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With organisations across the rail industry moving ahead in their Project i-TRACE journey, now is not the time to be left behind.
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As Australia’s rail sector has not been immune from the risk of cyber attacks, industry bodies are joining with government agencies to mitigate the ongoing threat.
In November 2016, The San Francisco Municipal Transport Agency was hit by a cyber-attack. The HDDCryptor malware spread across over 2,000 computers, meaning that the Agency’s network was opened up free for the public.
While the agency’s ability to provide transport across its fleet of light rail vehicles, streetcars, trolley and hybrid buses was not compromised, ticket machines, payment services, and emails were affected.
The hackers demanded a ransom of 100 bitcoin, equivalent to $102,644 at the time. This type of attack, shutting down a network’s computer systems and demanding a payout, is known as ransomware, and can be caused by a person simply clicking on an infected link in an email or downloading an infected file. The networked nature of large transport authorities means that this can quickly spread throughout an organisation.
While San Francisco did not pay off the hacker and was able to restore its systems by the next Monday, the hack was one of the most visible instances of how cyber threats are coming to the rail transportation sector.
Earlier that year, cyber criminals struck the rail network in NSW, targeting regional train services provider NSW TrainLink. Hackers were able to infiltrate the booking service and capture customer credit and personal data.
Unlike the San Francisco hack, this breach targeted a rail organisation’s repository of customer details, including things like bank details and personal information. The opportunistic attack exposed how people using the same passwords for multiple accounts can make a system vulnerable, and in this case, with rail operators having data on large numbers of people, others could be seen as a honeypot for potential attackers.
Western Australia’s Public Transport Authority was also targeted in an attempted attack in 2016, leading the rail agency to shut down its own website and websites for specific services such as Transperth to prevent further intrusions.
More recently, the number of cyber- attacks has been increasing. In May 2020, Swiss rail manufacturer Stadler reported that hackers had targeted the company hoping to extort a large amount of money and threatening the publication of data to hurt Stadler and its employees. Although not impacting production lines, the hack came a week after Australian logistics operator Toll also suffered a ransomware attack, the second that company had suffered in 2020.
A spokesperson for the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) reiterated comments made by Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds that malicious cyber activity against Australia is increasing in frequency, scale, and sophistication.
“Rail, and the transport sector more broadly, is part of Australian critical infrastructure and provides essential services to Australians,” the spokesperson said.
Ransomware attacks are becoming more common for organisations across the rail sector. As these few examples demonstrate, the reliance of all parts of the rail industry on digital systems means that cyber-attacks are not targeting any one sector of the industry. Furthermore, as large, often widely distributed organisations that deal with personal and safety critical information, the rail sector has many facets of the organisation that are involved with cyber security, not only in operational roles.
“A cyber incident involving critical infrastructure can seriously impact the safety, social or economic wellbeing of Australians, due to the significant disruption it can cause if the systems are damaged or unavailable for extended periods of time,” said the ACSC spokesperson.
This is not to suggest that the rail sector has been blind to the risk posed by cyber- attacks. In the UK, in 2016, the Department for Transport published the Rail Cyber Security: reducing the risk of cyber attack guidelines. In the document, the increasing threat of cyber-attacks in the rail industry is clearly stated.
“Railway systems are becoming vulnerable to cyber-attack due to the move away from bespoke stand-alone systems to open-platform, standardised equipment built using Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS) components and increasing use of networked control and automation systems that can be accessed remotely via public and private networks.”
These vulnerabilities leave the rail sector open to impacts of cyber-attacks, from threats to safety, disruptions of the network, economic loss, and reputational damage. The guidelines outline how rail organisations should respond, from the level of governance, through to design, the integration of legacy and third-party systems, and staff training.
As the spokesperson for the ACSC outlined, as rail reaps the benefits of digitalisation, there are also challenges.
“The rail sector is continually modernising through the adoption of new operational technologies. However, with this, comes potential cyber security vulnerabilities,” said the spokesperson.
“The increased adoption of inter-connected technologies has the potential to increase the cyber threat ‘attack surface’.”
In the case of passenger networks, bespoke systems such as electronic signage, ticketing systems, electronic passenger gates, building management and public address systems are areas of concern. In the freight sector, the interconnectedness of the industry and its automation contributes to the vulnerabilities the sector faces.
The exposure of the rail sector was highlighted in a 2016 Victorian Auditor- General report into the security of critical infrastructure control systems for trains. After a 2010 report identified weaknesses, the 2016 report found little improvement since then.
The reasons for the lack of progress were poor governance arrangement, limited security frameworks for control systems, limited security controls for identifying, preventing, detecting, and responding to cyber security events, and a poor transfer of accountability and risk during machinery-of- government changes.
In the Auditor-General report, 10 recommendations were made, all of which were accepted by Public Transport Victoria and the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources, which has since been broken up into the Department of Transport and the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions.
Since the Victorian Auditor General’s report, moves have been made to standardise and improve the Australian rail industry’s cyber security response. In 2018 the Rail Industry Safety and Standards Board (RISSB) published its Australian Rail Network Cyber Security Strategy. Identifying similar threats, the document outlined the vision for the industry of the elimination of cyber risk, resulting in zero cyber-attacks on the Australian rail network. To do this, the strategy follows the principles of understand, protect, detect, and respond.
In addition, also in 2018, RISSB published AS 7770 – Rail Cyber Security, the Australian standard for managing cyber security risk on the Australian railway network.
To improve the response of the rail sector to the cyber security threat, ACSC provides sector-specific resources and materials.
“The ACSC is working with all critical infrastructure sectors to help them increase their cyber defences as well as transport sector entities through the ACSC Partnership Program.”
The ongoing adoption of industry standards as well as the implementation of sector-wide strategies will ensure that the rail industry continues to be prepared to deal with cyber attacks as the threats morph and change.
