laser sensors

Targeting accuracy and precision with laser sensors

Bestech is providing the local rail industry with access to products such as laser sensors that are used in driving advanced solutions.

The fundamentals of rail wheel interaction have been established for many decades. The conical shape of the wheels allows for the wheel set to shift while rounding a curve, and for the train to stay on track. These engineering principles have served railways well for centuries, however engineers are now looking for a way to reduce rail wear, allowing the tracks to operate longer without maintenance.

In a trial underway in the UK, an array of optoNCDT 1420 compact laser triangulation sensors from Micro-Epsilon have been installed to provide the measurement behind the ActiWheel solution. The sensors guide the ActiWheel traction system to produce more driving force on one side of the wheelset to ensure the train travels down the centreline of the track. The solution would overcome the compromises and issues that result from the combination of a solid axle and wheel coning and reduce wear on the wheel and the rail.

ActiWheel relies upon precise and accurate measurements from the optoNCDT sensors to provide the information for the artificial intelligence software that drives the motors that are individually affixed to each wheel. The optoNCDT sensors measure the lateral position of the wheel, relative to the rail, and according to Neil Cooney, technical director at the UK company behind ActiWheel, SET, the particular specifications of the sensor made it the perfect fit.

“We initially approached Micro-Epsilon for a suitable sensor and were very impressed with the application engineer who demonstrated the optoNCDT 1420 sensor to us. The sensor met all our technical requirements in terms of its flexibility, resolution and robustness. We are measuring down to 0.1mm accuracy and lateral movement can be up to a maximum of 20mm,” said Cooney.

This is not the only application of laser sensors in the rail industry. Sensors such as the optoNCDT have been widely used for maintenance of rail tracks and to measure wear and tear. This is in addition to track guiding devices that are installed below the train, which also use laser sensors. The conditions within these applications require a certain kind of sensor.

“These require a compact sensor that can be easily installed and provide accurate and reliable measurement at high speed,” said Wirhan Prationo, marketing engineer at Bestech, which distribute sensors from Micro-Epsilon in Australia.

As seen in its adoption for the innovative ActiWheel solution, the compact optoNCDT is optimised for the rail industry as a laser triangulation sensor.

“It combines speed, size, performance and versatility for measurement applications in the rail industry. This compact laser triangulation sensor is suitable for measuring distance and displacement up to 500mm with maximum sampling speed of 4kHz. It also can be easily integrated in restricted and narrow installation space,” said Prationo.

In the ActiWheel case, the sensor was particularly useful when it came to ensuring that the data collected was only that which was required, said Cooney.

“We’ve also been impressed by the filtering function, which filters out noise from dirt, dust, grease and pieces of bent metal on the rail head, which means we can trust the measurement data,” said Cooney.

To use the sensors, SET created a frame that lies beneath the wheel axle of the train, 400mm from the rail head. The sensors are located in front of the flange and point towards the rail head. The data from this assembly is then transferred to the ActiWheel control system via a 4-20mA analogue signal. Operation and configuration can be done using the web- based interface. While these are the settings used by the ActiWheel team there are other information channels available.

“The optoNCDT laser triangulation sensor offers a range of different output signals that enable easy integration of the sensor into any industrial control system,” said Prationo. “The sensors are operated through the web interface and they also have additional analysis features, such as video signal display, signal peak selection, background noise filtering and signal averaging. A mobile data acquisition unit can be used to collect the data, which can be connected to the computer on board.”

With the trial ongoing in the UK, the optoNCDT’s technical specifications have been tested in a variety of environments. Rated to an IP65 protection level, the system is housed within a casing that is impenetrable by dirt and dust.

During the demonstration, the optoNCDT sensors were able to read accurate data in the harsh environment underneath the train, where dust, dirt, and moisture are present. They also delivered consistent reading irrespective of whether it’s a cold, wet, rainy or bright sunny day. After running for a couple of thousand miles the sensors did not need cleaning.

