SFAIRP) for (taking away/reducing etc) Horns in Built Up Areas
Noise (especially in tunnels although its scope is likely to be expanded)
Capping off what has already been a successful year for RISSB, in 2019/2020 RISSB delivered an impressive 21 standards, codes of practice, and guidelines bringing the total number of publications RISSB has in its catalogue to more than 220. In addition to these projects, RISSB also published The National Rules Framework, and the seminal study into Rail’s Current Innovations and Trends and the Assessment of Interoperability Issues from the Proposed Introduction of New Train Control Systems; these are noteworthy achievements in themselves.
If you would like to see a list of publications delivered by RISSB in 2019/2020 and our 2020 /2021 work plan, visit rissb.com.au/work-program/.
As Australia’s rail sector has not been immune from the risk of cyber attacks, industry bodies are joining with government agencies to mitigate the ongoing threat.
In November 2016, The San Francisco Municipal Transport Agency was hit by a cyber-attack. The HDDCryptor malware spread across over 2,000 computers, meaning that the Agency’s network was opened up free for the public.
While the agency’s ability to provide transport across its fleet of light rail vehicles, streetcars, trolley and hybrid buses was not compromised, ticket machines, payment services, and emails were affected.
The hackers demanded a ransom of 100 bitcoin, equivalent to $102,644 at the time. This type of attack, shutting down a network’s computer systems and demanding a payout, is known as ransomware, and can be caused by a person simply clicking on an infected link in an email or downloading an infected file. The networked nature of large transport authorities means that this can quickly spread throughout an organisation.
While San Francisco did not pay off the hacker and was able to restore its systems by the next Monday, the hack was one of the most visible instances of how cyber threats are coming to the rail transportation sector.
Earlier that year, cyber criminals struck the rail network in NSW, targeting regional train services provider NSW TrainLink. Hackers were able to infiltrate the booking service and capture customer credit and personal data.
Unlike the San Francisco hack, this breach targeted a rail organisation’s repository of customer details, including things like bank details and personal information. The opportunistic attack exposed how people using the same passwords for multiple accounts can make a system vulnerable, and in this case, with rail operators having data on large numbers of people, others could be seen as a honeypot for potential attackers.
Western Australia’s Public Transport Authority was also targeted in an attempted attack in 2016, leading the rail agency to shut down its own website and websites for specific services such as Transperth to prevent further intrusions.
More recently, the number of cyber- attacks has been increasing. In May 2020, Swiss rail manufacturer Stadler reported that hackers had targeted the company hoping to extort a large amount of money and threatening the publication of data to hurt Stadler and its employees. Although not impacting production lines, the hack came a week after Australian logistics operator Toll also suffered a ransomware attack, the second that company had suffered in 2020.
A spokesperson for the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) reiterated comments made by Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds that malicious cyber activity against Australia is increasing in frequency, scale, and sophistication.
“Rail, and the transport sector more broadly, is part of Australian critical infrastructure and provides essential services to Australians,” the spokesperson said.
Ransomware attacks are becoming more common for organisations across the rail sector. As these few examples demonstrate, the reliance of all parts of the rail industry on digital systems means that cyber-attacks are not targeting any one sector of the industry. Furthermore, as large, often widely distributed organisations that deal with personal and safety critical information, the rail sector has many facets of the organisation that are involved with cyber security, not only in operational roles.
“A cyber incident involving critical infrastructure can seriously impact the safety, social or economic wellbeing of Australians, due to the significant disruption it can cause if the systems are damaged or unavailable for extended periods of time,” said the ACSC spokesperson.
This is not to suggest that the rail sector has been blind to the risk posed by cyber- attacks. In the UK, in 2016, the Department for Transport published the Rail Cyber Security: reducing the risk of cyber attack guidelines. In the document, the increasing threat of cyber-attacks in the rail industry is clearly stated.
“Railway systems are becoming vulnerable to cyber-attack due to the move away from bespoke stand-alone systems to open-platform, standardised equipment built using Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS) components and increasing use of networked control and automation systems that can be accessed remotely via public and private networks.”
These vulnerabilities leave the rail sector open to impacts of cyber-attacks, from threats to safety, disruptions of the network, economic loss, and reputational damage. The guidelines outline how rail organisations should respond, from the level of governance, through to design, the integration of legacy and third-party systems, and staff training.
As the spokesperson for the ACSC outlined, as rail reaps the benefits of digitalisation, there are also challenges.
“The rail sector is continually modernising through the adoption of new operational technologies. However, with this, comes potential cyber security vulnerabilities,” said the spokesperson.
