Full schedule of services resume on Main Western Line

Services on the Main Western line have returned to full capacity after work crews completed repairs to line the line following bushfires and flooding.

Over 150,000 man hours have been put in since the Gospers Mountain Bushfires hit the railway in December. Flooding following heavy rains in February also washed away sections of track.

Some freight services and diesel-powered passenger services had resumed in mid-January, however due to the damage to signalling equipment and overhead powerlines, regular Intercity commuter services were cancelled.

Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Paul Toole said that the repairs had covered great lengths to get services back up and running.

“We know just what a vital transport link this line is for both passenger and freight services – and our crews have put in a superhuman effort to repair the devastation caused by the summer bushfires and flash flooding soon after,” said Toole.

“More than 200 employees worked to replace more than 50 kilometres of fibre optic cables and 37km of high voltage power lines damaged in the fires.”

Other equipment that had to be replaced included 75 power poles, a signal control hut, a substation, thousands of small pieces of safe working systems. The high-voltage power supply also had to be rebuilt and 540 trees removed from the corridor.

“It’s been a huge task but it’s great to know services on the Blue Mountains Line are now back on track – and ready to support essential travel for those returning to work and school and from June 1, those looking to enjoy a break in the bush,” said Toole. 

Acting chief executive of Sydney Trains Stewart Mills acknowledge the hard work of those who contributed to getting services back up and running.

“I’d like to thank every person who has worked so hard to rebuild, test and commission infrastructure critical to the safe operation of passenger and freight trains between Mount Victoria and Lithgow.”

track worker

Global study to provide best practices for track worker safety

Australian rail safety organisations will conduct a global investigation of best practices to inform track worker safety practices.

The Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR) and the Rail Industry Safety and Standards Board (RISSB) have tasked the Australian Centre for Rail Innovation (ACRI) to report to the Australian industry on promising initiatives overseas.

ONRSR chief executive Sue McCarrey said that there is always room for improvement.

“This is about saving lives. Too many track workers have lost their lives in tragic and, on many occasions, avoidable accidents and we must always be exploring what more can be done to prevent them,” she said.

“Track worker safety is a long-standing national priority for ONRSR and together with our partner agencies we have an opportunity to facilitate really effective change.”

Over the next six months, ACRI will explore and identify existing technology and techniques which improve track worker safety. The research institute will then understand how these practices can be applied locally or modified to fit Australian standards, providing insights into how operators can implement the approaches.

RISSB CEO Deb Spring said that the investigation would take a comprehensive look at safety.

“This project will form a critical component of a suite of related RISSB initiatives, offering both engineering solutions and exploring options around planning, communication and culture,” she said.

“This important work will help the Australian rail industry drive improvements in the safety of its most important asset – our people.”

Once a survey of international best practices is complete, ACRI will develop a database of track worker safety technology based on international case studies. A final report based on local stakeholder engagement will enumerate the best options for the Australian rail industry.

ACRI chief executive Andrew Meier said the organisation was proud to work with RISSB and ONRSR on the project.

“Trusted information made readily available is vital to rail decision making,” he said.

SPAD Working Group

The industry SPAD Group: Tackling a perennial issue through engagement and innovation

RISSB is coordinating the industry-driven SPAD Working Group.

Data from the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR) shows that in the 12 months from March 2019 to February 2020, there were over 1,200 reported signals passed at danger (SPADs), more than 500 of which involved the limit of authority being missed by train crew. While there has been a reduction in the number of technical SPADs reported when compared to the previous 12-month period, the number of human factor SPADs reported has seen little improvement.

Given the substantial safety risks presented by SPAD incidents, the rail industry has created a SPAD Working Group. Originally established under the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) and led by Todd Bentley from Metro Trains Melbourne, the SPAD Group created a forum for rail managers, professionals to talk and share ideas. It initiated research projects to draw insights into this perennial issue and created an Australasian SPAD categorisation for reporting SPAD occurrences.

RISSB continues to co-ordinate this group, now led by Craig Dance from V/Line and industry representation is wider than ever, including members from New Zealand, covering heavy and light rail, freight and passenger operations.

