Making the call: tm stagetec’s centralised audio control system for Sydney Trains

In a world first, tm stagetec systems have implemented a centralised, real time audio control system that spans the entire NSW rail network.

At dawn on April 25, 2020, the Last Post played out at every train station in NSW. While regular Anzac Day services were called off due to coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions on public gatherings, essential staff working for Sydney Trains and Transport for NSW paused to remember those who had died

in war as the Last Post played across the stations’ public address systems.

This was the first time that the bugle call was played at the same time across the Transport for NSW network and was made possible thanks to a centralised audio system that tm stagetec systems has recently installed for Sydney Trains.

In addition to the Last Post, 100,000 announcements are played every day across the system, which is orchestrated from the Rail Operations Centre (ROC) in Alexandria, which was opened in 2019. As Mark Lownds, general manager of tm stagetec systems explained, the centralised operations centre also brought together audio announcements that are played out around the network.

“As part of the project, Sydney Trains wanted to centralise a lot of the operation of the system and a big part of that was to put all of the controls of the audio systems into the operations centre.”

From the ROC in Alexandria, operational staff can make announcements to individual platforms anywhere in the system, as well as state-wide announcements. This is in addition to scheduling regular announcements.

Previously, just as rail operations were controlled from a number of separate centres, so were audio messages. tm stagetec systems had been involved in these legacy systems, so they were able to adapt to the new version.

“We’ve had part of this infrastructure in place for five years,” said Lownds. “Before the ROC, Sydney Trains had all these separate facilities, so we had little bits of systems here and there with different teams, but the difference here was to centralise it all and by doing that we use a lot less infrastructure but also get a higher availability. From a technical perspective that was quite good because it means a lot less physical equipment to get a better outcome.”

Planning for the ROC began in 2016, when the $296 million facility was first announced.

The complexity of the system was such that design choices were made down to the individual desks that rail operators would work at. Rail management, infrastructure control, security, and signalling were all brought together, meaning that effective communication between the centre and the entire Sydney network was key. To enable this to happen, tm stagetec systems were brought in early to effectively design the audio infrastructure highlighted Clive Dong, solutions architect.

“Even when they were doing the architectural and building design, we had the opportunity to talk about how we would integrate the systems and how we could ensure that it was going to work and meet all the requirements that Sydney Trains had,” said Dong.

Sydney Trains and tm stagetec systems held discussions over where to run fibre cables, making sure that there are redundant connections back into the rest of the system from the ROC, power back-ups, even down to locations for physical racks and equipment space. These early discussions meant that by the time the facility opened, Sydney Trains was able to streamline audio announcements to improve passenger communication.

“The ROC has separate power, separate fibre connections directly back to their core system at Central. Everything is fully redundant, and then they run dedicated fibre to each of their operational desks,” said Dong.

In addition to being able to schedule safety and generic announcements, such as no smoking announcements, Sydney Trains has recently used the system to communicate to customers the COVID-19 physical distancing guidelines as the transport operator has rolled out its “no dot, no spot” campaign.

“On top of that is the real time announcements for the train services, and then they can do special announcements for things like track work and when necessary they can do live announcements,” said Lownds. “If there’s something happening, and they want to make a live announcement to the station, they can do that centrally from the ROC as well.”

As part of the overall audio package, tm stagetec systems installed a small recording booth within the ROC so that the quality of announcements is maintained.

The ROC also has some role in directing train movements outside of Sydney Trains.

In this case, audio announcements needed to be heard beyond the Sydney metropolitan network. This presented a challenge as there were no dedicated fibre connections between the ROC and regional stations. tm stagetec systems enabled operators at the ROC to make announcements over the telephone line as well to service remote locations.

“We can play an announcement to the entire state at any station and any time, live,” said Dong.

Audio for the entire NSW network is controlled in real time from the ROC.

To control the system, tm stagetec systems used a web-based, graphical user interface (GUI) to make the system easy to use and flexible. Audio is distributed between the ROC and speakers on the Dante Domain Manager platform, an audio-over-IP platform developed by Australian digital audio networking technology leader, Audinate. According to Lownds, the system tm stagetec has installed is the largest Dante network in the world, larger than public address systems to hospitals, campuses, and stadiums. The system avoids the need for lengthy reams of analogue cables and is designed to be secure.

“We had to ensure that this was a very robust network because audio announcements to an entire network is something you don’t want somebody to get a hold of that shouldn’t,” said Lownds. “So, just in the ROC, we have two separate, discrete fibre runs to make sure that if there’s a problem with roadworks and a fibre gets cut then we can still get the system running. All the backend equipment is duplicated and fully redundant, so if there is a failure, the system will actually keep working, without interruption.”

In addition, the system is able to be monitored down to the speaker, in real time, to know if there are any faults.

The sophistication of the system also enables Sydney Trains to do more with their audio-based information. Working with tm stagetec systems, Sydney Trains is rolling out integration of the audio-over-IP network with audio frequency induction loops (AFILS). This means that the audio played out over the loudspeakers at a station is transformed into an electromagnetic field, which can be picked up by a hearing aid or listening device. Other areas that are being explored include mobile-based functionality so that staff on the ground have access to the audio network.