“The increased adoption of inter-connected technologies has the potential to increase the cyber threat ‘attack surface’.”
In the case of passenger networks, bespoke systems such as electronic signage, ticketing systems, electronic passenger gates, building management and public address systems are areas of concern. In the freight sector, the interconnectedness of the industry and its automation contributes to the vulnerabilities the sector faces.
The exposure of the rail sector was highlighted in a 2016 Victorian Auditor- General report into the security of critical infrastructure control systems for trains. After a 2010 report identified weaknesses, the 2016 report found little improvement since then.
The reasons for the lack of progress were poor governance arrangement, limited security frameworks for control systems, limited security controls for identifying, preventing, detecting, and responding to cyber security events, and a poor transfer of accountability and risk during machinery-of- government changes.
In the Auditor-General report, 10 recommendations were made, all of which were accepted by Public Transport Victoria and the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources, which has since been broken up into the Department of Transport and the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions.
Since the Victorian Auditor General’s report, moves have been made to standardise and improve the Australian rail industry’s cyber security response. In 2018 the Rail Industry Safety and Standards Board (RISSB) published its Australian Rail Network Cyber Security Strategy. Identifying similar threats, the document outlined the vision for the industry of the elimination of cyber risk, resulting in zero cyber-attacks on the Australian rail network. To do this, the strategy follows the principles of understand, protect, detect, and respond.
In addition, also in 2018, RISSB published AS 7770 – Rail Cyber Security, the Australian standard for managing cyber security risk on the Australian railway network.
To improve the response of the rail sector to the cyber security threat, ACSC provides sector-specific resources and materials.
“The ACSC is working with all critical infrastructure sectors to help them increase their cyber defences as well as transport sector entities through the ACSC Partnership Program.”
The ongoing adoption of industry standards as well as the implementation of sector-wide strategies will ensure that the rail industry continues to be prepared to deal with cyber attacks as the threats morph and change.
Transport for NSW has released footage of motorists crossing rail lines as trains are moving at Port Kembla.
The vision comes from the Old Port Road level crossing, which is regularly used by freight trains carrying goods from the Port Kembla steelworks and industrial areas.
In the CCTV clips, cars can be seen crossing the tracks while trains are moving towards the crossing, ignoring the flashing red lights. In one incident, a waiting vehicle overtakes the vehicle in front of it across double lines as a train is beginning to enter the crossing.
Police will be targeting the crossing to ensure no incidents occur.
The weight and speed of trains means that motorists will come off worse, and Transport for NSW deputy secretary for safety, environment and regulation Tara McCarthy said that motorists needed to pay attention.
“Trains can travel at speeds of up to 160 kilometres per hour and can take up to one-and-a-half kilometres to come to a complete stop,” she said.
“That means that by the time they see you, it’s often too late. Signs, flashing lights, boom gates and road markings are at level crossings for a good reason, and drivers, riders and pedestrians need to pay attention.”
Motorists also need to consider the impact of a collision or close call on those manning the trains.
“We all have a duty of care when driving, not only for ourselves, passengers and other road users, but also for train passengers and crew,” said McCarthy.
The penalty from crossing a level crossing at the wrong time can include three demerit points and a $464 fine. Acting superintendent Ben Macfarlane from traffic and highway patrol said NSW police would be enforcing these penalties.
“We will be looking out for speeding and distracted drivers near these level crossings and those who disregard flashing lights and stop signs. The consequences of a car or truck hitting a train are severe so don’t rush to the other side,” he said.
Siemens explains to Rail Express how digitalisation in rail requires a focus on cyber security.
On June 19, Prime Minister Scott Morrison warned Australian businesses and agencies that they were under a sustained cyber- attack from a sophisticated state-based actor. Rather than describing the nature of a singular attack, Morrison outlined the constant and ongoing threat that Australia’s critical infrastructure was facing.
This reminder of the cyber threat that Australia was facing aligned with what Serge Maillet, head of industrial cyber security, Siemens Australia and New Zealand, has observed.
“Over the past 12-18 months there’s been a significant increase in terms of cyber-attacks that Australia is seeing across all industries. This is happening world-wide but unfortunately Australia is among the top 10 countries being targeted.”
Based on data from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a US think tank, Australia is the sixth most targeted country for cyber-attacks, with 16 significant attacks between May 2006 and June 2020. The nature of these attacks is not leaving the rail industry unscathed.
“Any entity attempting cyber threats, also known as threat actors, are increasingly targeting a lot of our critical infrastructure. Rail is certainly part of that critical infrastructure,” said Maillet.
The types of attacks that are occurring are the intrusion of malware due to failed security controls, in many cases, due to human error.
