3D printing expertise called in for fight against COVID-19

The skills and expertise of the rail industry have not only been demonstrated in ensuring that the movement of people and goods is uninhibited during the corona virus (COVID-19) pandemic.

In Barcelona, railcar and signalling manufacturer Alstom has been utilising the knowledge of its industrial prototyping team to build visors for face shields and ventilator valves which are being delivered to hospitals.

The initiative is in partnership with 3Dcovid19.org which has been coordinating additive manufacturing facilities to provide parts for the healthcare sector in Spain.

“3D printing has gained prominence due to its particular usefulness for creating equipment to protect against COVID-19, as it can be used to manufacture materials currently suffering severe shortages such as face masks, mechanical respirators and even door openers, among others,” said Jaume Altesa, who heads Alstom’s 3D printing hub in Santa Perpètua, Barcelona.

“The aim is to help the healthcare community by manufacturing parts that meet appropriate quality and safety standard.”

Due to the rapid modifications enabled by 3D printing, developers and designers that previously produced parts for new trains have pivoted to making in-demand medical supplies.

At the same facilities, computer aided design (CAD) experts are working on portable personal protectors for door handles and incorporating new anti-bacterial materials in masks.

When not working on products to equip front-line health workers, Alstom’s 3D printing division works to make prototypes and 3D printed parts quickly and cost-competitively for new trains and for customers who require spare parts, while also facilitating manufacturing and maintenance operations. The company’s “Industry of the Future” programme is part of the Smart Operations initiative. Internally, 3D printing is used to make tools for factories, prototypes for design validation, rapidly made mould and series parts with roughly 70 references in plastic and metal.

Transporting cars by train cuts emissions by 75 per cent

Automaker Volvo Cars has found significant emissions reduction by shifting the movement of cars from road to rail.

The company has utilised rail to transport vehicles from a production plan in Ghent to a depot in Italy, and reduced CO2 emissions by 75 per cent. On a separate route from Ghent to Austria, emissions were cut by half.

The Swedish-headquartered carmaker, owned by Chinese company Geely, was previously using trucks to transport the newly made cars within Europe. However, internationally, Volvo cars uses rail to transport vehicles in the US and China.

Two trains per week take Volvo cars made in China to Europe. Trains are also used to move cars within China and to Russia.

In the US, cars assembled in Charleston, South Carolina, are moved by rail to depots around North America.

“When we said we planned to significantly reduce emissions across all our operations, we meant it,” said Javier Varela, senior vice president of manufacturing and logistics at Volvo Cars. “Our logistics network is just one piece of that puzzle, but an important one nevertheless. This is one example of our commitment to reducing our impact on the environment through meaningful, concrete steps.”

The move to rail forms part of the company’s wider strategy to cut carbon emissions by 40 per cent per car between 2018 and 2025. The plan involves a 25 per cent reduction in operational emissions, which covers logistics. The company overall aims to be climate neutral by 2040.

Deutsche Bahn sees investment pay dividends

Deutsche Bahn (DB) has released its results for 2019, passing a major passenger milestone.

In 2019 the Germany rail operator and infrastructure owner carried 151 million long distance passengers, more than any other year and for the first time surpassing 150m passengers.

The achievement follows a sustained investment in rail in Germany and by DB, as governments, passengers, and industry seek to move more people onto rail due to its environmental and social benefits.

DB CEO Richard Lutz said that investment in the rail network will continue, following the largest investment program in its history in 2019.

“Investment in the future of rail will take priority in the coming years, which will be visible in our bottom line in the medium term.”

DB is a private joint-stock company with the government of Germany being the sole shareholder. Revenue for the company rose in 2019 to €44.4 billion ($80bn).

In 2019, DB invested in rail network, stations, and trains. Capital expenditure rose in 2019, with a focus on infrastructure. DB has been undertaking a major expansion and modernisation of the Germany rail system. The company aims to boost quality and reliability and add new trains and hire additional staff.

“DB’s aim is to substantially increase the performance of rail in Germany,” said Lutz.

