innovation

Find the fast track for innovation in the Australasian rail industry

When the Rail Manufacturing CRC closed its doors earlier this year, it spelled an end to dedicated rail innovation and technology funding in Australia.

While the loss has been felt deeply by the industry, the fact is the CRC’s significant gains were achieved against all odds.

A new report commissioned by the ARA has found rail innovation is in decline in Australia, and urgent changes are needed if the $155 billion in rail investment to come over the next 15 years is to deliver a truly modern, responsive and innovative rail network.

The report found rail patents are falling in a market where a lack of national focus and certainty, and wrongfooted procurement processes, have created a culture where innovation is simply not encouraged – and at times impossible to progress.

It has called for urgent action to establish rail innovation as a national priority and clearly articulated the need for a single Australian rail market that replaces state specific approaches with national local content policies.

As the federal government highlights the importance of manufacturing to help create Australia’s path out of recession, there is a real opportunity for Australian rail to embrace innovation and play a greater role in the $362 billion global rail technology market.

To do that, we need a national approach that provides certainty and longevity for the industry.

For all the benefits the Rail Manufacturing CRC delivered, the lack of continued funding beyond its term and relatively low level of public investment compared to international models saw the opportunity under-utilised.

Only 63 cents of private investment on national projects were secured for every $1 of CRC funding.

By contrast, the UK Rail Research and Innovation Network attracts $2 for every dollar of public funding, and Japan brings in 20 times its public funding from the private sector.

They achieve those results because the policy settings are right, the long term commitment is there and the focus on rail innovation recognises the invaluable role of both the public and private sectors working together.

A national approach, tied to clear commitments to invest in research, would help achieve that here in Australia.

The ARA has long advocated for a single Australian rail market to give the industry the scale it needs to invest, grow and innovate.

The report makes it clear that is more important than ever as we look to the future.

Current state procurement processes not only create inconsistent local content policies – making it hard to create true centres for innovation – but they focus on the up front capital costs in making their purchasing decisions.

That means innovations that requires investment up front in order to save time, money and boost efficiency over the life of a project or asset often don’t get to see the light of day.

Public procurement processes also err on the side of caution, calling for like-for-like replacement in many cases.

The private sector may have better, faster, or cheaper ways of delivering on requirements, but these conditions prevent them from being put forward.

Overall, these conditions create a risk averse culture that dampens the willingness of the sector to try new things.

And that is ultimately to our detriment.

Australia has great capability in the rail sector and could lead the world on rail innovation if the conditions were right.

The world-first use of autonomous heavy haul trains by the resources sector in the Pilbara is evidence of that.

Australia’s manufacturing sector features some of the industry’s brightest minds. But their big ideas are more likely to be sent overseas than developed here.

With only one per cent of rail patent submissions coming from Australia in 2019, the only way is up.

This next phase of rail investment is a chance to modernise and innovate like never before.

It is a chance to build new skills and capability in Australia to create jobs and opportunity for the next generation of rail workers.

All we need to do is take action and make rail innovation a priority for all of us.

Finding the fast track for innovation in the Australasian rail industry is available here.

Manufacturing in rail needs to seize opportunity of current pipeline: report

Australia has the opportunity to harness the current project pipeline to improve rail manufacturing productivity, a new report has found.

The report, Finding the fast track for innovation in the Australasian rail industry, authored by L.E.K. Consulting on behalf of the Australasian Railway Association (ARA), highlights that rail innovation needs to be a national priority, and not fragmented between different state-based policies.

Caroline Wilkie, CEO of the ARA, said that the current investment in rail plus the renewed federal focus on manufacturing meant that the conditions were right for a rail manufacturing resurgence.

“The rail industry is expected to invest $155 billion in the next 15 years and we have to make that investment count,” Wilkie said.

“The world-first introduction of autonomous trains in the Pilbara region is just one example that shows Australia has the capability to lead the way on rail innovation.

“But the policy settings must be right to support innovation and technology adoption across the industry at a whole.”

Wilkie said that despite Australia having a large market for rail and the required network size, differing policies on local content in various states meant that the local manufacturing industry would struggle to compete.

“The international experience has shown that where governments lead a focus on rail innovation, private investment follows,” she said.

“We have the projects in the pipeline and we have the network scale to make rail innovation a real success.

“All we need now is for a true national focus to bring government and industry together to make the most of this opportunity.”

With the closure of the Rail Manufacturing CRC earlier in 2020, the Australian rail industry has lacked government funding for innovation specific to rail. The report found that Australia was also falling behind in comparison to other countries, with only one per cent of the world’s rail patents in 2019 coming from Australia.

In a report released at the beginning of this week, the Rail Manufacturing CRC reviewed projects that it had completed and highlighted the potential for further innovation.