“The reality is that the majority of organisations in Australia are going to be attacked at some stage. The only variables are the type of attack vector, the size of impacts and if the attack is going to be successful or not,” said Maillet. “If it is a successful attack, you want to make sure that you’ve got measures in place to be able to recover from those attacks and bring the critical systems back online as quickly as possible, while minimising any negative impacts on public safety or production.”
THE CONVERGENCE OF IT AND OT What has made the rail sector and critical infrastructure particularly susceptible to cyber-attacks, and why governments are concerned is the convergence of what were previously two separate systems, information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT).
“While cyber-attacks have been able to target data in an IT environment, the interconnection of IT with OT opens the potential for threat actors to penetrate machines and processes, causing significant harm,” said Maillet.
“If we look at OT in the context of rail, it’s really about machines and process control. This could be rail signalling, rail control, automation, telemetry and more.”
Previously, these systems were insulated from cyber-attacks due to their lack of connection to external or untrusted networks. While IT systems were constantly being patched with new software, OT systems ran on their own proprietary technology, and did not require regular updates.
“Because of that there’s been a lack of focus from organisations on their own OT systems from a security perspective,” said Maillet. “Now that we’re seeing a lot of convergence and hyper convergence happening between IT and OT it’s creating a lot of new challenges, especially for industrial applications, and it’s increasing the risk profile of our critical infrastructure.”
In addition, while enterprise IT is expected to have a lifecycle of three to five years, OT devices are often expected to run for 20 years, if not longer. As these older systems are beginning to be integrated with the wider rail IT network through the process of digitalisation, safety critical technology is becoming increasingly vulnerable to cyber-attacks, said Maillet.
“The challenge from that perspective is that a lot of the legacy OT devices that are still in operation today for a lot of critical infrastructure were never designed with security in mind, because they were never intended to be converged with IT.”
While digitalisation promises and has delivered many benefits to rail networks, the issue of cyber vulnerability and exposure are sometimes overlooked, and the cost of digitalisation is only accounted for in financial terms, not in terms of cyber security, cautioned Maillet.
THE CONSEQUENCES OF DIGITALISATION
To some, the solution may look simple. Why not just update the software that runs these safety critical systems, or install the latest security patch? This is easier said than done, Maillet points out.
“In OT infrastructure the priority is always going to be to maintain the safety, reliability, availability, and integrity of those platforms. So, when you look at putting in a new patch or making a configuration change, that will always introduce potential risk to jeopardise the availability or performance of that system. Often, these elements will take priority over the actual integrity of the system.”
That’s not to say that the patches are not available. Many OT systems run on operating systems such as Microsoft Windows, which have has regular security patch updates to account for vulnerabilities identified in the system. Trying to find a time when the system that controls a rail network can be taken offline for an upgrade is tricky.
Another limit on the possibility of upgrading these systems is the potential for human error. Stephen Baker, head of product innovation and through-life support at Siemens Mobility says that this leads to a bunker-like mentality.
“The problem is that you end up with an infrastructure that is safe and reliable, but you can’t do anything with it, you can’t run analytics, you can’t do downstream processing. The convergence of OT and IT can’t be put on hold.
“Let’s face it,” said Baker. “You can imagine what would happen if all of a sudden you stopped running trains in Melbourne or Sydney because the operation of a vital network has been compromised.”
DEALING WITH AN EVOLVING THREAT To mitigate the threat of a cyber-attack while still reaping the benefits of digitalisation Siemens have developed a full cycle of expertise that is focused on the people, processes, and technologies that can keep a rail system functioning.
“Industrial security, which includes rail security, is really a dynamic topic. Because the risks are constantly evolving and changing in nature, it’s creating a lot of challenges. So, our job at Siemens is to help our customers better understand where those vulnerabilities are and what types of solutions are best to maximise the security posture of a system,” said Maillet.
When working in the rail industry in particular, Siemens have developed solutions designed for rail.
“When we look at mainline train systems or metro systems, we know that they are deploying a lot of Industry 4.0 technologies, a lot of digitalisation, which is increasing the operational efficiency and reliability of those systems,” said Maillet. “We also have to ensure that we implement technologies that enhance cyber security for the network that the trains systems operate on, as well as the control systems that manage the rail infrastructure.”
With 90 per cent of successful cyber- attacks due to human error, the solution must begin with people.
“We know that even if you have all the right technology put in place, if your people do the wrong thing due to lack of awareness or not having the right level of training in cyber security, then that’s likely to expose a vulnerability,” said Maillet.