Across the entire network, the technology would only be useful if the sound that is being transmitted can be understood, and a key requirement of the project is meeting strict sound intelligibility standards measured as a speech transmission index (STI) from 0 to 1, with 1 being excellent intelligibility. Sydney Trains mandated a reading of 0.75, or excellent, without a train on the platform and 0.6 with a train. Now, the team has achieved that, with a delay of only five milliseconds between the announcement being made at the ROC and the audio being heard across the entire Transport for NSW network.

While Anzac Day commemorations may be held differently in 2021, the clarity of sound across the Sydney Trains network will be exactly the same.

Major projects

Victoria launches online major projects portal

Victoria has launched an online portal to give suppliers a comprehensive overview of major projects in the state.

The Victorian Major Projects Pipeline went live today, July 24, and covers projects worth over $100 million. These include major rail projects including the Suburban Rail Loop, Metro Tunnel Project, Melbourne Airport Rail, the Level Crossing Removal program and others.

The projects range from those in the business case/planning phrase, to procurement, and delivery. Each project is categorised by region, sector, and procurement agency, with indication of cost, procurement start and delivery start. The projects can be organised in a list or timeline format.

Links to contact details and specific project information is available through the portal.

Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan hope that industry would use the portal to plan ahead.

“This portal will be an invaluable tool for industry going forward as we plan and prepare to deliver Victoria’s biggest ever infrastructure agenda.”

According to a statement from the Victorian government the portal will be updated quarterly with new project announcements and budgets.

Developed by the Office of Projects Victoria (OPV), which provides independent advice to improve project delivery and project benefits, the portal is in addition to other public information available on Victoria’s Big Build Website.

OPV CEO Kevin Doherty said the project was a collaborative effort.

“OPV has worked closely with key delivery agencies and the construction industry to develop this portal which will literally help build a bigger and better Victoria.”

Alstom to trial fully autonomous shunting in the Netherlands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Intercity Fleet

Blue Mountains Line ready for New Intercity Fleet

Upgrades to the Blue Mountains line to prepare for the introduction of the New Intercity Fleet are finished.

The $75 million upgrades included changes to platforms and the rail corridor, including the Ten Tunnels Deviation. Electrification infrastructure was also upgraded to be consistent with the rest of the network.

NSW Minister for Transport Andrew Constance said that this would allow improved train services for the line.

“The Blue Mountains Line between Springwood and Lithgow has now been upgraded to a more consistent standard to match the rest of the electrified network, meaning the new trains can now run all the way to Lithgow,” he said.

“These upgrades will pave the way for the new fleet to provide better connections to places and opportunities for employment, education, business and enjoyment.”

The New Intercity Fleet will first begin running on the Central Coast and Newcastle line later in 2020, before being introduced to the Blue Mountains line and South Coast line. Testing will soon begin to Katoomba and then to Lithgow.

The new trains will improve customer comfort, said Minister for Regional Transport Paul Toole.

“Customers can expect more spacious seating, mobile device charging ports, modern heating and air conditioning and dedicated spaces for wheelchairs, luggage, prams and bicycles.”

The introduction of the New Intercity Fleet has been criticised, both for the need to upgrade stations to fit the new trains, as well as safety concerns raised by guards, with the RTBU refusing to staff the trains.

How RCS Australia is using COTS technology to solve complex signalling challenges

Working between rail operators and technology vendors, RCS Australia are taking a technology neutral, functional approach to signalling.

The digitalisation of all facets of industry is a process that has been underway for decades now, and has most recently spawned the new term, Industry 4.0. Primarily concerned with the integration of cyber and physical systems, it is a term not often heard in the rail sector. However, as digital systems open up new possibilities for rail infrastructure builders and operators, organisations are required to work with new technology.

One company making this happen in Australia is Rail Control Systems Australia (RCS Australia). As CEO Paul Hann explains, knowing both sides of the equation enables RCS Australia to translate emerging technology for the rail industry.

“We understand the authorised rail operators (AROs), we understand some of the barriers that they face, particularly from a technical perspective. Similarly, we’ve built relationships with the technology providers. Rail is a little bit different to their normal market, so we bridge that gap.”

RCS Australia has experience working with legacy signalling systems around Australia and having seen the limitations of proprietary technology, the company understood that its position as a technology neutral company unaffiliated with a particular vendor could serve the rail industry.

“We understand that our clients’ needs and requirements should be driving the technology, not the other way around. That was really what was driving our move more into looking at technology solutions and how we can apply those to our clients, the AROs,” said Hann.

As both Hann and Jacquelle Coldhill, Director, Commercial and Projects, know, the core competency of railway operators are the operation and maintenance of existing signalling systems, not necessarily the design, construction, and commissioning of new technology. Having developed an array of competencies to serve just that need, RCS Australia can use their expertise drawn from projects around Australia to guide the successful implementation of innovation in signalling.

“There can often be different challenges in understanding what the ARO actually wants. Sometimes you have to work with them to help them understand what’s best for their railway and how the equipment or the solution can actually address their needs,” said Coldhill.

Since its formation in 2007, RCS Australia has grown to encompass signalling engineering, construction, testing and additionally, the selection and implementation of technology platforms and solutions.

“With in-house capability from feasibility and scheme development through to construction and commissioning, being able to provide technology solutions to address some of our client’s needs as part of the package was a missing piece of the puzzle,” said Hann.