The SPAD Group has instigated a number of research projects, led by associate professor Anjum Naweed from CQUniversity, many of which have been finalised with rich, practical industry outcomes.

Current projects include:

Training the train controller – It may seem counterintuitive, but controllers and signallers can inadvertently influence and even increase the likelihood of a SPAD. This project involves 10 rail organisations and focuses on non-technical skills training, an area that is seldom covered in adequate detail in current training approaches. A presentation on the outcomes of this project is planned for the RISSB Safety Conference in October this year.

SPAD pre-cursor behaviours – having initially collected over 200 SPAD reports from member rail organisations, more than 750 people subsequently completed a survey which examined a range of pre-cursor factors. These are being analysed by looking at system factors in a number of ways, including psychometrics, mindfulness and attention, driver behaviour, and sleep and work schedules.

Relieving drivers – this new project is aiming to gain a better understanding of current practices associate with relieving drivers and determining their return to work. It will identify what known risks are being mitigated when relieving drivers, including the perceived effectiveness of these mitigations, but also what unknown risks are being introduced, and how they may be controlled. Ten rail organisations are involved in this project.

The SPAD Group has also discussed a range of projects it proposes to examine in the next stream, including:

  1. Pro-forma development for SPAD investigations (through RISSB – a spin- off from SPAD Pre-cursor Behaviour project);
  2. SPAD risk and new technology and altered or new infrastructure;
  3. Risk Triggered Commentary;
  4. Mobile devices and distraction (update); and
  5. Establishing and sharing an education library of SPAD information.

The SPAD Group provides a forum for the industry to share successes, learn about new SPAD initiatives, and focus on key areas to mitigate SPADs.

ARA calls for tender changes to maximise benefit of rail

The Australasian Railway Association (ARA) has called for an update of tendering procedures around Australia to accelerate job-creating rail projects.

Releasing a new tendering framework, the ARA included 21 recommendations to improve the procurement process for rollingstock and signalling equipment.

ARA CEO, Caroline Wilkie said that implementing these recommendations would extend the benefits of rail infrastructure and supply contracts.

“Australian tendering costs are higher than global benchmarks and that makes it harder to get projects out of the planning phase into delivery,” said Wilkie.

“As governments look to bring on new projects to speed our post-pandemic economic recovery, simple and fast tendering processes will be needed to get people quickly back to work.”

In the framework, the ARA’s recommendations include changes to market sounding and pre-project engagement, a one-time national pre-qualification scheme, a simplified probity management process, clear requirements at the point of early contractor involvement, a harmonisation of specifications, and a cost recovery process for rollingstock design.

“Small measures like a one-time-only pre-qualification process and standardised templates, terms and conditions would make a big difference and reduce costs for both government and the private sector,” said Wilkie.

The ARA commended the NSW Government Action Plan, which it said set the standard for procurement and should be the benchmark for other states.

“A nationally consistent procurement process would cut red tape and focus tender discussions on the all-important project outcomes,” said Wilkie.

Today, Australian tendering costs are approximately 1-2 per cent of a project’s total cost, well over the international benchmark of 0.5 per cent. Bringing Australia into line with other countries would allow for reduced project pricing as well as improving participation by reducing the risk profile for tenderers.

“It is important tender processes are fit for purpose and resourced to succeed so projects can move from planning to delivery as soon as possible,” said Wilkie.

In a speech to the shadow cabinet on May 11, federal opposition leader Anthony Albanese’s call for more local content in rollingstock. Albanese said that trains should be built in Australia, and pointed to examples in Queensland, Victoria, and WA.

Wilkie noted that well-managed procurement processes can create employment in Australia.

“Now more than ever we need government and industry working together to get projects up and running to deliver jobs for all Australians.”

Alstom results

Alstom releases results for the 2019-2020 financial year

Alstom has released its results for the financial year 2019-2020, ending March 31, 2020.

The Paris-based, Euronext listed rollingstock and signalling manufacturer booked orders of €9.9 billion ($16.6bn) over the year, and had sales results totalling €8.2bn ($13.76bn).