“Sometimes it’s as simple as plugging a USB into a computer. If it’s a computer asset in an OT environment, that USB could easily introduce a vulnerability. Another common breakdown is when someone clicks on an email that they shouldn’t which can create a virtual doorway for a threat actor to bypass the security measures that have been put into place to protect critical assets.”
The next step is the processes. In a rail organisation these processes could include how staff fix issues, how assets are managed and what procedures are in place to ensure that assets are maintained securely.
The final piece is the technology, and here Siemens is working on solutions that can enhance the secure digitalisation of rail. Andrew Chan, development engineer at Siemens Mobility’s Centre of Excellence, describes how the company is looking at extracting information from a digital rail asset without the potential risk of exposing it to external attacks.
“A data diode basically allows data to flow in one direction and in that way, we can safely get safety critical information from our axle counters and interlockings out into the IT environment. That’s where we can do amazing things with data.”
Other technologies that Siemens are deploying include edge processing for intrusion detection, and cloud services to mine data for cyber security analytics.
Servicing all areas is an example of Siemens’s distinct approach, said Baker.
“We’re probably one of the few total solution providers – we design the interlocking hardware, we design the control systems, all the network requirements and defences are part of the safety case, we design the networks and even the analytics, so every layer is internal. We’re one of the few organisations that can give you everything from broad level design of the signals and the railways, right through to the cloud analytics which tells the asset owner how the infrastructure is performing.”
While Siemens has a number of areas of the business which deal with rail cyber security, its industrial security services provide the hardware and software services, as well as professional services to rail customers.
These industrial cyber security solutions are provided across three key pillars, security assessments, security optimisation, and security management, all underpinned by holistic approach to industrial security, known as the Defence in Depth security framework.
“Defence in Depth is having as many security measures and layers in the infrastructure as possible based on well-known security best-practices and frameworks. It provides us the ability to have a depth of staggered defences in infrastructure,” said Maillet.
As Australia grapples with the increasing cyber threat, increasing resilience will be a key factor in the success of the digitalisation of rail.
Investigations into two freight rail incidents have begun and been completed this week.
The completed investigation targeted the dewiring of over a kilometre of overhead powerlines in 2018. In this case, the ATSB investigation found that the collapsible walls of the flat racks were not secured by personnel at the Acacia Ridge terminal.
When passing through Cooroy on the North Coast line in Queensland, the rear end wall of the top of a stack of flat racks was extended, leading to it becoming entangled with overhead line equipment (OHLE), including copper wire. The wires were dragged along the platform at Cooroy, where luckily no one was present, however a south-bound train was due to arrive in 30 minutes.
Another concern in the incident was train crew entering the three-metre exclusion zone around the OHLE, before the wires were isolated and earthed. Although de-energised, the cables were not electrically safe.
ATSB director transport safety Mike Walker said the incident showed the need for effective processes for emergencies and in freight terminals.
“This occurrence has highlighted the importance of having checklists for rarely conducted tasks and emergency response tasks in the rail environment, and ensuring these checklists are readily available and used by operational personnel,” said Walker.
Aurizon, which operates the Acacia Ridge terminal and the train in the incident, has updated its safety processes in response to the incident and investigation. Network manager Queensland Rail has also mandated a network control officer checklist for OHLE emergencies.
Another investigation has been opened into a freight train derailing near Lake Bathurst. The Pacific National-operated service, a loaded garbage waste train, derailed after a wheel bearing assemble on the trailing axle of the lead bogie of one of the wagons failed.
The derailment lasted for a distance of roughly 2,500m. No one was injured however there was damage to the wagon’s bogie and frame and minor damage to track infrastructure. The NSW Office of Transport Safety Investigations (OTSI) is conducting the investigation on behalf of the ATSB.
Bringing together representatives from all facets of the rail industry, the National Rail Action Plan (NRAP) is setting a template for rail’s future.
On a chilly Adelaide day in August 2019, federal and state transport and infrastructure ministers assembled in Adelaide for the 11th meeting of the Transport and Infrastructure Council.
At the meeting, Danny Broad, then CEO of the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) gave a heated speech outlining that without coordinated state and federal action, rail’s massive investment boom would be squandered, citing the dual challenges of a workforce shortage and the lack of common standards.
In comments made after the meeting closed, Broad castigated the laissez-faire approach to training.
“Governments can’t leave it to a nebulous training ‘market’ to resolve, because it’s just not working,” he said.
“These are national issues requiring a national approach, which reinforces the need for jurisdictions to work together to ensure consistency and alignment between jurisdictions.”
Also listening to Broad’s speech was the then-CEO of the Australian Airports Association Caroline Wilkie. Recalling the presentation, Wilkie was struck by the unanimity of the response.