Countering a dynamic threat such as a cyber-attack necessitates an approach that goes beyond technology. Read more
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
Melbourne’s iconic tram network operates across 250km of double track. Xavier Leal from Keolis Downer shares Yarra Trams’ latest innovation strategy that is digitising the network’s 5,000 daily services.
The world’s largest operational tram network has been transporting passengers in Melbourne for over one hundred years. Xavier Leal, manager of innovation and knowledge at Keolis Downer, acknowledges that operations throughout the urban tram network have considerably advanced since the first tram line was pulled by horses in 1884. As the operator of Yarra Trams, Keolis Downer has been investing in its digital strategy to prioritise data collection and improve passenger experience.
Leal has almost fifteen years of experience in strategy and innovation management. Since he joined Yarra Trams in two years ago, he has been driving forward innovations in the business that support enhanced passenger experience, operational effectiveness, and safety in the network.
Before his current role at Keolis Downer, Leal worked in the mobility and transport sectors in Europe. He has led a wide range of international projects that explored digital innovations and defining technology diffusion processes. His previous projects include developing innovative information and technology services, including T-TRANS and Collective Intelligence for Public Transport in European Cities (CIPTEC). Leal said Keolis Downer leverages its worldwide operational experience to explore innovations in smart cities through a digital mobility observatory.
Leal highlighted that it is important to note the difference between tram networks in Europe and Melbourne to understand how investment in processes will allow Melbourne to set an international benchmark for light rail infrastructure.
“Melbourne has a unique tram network. Trams elsewhere don’t have the same challenges that we have here. Not only is it the world’s largest operational tram network with over 250km of track and more than 1,700 stops across the city, but 75 per cent of the network is shared with road vehicles,” Leal said.
This means trams do not have separated corridors on Melbourne roads and operate amid buses, cars, cyclists, and pedestrians. This brings particular challenges with safety and operational performance, particularly travel times. Melbourne’s tram network could run more efficiently. To enhance network capability, Yarra Trams have used technology to enable faster services.
However, due to the nature of having assets distributed widely across the network, including the vehicles themselves, stations, and other monitoring points, there is the potential for the accumulation of digital data to support the more efficient operation of the network. Yarra Trams has recognised this, and is looking to digital innovation, with a number of projects deployed to target priorities including faster travel times, reduced disruptions, and customer safety. These initiatives include digitising asset management through real time-based platforms, to exploring crowdsourcing of data for safety and unplanned disruption management.
One project that Yarra Trams has trialled is the on-board collection of image-based data on traffic. In developing the technology, Yarra Trams took a consultative and collaborative approach by incorporating feedback from multiple stakeholders which come into contact with the relatively open network.
The development team looked to how they could incorporate real time data on traffic volumes to maximise operational efficiency and passenger experience. However, solutions were not always going to come from within the organisation, and Yarra Trams looked for partners who could enable this digital data project.
“Effectively engaging with the innovation ecosystem is another critical success factor to maximise digital technologies,” Leal said.
Keolis Downer collaborated with the Australian Integrated Multimodal Ecosystem (AIMES) to procure Toshiba’s traffic sensing technology. Leal said the data collection and analysis system was based on image processing and deep learning technology in a smart transport cloud system. A trial of traffic sensing by on-board unit (OBU) based image processing technology took place in March 2019 with two C2 trams travelling on route 96 from Brunswick East to St Kilda Beach.
Leal said the trial tested the capability of the technology to detect various states of traffic by deploying image processing techniques and transmitting the results to a cloud system. The OBU could detect traffic in terms of volume, vehicle queues, vulnerable road users, pedestrians and obstacles.
HD cameras captured real time traffic and processed and measured the information as it happened. The information collected from vehicle queue lengths waiting at red signal and pedestrian flow assessed traffic conditions to
a degree, while also detecting obstacles and service adjustment.
The OBU system consists of three units, a stereo camera, image processing hardware, and a signal divider. The OBU system sends detection results back to a central server. These results include images that have been tagged with GPS data. The trail enabled Yarra Trams to obtain geographically precise data to illustrate issues in the network in real time, enabling faster responses and comparisons with historical data.
The digital data collected throughout this trial may allow traffic management and operation control staff to instantly evaluate risks as well as predict needed safety measures.
“It was a successful project,” said Leal. “We assessed the system capabilities
to detect traffic volumes, vehicle queue lengths at intersections, pedestrian crowd volume detection and estimation around tram infrastructure. Now we are discussing with Toshiba, government stakeholders, and Melbourne University researchers the next steps to further evolve the system,” Leal said. Leal is proud to pioneer the use of digital data to evaluate complex transport networks. He said it’s not uncommon for large networks such as the Melbourne tram network to experience unplanned disruptions, so managing data from Yarra Tram allows a clearer understanding of behaviour of motorists, pedestrians, and other vehicles which the network comes into contact with.
Leal said trams and light rail services are the lifeblood of Melbourne, as they are the primary mode of public transport for inner suburban residents. Globally, more than 200 cities are now recreating, building, or planning tram networks. If the Melbourne network were to be rebuilt today, it would cost more than $20 billion and take several decades to complete.
“It’s important to us to have a holistic approach to our digital strategy, that leverages Keolis’s expertise in mobility and digital technology with a robust data management platform that aligns with the Department of Transport’s systems and tools,” Leal said.
“We are increasingly gaining more data flowing from digital channels. From a passenger experience perspective, it is important for us to integrate reporting capabilities with analysis of inputs coming from diverse channels,” Lead said. He said the company expects these channels to grow and further diversify as new streams of data and incorporated into the network.
“We are committed to keep pushing for further integration of information and data to ensure the right actions are taken to enhance Melbourne’s dynamic network,” he said.