Patronage figures also grew at a regional level, increasing by 1.6 per cent to almost 2 billion passengers. DB’s regional subsidiary, DB Regio had its first year on year increase in its order book in 2019.

“We are seeing clear signs of a modal shift towards rail, an environmentally friendly mode of transport,” said Lutz.

Freight volumes suffered, falling 3.7 per cent, however DB Schenker, the freight arm of DB, had a record result of EBIT of €538m ($9.75m).

The effect of extreme weather on rail and track infrastructure

As severe weather events become more intense and frequent, rail infrastructure owners and mangers are responding to this new reality.

Documenting the risks that climate change poses to the Australian rail sector, the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) listed six types of impacts. These were: track failures due to extreme temperature days, increased risk of flood and storm damage to track infrastructure, sea level rise flooding coastal tracks, yards and other infrastructure, wind damage to overhead lines, track failure due to decreased soil stability and increased erosion, and increased bushfire damage risk.

During the summer of 2019-2020 the rail industry experienced almost all of these impacts.

In New South Wales, bushfires closed multiple major train lines, including the Main Western Line through the Blue Mountains, the Southern Highlands Line between Goulburn and Macarthur and the Unanderra Line between Moss Vale and Unanderra.

Rail infrastructure owners around the country felt a number of these impacts, and Arc Infrastructure, the manager of the WA rail freight network, was no exception.

“This summer we have seen bushfires in the South West, Mid West (Mogumber) and Kalgoorlie/Esperance cause interruptions to rail traffic, heavy rainfall impacting track infrastructure, and an electrical storm in the Mid West affect signalling and communications infrastructure on the Eastern Goldfields Railway,” said an Arc Infrastructure spokesperson.

Sydney Trains also acknowledged how the weather can impact infrastructure.

“Extreme weather events, such as high temperatures, strong winds, lightning, bushfires, high rainfall, and flooding, can have a significant effect on the performance, efficiency and operation of Sydney Trains’ infrastructure,” said a Sydney Trains spokesperson.

With these increasingly severe and frequent weather events recognised as constituting a new normal, rail network managers and infrastructure owners are having to grapple with what this means for their assets.

BUILDING RESILIENCE

In Infrastructure Australia’s Australian Infrastructure Audit 2019, resilience was a key theme. The report acknowledged that although Australia’s extremes have been well known – floods, drought, fires, and cyclones being an almost yearly occurrence – resilience, the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, was not reflected in planning processes.

Resilience takes a different kind of thinking than had been previously reflected in planning documents. Although methods and protocols to repair damaged infrastructure were established, the data to be able to predict future events was not always available.

“Timely access to evidence that aids the evaluation of likelihood and consequence can help the planning of construction, maintenance and resilience. However, evidence about the scale of risks, their impacts and the costs of addressing them is often weak or not accessible,” write the authors of the report.

In this context, climate change becomes a compounding factor. The modelling of risks is based upon events that have happened in the past. When events start becoming more frequent and outside the historical range of severity, these models have to be re-evaluated.

“In a rapidly changing environment, risks shift in nature and severity, complicating assessment. This can lead to reactive, rather than proactive, responses to both short- and long-term risks to networks,” write Infrastructure Australia.

The report notes that there is much to be done.

“Australia’s infrastructure sector lacks clear, publicly available guidance on how to manage risk and plan for greater resilience in the future.”

Image credit: Sydney Trains.

THE RAIL INFRASTRUCTURE OF 2100, BUILT NOW
While Infrastructure Australia’s assessment was made for Australia’s infrastructure as a whole, rail itself has some key challenges. Rail networks are expected to last for up to 100 years, with some track in use today laid in the early 20th century.

The longevity of rail infrastructure presents a critical issue, as the cost of relocating infrastructure has been so high as to be prohibitive. However, as noted in Building resilient infrastructure prepared by Deloitte Access Economics for the Australian Business Roundtable for Disaster Resilience & Safer Communities, the increased cost of natural disasters will lead to the replacement of damaged assets becoming equivalent to the entire cost of large infrastructure programs, suggesting that resilience building is a nationally significant infrastructure project on its own.