“Over the last few years, ministers have been very keen to understand whether there’s any barriers, or indeed any opportunities, that we should be looking for on the back of this enormous infrastructure spend, particularly in transport. From that discussion, there emerged three key areas of focus.”
The three priority areas that would come out of the August meeting were skills and labour, common standards, and interoperability. The Transport and Infrastructure Council tasked the National Transport Commission to develop a National Rail Action Plan (NRAP), which, chair of the NTC Carolyn Walsh highlighted, built upon the current investment in the rail industry.
“The Rail Action Plan isn’t starting from scratch and saying nothing has happened before; it is drawing together the threads of a lot of things that have been happening over recent years like the development of Inland Rail, the ARTC’s investment in ATMS, Sydney Trains investment in Digital Systems, the Cross River Rail in Queensland.”
These investments were driven by the recognition at a political level that rail had to play a greater role in moving people and goods if Australia was going to improve productivity and reduce emissions.
“There’s been acknowledgement across governments for a number of years now about the freight task. There’s a strong sense that we’ve got a freight task that cannot be dealt with without investment in both roads and rail, but particularly rail for long-haul freight,” said Walsh.
“The growth of our metropolitan cities has been huge so we’ve seen much greater investment in public transport over the last 10-15 years which is terrific. Coupled with that is the recognition of the impact of climate change, and the importance of getting better environmental outcomes through our transport networks, both in terms of freight and passenger.”
What Broad and others had realised, and impressed upon ministers, was that the rail industry in Australia had an enormous opportunity, with all major capitals investing in significant modernisations of their rail network and interstate projects such as Inland Rail. However, this also represented the chance of a pitfall, and one that the Australian rail industry has been learning from for the past century and a half.
“The industry had collectively with government recognised the extent of that we’ve got to get all of those things right to make sure that we don’t create the break of gauge in the future,” said Walsh. “For those investments that are going to take the next 10 years to put in place and enable in-cab signalling for instance, how do we ensure we don’t get the future break of gauge, as those investments come together.”
Walsh noted that with a national pipeline of investment, individual rail infrastructure managers in each state were thinking about how to think about each network as a part of a national set of railways.
To make this happen, working groups for each focus area under the NRAP were formed, with Wilkie co-chairing the skills and labour group, Walsh co-chairing the interoperability group, and Deborah Spring, CEO of the Rail Industry Safety and Standards Board (RISSB), co-chairing the harmonisation group. Each group will also have a representative from industry as the other co-chair, including the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC), the Victorian Department of Transport and the South Australian Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure. In addition, members of each working group will comprise representatives from each state as well as industry representatives from RISSB and the ARA.
With buy-in from the Commonwealth, states, and industry, Walsh noted that the tone of the conversations was energising.
“People are very keen to take advantage of the fact that we do have significant investment,” she said. “Often, we’re all talking about how to cut back, how to find efficiencies, and we are looking to find efficiencies, but this is an opportunity on the back of money and investment going into rail. I think we’ve hit a time where those three planks of industry, the standards setters, and the policy makers are all seeing this as an opportunity.”
FINDING THE NEXT GENERATION OF RAIL WORKERS
The issue that Broad had honed in on in his presentation in 2019 was that without a fundamental change to the way that rail skills and qualifications were taught, the rail industry would have a skills crisis. This assertion was supported by a report commissioned by the ARA and published in 2018, which assessed the skills pipeline for the rail sector. As Wilkie noted, the findings were clear.
“We don’t have the incoming workforce to meet the requirements of rail projects. ARA members right now don’t have enough people coming through in terms of apprentices, younger people, people with experience, or people moving into the sector.”
In addition to the lack of people, the 2018 ARA report found that qualifications in one state were not always recognised in another.
“The report identified a number of areas of improvement and action that were required and a lot of that was activity that really required a national approach,” said Wilkie. Walsh also noted that rail is not the only infrastructure sector experiencing a boom.
“There’s two elements of it, the first is whether we have the skills base in Australia generally to be able to deliver on this broad range of infrastructure projects – roads, rail, hospitals, and schools are all competing with each other for the best engineers, leading the cost of infrastructure to go up unless we manage the supply of skills. There’s also how to make rail attractive as an industry in a modern world? It can have a reputation as quite a 19th century technology, when actually with all these investments we’re moving to a 21st century technology, which is very attractive to people developing engineering, IT, and other skills.”
Currently, the lack of skilled workers coming into the rail sector has led to reports of companies poaching staff, or having to hire overseas, increasing costs.
“What we really need to be looking at is how do we get more people into the mix, how do we develop more people and bring more people in, because it is getting difficult to take people from one project to the other,” said Wilkie.