The figures were driven by orders in Europe, including very high speed trains in France, metros, and regional trains, as well as Alstom’s winning of the Metronet railcar build and maintenance contract in Perth and the contract to supply further rollingstock and signalling to the Sydney Metro Southwest extension.

“Although considered a stabilisation year, Alstom enjoyed strong commercial momentum in a very dynamic railway market,” said Henri Poupart-Lafarge, Alstom chairman and chief executive officer.

“We won major orders especially in Europe and in Asia-Pacific. In addition, we secured pioneering orders for our green mobility solutions, illustrating the potential of such technologies and the dynamism of the shift to carbon free transportation modes.”

Research and development spending accounted for 3.7 per cent of sales in 2019/20, with focus particularly on emissions-free mobility, including electric motors, hydrogen fuel-cells, and battery traction systems. Alstom was awarded contracts for its hydrogen train and battery electric train in regions in Germany.

The effect of COVID-19 is not fully realised in these accounts, as they finish at the end of March, 2020, however Alstom noted that it would not issue dividends to shareholders in July. The company calculated that the impact on sales of COVID-19 is roughly €100 million ($167.9m), due to a slowdown of sales recognition. As of May 12 a restart of production is occurring, and the company expects a fast recovery in the rail market.

“Alstom considers the health and safety of its employees and stakeholders as its top priority during this period. We are confident for the resilience of Alstom’s business in the mid-term, given the fundamentals of the rail market and in particular, the need for greener mobility,” said Poupart-Lafarge.

Melbourne

Meeting the demand for safer, more efficient and capable railways

While digitalisation can realise great advances, overcoming application factors in digital train control involved takes smart engineering.

Although comprising a number of different, discrete technologies, digital train control systems represent one of the most significant changes in 100 years of rail signalling.

Older systems across Australia and New Zealand are undergoing a fundamental and wholescale shift as railway operators strive to maximise performance and capacity.

This presents a tremendous opportunity to improve rail capability and competitiveness across existing networks, extensions and new lines in both metro and mainline applications.

Replacing line-side multi-aspect colour light signalling with Digital Train Control (DTC) systems promises to bring improvements in line capacity, connections, reduce journey times and improve safety and performance, among an array of other benefits.

In Australia, there have been disparate drivers for the adoption of DTC, however increasingly these technologies enable significant innovation, both in freight operations, with Rio Tinto’s fully automated railway, and in passenger services with the fully automated Sydney Metro Northwest.

David Milburn, GHD global leader – Digital Train Control explains how transport organisations can maximise value from digital investments regardless of the specific rail technology and the context of its application. Milburn has decades of experience in leading Train Control and Systems Engineering (SE) teams for major programs, and has been successfully applying SE techniques to railway projects since 1996. Milburn has worked on a range of signalling systems and related standards, specialising in transmission-based signalling such as ETCS and CBTC.

“We help clients to become informed purchasers. Each technology has distinctive characteristics appropriate to different train control scenarios and our knowledge in both DTC and legacy signalling systems enables us to identity and manage risk in a safety critical environment.”

As an umbrella term, DTC includes systems such as Automatic Train Operation (ATO), Automatic Train Protection (ATP), European Train Control System (ETCS), and Communications Based Train Control (CBTC), among other variants. Each network will ultimately find a solution that fits best with their operation and funding highlighted Milburn.

“We provide agnostic solutions and advice to help clients find what best fits their particular needs and help them to navigate different products and different suppliers to get the most appropriate solutions.

“This involves selecting the right concept for their particular railway, and then providing technical leadership and project engineering to bring that into the physical infrastructure,” said Milburn.

There are various stages of automation in digital train control.

STARTING FROM SAFE
While railways have had more than 100 years of history to determine the best practice for traditional lineside signalling, the relatively new status of DTC requires a risk-based approach to safety that works to identify and minimise any potential unplanned events.

“Most operators have spent decades working in a particular manner. The rules have been developed over a long period of time, often as a reaction to incidents and accidents and to accommodate a particular technology. One of the key challenges when you’re introducing new technology is to identify and manage all the potential risks before day one of operation,” said Milburn.