Within this context, the rail infrastructure being built now has to account for changes expected to occur in the next 100 years. In the best-case scenario of global temperature rise being kept to between 1.5 and 2O°C, sea level rises of up to a metre are predicted. The knock on effects of this on rail track infrastructure have been catalogued by the ARA.

Sea level rise will directly impact low lying sections of track, particularly those freight lines that carry bulk cargo for export. Increases in extreme rainfall, leading to flooding, can cause assets to be inundated and landslides. With sea level rising, coastal and inland areas will be vulnerable to inundation, and increased frequency and severity of heat waves will cause track buckling and brownouts and blackouts.

With these risks in mind, the ARA calls for the industry to look at mitigating risks via a long-term program of activities. Whether collaborative or led by individual organisations, the ARA notes that successful planning will require the embedding of adaptation and continuity into planning, development, maintenance and improvement programs of all major rail infrastructure owners.

Some infrastructure owners are already planning of how to respond to this changed environment.

Sydney Trains, whose network was significantly affected during the summer of 2019-2020, is building resilience into the physical nature of the network.

“In recent years, Sydney Trains has undertaken a number of initiatives to protect the network from weather events. These include replacing timber sleepers with concrete to reduce the likelihood of significant rail head movement, tension- regulated overheard wiring, improved lightning and surge protection at assets like control centres and substations and improving advanced weather warning systems,” said a Sydney Trains spokesperson.

These works are part of a $1.5 billion annual program of routine and periodic maintenance across the network.

In Western Australia, Arc Infrastructure is currently looking into how to build in resilience to its network, as Arc Infrastructure CEO Murray Cook, told Rail Express.

“We have an innovative research project underway across our network to prevent the risk of derailment through the use of research, data and technology, supported by the deep knowledge and experience of our people.”

Arc Infrastructure is currently in the process of building a system to predict, detect, and prevent derailments that occur as a result of track section washaways, said an Arc spokesperson.

“In order to predict washaways, we are using various sources of information (including historical track washaway data, historical rainfall data and topographical data) to understand and quantify the potential damage caused by various intensities of extreme weather across our network. This data is then being correlated with realtime rainfall data to generate alarms for probable washaways on specific sections of track.”

So far, the project is being tested on historical events, with results showing that of the washaway events that occurred in February 2017, 47 per cent of the locations were predictable, based on the analysis.

Across Australia, a combination of planning, technological innovation, and consistent maintenance will be required to ensure that the rail netowrks laid down today can be used safely and efficiently in 2100.

Transport agency looks to improve public transport at night for women

Transport for NSW (TfNSW) has joined with the Greater Sydney Commission and Committee for Sydney to address women’s safety concerns when travelling at night.

The agencies launched the Greater Sydney Women’s Safety Charter as well as an Innovation Challenge to improve perceptions and experiences of travelling, said TfNSW deputy secretary greater Sydney, Elizabeth Mildwater.

“We know we can do more to make women feel and be safer when travelling through the city at night, which is why we’ve partnered with the Greater Sydney Commission and Committee for Sydney to co-design the new Women’s Safety Charter,” said Mildwater.

The Charter encourages organisations to look at the whole of their response to the issue of women’s safety, including how incidents are reported, how data is collected and shared, gender equality in design roles, and exhorts organisations to elect leaders to reinforce values around women’s safety.

The Innovation Challenge portion of the announcement hopes to accelerate technologies which can improve women’s safety when travelling at night. Pitched to start ups as well as established companies, the program will be delivered through TfNSW’s Digital Accelerator.

“Over the past few months we have met youth advocates, young women, start-ups, safety experts and our partners to create a defined problem statement to take into the challenge,” said Mildwater.

Launching the charter, chief commissioner of the Greater Sydney Commission, Lucy Turnbull, said that a safe city for women is a safe city for all.