RCS Australia’s solutions have been implemented on a number of major rail projects.

LOCAL KNOWLEDGE
In some instances, to address a perceived dearth of local expertise, rail projects have turned overseas to solve their signalling challenges. One issue with this approach, however, is that the unique specifications of each Australian rail system may not be immediately known, highlights Coldhill.

“Some of the challenges with using an international workforce comes down to understanding project specific competency requirements and having experience on a particular network and with the standards required by the ARO. Importantly, we understand that Australia is not a one size fits all market. Implementation of a given technology can be quite different across AROs. Through our team’s mix of local knowledge and technology expertise we aim to provides specific and appropriate solutions for our clients,” said Coldhill.

This innate understanding, combined with a technology neutral approach, leads to a customer-centric outcome.

“Local knowledge combined with a commercial off the shelf (COTS) solution means that we can genuinely drive things by requirements,” said Hann. “We’re not trying to shoehorn a technology into a project, quite the opposite. We’re trying to match a solution with the requirements of the ARO, combining local knowledge with the ability to source the right solution.”

In addition, RCS Australia are based locally, and are able to continue providing support long after the first trains are running over the new system.

“We can provide ongoing support once a project is delivered. We’re an Australian company committed to long term relationships with our clients, so there’s considerable ongoing post commissioning support, whether it’s training, maintenance or further development and innovation,” said Hann. “Our interest is really in the growth of the Australian rail industry, we’re not here to sell widgets.”

CURRENT WORK
RCS Australia’s knowledge of signalling comes from a diversity of projects around the country. These include standalone freight networks, the integration of metropolitan and regional networks, and new, high capacity suburban lines. Currently, the team is engaged on a number of major projects, including Cross River Rail, Melbourne Metro Tunnel, and Inland Rail. While the scope of each project is quite different, as Hann points out, the approach is the same.

“As providers of safety critical systems, there’s a level of no difference, whether it’s suburban network or a freight network. But the operational requirements can be very different. We focus on our ability to take those operating requirements of a given railway and turn that into a functional signalling scheme.”

On the Cross River Rail project, the installation of a new signalling technology
has to be integrated with the existing network along the brownfield sections and where the new infrastructure links to the existing rail line.

We’re looking at new technology but in an existing network,” said Hann. “We’re not the new technology provider on Cross River, but part of our role is ensuring integration with the existing signalling system and the current methods of operation such that once this new technology is commissioned it can operate seamlessly within the legacy systems of that network.”

On the Cross River Rail project, RCS Australia have deployed their design, construct, and commissioning teams for the safe and efficient delivery of the signalling infrastructure.

“For our integrated technology and delivery engagements, we are developing functional specifications based on the operational requirements of the railway, linking that to technology, and then developing and designing that technology. We deliver it in house from design development through to factory build, deployment to site and final commissioning,” said Hann. “All of those links in the process enable us to bring efficiencies to the party because of the integrated nature of the team and common goal of everyone involved.”

In addition, as Coldhill notes, on a large, multi-stakeholder project such as Cross River Rail, bringing these services in house enables a smoother project management process.

“You’re not managing subcontractors, you’re not challenged with technology or commercial interfaces, you’re not facing so many hurdles and, as a result, there is less delivery risk for our clients.”

Not being focussed on one particular technology, while being part of a multidisciplinary team allows for RCS Australia to take a ‘best for the project’ approach. This requires knowing the requirements of both technology vendors and rail operators.

“COTS vendors are a third-party supplier but they’re a key element to the success of the project in terms of product support. That’s where we focus on being able to translate what they’re doing into rail and present that to projects in a way they understand and that they can see mitigates risk and satisfies their overall requirements,” said Hann.“With the knowledge and expertise of our the team at RCS Australia, we are able to bridge that gap.”

smart signal

Delivering a next generation smart signal

Required to develop a unique solution for a challenging requirement, Aldridge have implemented a smart signal built for the future.

Across the vast majority of most train networks, most signals have the sophistication of a light bulb – the signal is either on, or off. The increasing sophistication of new lines, and their requirements to deliver more in a smaller package, has required a new kind of smart signal.

Sydney-based rail signalling experts, Aldridge have developed a new smart signal which can provide a much greater amount of information in a tight environment. Already in use in some of the most advanced systems in the Asia-Pacific region, David Aldridge, managing director of Aldridge, explains what makes these signals smart.

“In a conventional signal, you might have an A or B on it, and then if you need to put a C on there you can’t do it; you need to build a whole new signal. This one you can reprogram to show an A, B, C, D, or whatever, that’s the difference – their ability to be able to generate all characters.”

The new signal can decode up to 10 110VAC selection inputs and generate a comprehensive range of alphanumeric characters and symbols on displays up to three digits wide. This solution was developed in house, as company engineer Craig Sharwood highlights.

“I can change a lot of the behaviour of the display that previously would be locked in hardware and any change would require a major change to circuit boards and documentation. Here I can just change the code that controls the signal and change an A to a B or a 1 to a 5.”

The flexibility of the signal does not end at the display, however, as it can be configured with any number of interlocking systems and has already been installed in divergent projects.

“The structure of the signal is such that I can adapt it to be compatible with whatever interface I have to connect the signal to,” said Sharwood. “it gives us some flexibility to make it talk and in whatever format that the customer would like.”