While the further development of ActiWheel promises much for reducing rolling contact fatigue, this is only one potential application of the optoNCDT sensors.

Located in Australia, Bestech is able to collaborate with rail organisations seeking to leverage the precision and accuracy of laser sensor technology.

“Bestech have more than 40 years of experiences in sensors and instrumentation for solving test and measurement challenges in the industry,” said Prationo. “We offer not only high-quality products, but also our technical expertise and support to assist with real-time application to correctly gather the data you require. Bestech can also customise the product to fit into certain requirements, such as different cable length, integration with mobile data acquisition system or signal conditioning to fit into the existing devices.”

“Our team is supported by highly- trained applications engineers and product specialists with a wealth of experience in sensor applications for measurement of physical parameters in the industry.”

Rapid adoption of ATMS key to freight rail competitiveness

Rail freight cannot afford to be left “in the age of steam” chair of the Freight on Rail Group (FORG) Dean Dalla Valle has said in the inaugural industry-led Advanced Train Management System (ATMS) oversight group.

Dalla Valle, who chaired the first meeting, was referring to the adoption of semi-autonomous trucks in the road freight sector, and the need for rail to adopt similar digital technologies such as ATMS.

The group, formed in May, held its first meeting on June 2 and will oversee the rapid rollout of the Australian Rail Track Corporation’s (ARTC) ATMS system.

ATMS will allow for more trains to run on Australia’s freight network by reducing headways and improve safety by allowed for remote control and automatic braking.

Using GPS navigation and mobile internet, ATMS removes the need for trackside infrastructure and operators will communicate with drivers via in-cab equipment. Dalla Valle said that this would shift the public perception of rail freight.

“Innovative in-cab technologies not only help enhance safety and productivity, they also allow us to better monitor the performance of networks. Smart technology to better utilise existing physical assets is often overshadowed by ‘glamorous’ big-money infrastructure projects, albeit the two need to go together.”

Dalla Valle also highlighted that the adoption of ATMS would remove the tendency towards distinct train control systems, a trend that could limit the effectiveness of the rail freight sector as the different state-based gauge networks did in the 20th century.

“Lack of harmonisation of train control systems across the country – the last count is at least 11 different systems are currently in use – is starting to act as a handbrake on safety and efficiency improvements in our sector.”

Now formed, the oversight group will deliver a business case to fast-track the implementation of ATMS. The business case will involve detailing the deployment of ATMS and its integration with existing train control systems including European Train Control System – Level 2 on metropolitan networks. A business case is hoped to be delivered to the Australian government before the end of July.

The system is currently in trials on the Port Augusta – Whyalla rail line and will soon be the primary safe working system on this section of track. The next section will be between Tarcoola and Kalgoorlie, beginning in 2021.

Dalla Valle highlighted how recent events have reinforced the value of a safe, efficient rail freight network, in particular the demands on the freight network during the COVID-19 pandemic. As an Australia-developed system, ATMS will ensure that the efficiencies and advantages of rail freight are continued.

“To help recover from the deep economic shocks of the coronavirus pandemic, Australia must get better at both leveraging and synchronising new and improved technologies in our transport supply chains,” said Dalla Valle.

Members of the ATMS implementation oversight group include:

  • Dean Dalla Valle – in his capacity as FORG Chair
  • Mark Campbell – ARTC CEO
  • Simon Ormsby – group executive strategy and corporate development, ARTC
  • Shane Curtin – head of project Management, Aurizon
  • Louise Collins – chief of operational planning, Pacific National
  • Ian Hall – chief operating officer, OneRail Australia
  • Chris Jones – executive general manager, Southern Shorthaul Railroad (SSR)
  • Dani Gentle – national safety manager, Qube
  • Andrew Williams – chief operating officer rail, SCT Logistics
  • Murray Cook – Arc Infrastructure CEO
  • Paul Lowney – general manager, network strategy and customer operations, Arc Infrastructure
  • Paul Hamersley – corporate affairs and marketing, WatCo Australia
  • Kerryn Vine-Camp – first assistant secretary, Major Transport and Infrastructure Division – Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development & Communications
  • Dale Merrick – chief operating officer, NSW TrainLink
  • Alex Panayi – executive general manager asset management, V/Line

Cohesive approach to research and development needed to maximise rail investment

A new report will provide the rail industry with recommendations to ensure that research leads to a thriving technology and innovation culture within the rail industry.