GHD works with operators and suppliers to develop specifications and standards that can be applied in the implementation of DTC systems in Australia.

“We can work with clients to support them in developing their concept of operations, how their system is going to work, provide analysis to make sure that they have got the right concept, and develop engineering rules, and operational rules to efficiently and safely manage the system and to meet the operational concept.”

While there will often be local variations in developing standards for train control systems, GHD can draw on its global network, in collaboration with partners, to define and implement DTC systems to meet the needs of a particular application.

Already, 42 cities run 64 fully automated metro lines, with the first mainline- passenger with ATO over ETCS service on the Thameslink project in London, in March 2018. In total, there are over 100,000 kilometres of ETCS equipped infrastructure around the world.

Taking lessons from these projects, GHD is advancing its approach to efficiently support the delivery of DTC systems projects in Australia.

To ensure that depth of knowledge can be applied to each project, GHD has worked to build up a talent pool of those who have hands-on knowledge of application and integration issues in other contexts where DTC has already been applied.

“Even when the technology is successfully deployed, in some cases it can’t actually be fully implemented because the railway administration hasn’t completed the necessary organisational and business change, or the training and competence of people,” said Milburn.

David Milburn has worked on a number of digital train control projects around the globe.

GLOBAL EXPERIENCE – LOCAL EXPERTISE
Understanding both the human and technological side of DTC systems has led to recognition that having the right expertise is key to driving successful and transformational DTC systems. This is what GHD is providing in Australia, whether playing the role of an independent certifier, as GHD did in the Sydney Metro Northwest project, project management, business case development, or systems integration.

“The first part of that is creating a pool of resource and pool of expertise,” said Milburn. “A lot of clients are encountering this technology for the first time. They are working on projects without the comfort of having first hand previous experience but we are building a team of people who have successfully deployed these very specialist technologies.”

While train operators may have a wealth of expertise in traditional signalling technologies, DTC systems require a new set of competencies, both during installation and operational phases.

There is an acute skills shortage in Australia when it comes to DTC. GHD has been working to develop a local knowledge base and provide the necessary upskilling and support to signalling engineers in Australia. Where appropriate, GHD has recruited engineers with a proven track record on successfully completed overseas projects.

“We’re working hard to establish a training facility for digital train technologies, both for generic approaches and principles as well as more detailed competencies, and courses for maintenance and design.

“At the moment, there’s a huge gap between the number of projects and the resources required in Australia,” said Milburn.

AVOIDING THE MISTAKES OF THE PAST
With a number of DTC systems already in operation, each with their subtle different operational methodologies, and a number of projects in their early stages, the value of standardisation cannot be understated. This is vital to ensure that Australia does not repeat the mistakes made in the last century by having approaches unique to each state or operator. Already, Milburn is seeing Australia head in this direction.

“We’ve seen a number of instances in Australia, where organisations have taken off-the-shelf ETCS technology, and then worked with the supplier to add additional functionality important to their respective needs,” said Milburn.

“For example, the introduction of ATO over ETCS, with the introduction of satellite positioning. These are all functions outside of the European standards at the moment but it would be hugely beneficial for the industry to work together to avoid significant and costly problems in the future”.

The establishment of ETCS was aimed at overcoming these issues in Europe, where, for example, trains on the Paris – Brussels – Cologne line traversed seven different train control systems, from more than 20 train control systems in the EU.

“Australia now has the opportunity to standardise so that you have common competencies across state and organisational boundaries.”

Works to remove level crossings in Mooroolbark and Lilydale begin

Initial works have begun to remove the level crossings at Manchester Road, Mooroolbark and Maroondah Highway, Lilydale, in Melbourne’s outer east.

At both sites, works to establish construction sites are beginning, with service relocations and vegetation removal commencing. Fencing and construction workers will arrive in the coming days and weeks.

Most major construction will begin towards the end of 2020. In preparation for this a test pile will be sunk into the ground at the western commuter carpark at Lilydale station to determine the depth needed for foundations for the rail bridge over Maroondah Highway.