Already, as the working group has had early meetings, Wilkie can see a need for the clear definition of pathways for school students and graduates who want to work in the rail industry. In addition, the working group will be looking at how to enable ongoing training, whether delivered by TAFEs or private registered training organisations.
“Talking to members across the country, every state has shortages in a variety of areas,” said Wilkie. “I was speaking to someone the other day about driver shortages in Western Australia, I’ve spoken to other people about signallers. We’re talking about issues of how you train people on the job, how do you get school children interested in the career. It’s really starting from the beginning to end, and what COVID also throws into the mix is how do you get people that might have been in other sectors with transferrable skills into the rail sector as well.”
Wilkie also highlighted that as rail is identified as a sustainable mobility technology, encouraging investment, this can also be a way for the sector to promote rail to younger workers.
“The ARA and the industry need to do more to talk about the environmental credentials of rail. For the younger generation, a sector like ours that is so good in the sustainability arena and makes such a big difference in terms of environmental footprint is something that we need to promote.
“It’s also promoting diversity. It’s about talking to women about why rail would work for them in their life. The perception of the railway sector if you talk to most younger people it would be of an older sector, which just from going to AusRAIL we know that’s not true. It’s a dynamic industry with lots of diversity from younger and older people who have a lot to add and a lot to bring and I think it’s an exciting sector to be part of.”
SCALING UP THE AUSTRALIAN RAIL INDUSTRY
Australia’s rail industry has long been hampered by the legacies of federation, with each state having their own standards and regulations for railways, and this has led to the proliferation of standards for the component parts of railways and infrastructure.
Currently, it is estimated that there are more than 10 different standards for the thickness of glass required for a passenger train carriage. Not only does this limit the ability of rail suppliers from competing in different states and increases the cost of procurement, it prevents the Australian rail supply industry from competing for international contracts.
“Harmonisation is about how do we actually get common standards of the component parts of railways, so that we’re actually building scale in the capacity of the Australian industry to be able to tender for those projects,” said Walsh.
In addition, distinct standards mean staff are largely tied to one state or rail network, said Wilkie.
“We’re talking about the ability of different operators to be able to move from state to state, and that links back with the ability of staff to move between state.”
What the working group aims to do, is also reduce the cost of operating when freight trains, for example, have to traverse across state borders.
“Another example that I’m given is you’ll have an operator who is working in the freight area and they have a number of different folders in their cab that’s relevant to the rules and regulations on the network in Victoria and they go across to NSW and there’s a different set of rules,” said Wilkie. “It’s about making that consistent, so it makes for a better safety outcome but also a more efficient outcome as well.”
Deborah Spring, RISSB’s executive chair and CEO, is co-chairing the harmonisation working group with Ben Phyland, head of rollingstock development, network integration at the Victorian Department of Transport. Already, a number of standards have been harmonised across states through RISSB’s Priority Planning Process (PPP).
“Six standards in the harmonisation section were raised through the PPP forum so we were able to put them on our plan and in fact four of them started to progress while the NRAP was being finalised, which I think shows the importance of the plan and also how RISSB is a conduit for industry,” said Spring.
Three standards identified in the NRAP, common standards for glazing, bogies, and interior crashworthiness have already been completed, with standards for egress, energy storage, HVAC and emissions now being worked on. As Spring describes, the harmonisation process under the NRAP is an extension of RISSB’s current work program.
“When we’re looking at a standard, we look across the industry’s existing standards, both domestically and internationally, and use that as a starting point for the development of our standards,” said Spring. “We also call for development groups and then we have our five existing standing committees right now, who then have a governance layer on top of that. So, these standards are developed in collaboration with industry, drawing upon industry’s expertise, and looking internationally as well.”
Beyond individual standards for components, the NRAP also calls for common rules for safe work. These will be developed out of the National Rules Project that RISSB is finalising.
“The next step of that project is that we have taken the Australian Network Rules and Procedures (ANRP) and gone out to industry with a survey asking, ‘With the 62 rules here, which ones would add the most value to be nationally harmonised and which ones would be easy to harmonise?’ We came up with a matrix to try and identify those rules which will be high value and initially easy to implement. We then set up a national industry reference group of all the senior safety leaders and executives throughout the rail industry to oversee the progression of work,” said Spring.
What this process has developed is a template for the standardisation and harmonisation of rules across the Australian rail industry. While certain rules are identified in the NRAP, their harmonisation will be the first of a pipeline of rules, where RISSB will focus on harmonising those rules that bring value to the rail industry.