The Australasian Railway Association (ARA) has commissioned L.E.K. Consulting to benchmark the industry’s investment in and use of technology.

The report comes as one of the key sponsors of research in the rail industry closes down, the Rail Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (CRC). The ARA highlights that CRCs, including the previous Rail CRC and Rail Innovation CRCs have driven innovation, and without the Rail Manufacturing CRC there will be a “significant void”.

By sponsoring cross-sector research and collaboration between researchers and industry, CRCs have overcome one of the key deficiencies in Australian research and development (R&D), a lack of collaboration between industry and research. This lack was identified as the lowest in the OECD by the federal government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda Report.

Another challenge for innovation and technology adoption in the rail industry is the lack of alignment across the sector. The disparate aims of state and federal governments, purchasers, suppliers, and researchers has created a disconnect between planning, action, support, and adoption, the ARA write in their briefing note.

The ARA highlights that a cohesive business case is needed to support investment in rail technology and innovation.

As part of the research project, the L.E.K. report will benchmark investment, development and adoption of technology, outline the benefits, and challenges for the development and adoption of technology, review and identify solutions and make recommendations.

The potential of coherent investment in rail technology and innovation has the potential to improve productivity in the sector, creating jobs and economic growth. In addition, local investment in R&D can increase local capacity and maintain areas of competitive advantage.

The ARA highlights that the current investment pipeline represents an opportunity for investment in R&D, that can maximise efficiency in the delivery of rail infrastructure.

The report follows increasing calls at a federal level to support local suppliers and producers. Industry Minister Karen Andrews noted that there is the potential to support local supply chains.

“This is about embracing the incredible quality of Australian-made products – products that nations around the world associate with being top-notch.”

Shadow Infrastructure Minister Catherine King said that calls for locally produced goods should extend to infrastructure projects.

“Employing Australian workers and using Australian-made materials on Government-funded infrastructure projects creates more jobs all along the supply chain and ensures that Government investment remains in our community, rather than flowing to overseas companies.

“This should include building trains here and working with the States and Territories to smooth out production, lower costs and build skills and capability.”

ATO on regional passenger trains trial to go ahead in 2021

A world-first test of automatic train operation (ATO) on a regional train line has received a prestigious award from the German government.

The German Federal Ministry of Economics awarded Alstom with the Innovation Prize for Regulatory Sandboxes for its planned trial of ATO in daily operation of regional passenger trains in Braunschweig.

The test is planned for 2021 and will be conducted by Alstom in partnership with the Regional Association of the greater area of Braunschweig, the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the Technical University of Berlin (TU Berlin).

Jörg Nikutta, managing director of Alstom in Germany and Austria, said the prize recognised Alstom’s focus on innovation.

“In the future, automated trains will optimize regional rail operations, reduce energy consumption, and increase ride comfort. In this way, highly automated driving will make a decisive contribution to climate protection and contribute to the development of a modern, attractive railway system. Following the development and successful testing of the world’s first hydrogen train Coradia iLint, Alstom is once again the innovative driver in rail transport with the pilot for regional trains in automated operation,” he said.

The trial will be conducted with two Coradia Continental regional trains, owned by the regional rail operator for greater Braunschweig. The trains will be equipped with an European Train Control System (ETCS) and ATO equipment to enable the trains to travel automatically.

The trial will involve two different grades of automation (GoA). In regular passenger operation the trains will operate at GoA3, meaning the trains will be fully autonomous but with an attendant who can step in if there is an emergency. In shunting the trains will be operated fully remotely, at GoA4.

Birgit Milius, head of the Department of Railway Operations and Infrastructure at TU Berlin said that the trail would be an indication of how rail will operate in the future.