A PROVEN SOLUTION
The smart signals were first developed to be used on two projects in Southeast Asia, the MRT Purple Line in Bangkok and the KVMRT system in Kuala Lumpur. For both systems, Aldridge had to comply with the customer’s demand for a new kind of signal.

“The customer’s challenge required our signal to display numerous character combinations using encoded 110VAC signalling over a limited umber of control lines.

Our solution enabled this customer to achieve the desired signal display functionality at lower cost, by reducing cable harness conductor count and interface overheads,” said Sharwood.

With the technology proven on these projects, when the call came for a similar signal for the Sydney Metro Northwest project, Aldridge was able to supply their solution.

“We’d already designed the product for the two other projects in Asia,” said Aldridge.

“We had the technology running and then we reproduced it here using the same technology.”

Although the core technology was the same, the signal had been improved as a result of previous versions, giving the product an edge over other solutions, said Sharwood.

“We have refined it over several iterations with other clients, so it’s given it maturity as a product. It’s not just a drawing board situation, it’s something that’s in service.”

While the product had been updated, the size of the kinetic envelope on the Sydney Metro lines presented a new obstacle for Aldridge to overcome.

“One of the challenges was the actual size that they gave us which we had to bring the product down to, to miniaturise it,” said Aldridge.

“A normal signal here in Australia, or basically anywhere in the world, is 300mm in width and these had to brought down to 270mm.”

In bringing down the size of the signal, Aldridge also developed the system to be modular, so that it could continue to fit into the diverse requirements of each future rail project. For Sydney Metro, the signals combine a points position indicator, which indicates left, straight ahead or right, with a red horizontal bar for stop, and a separate main route indicator number. The two displays are electrically isolated, and the arrangement can be modified for the variation required.

“Every company has their own interlocking system – they’re all a little different – and then they also have different group requirements for reporting back to the controller from the signal, what happens in fail mode, and all those little parameters,” said Aldridge.

Being able to approach each project on its own terms with an applied solution that can be modified to fit has allowed Aldridge to step in on projects when other have pulled out at the last minute.

Four typical examples of how the smart signals could be configured, showing the route number and points direction.

DESIGNED TO BE SAFE FOR FUTURE APPLICATIONS
Currently, the signal is used as a non-vital signal on the Sydney Metro network. Aldridge has delivered 153 signals, including 55 smart running, 26 smart shunting, and 72 buffer stop signals, across the Sydney Metro project so far. Although automated, the system requires signals for manual operations, including shunting, that must be fully operational when the Metro is running.

As part of the safety measures in the signals, the two separate indicators can be monitored independently, while also performing their own self testing in a loop configuration.

“The most recent model is a higher safety integrity level (SIL) level than the original, so it monitors its own power supply and it monitors its outputs. It has a status output to say basically ‘I’m ok or not ok,’ so it’s not a signal that can be used for controlling, generating a stop, but it has sufficient reliability and controls built in to make it more than adequate for this non vital application,” said Sharwood.

While the current signal is not being used to convey a movement authority, the fundamentals of the system are such that further deployments could use the signal in what Sharwood terms a hybrid manner.

“The Aldridge smart signal has the potential to displace a lot of normal signals. Rather than just displaying characters in the array, on the same array it could be displaying signalling information.

“At the moment we’ve kept it separate, the smart signal is displaying digits and characters and we still have more conventional bar signals, but it’s possible with the right approach that we could have characters and arrows, bars, all sorts of different types of signalling, embedded in the display.”

THE ALDRIDGE DIFFERENCE
The development of the innovative smart signal required a different set of skills than what is normally required of a signal engineer, however just as mandatory was the existing expertise Aldridge had in hardwired signals.

“We have leveraged some components that we know are good and the rail industry feels comfortable using and re-using. We’ve used a small number of components that we know are basically the stalwarts of the industry and our product range and added the technology and added the smarts to succeed and satisfy customer requirements,” said Sharwood.

While the 5mm LED lights and other componentry may have resembled existing signals, there was a considerable amount of new thinking involved in the design.

“These signals bear almost no resemblance to any predecessor signals so in a lot of ways we had to start from scratch and basically design something completely new,” said Sharwood.

Pulling this exercise off however required belief from the top down.

“A lot of industries like rail get stuck with the things they know and the things that work over and over and suddenly that isn’t enough” said Sharwood.

“At some stage we have to go, ‘Ok, I have to make a big leap into modern technology.’ That’s what Aldridge did in this case.”

This approach is where Aldridge has been able to distinguish itself in its ability to find the right solution, with 70 years of experience and 30 within the rail industry.

“In general, we lead the customer a little bit in terms of what could possibly happen,” said Sharwood.

“They look to us to say, ‘How do we actually use this signal?’ Even down to the point of what size fuses should be used, what earthing should we have.

“Sometimes we assist the customer on their side of the fence to help them integrate into their network, and into their systems,” said Sharwood.

signalling

Integrated signalling systems providing reliability on Sydney Metro

After a year of successful operations, Alstom is embedding signalling knowledge and experience from Sydney Metro into the local rail industry.

On May 26, 2020 Australia’s first fully- automated, driverless metro system completed its first year of operations. The service had already carried 20 million passenger trips across 105,000 services and was winning fans in its commuters for its frequency, reliability, and speed, having an overall customer satisfaction rating of 96 per cent.