“Although Greater Sydney is one of the safest cities in the world, more needs to be done to ensure everyone feels safe, confident and included so they can fully participate in city life. This brings wider social, cultural and productivity benefits,” she said.

“I’ve long said that a city that works for women, works for everyone. The Women’s Safety Charter is designed to help participants promote, plan for, design and operate places where people of all ages feel safer.”

In the Committee for Sydney’s 2019 Safety After Dark report, the second most likely location for bad incidents or places was public transport, with buses considered safer than trains, and ferries considered the most safe. The report recommended that the varying experiences of different groups of night city users be factored into the planning and design of cities.

Tests of hydrogen-powered train underway in Netherlands

The Netherlands has become the second country in Europe to run a hydrogen fuel cell train from rollingstock manufacturer Alstom.

The Coradia iLint will travel on 65km of track between Groningen and Leeuwarden, and will be the next location, after the Buxtehude–Bremervörde–Bremerhaven–Cuxhaven line in Germany, where hydrogen-powered trains will operate.

Ten days of testing have already been conducted in the Netherlands, and the trial follows the agreement signed last October between Alstom, the Province of Groningen, operator Arrive, Dutch railway infrastructure manager ProRail, and energy company Engie.

Hydrogen-powered trains are currently travelling at night without passengers at speeds of up to 140km/h.

The hydrogen supplied to the trains is ‘green’ hydrogen, produced with renewable energy supplied by Engie.

“The tests in the Netherlands demonstrate how our hydrogen train is mature in terms of availability and reliability, providing the same performance as traditional regional trains, but with the benefit of low noise and zero emissions. It is also easy to integrate in an existing fleet and is compliant with all safety regulations,” said Bernard Belvaux, managing director, Alstom Benelux.

Running on hydrogen means that the trains’ only emissions are water. The fuel cells combine hydrogen and oxygen into electricity to drive the train and the Coradia iLint is designed for sections of track that, lacking electrification, have had to be operated by diesel-powered trains. With equivalent performance as a traditionally-powered train set, the vehicle has a range of roughly 1,000km.

“The Coradia iLint hydrogen train is a reliable emission-free train ready to help transport us to a carbon-neutral Europe,” said Belvaux.

EC proposes 2021 to be European Year of Rail

The European Commission (EC) has proposed that 2021 be the European Year of Rail.

The EC is the executive branch of the European Union, and proposes legislation, implements decisions and manages the day-to-day business of the EU.

If implemented, a number of events, campaigns, and initiatives in 2021 would promote the rail industry in the EU.

According to Commissioner for Transport Adina Vălean the initiative would bring member states closer together.

“There’s no doubt that railway transport means huge benefits in most areas: sustainability, safety, even speed, once it’s organised and engineered according to 21st century principles. But there’s also something more profound about railways: they connect the EU together not only in physical terms.”

The proposal is part of the European Green Deal, a series of policies which aim to make Europe climate neutral in 2050. Promoting rail as the transport method of choice would alleviate greenhouse gas emissions from transport, of which railways make up only 0.5 per cent in the EU in 2017. In contrast, road transportation made up 72 per cent of transport emissions, and civil aviation made up 13.9 per cent.

Another aspect of the proposal is to highlight the way that rail brings people together socially. The EU has 217,000km of rail, higher than the US and China, and Vălean highlighted how this is significant for the bloc.

“Setting up a coherent and functional [rail] network across all Europe is an exercise in political cohesion. The European Year of Rail is not a random event. It comes at an appropriate time, when the EU needs this kind of collective undertaking.”

The third pillar of the proposal highlights how rail is safe, with 0.1 fatalities per billion passengers/km between 2011 and 2015. In the same period there were 2.7 fatalities of car occupants per billion passengers/km in the EU.

Bumper year for ARA

Danny Broad shared some parting thoughts to the rail industry about the importance of smart rail technology and the need for young blood.