“A lot of people talk about harmonising and standardising, but our approach is it should be done when it’s adding value and not just for the sake of it,” said Spring.
A NEW NATIONAL NETWORK Being able to move people and goods via rail from one side of Australia to the other has been a relatively recent phenomenon. While the Indian Pacific first ran from Sydney to Perth in 1970, making the journey smooth for freight has also been a major challenge, Spring points out.
“I started in National Rail when we took over the assets from the five states and at that point, to get a container from Brisbane to Perth, nothing talked to each other. Not only did we not have one gauge, we didn’t have standard procedures, we couldn’t track anything, we couldn’t book anything, even the tariff system, nothing worked,” said Spring. “We made that seamless and we’ve got to be able to make it seamless now where you can go across the country and it doesn’t make a difference which system you’re using – the critical information getting to the driver is right, timely, and accurate.”
Having this history in mind, current projects are aware of the need to ensure interoperability, said Walsh.
“We’re looking at new type of railways that have got interconnecting points. The ARTC railway joins with the Sydney Trains railway and they’re both investing in technologies for in-cab signalling, but they are different systems. That’s ok, because you’ve got a different rationale for those systems in different operating environments, but they’ve got to be able to talk to each other so that you’ve got a seamless operation and you’re getting the maximum efficiency and safety out of the system.”
To enable the various systems that rail infrastructure managers and operators are investing in to work with each other, the NRAP working group on interoperability will be identifying how to develop standard operating rules that enable control and communication systems to interact. Walsh, who is co-chairing the group with Simon Ormsby, group executive strategy at the ARTC, highlights that the solution will not be one size fits all.
“The goal does not need to be for all of the networks to have the same technology because there is a rationale for why you would have a different signalling system for long-haul freight across deserts compared to what you need in the city where you want to get every inch out of the headway.”
For example, with digital train control systems being rolled out simultaneously on the nation freight network and on the Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, and Brisbane networks, Walsh noted that there needs to be a national conversation about how these systems will work together.
“I don’t think that we’re looking at for ARTC to convince Sydney Trains that they should both use the ATMS system or Sydney Trains has to convince ARTC to use ETCS, but I do think we need to have those early conversations about how they talk to each other and what is the investment we need to make sure that all rollingstock has the capacity to operate over both of those systems.”
This convergence of technological and financial change, while one of a successive number of national waves of reform, is in part unique due to the collaboration of government and industry in Australia’s contemporary rail industry.
‘Back in the ‘50s and ‘60s it was all about investing in a standard gauge so that people didn’t have to get out of the train and change the train at Albury to continue on down to Melbourne,” said Walsh. “Then in the 90s it was all about competition policy and there was a lot of attention in government about separating above and below rail and getting competition into the freight industry. Then in the ‘00s it was all about getting a single national regulator and this next wave, as we get this investment, is about how do we make sure, in partnership with RISSB as the standards setter and the railways that adopt those standards and adapt them, that we’re now not going to get the future break of gauge.”
MAKING A LONG-TERM IMPACT None of the NRAP co-chairs that spoke with Rail Express suggested that once the items listed on the plan were complete would the job of growing the workforce, harmonising standards or improving interoperability be finished. In fact, the NRAP hopes to set the groundwork for ongoing collaborative reform in the rail sector.
“The action plan is focusing on these three issues to begin with, but I think it’s legacy over time will be a way of thinking about the national rail system as a system that we need to make sure works collectively together,” said Walsh.
“In the past it’s happened bilaterally, you’ll get ARTC talking to Sydney Trains about the interface of trains into Sydney, but actually at the other end of the country you’ve got Arc as the infrastructure manager from Kalgoorlie to Perth so now we’re actually saying this has to be a national conversation and a multi-lateral conversation around some of these issues.”
For Wilkie, the reform’s significance is having the decision-makers working together.
“In each of those three working groups there’s a representative from each state government, so it means everyone is in the room, everyone is part of the conversation. That’s why I’m so positive about this whole process. It’s shown that the ministers take it seriously, we have all of the right people in the room and now it’s up to us to use this opportunity to really make effective change.”
As Spring highlights, the reform process is a model of what the co-regulatory environment of the rail industry can achieve and avoids the need for top-down mandating of standards or rules.
“My approach is if a standard is good and it adds value and it’s had wide consultation, then in a way industry should be wanting to adopt it. These self-mandated standards then really support the coregulatory environment.”
All-in-all, the work on the NRAP signals that rail’s time has come, said Walsh.
“I grew up in Yass in the 70s watching the Hume Highway be duplicated, and at the same time we weren’t seeing a railway having that same level of investment.