In addition to removing the level crossings, two new stations will be built at Mooroolbark and Lilydale, as well as a multi-deck carpark at Mooroolbark to increase capacity to 900 spaces.

Completion is expected by 2022.

In late December 2019, the $496 million contract for both crossings was awarded to an alliance of Laing O’Rouke, Jacobs, and Metro Trains Melbourne.

Work will involve raising the rail line above both roads and elevated platforms at each new station.

Over 53,000 vehicles travel through the two level crossings each day, with boom gates down for a quarter of the morning peak. In the last 10 years there have been 13 crashes, with one fatal incident.

In Dandenong South, the new rail bridge over Greens Road has been updated with new screening to keep maintenance workers safer once the project is complete. The removal of the level crossing there is part of the $679 million Cranbourne Line upgrade, which involves track duplication and more frequent services.

Work sites at Greens Road have been established since March, along with utility works and preparatory works for line duplication.

Once finished, the screens will surround both viaducts which will carry the rail line over Greens Road. An alliance of McConnell Dowell, Arup, Mott MacDonald, and Metro Trains Melbourne will remove the level crossing at Greens Road and duplicate the line between Dandenong and Lynbrook.

Greens Road rail bridge looking east. Concept design subject to change.

Industry-government group to accelerate ATMS delivery

An industry-government oversight group has been formed for the introduction of the Advanced Train Management System (ATMS) on Australia’s interstate freight rail network.

With the system now operational between Port August and Whyalla and ready to be deployed between Tarcoola and Kalgoorlie, the industry-government reference group will streamline implementation between the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) and nine major rail freight businesses.

“I meet and consult with industry regularly and following discussions in March, the Australian government has agreed to support the establishment of the group to explore opportunities to accelerate the deployment of ATMS,” said Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack.

The federal government has provided $110.8 in funding for the development of ATMS, which alleviates the reliance on trackside signalling infrastructure by using GPS navigation systems and mobile internet. The system was developed by Lockheed Martin on behalf of ARTC.

“It has been custom-engineered and tested under Australian conditions and has proven both its safety and capability required for a staged deployment across the wider national interstate rail network operated by ARTC,” said McCormack.

“The system is in the final stage of being certified as the primary safe working system between Port Augusta and Whyalla with the next section for deployment to be between Tarcoola and Kalgoorlie from next year.”

The industry-government oversight group will provide industry engagement and agreement on the approach, roll-out, staging strategy, and funding for ATMS. In mid-2020 the group is expected to provide advice on the broader rollout of ATMS.

Chair of the Freight on Rail Group, which represents the nine major freight businesses involved in the oversight group, Dean Dalla Valle, said that the system will improve Australia’s rail freight network.

“ATMS will vastly improve rail safety by allowing freight trains to be remotely controlled during an emergency, including automatic braking, and boost efficiency of services on both dedicated freight lines and shared rail networks.

“ARTC has ensured industry was at the forefront of consultation over the ten years of development of the new technology and FORG will continue that collegiate-approach through this working group to help fast-track the roll-out of ATMS,” said Dalla Valle.

By allowing for more efficient use of the freight rail network, ATMS is expected to increase rail capacity, as well as reliability and safety.

“To help recover from the deep economic shocks of the coronavirus pandemic, Australia must embrace and leverage new and improved technologies throughout its national supply chains,” said Dalla Valle.

“Its home grown, state-of-the-art technology which our sector and the Australian people should be very proud of.”

Caroline Wilkie, CEO of the Australasian Railway Association (ARA), said that the group has been formed at the right time.

“The creation of the oversight group will bring significant industry knowledge to the table to guide this important next phase of the project.”

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said that improvements to the rail network will deliver benefits for the wider community.

“A well-developed rail network will help better connect our regions with our cities, our ports and beyond, ensuring that Australian businesses can sell as many products and services as possible into markets around the world while also making sure that domestically we are in the strongest possible position,” said Cormann.

“Our government looks forward to engaging with industry to drive improvements and further strengthen our rail sector.”