“Australia’s research sector is world class and there exist many opportunities for the rail sector to utilise Australia’s R&D capabilities. With the closure of the Rail Manufacturing CRC, there will be a need for both government and industry to consider new models to support ongoing innovation,” said Stuart Thomson, CEO of the Rail Manufacturing CRC.

The report highlights four ongoing challenges for the rail industry. These include the need for national harmonisation, industry co-investment in R&D, the support for a culture of innovation, and the need to secure future funding for rail R&D.

“There exist significant opportunities for the sector to increase local manufacturing, develop supply chains and to train and educate a highly skilled workforce, however Government intervention and support will be required,” the report highlights.

Wilkie said that the industry was at a critical juncture.

“We run the real risk of being saddled with an inefficient, outdated rail network if we don’t support greater innovation and technology adoption to deliver the best possible outcomes for Australian rail users.”

Thales to support NSW digital strategy

Global technology provider and rail signalling manufacturer Thales will develop a leading digital control, communication, and signalling centre in Sydney.

The announcement follows Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s $1.6 billion Digital Restart Fund which aims to make NSW the digital capital of the southern hemisphere.

Thales Australia CEO Chris Jenkins said that the announcement enables Thales to commit to basing its digital innovation in Sydney.

“This is incredibly exciting for the many innovative companies operating in this state. To back the NSW ambition, we are committed to establishing a digital innovation lab in western Sydney to develop digital solutions for public transport,” said Jenkins.

Thales supplies digital transport systems to Sydney Metro and has supplied telemetry solutions to Sydney Trains.

Jenkins said that Thales would be drawing on its global expertise and tailoring the solutions to the needs of NSW and Transport for NSW, focusing on Metro, light rail, transport cyber security, and digital rail signalling.

“The Digital Innovation Lab will continue to grow smart jobs in western Sydney, enhancing our existing team of world-class engineers and software developers already based in our Transport business.”

NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said that investment in digital technology would drive the state’s economy.

“This record investment in technology recognises that digital infrastructure is as important as transport infrastructure to the State’s economic growth.

“We must be fast followers in the Digital Revolution to accelerate agility, lift productivity and generate the jobs of tomorrow.”

The $1.6bn in funding also includes $240 million to enhance NSW’s cyber security capability, the biggest single investment in cyber security in Australia’s history, said Minister for Customer Service Victor Dominello.

Cyber security is also a focus for Thales.

“It’s never been more important that our public transport systems are protected with the highest levels of cyber security, which Thales delivers to public transport operators around the world,” said Jenkins.

rail manufacturing

Culture of innovation

Stuart Thomson, CEO and managing director of the Rail Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre shares how the industry has collaborated on innovation, research, and development across the past six years.

Formed in 2014, the Rail Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) has continued to work closely with the industry to assist the rail sector to adopt future digital technologies and address coming workforce needs.

Stuart Thomson, CEO and managing director of the Rail Manufacturing CRC said engagement from the rail sector, universities, and research institutions has been the key to collaborative research and development. Co- funded by the Commonwealth government, the Rail Manufacturing CRC provides a platform for the rail industry to work together to increase its capacity to innovate.

COLLABORATIVE FRAMEWORK
Thomson said what distinguishes the Rail Manufacturing CRC is its approach to cross- sectoral research. Bringing together the depth of research in universities and the applied knowledge of the rail industry, along with the support of the federal government, the Rail Manufacturing CRC can advance innovation across manufacturing, design and modelling. After six years in operation, the Rail Manufacturing CRC is coming to the end of its tenure on June 30 this year, with the Centre now working to complete its final projects.

“The Rail Manufacturing CRC has worked closely with the rail sector to deliver industry focused projects. During this time of uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the team has been working to wrap up projects and manage financial and reporting requirements required before the Centre closes,” Thomson said.

Since 2014, the Rail Manufacturing CRC has been driving the development of products, technologies, and supply chain networks to enhance the competitiveness of Australia’s rail manufacturing industry. Thomson said that despite the closure of the Centre, the CRC has created a culture of innovation that will continue to grow.

“The industry has faced, and will continue to face, infrastructure and innovation challenges in Australia. By developing research projects and teaming up experts to support the industry, we are ensuring innovation meets industry’s needs and requirements to deliver the transformational change required in the rail sector,” Thomson said.

DEVELOPING AUSTRALIAN RAIL MANUFACTURING
Thomson said multinationals have invested in the programs run by the Rail Manufacturing CRC because there is technical expertise based in Australia’s heavy-haul and passenger rail experience that companies know can genuinely assist their businesses. The next challenge for the industry is making sure there’s a pipeline of work to enable investment in capital, research and development, and innovation.