Beyond the staff on the ground and the physical infrastructure itself, what was ensuring these high customer satisfaction metrics was the reliability of the innovative signalling system deployed on Sydney Metro.

For the project, Alstom supplied its Urbalis 400 Communication Based Train Control (CBTC) signalling system, which in the case of a driverless train such as Sydney Metro has a fundamental role to play in smooth operations between the train, the platforms and the control centre.

Although a first for Australia, this was not the first time that the Asia-Pacific region had seen the deployment of this system. Singapore was the first city to use a similar Alstom CBTC system, on the North East Line in 2003. One of the recent cases, however, was the extension of Hong Kong’s metro system known as the South Island Line, which shares an operator with Metro Trains Sydney (MTS) with MTR. This made for a smooth adaption of the technology to local conditions, said Pavan Devanahalli, Alstom’s project director for Sydney Metro.

“The Hong Kong South Island Line project was similar in terms of technology and architecture and the fact that with MTR as the operator, they were very familiar with the system and the technology. It really made sense for us to use that same platform.”

With the expertise for Sydney’s Metro North West Line drawn from Hong Kong, Singapore, and elsewhere Alstom set about adapting the system for the local conditions while building a base of local expertise.

As Devanahalli highlights, although the technology is proven, making it a success in a new context produces challenges.

“When deploying CBTC in a new environment, the challenge is the system might be mature, but you’ve got to make that work in the context of the operational conditions. The operator is new and Australia is doing this for the first time, so it was about adapting and integrating that technology.”

Alstom not only worked with the operator but also construction and civil contractors in the building of a new maintenance facility at Tallawong, the new railway from Epping to Tallawong and the retrofitting of the existing Epping to Chatswood line. Devanahalli points out that doing this while ensuring that the project was completed on time and under budget required working in parallel to optimise delivery.

“When you look at what was accomplished in the brownfield section, which was from Epping to Chatswood, that was done very quickly and there were significant lessons learnt in not only how to convert or upgrade to a new line but also in terms of the coordination of activities between ourselves and other contractors, including infrastructure works,” said Devanahalli, who expects these lessons to be applied and processes amplified in the conversion of the Sydenham to Bankstown section from suburban rail to metro.

In this section of the project, which will extend the Urbalis system from Chatswood, via new underground tunnels beneath the Sydney CBD and onto Sydenham and Bankstown, the existing train line will be upgraded. In this case, focusing on minimising disruption and maximising coordination for efficient access has led Alstom to hand-pick key talent to ensure the project is completed smoothly.

SETTING A BENCHMARK FOR OPERATIONS
While Sydneysiders have enjoyed the frictionless Metro North West Line, Alstom has been optimising the software behind the services to enable the growth of the system’s capacity. Being a digital system, Devanahalli highlights that the signalling team have been working with the operator to bed down the system through a series of software upgrades to enable greater efficiencies.

“What we’ve done during the course of the last year is optimise the software to meet the operational needs of MTS. We have had not only our international expertise pool available but also we have our local expertise that can react quite quickly to any new need or operational requirements.”

On the first day of operations, headways between trains were set at five minutes, however the intention was always to reduce that to four minutes once the system was in place.

“The timetable changed from five to four minutes between trains and all of that was done seamlessly. Of course, there was quite a bit of machinery moving in the back end but what that meant is that we could support the vision of Sydney Metro” said Devanahalli.

Even with all of the complexities that come with an entirely new train system, after a year the system has achieved figures of 98 per cent system reliability, and 99 per cent train availability. Devanahalli puts this down to the work of the entire array of partners who came together on the project.

GETTING THE LOCALS ON BOARD
Although Alstom initially brought in its expertise from projects in Asia as well as Europe, throughout the delivery of the new driverless line the company has built up a local talent pool for the next stages of City and Southwest.

“They went through a rigorous process over two years of going through the design and commissioning, and they’ve now been deployed in the operations centre, warranty and maintenance programs so they can now experience what it means to be in the operations and maintenance side of a project,” said Devanahalli. “The talent has been strategically groomed over the last three years and in-between the two projects they’ve been sent to Melbourne and Singapore for ongoing technical training, leadership, and professional development.”

Having some of the most advanced signalling projects occurring around the world in Australia right now has created a motivation for new signalling engineers to deliver the current generation of digital signalling.

“CBTC is really about software,” said Devanahalli. “But, on these projects, installation is key. Having a partnership and collaborative approach to delivering these projects is absolutely essential in Australia. No one person is delivering a project.”

Having built up a base of local expertise in the delivery of software-based signalling projects will enable future improvements to the system that allow for flexibility as demand shifts and changes.

Overall, Devanahalli highlights that the experience Alstom has had on Sydney Metro, as well as other projects around the globe, is that when it comes to signalling, it is not the product that is important, but the outcome that the signalling system can provide – safety, customer satisfaction, reliability and availability.

“The beauty of the CBTC system is that it’s interfacing with almost everything that happens on the railway, so there’s not a single system that it doesn’t touch – except maybe the station elevator. It’s really a matter of identifying the right technology and being able to interface that to CBTC. From that point forward the CBTC software does its magic.”

ETCS

Upgrading the heart of the Brisbane’s rail system

The implementation of ETCS on the South East Queensland network highlights the many benefits of modern signalling systems.