“ATO, or Automatic Train Operation, is one of the most exciting challenges in the railway industry. It gives us the opportunity to shape and significantly change the operational management of the future. But a lot of research is still needed before this is the case, and I am very pleased to be working with Alstom on this project,” she said.

Findings from the tests will inform the legal and regulatory framework for ATO. Alstom will use its expertise in ATO for metro trains and research into autonomous freight trains to guide the project.

 

Report highlights challenges and opportunities for rail’s response to COVID-19

Global technology provider Thales has released a new report highlighting the challenges of and solutions to the current coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis in the rail transport sector.

Acknowledging that in many cases transport networks have been on the front line of responding to COVID-19, the report’s authors write that transport operators will need to develop new ways of operating.

“There is no historical precedent for this, no model to work from. The challenge is huge,” the report highlights.

Since the arrival of COVID-19 onto the global stage, a range of challenges have emerged for transport operators. The report categorises these into four sectors: revenue, health, mobility, and climate challenges.

For operators which rely on fare revenue for operations, rapid drops in ridership numbers have had a severe financial impact. In addition, extra cleaning and the introduction of social distancing measures has increased costs, while restrictions on capacity have limited revenue.

Transport has also been identified as an area of concern when it comes to the transmission and spread of COVID-19, placing extra responsibilities on transport operators to ensure the health of their passengers and staff.

Maintaining mobility while staff work from home and cybersecurity threats increase is also a challenge for operators.

Finally, climate challenges have not been altered by COVID-19, and the rail sector continues to play a part in helping communities achieve their emissions goals.

To meet these challenges, Thales has catalogued a range of digital tools which can assist transport operators. These range from using cameras to detect body temperature and compliance with mask wearing, and integrating traffic management systems to reduce crowding by smoothing connections between modes and services, to technologies for remote operations and infrastructure maintenance.

While some of these solutions are in direct response to the COVID-19 crisis, in other cases, the pandemic has served to highlight areas where existing issues need to be overcome. For example, the adoption of flexible train services to adapt to changes in demand and the provision of dynamic passenger information systems.

Amid these uncertainties, Thales highlights that rail operators should start asking more fundamental questions about their services to ensure that once the immediate crisis is over, they continue to provide adaptive and appropriate mobility solutions.

“For now, the priority is restoring services and rebuilding trust,” write the report’s authors. “Looking to the future, the trends point to a need for next-generation transportation systems. Access to secure, diverse and reliable sources of mobility will be vital not only to ensure long-term economic recovery, but also to address wider societal goals.”

Read the report here: https://thalesgroup-myfeed.com/ThalesTransport_Covid19_Whitepaper?elqCampaignId=458.

GS1

Let’s get moving

2019 was the year to get on board with Project i-TRACE. Bonnie Ryan from GS1 Australia highlights the importance of standardising the capture of data and is calling on the rail industry to get moving on digitalisation.

The Australian rail industry is preparing to digitalise the management of rail assets for increased efficiency around the network and to move more customers and freight in cities that are becoming more congested.

Bonnie Ryan, director of freight, logistics, and industrial sectors at GS1 Australia said the entire transport sector acknowledges that a critical focus should be on data regulation. Rail operators and suppliers are increasingly appreciating the benefits that digitalisation brings and understanding the dangers of ignoring its possibilities.

GS1 barcode numbers issued by an authorised GS1 organisation are unique, accurate, and based on current global standards. GS1 Australia works with key stakeholders in the Rail industry in order to improve supply chain management and the use of standards and processes both locally and globally. Through an industry-wide initiative pioneered by GS1 Australia and the Australasian Railway Association, Project i-TRACE is enhancing the digitalisation of operational processes.

THE YEAR TO GET MOVING
2019 was regarded as the year of implementation for Project i-TRACE. The traceability initiative firstly involves standardising the capture of data relating to all assets and materials in the rail industry, and by doing so, ensures a critical foundation upon which the rail industry can build its digital capabilities.