Outgoing Australasian Railway Association CEO Danny Broad hosted his last AusRAIL as CEO before handing over the reins to incoming CEO Caroline Wilkie.

Broad was elected ARA chair at the 2019 ARA Annual General Meeting (AGM), taking over from Bob Herbert – who will continue his contribution to the rail industry as Chairman of the ARA’s harm prevention charity, TrackSAFE Foundation.

“I thank Bob for his strategic leadership and achievements as chairman of the ARA, specifically the development of a new constitution, leading to improved governance and democracy within the ARA,” Broad said.

As part of his outgoing address, Herbert addressed some of the issues he considered significant to the rail industry.

“Rail is a victim of our federation. There is no one sovereign government calling all the shots for rail like there is for industries like defence or shipbuilding. Make no mistake, this holds rail back, with nine governments to deal with on key national issues,” Herbert said.

“It has stopped rail throughout its history, from the time the first rail tracks were carried. The cause lies in the way our political imperatives play out, it brings a natural cautiousness in decision making. Governments are always in different stages of the election process and rail is disadvantaged as a consequence.”

As an example, Herbert cites the operation of the Transport and Infrastructure Council (TIC).

“This is the forum where transport ministers across the jurisdictions come together twice a year and are supported by a body of senior bureaucrats. Unfortunately, outcomes from this process can only be described as last common denominator.”

As such, he explained how trying to achieve a National Rail Plan is “still illusory”.

“The bureaucrats so often have differing priorities to industry, and they become entrenched within government departments. In some cases, meeting with industry seems to be anathema to them, so progress is at a snail’s pace and this is extremely frustrating for industry.”

In August 2018, members of the ARA met with the council so that companies could present their challenges to the council.

“These were telling representations from our members on challenges relating to skills, resources, and standards,” Herbert said. As a result, the council decided to develop the Rail Action Plan through the National Transport Commission.

“We’ve seen the first cut of this plan and so far, I regret to say, it falls a short of what we would like. So, there’s a lot more argy bargy to be doing with the National Transport Commission.”

However, he warned industry against relying on government to deliver “what we can deliver ourselves”.

As part of his own AusRAIL address, Broad recapped some of the ARA’s activities in what he called “an exciting and demanding year in all sectors of rail”.

The ARA, Broad said, spent 2019 advocating to governments about some of the biggest issues facing the industry.

“We have focused on advocating to governments on how best to address the skills shortage, resulting in the development in the National Rail Action Plan, by the National Transport Commission.”

The ARA has been calling on state, territory and federal governments to commit to a unified pipeline for major rail projects, to allow the private sector to better prepare itself with adequate skills and equipment to ensure contracts are executed as efficiently as possible.

As part of this, the organisation recommended the federal government resource the Australia & New Zealand Infrastructure Pipeline in its 2019-20 Budget Submission.

The ARA lodged seventeen submissions to parliamentary and government inquiries on behalf of the sector over the last year.

One of the key issues for a number of its submissions to government in 2019 included advocating for fairer rules for freight rail operators.

“As far as possible, domestic rail freight markets should operate on an even footing with other modal choices. This requires an environment with equitable regulatory settings to enable competitive neutrality between competing modes of transport,” says the ARA’s annual report 2019.

The ARA also called for an extension of the Inland Rail line, the largest freight rail project in Australia.

“The current project has the Inland Rail line ceasing at Acacia Ridge. The ARA calls for a commensurate project to ensure a freight rail line continues all the way to the Port of Brisbane. Research undertaken by Deloitte shows that building a dedicated freight rail connection to the Port of Brisbane could achieve a 30 per cent rail modal share, which would remove 2.4 million truck movements from the local road network,” according to the annual report.

Among other issues, the ARA also calls for a “pragmatic approach to fast rail that recognises the need to plan for an invest in elements such as modernised signalling systems, passing loops, track duplication, and other critical requirements to increase infrastructure capacity and speed of passenger services”.