“Partly that was because there didn’t appear to be the drivers – economically, environmentally – to have that investment. I think that’s really shifted in the last 20 years. There is pressure on the infrastructure in terms of the demand, as well as responding to the environmental and safety concerns of the community.”
Metro Trains Melbourne’s Comeng, Siemens and X’Trapolis fleets have undergone major maintenance to ensure the trains are kept to the highest standard and improve the experience for passengers.
Melbourne trains are being retrofitted with wireless data recorders to monitor key train systems, improve safety and reliability, and maintenance, enabling the trains are available to run on the network more often.
The On-Board Diagnostic (OBD) system will give Metro engineers access to near real time data so they can monitor train performance, identify faults sooner, and maintain trains more efficiently.
Metro has recently installed the state-of-the-art technology on 174 three-carriage X’Trapolis train units.
The OBD project is being completed at the Newport rail workshops and has now moved on to the Siemens fleet.
The system is used to monitor everything including vibration in critical train bogie components, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems, as well as passenger body-side doors, traction, auxiliary power supply, and passenger information systems.
This helps Metro diagnose and respond to potential issues sooner, reducing the risk of passengers being delayed by train faults.
Metro’s general manager of rolling stock, Dave Carlton said that Metro was completing a world first with this technology.
“We’re proud to be leading the largest-ever retrofit of remote condition monitoring equipment on an existing train fleet, globally,” he said.
“The data we collect from this technology is being shared across Metro, which benefits our operations, infrastructure and network development teams.”
Technical upgrades have also been carried out on the oldest vehicles in the Metro fleet. 75 per cent of the Comeng fleet, which in total numbers 179 trains are being overhauled, with passenger-facing and engineering improvements.
In 2017, a three-stage, $75 million upgrade project began, funded by the Victorian government.
Metro’s CEO Raymond O’Flaherty said the project will extend the life of the fleet.
“The Comeng fleet has served the people of Melbourne for almost 40 years, they are brilliant trains and they’ve certainly got more life left in them,” he said.
“We have very stringent maintenance programs for all our trains, that’s one of the reasons they are still so reliable. It’s also essential that we utilise all the technical advances that are available, and this life extension program makes sure that our passengers have the best possible experience on board.”
The life extension project has three stages, of which the first two are complete.
Stage one included critical-safety improvements to Comeng train doors – a feature now standard on all Metro trains.
Stage two was focused on the passenger experience, including rearranging and reupholstering seating, installing LED lights, new grab poles and straps, safer gang-way bellows, and new digital signage on the front of trains to give passengers destination information.
Upgrades have also been made to the driver’s instrument panel.
Stage three is the project’s final stage and is now almost complete. It involves upgrades to the passenger information system, with digital displays inside the carriages tracking the train’s journey in real-time.
Victorian Minister for Public Transport Ben Carroll said that upgrades would also increase safety for passengers, with new high definition CCTV cameras been fitted with a wider field of view that can be accessed remotely, which will support Metro and Victoria Police investigations.
“We can access camera footage remotely as soon as issues are reported – helping Metro and Victoria Police respond to incidents as quickly as possible and giving Victorians peace of mind that their journeys are safe.”
There are also improvements to hearing-aid links for people with additional needs and upgraded speakers for clearer on-board announcements.
On the engineering side, the trains’ air brakes are being overhauled, while the electrical relay panel and traction systems are being upgraded to support a safer journey.
For the Siemens fleet, Metro’s middle child, Metro partnered with accessibility group Vision Australia to support new safety upgrades for the Siemens fleet
New bellows were needed between carriages, which has instituted an “outer wall” that fills in the gap between the train and the platform.
By providing an exterior that is flat along the full length of the train, Metro has reduced the risk of falls for vision-impaired passengers who may mistake the gap for a door.
Since an upgrade program commenced in February this year, more than 20 per cent of Siemens trains have been upgraded with the new bellows.
As well as being safer for passengers, the upgrades also provide sound-proofing, making the carriages quieter for a more comfortable journey.
Together with Vision Australia, Metro used a mock-up train carriage to test the design to ensure it provided all the necessary safety features.
The mock-up train is used by Vision Australia to help familiarise vision-impaired passengers and enable them to move confidently around trains, while also teaching guide dogs how to navigate the network.
Carlton said this work was important for the community.
“The work we do to make sure our trains and stations are fully accessible for all our passengers is absolutely essential. Providing a public transport service means making sure that every person can use our network without limitation,” he said.
“These new gangways give us extra confidence that not only are we continuously improving safety, but we are improving the passenger experience. It’s not just about getting to your destination, it’s about getting to your destination as easily and comfortably as possible.”