The use of data in digital rail

Nuno Guerra, who is leading Thales Australia’s Metro agenda, explains how the implementation of digital rail systems can benefit a network operator.

Australia’s major cities are growing at an exponential rate, and pressure is being placed on infrastructure and transportation services to improve operational efficiencies and the passenger experience. A digital revolution in smart-mobility is already occurring, allowing town planners to manage and capitalise on these pressures. Rail infrastructure will play a central role in this revolution, with disruptive technology enablers such as artificial intelligence (AI), big data analytics, the industrial internet of things (IIoT), and cloud computing driving its transformation.

In Australia, both Sydney and Melbourne are at the forefront of the rail revolution: Sydney announced the North West Metro in 2008 and the new CBD and South East sections of its Light Rail in 2014. Both projects are now complete and open to the public. Similarly, Melbourne has announced its Melbourne Airport Rail Link – a critical connection between Tullamarine Airport, the metro, and regional networks – and the Suburban Rail Loop, both scheduled to begin construction in 2022.

Rail networks are awash with data and, with projects like those we are seeing in Sydney and Melbourne, the potential for utilisation is immense. Though there are many assets that incorporate and utilise digital technologies, only a fraction of this data is captured and analysed to generate actionable insights and improvements for customers and efficiencies for operators. There is potential for operators to boost revenue by as much as 30 per cent by implementing data-driven decision-making capability into their networks.

COMPETITION
When comparing the rail sector to the likes of road transportation, there has been an explosive growth of ride sharing apps and online booking platforms. The roads sector has successfully leveraged data and used technology to connect directly with the customer and as a result built a competitive edge. The rail sector, by comparison, has not capitalised on data at the same pace. However, the rail industry is at the threshold of a major transformation in this data revolution. The benefits of rail travel to the community are hard to dispute, with each passenger journey made by rail rather than road generating benefits for society of between $3.88 and $10.64 by reducing congestion, accidents, and carbon costs, according to the Value of Rail report produced by Deloitte Access Economics for the Australasian Railway Association.

WHAT ARE THE MAIN DIGITISATION AND SMART-MOBILITY PRIORITIES?
The keys to success when it comes to digital revolution and smart-mobility, which are at the forefront of Thales’s development roadmap are safety and security, efficiency, and reliability. These shape our thinking in terms of what we aim to achieve in a smart network and address the five key digitisation priorities that are outlined below.

First and foremost, improvements in safety and security are paramount – Thales’s safety and mission critical systems such as signalling and supervision & control systems are digital and cyber secured by design by default, providing real-time data on congestion, occupancy, and security.

In relation to cyber-security, the digital railway presents a special challenge to traditional security measures due the deployed nature of the assets and their susceptibility to hackers. Thales has tackled these issues using a two-technology approach – traditional IT network security and ‘edge’ security (referring to devices deployed in the field). Thales Cybersecure by Design services focus on early threat detection and segmented networks to limit the access of direct connections outside the network. The ‘edge’ devices that make up the IIoT are manufactured under stringent security guidelines to ensure access points are not exploited, and reduce the risk of counterfeits and clones. Through limiting and securing access to these geographically scattered devices, organisations are also able to maintain tighter control and lower device maintenance and update costs. These technologies give operators confidence that their data and operations are safely expandable and secure.

The second priority is reducing maintenance and operational expenditure. Unplanned shutdowns are a major problem for operators, accounting for hundreds of millions of lost revenue per year. Research has shown that the top cause of unreliability is external problems, followed by signalling and train issues. To counter this challenge, we can tap into existing data sources such as Communications-Based Train Control (CBTC) systems, axle counters and point machines and use big data analytics algorithms to detect abnormal behaviour and predict maintenance requirements. This is the primary function of Thales’ digital TIRIS solution – processing hundreds of terabytes of data to monitor, in real-time, equipment installed on-board trains and along thousands of kilometres of track. The aim is a zero unplanned maintenance approach and customers have seen maintenance costs reduced by 30 per cent, site visits down by 50 per cent and overall downtime reduced by 40 per cent.