“We have been progressing the smart rail and technology agendas, working with industry and governments on improving accessibility, advocating for rail and supporting rail careers through programs such as the women in rail pilot mentoring program and the formation of the young leaders advisory board, a potential attraction and retention campaign and the future leaders program to name just a few,” Broad said.

“I’m very proud of where the ARA is now, and feel it is the right time to pass on the reigns to our new CEO,” Broad concluded.

Victorian rail projects required to use recycled materials

Recycled materials will soon comprise a greater part of Victorian transport projects, as part of the Victorian government’s Recycled First policy.

The program will require future projects delivered by the Major Transport Infrastructure Authority to incorporate recycled materials, in an effort to create markets for recycled materials, divert resources from landfill, create local jobs, and make major infrastructure projects more sustainable.

“We’re paving a greener future for Victoria’s infrastructure, turning waste into vital materials for our huge transport agenda and getting rubbish out of landfills,” said Victorian Minister for Transport Infrastructure, Jacinta Allan.

Although recycled materials are already being widely used in road projects in Victoria, including on the M80 Ring Road, Monash Freeway, and South Gippsland Highway, the project will also apply to rail projects.

Examples of materials that could be reused and meet current standards for road and rail projects include recycled aggregates, glass, plastic, timber, steel, ballast, crushed concrete, crushed brick, crumb rubber, reclaimed asphalt pavement and organics.

According to a statement from the Victorian government, those companies that wish to deliver major transport infrastructure projects will be demonstrate how they will prioritise recycled and reused materials while maintaining compliance and quality standards.

Victorian Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, Lily D’Ambrosio, highlighted the benefits that such a policy would have.

“This is an important investment in the recycling industry. It ensures we recycle and re-use items on government projects, and keep waste out of landfill.”

Current transport projects will also be encouraged to look for uses for their own waste and discarded materials. For example, soil excavated from the Metro Tunnel site in Parkville is now being used for pavement layers on roads in point Cook. The 14,00 tonnes of soil would have otherwise gone to landfill.

Allan noted that the project could lead to a mindset shift in the construction industry.

“Recycled First will boost the demand for reused materials right across our construction sector – driving innovation in sustainable materials and changing the way we think about waste products.”

Current projects that are being delivered by the Major Transport Infrastructure Authority include the Level Crossing Removal Project, and Rail Projects Victoria also sits under the authority, which covers the Regional Rail Revival, Metro Tunnel, Melbourne Airport rail link and Western Rail Plan projects.

Inland Rail to meet with community in regional NSW

Members of the community have the chance to learn more about the progress of planning for Inland Rail between Narromine to Narrabri (N2N).

Local community members, landowners, and businesses will be able to engage with the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) throughout five community sessions being hosted by Inland Rail across the alignment between March 9 and 13.

Inland Rail will share more about the work conducted to date to refine the proposed N2N route.

Rebecca Pickering, ARTC Inland Rail director community and environment said work is happening to help inform the build for the 300KM of new track.

“Our work to date to progress the future alignment between Narromine to Narrabri has included more than 12 months of engagement with the community, environmental and hydrology studies, and early engineering design work,” she said.

“Through these methods we have been able to refine the alignment study area from between 2-5 kilometres wide to around 150 metres to 400 metres wide.”

Pickering said the aim of the community drop-in sessions are to understand more about the environmental planning and consultation work and learn about the future opportunities for the community.

“Community consultation and engagement is vital to the success of Inland Rail. We are committed to leaving a positive legacy by ensuring the community benefits from the project through initiatives like jobs and local spend during the construction phase, the Community Sponsorships and Donations program and training and support of local businesses,” she said.

“Large-scale infrastructure projects such as Inland Rail are a catalyst for growth — they boost economic development and investment, bring jobs and opportunities to local businesses and communities, a hopefully welcome boost in challenging times of drought.”

Afternoon and evening sessions will be held between March 9 and 13 in Narrabri, Barradine, Gilganda, Curban and Narromine.

“This will provide an opportunity for everyone to stay informed and updated on the progress of the alignment to date. No registration is required for these sessions,” Pickering said.