The Young Rail Professionals Pitching Competition, a feature of the final day of the AusRAIL PLUS conference in Brisbane last week, saw five newcomers present their ideas to innovate the rail industry.
This is the second time the competition has been held, after Aurecon engineer Michelle Doolan took out the inaugural prize at the 2016 AusRAIL event in Adelaide.
This year’s winner, announced at the 2017 Gala Dinner on the final night of AusRAIL, was Jamie Ross-Smith, the head of asset systems at UGL Limited.
Earlier that day Ross-Smith presented his concept of an “intelligent asset management system” (IAMS) – an innovation, he said, that would enable the rail industry to ride the wave of the coming “data revolution”.
The IAMS combines artificial intelligence capabilities – such as machine learning and pattern recognition and prediction – with the integration of data system networks. Such a system, Ross-Smith said, enables fast, data-driven solutions to a variety of incidents across the areas of asset condition and maintenance planning, network control and operation systems, safety management and logistics, and resource planning and scheduling.
According to Ross-Smith, the IAMS can take an incident, such as the failure of an asset, and compare the details of this failure with millions of historical data points, thus providing a list of previous incidents with the same features for the system’s probability and prediction monitoring functions. Once the system determines the incident’s causation, again by using the system’s historical data, it will then point technicians towards procedures for its rectification.
Another finalist in the competition who made her pitch at AusRAIL was Victoria Burke, a graduate engineer with Metro Trains Melbourne.
Burke outlined her idea of powering station facilities – including lighting, ticket barriers, and wireless hotspots – using the kinetic energy generated by passenger footsteps.
This elegantly simple idea involves installing special energy-harvesting tiles into station floors, platform surfaces and stairs. Downward pressure upon the tiles caused by the steps of those walking over them stimulates rotations in electro-magnetic generators lying beneath the surface, converting the kinetic energy of the footstep into electrical energy.
Up to 20 watts per module can be produced in this manner, Burke said, and can either be utilised immediately for low-voltage applications or stored in batteries for later use.
Burke’s analysis of Melbourne’s busy Flinders Street Station determined that, on an average day, 5,600 watt-hours could be produced there using foot-traffic, “which is the equivalent to powering 20,000 mobile phones in a day”.
Indeed, one person can generate 5 watts of continuous power while they walk, producing enough power to light up an area of 15 square-metres. In this way, Ms Burke said, walkways featuring user-generated LED lighting could be established, providing safer journeys at night for passengers moving between station platforms and carparks.
With steadily increasing population growth and rising energy prices, this kind of pollutant-free, energy efficient electricity generation could be, Burke proposed, “the future advance we need to create a smarter approach to our stations by increasing sustainability and reducing our carbon footprint”.
Another finalist, Sydney Trains rolling stock engineer Oliver Lake, gave a compelling outline of how providing technicians with augmented reality glasses (AR) can improve asset maintenance strategies and procedures, and thereby enable rail operators to meet the demands of increasing passenger numbers and rising freight volumes.
AR glasses provide technicians with superimposed computer-generated images and text relating to precise data on rolling stock equipment, and can display procedural instructions in real-time for the safe and efficient repair and maintenance of this equipment.
This would therefore eliminate, Lake said, “the need to constantly stop and refer to procedurals and manuals,” and speed up the process of getting rolling stock back on to tracks to resume services.
Ross Anderson, an engineer with Frazer-Nash Consultancy, pitched his app-based approach to an integrated, multi-modal transport system that would help secure the future of rail by “reimagining” a more desirable commute for passengers.
After entering the start and end points of their journey into the “Corridors” app, the user would be presented with the various times and costs for the range of travel options – partly determined by user-data collection – for their journey’s completion. These would include a selection of privatised transport modes best suited to the “first and last mile” of the commute, such as short-term car rentals, e-bikes, and taxis, alongside public transport services such as rail.
Presented in this app-format, Anderson said, transport options can be integrated and available via single method of access and payment for the entire journey.
And finally, Tyler Plowright, a rolling stock engineer from Pacific National, guided the audience through the complexities of using dynamic brake batteries to save energy on heavy haul freight operations.
The fuel and energy wastage of diesel locomotives can be mitigated, Plowright said, by utilising batteries to store energy – generated by dynamic braking and currently emitted as heat – which can be used by the locomotive at a later point in time for auxiliary and traction power. Plowright said heavy haul services would be best suited to the application of these dynamic brake battery systems, despite the lack extensive testing so far.
Each year locomotive diesel locomotives use 84 billion litres of diesel, pumping out 250 million tonnes of C02 annually worldwide. And, as demand for diesel locomotives remains robust, Plowright said, it is therefore important for the industry to move towards dynamic brake battery technology and thus improve the sustainability and efficiency of freight fleets.