“Last year it was time to get on board, now we need to get moving,” Ryan said. Despite current restrictions and challenges in the current economic market, she said the industry is still active and bringing its business needs to the forefront of discussions. The ARA Project i-TRACE rail industry group is aiming to improve supply chain efficiency and visibility of operations by developing and adopting GS1 global standards. Ryan said the industry group is collaborating to determine how businesses can best navigate through the current climate and what further engagement and support is needed to help the rail suppliers adopt data capture technologies.

Communication is key, according to Ryan, in spreading the message that technologies including barcoding and RFID tagging will be fundamental components to a more efficient business and industry. The Project i-TRACE industry working group are further discussing how the industry is progressing with implementation. Ryan said measuring progress is underway. Operators will be surveying their suppliers in an effort to see where they are at with Project i-TRACE implementations. There is a need to instil a sense of urgency to action GS1 standards.

INDUSTRY ADOPTION
Project i-TRACE has at its core a focus on traceability. Ryan said i-TRACE will be implemented as an enabler for systems and is a very important part of the future of the rail business.

The Australian Transport and Infrastructure Council has affirmed the critical role the freight sector plays in providing essential supplies and services. Rail freight services stretch across state borders, servicing finely tuned supply chains across the nation and are the gateway to global markets. Ryan said it’s more critical than ever to review efficient supply chain management.

Ryan said for the rail, freight and logistics industry it has been business as usual, however unprecedented demand and restrictions to regular operations has allowed open-minded thinking towards better risk management and safety procedures. She said from conversations with executives in the rail sector, more companies are open to talking about technology initiatives that will help deliver business objectives in the long-term.

“We are engaged with all of Australia’s major rail operators. They all have representatives that sit on the Project i-TRACE industry work group and they’re all very committed to better control their assets, reduce costs and enhance productivity,” Ryan said. Major operators have different work to do than suppliers, as organising their systems to accept new data that they haven’t had before can be a challenge. Ryan said that operators can learn from one another to see the benefit of enhanced digital capabilities, but they’re all at different stages and have internal processes and data systems to review first.

V/Line was one of the first to adopt and implement i-TRACE in its supply chain processes to help achieve improved productivity outcomes.

“V/Line was early to adopt GS1 standards and continue to see success, however I’m proud to say that all major operators also have their own plans and projects after rapid adoption last year,” Ryan said.

WHAT STAGE IS THE RAIL INDUSTRY AT?
Ryan said the rail industry can learn from other sectors such as the retail and food industry, who are charging ahead with industry-wide standards, guidelines and solutions.

“Rail is different because movement of fast-consumer goods doesn’t apply. However, you don’t see pens and paper in major food retailers’ supply chains. Rail needs to build on its digital capabilities,” Ryan said.

With significant rail infrastructure investments earmarked for a range of projects across the country, embedding i-TRACE in the early construction phases in these projects is critical to delivering cost benefits over the life cycle of the asset, and avoiding the need to retrofit digital capabilities at a later stage.

BUILDING RAIL’S INDUSTRY CAPABILITIES
Ryan said rail is adopting technology including machine learning, artificial intelligence, and autonomous trains. She said the back-end systems and data management needs to be as impressive as railway innovation.

Australasian rail industry manufacturers, suppliers and service providers want to see investments in infrastructure innovation and that will improve the efficiency of the wider network.

Ryan said in order to deliver front-end innovation, having a good digital grounding will be critical to effectively exploiting these capabilities.

“The rail sector knows the importance of digital capabilities, and that’s why operators and suppliers are engaged in i-TRACE,” Ryan said.

She understands due to the scale of operations in the rail sector, the process of implementing global standards is a progressive working task.

“There will be a tipping point in a few years. i-TRACE will no longer be a project but will be business as usual,” Ryan said.

A critical steppingstone to build on rail’s digital capabilities will be building an appropriate digital framework.