In major capital cities, transport operators are looking to get more and more out of their assets as populations grow and the demand for sustainable mobility increases. In many cases, the rail systems that have formed the backbone for public transport have been upgraded with new, modern signalling systems to bring trains closer together and increase the frequency and volume of services.

Brisbane has been no exception and is currently beginning the implementation of European Train Control System (ETCS) as part of the Cross River Rail (CRR) project. However, as Simon Cook, project director ETCS at CRR highlights, there is more than one reason why modern signalling is being rolled out.

“The interesting thing with ETCS and this project is that it is delivering a range of benefits for different people and organisations,” said Cook.

Cook lists three main goals for the system, safety, capacity and reliability, which reflect the priorities of the different agencies involved in the project.

“For Queensland Rail safety and reliability would be the top two things, for the Department of Transport and Main Roads – who is the project sponsor and has responsibility for the overall network and how to manage the patronage increases – capacity and reliability are front of mind.”

When addressing the goal of safety, the deployment of ETCS on the Brisbane network, both in the newly constructed tunnel and on the inner-city network between Northgate and Milton stations, allows for a major upgrade in safety systems.

“The current signalling has been in place for a long time, so bringing in a modern signalling system with automatic train protection is really important as the number of trains and customers on the network increases,” said Cook.

Cook highlights that reducing the occurrence of signals passed at danger (SPADs) is one example where the network will directly benefit.

“A SPAD is very disruptive as well as having potential safety implications and it’s one of the key safety metrics of railways. “If you’ve got automatic train protection so the train will brake to prevent overspeed or avoid exceeding movement authority, then that’s an absolute gamechanger and with a good train management system and an in-cab signalling system for drivers then it’s a smoother, more reliable journey for customers as well.”

To address the second goal of capacity, the deployment of ETCS is about futureproofing the Brisbane and South-East Queensland network.

“The Queensland Rail network hasn’t seen the same level of growth over the past five years as other states, but it has lifted over the last year. ETCS and the CRR project has been put in because of the really big growth that’s forecast in patronage on the Gold Coast line and the Sunshine Coast line.”

Based on 2019 census figures, the City of Brisbane and the Gold Coast added the largest number of people for any local government area in Australia.

The final goal is reliability, an area where Cook highlights Brisbane’s rail network can become more efficient and meet international benchmarks.

“There are ageing assets on the network and you could just keep replacing like for like but the deployment of ETCS was a really good opportunity to bring assets up to a new standard to really drive up some increases in performance and reliability.”

Ultimately, ETCS will allow for automatic train operation through the new tunnel, simplifying one of the most complex parts of the South East Queensland rail network. Ensuring reliability here will lead to benefits on other lines.

“What we don’t want to do in Queensland is end up with a situation where we’ve got a range of bespoke signalling systems, so we are really keen to stick to a standardised approach spreading across our network and operators, and that’s the reason for selecting ETCS,” said Cook.

FIRST DEPLOYMENT
The ETCS project officially roared to life at the tail end of 2019 when Hitachi was announced as the successful tenderer for the ETCS systems. The $634 million project was initially a standalone upgrade to the network under the auspices of Queensland Rail, however in 2018 the project was moved to the Cross River Rail Delivery Authority, and is now one of three works packages, along with the Tunnels, Stations, and Development project and the Rail, Integration and Systems project.

According to Cook, ETCS sits alongside the two other packages, and while construction has begun on CRR, ETCS has begun its staged approach to implementation.

“Signalling is the absolute heart of the railway system and any change to that system is going to be potentially disruptive for customers, for maintenance crews who have to learn completely new equipment, and for rail traffic crew and signallers who have to learn a completely new system. You don’t take that on lightly, and the change task is probably bigger than the technology task so the way that we’re going about it is a staged approach.”

The first program of testing will be carried out on the Shorncliffe line. The line was chosen to be a test track due to its lower patronage and separation from the rest of the network. Preparations are underway to fit out Queensland Rail’s 160 and 260 series trains.

“We are finalising the preliminary design for the Shorncliffe line and starting off detailed design next month for the first fleet of trains,” said Cook.

“The idea with using the Shorncliffe line as a pilot area is that we can test our trains there along with the other technologies that we’re going to see in the tunnel at opening. Platform screen doors are another bit of equipment that will be new to the Queensland Rail network so we can either simulate or even install small sections of platform screen doors on the Shorncliffe line and check the integration with the trains and the signalling all work.”

DELIVERING FOR THE END USER
Cook says that for him and his team within the Cross River Rail Delivery Authority (CRRDA), their aim is to ensure the systems that Hitachi provides fit with the Queensland network.

“For me as project director and my team, we’re fairly agnostic over the actual technology, but we’re here to deliver the right system at the right time for Queensland Rail and for the DTMR.”

This has been done so far through the colocation of the CRRDA and Queensland Rail teams and operational readiness work beginning at the outset.

“Operational readiness lessons are something that we picked up from looking at other projects,” said Cook. “You can’t start too early on that. You need to really understand the whole change that’s going to come to the railway through this, so a lot of effort is on focusing on training package, design, consultation with the train crew and signallers on what the changes will mean for them, and of course looking forward to the design for the rest of the network.”