Within the Australian rail sector, a great deal of focus in the last six years has been devoted to the development of condition-based monitoring systems and applications. Thomson said the Rail Manufacturing CRC has worked on a variety of condition-based monitoring projects, including the development of battery control systems that can extend maintenance cycles, the modelling of wheel bearing wear to determine the best maintenance practices, and developing weld modelling software to assist in improving the quality of welding in rail manufacture.

In collaboration with major rail operators, the Rail Manufacturing CRC has initiated projects to develop models to assess predictive maintenance of rail switches for an operator’s network. Predictive monitoring of rail infrastructure has also allowed the Centre to innovate the use of vision systems to identify maintenance needs on overhead wires and associated infrastructure.

The Rail Manufacturing CRC has worked with Downer and the University of Technology Sydney to develop a new technology called Dwell Track. The new innovation utilises 3D infra-red vision to measure passenger congestion on platforms. This information can be used to better understand passenger movement and to assist operators make decisions to limit congestion, alter platform designs, and – in the future – provide real time information to rail staff and passengers. The technology has since been tested in real time at a train station in an Australian capital city.

Thomson said many of the projects at the Rail Manufacturing CRC have a high probability of future commercial success. “We have six technologies that are likely to yield commercial returns in the near future, so that’s quite an achievement,” he said.

Thomson credits the input of the Centre’s PhD scholarship students who have contributed to research projects. Thomson noted they represent the next generation of highly skilled rail employees. “There is a great deal of discussion around future skills gaps and developing the next generation of rail employees. We anticipate that the vast majority of our rail postgraduates, 51 in total, will seek careers in the rail sector, especially if the sector increases local manufacturing post COVID-19.” Thomson said.

CONTINUING INDUSTRY-FOCUSED RESEARCH
Thomson wants Australia to maintain core national manufacturing and capabilities. “Particularly in Victoria there is a lot of movement happening around local manufacturing because there’s a requirement for at least 50 per cent of components in the rolling stock be produced in Victoria,” he said. Thomson believes the industry is working towards a harmonisation of standards and operations. Putting further policies and governance structures to support rail manufacturing in place will allow market growth and further investment in rail.

Further research and development in the rail sector will support the industry in adopting new technologies, building new local industries, and assisting the sector to increase productivity, safety, and sustainability. The Rail Manufacturing CRC expects its programs will benefit ongoing collaboration after the Centre closes its doors.

“A culture of collaboration has evolved over the past six years and will continue to develop. We’ve seen some incredible outcomes and, for example, I think over the next few years there will be a major interest in energy storage for rail,” Thomson said. The Centre has conducted research in energy storage control systems, and also in the battery area looking at lithium technologies for use in trains. Thomson said back-up systems, rolling stock, and below rail condition monitoring are a highly focused research area too.

“The growth the rail industry needs will most likely happen in the next few years,” Thomson said. Improvements in technology and data collection has aided the acceleration of innovation and Thomson believes automation across rail manufacturing and operations will be heightened. “The sector can expect to see increasing automation and the use of artificial intelligence to monitor and control systems and subsystems above and below rail,” he said.

“New skill sets and innovation from the Rail Manufacturing CRC programs has provided a springboard for industry to engage and collaborate,” said Thomson. “I think it’s a very exciting time for the future of Australia’s rail sector. The industry can expect to see advancements in technology that will be highly relevant for major train operations within the country, and will have global reach and applicability.”

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.”

Innovation in the world’s largest tram network

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.

Images taken by trams are used to map pedestrians and crowds.

“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.

Year in Infrastructure

International infrastructure awards open for nominations

Nominations are now open for the Year in Infrastructure 2020 Awards.

Hosted by Bentley Systems, a software provider for design, construction, and infrastructure operations, the awards are independently judged and recognise projects that have committed to digital innovation to improve project delivery and asset performance.

Projects that are at any stage can be nominated, the only requirement being that the projects have used Bentley Systems software.

The awards will be presented at Bentley’s Year in Infrastructure Conference, held in Vancouver from October 12 to 15. Finalists in each of the categories will be flown to the conference to present their projects before the judges, thought leaders, and media.

The categories are:

  • 4d digital construction;
  • Bridges;
  • Buildings and campuses;
  • Digital cities;
  • Geotechnical engineering;
  • Land and site development;
  • Manufacturing;
  • Mining and offshore engineering;
  • Power generation;
  • Project delivery;
  • Rail and transit;
  • Reality modelling;
  • Roads and highways;
  • Road and rail asset performance;
  • Structural engineering;
  • Utilities and communications;
  • Utilities and industrial asset performance;
  • Water and wastewater treatment plants; and
  • Water, wastewater and stormwater networks.