Thirdly, digital systems must help increase capacity. Data on passenger journeys, train occupancy, and platform crowding has enormous potential when taken in isolation, however, when combined and processed using big data analytics and AI, greater potential can be unlocked. The Thales NAIA solution processes passenger data in near- real time, allowing operators to discover and predict passenger behaviours, detect friction points in traffic flow and adapt staff and train services according to passenger demand. The flow-on benefits to train occupancy and capacity will have a distinct improvement on operational efficiency and customer satisfaction.

Asset availability presents the fourth priority. The ability to manage mobility across an entire city, and ensure availably and reliability of assets to meet passenger and freight demands is a critical challenge. Network visibility and real-time asset management enables more effective tools to manage this challenge. Multimodal Operation Control Centres (OCCs) provide these tools by tapping into multiple data sources and the industrial internet of things to create an ‘intelligent infrastructure’. Creating a dynamic visualisation of digitised assets across the network, enhancements to traditional systems such as signalling and interlocking systems will feed into this framework, exceeding current capabilities to increase frequency of operations and reduce delays.

Finally, digitisation must improve the passenger experience. As evidenced above, these modular digital solutions will combine to benefit the passenger in many ways. Ready access to comprehensive data will enable operators to make informed decisions on operations and maintenance to better manage passenger flow, train occupancy and wait times. Similarly, the passenger will benefit directly by more accurate and real-time information on congestion and delays. The Thales Central Control System (CCS), recently delivered on the Sydney Metro North West, is already providing this real-time information.

These disruptive technology enablers mean big change for the rail sector in Australia, and a leap forward for the smart-city architecture that is revolutionising our cities. Thales is at the forefront of this digital revolution, combining our global expertise in ground transformation with our data-driven digital service solutions to provide end-to- end solutions for our customers.

digital rail

The digital rail revolution

As one of the leading providers of digital technology in the digital rail sector, Mark Coxon of Alstom explains what changes rail can expect to see in its digital future.

Since the beginning of the modern era, rail has been closely connected to each major industrial innovation. Initially, in the first industrial revolution, the use of steam to textile mills was almost as iconic as the steam-powered train engine, which became the symbol of increased productivity and modernisation during the 19th century.

In the next era, the adoption of hydrocarbons as a source for fuel also enabled the diesel train, able to haul large loads for transcontinental journeys. Simultaneously, widespread electrification and the urbanisation of worldwide populations saw the adoption of electric, underground metro services that have kept crowded cities moving. Now, as the information revolution looks to set to be the next defining wave of innovation, train technology is leading the way in innovation.

Alstom is one of the early adopters of the digital wave in rail, and indeed has become one of the drivers. The significance of this shift is not lost on Mark Coxon, managing director of Alstom Australian and New Zealand.

“Digital Railways doesn’t have quite the romantic ring of the great train services of the past – the Orient Express, the Canadian Pacific or the Trans-Siberian. But digital is the next big wave in the railway sector, and train users can look forward to higher service standards, more timely information and even better ticket pricing,” he said.

The two primary technologies that have come to define digital rail are digital train control and digital signalling. Although there is an array of other technologies, according to Coxon, these tools will have a fundamental impact on the evolution of rail during the current industrial revolution.

“Digital signalling and digital technologies in general will have a huge influence on the evolution of rail services. They are just the latest developments in an industry that has a great track record (pun intended) of technological innovation. From steam to diesel to electric power, the railroad’s evolving technologies have unleashed economic potential and social mobility wherever the rails were laid.”

Indeed, the new technologies exist in order to improve the usefulness of rail networks, rather than being a cosmetic add on.

“Today we are entering an age where digitalisation allows operators to have real- time information on train movements and analyse overall performance – ultimately reducing costs by streamlining processes and improving efficiency and reliability,” Coxon said.

UNLOCKING THE URBAN
For many cities, including Australia’s urban centres, the efficiencies promised by digital rail could not come soon enough. Traditional signalling systems have reached the end of their useful life, while patronage continues to increase. Additionally, building new rail lines through cities is often not an option, and tunnelling underneath poses significant cost challenges. This has put pressure on existing technology, said Coxon.