Although there are no other operational examples of automatic train operation over ETCS on passenger rail in Australia, Cook has looked to overseas project for lessons about ensuring that the CRRDA is not only looking from an engineer’s perspective but an end-user’s view of how the system will work.

“I’ve spent a bit of time learning about Thameslink in the UK, which did take a bit of settling down, but there are certainly a few really good takeaways there from an operational perspective; understanding how they worked with their train crew, the teething troubles they had and understanding how train drivers and other operational staff will really interact with the system.”

Queensland Rail have contributed to the design of human factors along the project, and will continue to take on board the views of front line staff.

“At the end of the day they’re the people that will be driving these trains and they’re the people that will be controlling the signalling, so it has to be right for them,” said Cook.

Rail Systems Alliance delivering high capacity signalling for Melbourne’s rail future

Dealing with rapid population growth has led to Melbourne upgrading the signalling system on two of its most congested lines. Rail Systems Alliance is ensuring the benefits are felt for years to come.

Over the past 10 years, the story of Australia’s cities has been rewritten. While Sydney had been dominant for the previous century, no account of the urbanisation of Australia in the second decade of the 21st century could ignore the rapid growth of Melbourne.

The relative growth of Melbourne is most clearly illustrated by the fact that Melbourne adds a Darwin-worth of population each year, overtaking Sydney in population size by 2026. Much of this growth has been concentrated in two areas, the west and the south-east of Melbourne and the rail lines that serve these expanding areas are reaching capacity. This has necessitated Victoria’s Big Build, the largest infrastructure building programme in the state’s history, of which rail plays a major part, highlights David Ness, package director, Rail Systems, Rail Projects Victoria.

“There’s a number of initiatives underway to help alleviate that population growth, one is the introduction of larger trains that can carry more passengers, and then the second part is the provision of High Capacity Signalling (HCS) on the corridor that lets us run more trains, more often.

“What ties all of that together is the Metro Tunnel project that connects those two corridors, Dandenong in the south-east and Sunshine/Sunbury in the west, and allows us to untangle the existing rail network. It’s a combination of things but HCS is the centre point, allowing you to operate more efficiently on the corridor.”

The HCS project, now in its testing phase, is being delivered by Rail Systems Alliance, a partnership between Bombardier Transportation, CPB Contractors, and Metro Trains Melbourne. The project will introduce Communications-Based Train Control (CBTC) technology, the BOMBARDIER CITYFLO 650 rail control solution, on both the Sunbury and Cranbourne/Pakenham lines as well as in the newly built Metro Tunnel, creating a new end- to-end rail line from Sunbury to Cranbourne and Pakenham. The two existing lines are some of the most complex in the Melbourne network, not only serving commuter trains, but regional passenger lines and freight services, requiring a mixed-mode solution, said Tim Hunter, alliance manager, Rail Systems Alliance, Metro Tunnel Project.

“What is unique about Melbourne is the fact that we’re upgrading existing lines, on brownfield sites, as well as the greenfield site in the tunnel. That means that we can continue running the existing trains on the existing lines at the same time as we do the upgrades. As the vehicles become fitted with the CBTC technology then they can run either in the conventional signalling or CBTC mode. The beauty of it is that it’s a mixed mode solution for the existing lines.”

The introduction of moving block rather than fixed block signalling will enable a step change in capacity, even under mixed conditions.

“We’re expecting to open with around 18 trains per hour when we will still have a mixture of CBTC trains and regional and freight trains,” said Ness. “But, as time progresses, the system itself has a capacity of 24 trains per hour. That means it actually has a higher capacity to recover from disruptions that may occur, and the Metro Tunnel will be capable of 24 trains per hour.”

ENSURING EFFECTIVE IMPLEMENTATION
Getting to this targeted level of capacity on the first introduction of CBTC technology on an existing rail line in Australia has required a collaborative approach, facilitated by the nature of the Rail Systems Alliance.

“We went through a pretty extensive, year-long competitive alliance tender process,” said Ness. During the process, Rail Projects Victoria looked at the system’s capabilities, the ability to minimise disruption during integration, and did site visits to other HCS projects internationally.

“On a balanced score card of value for money, being able to address our technical requirements, being able to address mixed mode, being able to work within an alliance framework – which is intrinsic to the way we’re approaching the job – Bombardier Transportation, CPB Contractors and Metro Trains Melbourne were
the successful tenderers,” said Ness.

Taking an alliance approach to project delivery allowed for the project to effectively interact with the many other stakeholders involved. While the technology promises to increase capacity and relieve the strain on Melbourne’s rail network, its success depends upon all elements of the wider project working together.

“We have the technology challenge, in that what we’re introducing into the system is new, but that change is not just operational, it affects the entire way in which the network is run,” said Ness.

The introduction of HCS in Melbourne requires the project to interact with a variety of stakeholders, including the rest of the Melbourne rail network, the other consortiums on the Metro Tunnel Project, and the procurement of larger trains, which is being delivered in parallel.

“The alliancing model provides the most flexibility to adapt and move while maintaining your focus on that end game,” said Ness.“It’s very difficult to do a project like this with just a fixed scope, fixed dates, fixed price, fixed everything. Having a target price that you can adapt and working together with the client has been proven to be the best model.”