Ryan adds not all data is equal, people can be sceptical about where it comes from and if it’s accurate so the only way to trust data is to have good governance and a framework so that you can measure data quality. The accuracy and validity of the data plays a crucial role in furthering downstream technological innovation.

“Having good governance, framework and set of standards in which to apply and adhere to gives the industry the platform to achieve success,” Ryan said.

Right now, Ryan is encouraging operators and suppliers to identify materials, register with GS1 and put the unique GS1 compliant codes on materials and products.

“That is essentially the first step, to begin the alignment of data,” Ryan said.

Ryan is proud to see rail working towards end to end traceability. i-TRACE benefits include improved maintenance and repair operations, reducing costs by automating operational procedures and improving traceability which is fundamental for through life support operations.

Computing around artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles for the rail industry

There have been significant advances in the realm of artificial intelligence (AI) and autonomous vehicles in industry, with segments such as the mining sector pioneering the implementation of this technology – including autonomous trains – in Australia. Driving these developments is the computing systems that enable autonomous platforms and AI to operate effectively and securely. This white paper discusses the technology in context of its global growth and Australian adoption. It provides insights into the features that enable the success of in-vehicle computing systems in harsh environments, along with examples of why and how these systems are best suited to industrial rail applications.

Read more:

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.”

Further measures to reduce crowding across Sydney Trains

Sydney Trains will be taking extra steps to ensure crowding on the network does not return once patronage increases following the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown.

In responding to a report from the Auditor-General for NSW which found that platform crowding was a key strategic risk, a Sydney Trains spokesperson said that a raft of measures are being introduced.

“Sydney Trains is currently implementing a number of initiatives to help customers make informed decisions about physical distancing in accordance with NSW government advice,” said the spokesperson.

“These include increased visibility through signs and announcements on trains and at stations explaining physical distancing. Additional measures include a communication campaign targeting school children, managing Opal gates to space customers entering and leaving stations, new guidelines for passenger numbers on lifts, regular customer information announcements and social media messaging, and staff education to help guide customers safely around the network.”

In its report, the Auditor-General recommended that Sydney Trains and Transport for NSW (TfNSW) should address key data gaps in the operator’s understanding of where crowding was occurring.

“Sydney Trains do not have sufficient oversight to know if crowding is being effectively managed,” said the Auditor-General.

Although customer management plans exist for high-patronage stations, a lack of policy supporting the plans limited their effectiveness, the auditor-General found, and a centralised collection of data on crowding interventions did not exist, nor did Sydney Trains have a routine process for identifying whether crowding contributed to minor safety incidents.

Sydney Trains and TfNSW accepted the Auditor-General’s recommendations and have been instituting responses to limit crowding.

“In March last year, we saw the introduction of the $296 million world class Rail Operations Centre, with an integrated network of 11,000 digital cameras monitoring stations and concourses in real-time to help support crowd management and safety,” said a Sydney Trains spokesperson.

The Auditor-General also cited larger programs such as the More Trains More Services initiative as well as the building of Sydney Metro will alleviate network pressure in the longer term.

Research and technology programs are also looking at how to smoothen operations and changes customer behaviour. The Auditor-General found that some of these initiatives, such as reduced fare prices outside of the peak travel periods and improved wayfinding, needed to be evaluated to assess their value.

The effectiveness of measures to reduce crowding will be one way to encourage commuters to return to public transport. In the preliminary findings of a University of Sydney survey, public transport was found to be seen as significantly less comfortable than private cars, which could limit the use of trains and buses after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, said associate professor Matthew Beck from the Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies.

“To avoid levels of congestion that exceed those experienced prior to COVID-19, governments need to encourage work from home as much as possible. Businesses also need to be flexible with remote working and think about how they might stagger the hours of the day staff travel to and from work.”

According to Sydney Trains, continuing normal services levels has allowed customers to physically distance on trains and platforms.

“We have also continued to run a full timetable with only minor adjustments, despite substantially reduced patronage across the network. This has created the best options for customers to physically distance within train carriages and at stations.”

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.”