In addition, there are three broader categories which go beyond the sector categories. These are; advancements in digital twins for project delivery, advancements in digital twins for asset performance, and advancements in sustainability and resilience.

The importance of intuitive light rail

Engineering firm Columbus Group is known as an industry innovator. CEO Donald Yates spoke to Rail Express about the innovation light rail can offer.

Light rail’s flexibility, according to Columbus Group’s CEO Donald Yates, allows for consistent innovation.

“The boundaries of light rail no longer stop at the edge of the world’s CBD,” Yates said. “It is utilised almost everywhere because it calls for practical inventiveness.”

Yates explains how light rail does this. “With or without guidance rail tracks, light rail needs to be able to adapt.”

“It needs to move sideways, to pick up passengers, and to get out of the way of other road users, including during pause duration cycles when recharging might be needed, be it via rapid battery swaps, zapping super capacitors or refilling with hydrogen for the fuel cell vehicle propulsion power.”

Further, capital costs for fixed platforms are no longer needed because drop-down or pop-up ramps provide better accessibility, contributing to ever leaner operation.

“For some, the air-conditioned waiting areas add to the whole experience, but this is innovative in that air can be exchanged with the light rail units during a short stop cycle. There is no longer the need to carry the physical weight and provide power to the rail car air conditioning.”

Fully pivoting, sequential steered, driven wheel mechanisms make flexibility possible, allowing the vehicle to move sideways.

“This can work with the normal vehicles as well as driverless ones, which can learn on the move. For example, when encountering potholes, they can automatically direct the following wheel sets to avoid the hurdle. The light rail set can then instruct the next approaching service to avoid the same potential interruption, so the whole system works together for better outcomes.”

The technology which allows light rail to interact with its operating environment can also be applied to heavy rail operations, according to Yates.

“Long loaded trains can be subject to gradient changes and side wind loadings, that impact adversely and lead to rapid track wear, and lowered efficiency. By examining IoT data from the sleeper loadings, an optimal train speed can be transmitted to the train control system, leading to minimal track damage, optimal safety and efficiency. Learning from light rail engineering has bottom line gains for heavy rail operations.”

Committed to innovation, Columbus Group has won three Australian Mining Prospect Awards since 2014. The engineering firm’s initial win was for an Innovative Mining Solution featured a flexible additive 3D printer. According to Yates, 3D printing can be applied to all aspects of light rail.

“Starting with the light rail core rail cars, the new generation of 3D printers can produce an integrated package with a mix of materials, including various metals with fibre-rich panels for lightness and structural frameworks for strength. Previously, such complex assemblies would result in substantial build costs that could incur considerable time penalties,” Yates said.

“With 3D printers, innovative design is possible for a range of assemblies, from regenerative brakes to comfortable seats. Access facilities are also possible, as are smarter batteries for a compact physical size and extended range as needed.

“The world of 3D printing has already trialled puncture-free tires, that provide variable ride smoothness using stored memory alloy components to change the ride characteristics and traction grip in real time.

“3D printers can produce the permanent ballast structure that works with the one- piece track for rapid installation of both long operating life and short-term access rail services, particularly where mining operations are the core activity.”

Yates uses the old Tier 3 rail networks of Western Australia as an example. Prior to World War II, the track did not have the level of maintenance to safely allow heavy diesel engines and their concentrated considerable axle loadings.

He points out that light rail practices were taken up to replace the diesel
engine at the front of a string of grain wagons with distributed drive lightweight assemblies along the whole length of the trains, possibly supporting load carrying containers. The resulting axle loadings were considerably less heavy, so that adding the appropriate suspension systems to such distributed drive units made it feasible to utilise the Tier 3 networks without necessitating major corrective repairs to the infrastructure.

“Taking the same approach as the Tier 3 solution for grain movement, it is possible to transport products like iron ore, keeping within the feasible axle load limits. Mining companies and track owners get improved utilisation just by viewing the situation through ‘light rail’ glasses.

“The light rail approach includes changing the input energy sources to match the power demands of a lower weight train system, be it in the country, on a coal mine or even the city. In CBDs and suburbs, the take up of renewables, now complemented with battery systems, is making what are distributed power systems more popular.

“It has been considered that even the simple storm water pit found in most streets to reduce localised flooding, can be retrofitted with solid state 24/7 geothermal energy extraction that does not depend on the wind blowing or the sun shining to produce reliable power for adjoining microgrids and passing light rail infrastructure.”

Yates concludes that light rail can operate like a “battery on wheels”.

“It could operate by moving energy from a recharge point to an area in need of battery boosting on a demand basis, generating automated cost offsetting revenues without even being noticed.”