In practice, this has enabled a regime of extensive testing for the technology on the rail line. On the Mernda Line wayside equipment has been installed and two existing X’Trapolis trains have been fitted with the Bombardier CBTC equipment. Dynamic testing is now underway. The project has also involved the operator, Metro Trains Melbourne, to prepare the end user – the drivers and operators of Melbourne’s trains, as Hunter outlines.

“We’re setting up additional labs so we can test the train management system for the new trains alongside HCS. We are also taking the equipment and systems that have been implemented inside the tunnel and then testing that with our systems in the lab, so that when we go to implement on site we will have done as much testing as we can offsite. This will make implementation testing and fault finding a lot smoother.”

The hands-on approach to testing enables the end users (for example, train drivers) to become “super users” as the design develops and the new technology is introduced as part of the project.

“We have user working groups within Metro Trains Melbourne to facilitate operational and maintenance input,” said Hunter. “We’ve done a lot of on-site training, we’ve taken them to Bombardier’s CBTC facilities in Bangkok, Madrid and Pittsburgh and shown them what has been done on other projects, and how the technology works. This collaboration is critical to successfully implement HCS on this project.”

Hunter explains that each piece of equipment that drivers or operators use goes through an extensive human-centred design process, with safety front of mind.

“It’s a tremendous amount of work but I’ve learnt from other projects that it’s essential because in the end we want the people who will be using the technology to really feel as though they own it.”

One example where this has occurred is in the design and purchasing of the desks that will be used at operations centres in Sunshine and Dandenong.

“We’ve got the actual desk that we’re proposing to use in the control centres in our office in Bourke Street and we invite people from Metro Trains Melbourne to come and look at, sit at, use, and test it.”

PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE OF HCS
While signalling upgrades on two of Melbourne’s busiest lines will have an immediate benefit for commuters, Rail Systems Alliance has also been aware of the need to ensure that investment in the project benefits the wider rail industry. While experiencing unprecedented investment, the rail industry is looking at a looming skills crisis. As one of the first rollouts of CBTC technology, the HCS project aims to train the next generation of signalling engineers.

“We’ve got roughly 35 cadets coming through the project,” said Hunter. “We’re working closely with the Victorian government and the Local Jobs First – Major Project Skills Guarantee but it’s important that we’re building a base for future projects.”

While signalling projects such as HCS have needed to hire talent internationally, Hunter hopes that this won’t continue to be the case.

“We’ve had to bring a lot of people in from overseas – including myself – who have done these kinds of projects around the world but that’s not a sustainable model. What you actually want is a strong, capable, local team, so that’s what we’re setting out to do. We’ve got cadets working on signalling design, onboard equipment, the control systems, the communications systems, the radio systems, systems engineering, and systems safety assurance.”

Having such a major project occurring in Melbourne has a drawcard for attracting the next generation of engineers to rail.

“As soon as they join, I sit down with them and talk about the project and how exciting engineering is on these kinds of projects.”

“University is a good starting place for technical knowledge, but to have the opportunity to work on a project of this size and this complexity on their doorstep is too good to miss,” said Hunter.

While there’s no concrete plan to roll out HCS beyond the existing project scope at this stage, efficiencies of already implementing the technology mean that any future upgrades would be even smoother.

With a competent and experienced local workforce, and upgrades in place on two of Melbourne’s most complex lines, Melbourne would be well-placed to extend HCS over the rest of the existing rail network said Ness.

“Our focus right now is to successfully deliver HCS on the Sunbury and Cranbourne/ Pakenham corridor. However, if you look at Melbourne’s growth, and some of the pressures on the rail network, HCS may be one future option to get the most out of the existing infrastructure,” said Ness.

Gippsland

Joint funding for Gippsland Line upgrades

The Victorian and Commonwealth governments have committed $300 million to upgrades on the Gippsland Line, as part of the Regional Rail Revival program.

The upgrades will improve service reliability between Pakenham and Traralgon, easing congestion on metropolitan lines in the process.

According to the Victorian government, the works will create 400 jobs in the region. A contractor is expected to be appointed shortly and works will begin before the end of 2020, with a targeted completion date in late 2022.

Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan announced the rail upgrades along with improvements to the Princes Highway East at Flynn and Kilmany.

“These important projects will provide safer, more reliable roads and train services for locals and tourists alike,” said Allan.

Regional Rail Revival projects on the Gippsland line include signalling upgrades, a new crossing loop and track duplication, additional platforms, level crossing upgrades, and a new stabling facility near Traralgon. Construction is already underway on a new bridge across the Avon River in Stratford.

The current funding announcement will enable track duplication, extending the Morwell crossing loop, and second platforms at four stations, including Bunyip and Longwarry.

Once complete, trains will be able to run every 40 minutes between Melbourne and Traralgon in off-peak periods.

The package of works will be delivered alongside the signalling works on the Bendigo and Echuca Line.

Member for Eastern Victoria Jane Garrett said that the project will provide local opportunities.

“The Regional Rail Revival will enhance our regional economies, create local jobs and provide valuable opportunities for local suppliers as the state recovers from the coronavirus pandemic.”

The Gippsland region was heavily impacted by the 2019-2020 bushfires, prior to the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19).

“We know It’s been a very difficult year for Gippsland communities – this funding will help to boost the local economy and create jobs while building the transport infrastructure Gippslanders need,” said Allan.