“Railways have been part of the urban landscape for so long that networks in many countries have become extremely dense, especially on commuter lines in major cities, making it difficult and costly to implement major upgrading projects. Instead, the kind of improvements in efficiency that digital technology excels at can have massive operational impacts.”

Digital rail can also extend to find connections with other forms of transport, across heavy rail, metro, light rail and also bus and micro-mobility networks. Finding these efficiencies in the digital ecosystem can deliver major benefits to transport and city planners.

“Digital technologies hold out the promise of true transport integration, linking main-line rail services with other urban transportation modes, enhancing efficiency and passenger convenience,” said Coxon. “The introduction of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT), Intelligent Transport Systems and open- data/open-source transport applications are transforming urban transportation, optimising the efficiency of existing and new urban transport systems, at a cost much lower than building new infrastructure from the ground up.”

Within the railways themselves, the enhanced data and feedback gathered by digital sensors form a connected railway that can reduce costs and improve service delivery.

“New transport data collection technologies are also being deployed to provide information about delays, downtime, and predictive maintenance which could lead to huge improvements in service standards, safety, and unlocking the potential of railways. Passengers will also be able to make real-time decisions about their journeys based on the features that matter most to them such as reliability, safety, travel time, and cost,” said Coxon.

In addition, as governments and individuals increasingly identify a project’s sustainability as a key factor, adopting the digitalisation
of railways can enable railway operators to reduce energy usage, improving air quality, while also delivering a seamless experience for the commuter.

“Enhanced safety, predictive maintenance, and automated driverless operation are all part of rail’s future,” said Coxon.

PUTTING THE PASSENGER FIRST
Perhaps an even more fundamental shift will be occurring in the way that passengers interact with transport. Currently divided into discrete journeys often limited by transport mode, a connected digital railway can enable the rise of Mobility as a Service (MaaS). Via data-enabled apps, commuters can move through transit modes made as one seamless trip, with real- time information to smoothen the transition.

“From the passenger’s perspective, access through online apps to real-time information on travel times, potential service interruptions, ticket prices, seating arrangements and even on the least crowded places to wait on a station platform, will enhance convenience and reduce the stress of travel,” said Coxon.

Reducing disruptions also enables transit time to fit into the other rhythms of daily life, with enhanced services available onboard.

“Railways today offer a connected service all along the passenger journey with on-board Wi-Fi for internet and entertainment options. Passengers are able to experience these services using their own mobile devices –laptops, tablets and smartphones,” said Coxon. “This approach to train connectivity can unquestionably deliver a significantly improved passenger experience.”

These developments occur as part of a strategy of putting the individual first, rather than forcing the individual to comply with the requirements of the service.

SEIZING THE DIGITAL FUTURE
However, just as digital rail offers solutions, there are challenges too, as Coxon acknowledges.

“The path to digitalisation will not, of course, be entirely smooth.”

The benefits of digital rail require collaboration and coordination between companies, agencies, and organisations that have up until now existed in their own silos, with limited interaction. In addition, the skills and knowledge that is required to build and run a digital rail system is quite different to those needed in an analogue rail environment, although Coxon notes that these changes could have their own benefits.

“Despite the challenges, the railway sector’s move to digitalisation is clearly unstoppable. Digital technology in the railway sector will see a shift from the traditional emphasis on heavy engineering, to software and data handling skills. In the future, once the hardware is installed, upgrading a signalling system will no longer require hundreds of workers out on the tracks; it might be more like upgrading the software on your phone.”

Getting to this digitally enabled future may require some difficult transitioning, however through collaborating across industry lines, returns can be found.

“Rail operators should take this digitalisation opportunity to integrate different mobility options into their existing offering and consequently focus on value creation through innovation,” said Coxon.

“Without a doubt, it is the quiet efficiency of digital technology that will take rail systems and their passengers into a new age of rail travel that is safer, more convenient and comfortable, more economical, and more climate-friendly.”