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Michael Powell, director, technical and engineering at Thales, writes how the digitisation of rail can enable safer, more sustainable journeys while helping operators control costs.
By developing the latest in rail technology locally, Siemens is enabling Australian cities to plan for the world of tomorrow.
Our transport infrastructure has reached a turning point. Every day in many metropolitan areas, railway and road commuters are approaching the limits of what is tolerable. By 2050, another 2.5 billion people will be living in large cities and urban regions worldwide while climate change is becoming a major challenge.
In Australia, Melbourne and Sydney are widely predicted to each have eight million people by 2050, with the nation as a whole being home to close to around 38million. Australia is one of the most urbanised nations with 85 per cent of the population living within 50km of the coast. The future of Australian mobility is therefore top of the agenda in terms of achieving sustainable growth in upcoming decades.
Rail will be crucial in ensuring these metropolises of the future are functional for both living and working.
Modernising the Sydney network
Clearly, large-scale investments will be required in areas of rail such as technology, signalling, predictive maintenance and data protection. In this context, recent developments regarding Siemens are worthy of note. Siemens Mobility recently won multiple contracts to upgrade and modernise Sydney rail network.
Siemens Mobility has been awarded two contracts worth around $190m by the New South Wales government in Australia to significantly upgrade the rail network in metropolitan Sydney, one of the busiest networks in the southern hemisphere. This work is aimed at improving the overall efficiency and capacity of the rail network.
The total contract consists of two key packages, including the introduction of a new traffic management system along with the upgrading of the Sydney Trains’ network conventional signalling to a digital ETCS-L2 train control system. This work is part of the NSW government’s broader Digital Systems Program, described as a “once in a generation change” to replace legacy signalling and train control technologies with modern, internationally proven, intelligent systems. The systems are due to be available for operation in 2023.
“Siemens Mobility is delighted to have been selected to deliver the services that will modernise and optimise the Sydney rail network,” Siemens Mobility chief executive Michael Peter said.
“Our state-of-the-art traffic management and signalling technology will augment operations throughout the network by increasing service reliability and availability, which will enhance the passenger experience.
“This important project further underscores our leading position in the field for delivering automated signalling systems and expands our growing footprint in Australia.”
Train control systems
The TMS is to be integrated with the new European Train Control System (ETCS) Level 2 technology, which is said to be today’s leading technology running on some of the best and most efficient rail networks worldwide.
The Digital Systems Program upgrades are set to enable more frequent and reliable services and increase capacity to allow 24 trains to operate during peak hours and up to 30 trains per hour for recovery from disruptions.
The other key project element will include implementation of automatic train operation that helps drivers by providing more frequent, reliable, and consistent train journeys. Train drivers will remain in control but will be assisted in improving operations and reducing journey times, which subsequently benefits passengers.
A crucial role of the state-of-the-art TMS solution, will be to continually monitor the position of all trains; helping keep train services running as planned and assist with responses to incidents.
The TMS is to be operated from the Rail Operations Centre and will work alongside other systems used by Sydney Trains to control train operations.
“A significant win”
“This is a significant win for Siemens Mobility in Australia. Beyond the contracts, we’re excited to play a major role in helping shape and future-proof the rail infrastructure of one of the world’s most iconic cities,” said Raphaelle Guerineau, CEO, Siemens Mobility Australia and New Zealand.
“This project will help set the network up for future growth. Siemens is uniquely positioned to do this because of its track record of successfully delivering similar state-of-the-art TMS solutions and digital ETCS-L2 train control system to clients worldwide.”
Upgrades for legacy systems
Meanwhile, Siemens is also taking on another great challenge – that of introducing technology change to legacy systems. The company is currently re-engineering the Siemens S2 control system that is used by railways around the globe as a vital part of the operational infrastructure. While S2 has been on the market for more than 30 years, the reconfiguration is being developed at the Siemens production facility in Port Melbourne with a focus on Australian clients.
The company has decided to re-engineer the S2 product onto a new industry standard platform to “give the product a new lease of life” while “implementing protocols and physical interfaces allowing for interoperability with legacy systems”.
According to Siemens, railways by their nature have a significant number of high-tech assets that are spread across the spectrum in terms of technology and age. This is the case in Australia and is somewhat reflective of the powerful economic development in the last century with dramatic population growth and constantly increasing export industry heavily dependent on rail. Australia’s rail infrastructure improvements have always been a gradual evolution rather than radical revolution, with compromise required between the old and the new.
The new S2 upgrade was the outcome of many conversations with our customers who came to us requesting a pragmatic solution “Due to our Australian production sites in Port Melbourne and Perth, plus our service centre in Mackay, we are set up to deliver bespoke Siemens solutions all over Australia,” a Siemens Mobility Spokesperson said.
And while Australia is tackling its legacy system challenges, other nations and markets experience similar issues.
Rail infrastructure assets by nature have a long lifespan and we see similar issues in many parts of Europe at the moment. There, the harmonisation of efforts between the national systems puts pressure on operators to upgrade when public funds are scarce. “Also in the future Siemens will be supporting legacy electronic equipment both from a component availability, and the supporting infrastructure, such as communication systems, for example copper phone lines to digital fibre,” the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson said repairing and upgrading legacy components was equally important in Australia to optimise efficiency as installing a new fully digitalised signalling system.
“Investing in new rollingstock has the full effect for customers when also all other vital systems are up to date,” said the spokesperson. “Siemens is uniquely able to deliver both in Australia while at the same time maintaining what operators want to keep.”
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How a ground-based warning system improved outcomes for safety and the environment.
Traditionally, the sounding of a loud train horn has been an important part of moving trains safely around railway stabling yards and hubs. These sounds have played a crucial role in alerting workers and others to be careful as a large piece of machinery is about to be moving in their direction.
But the honking of a train horn can be unpopular with nearby residents and can be a significant environmental concern also. This conundrum has become increasingly apparent with more people living close to railway lines and stations.
It was these environmental concerns that led to a search for a solution that would be safe and minimise excess noise and disruption to surrounding residents. This is where the innovative Ground Based Warning Systems (GBWS) come into the picture. Two companies saw this opportunity, tm stagetec systems (TMS), a business focused on professional audio and visual equipment, and ITech Corporation, an integration and systems specialist.
These businesses have worked to produce a ground-based warning system (GBWS) for rail hubs. The GBWS uses warning lights and directionally steered sound to alert all workers that a train is being moved.
General manager for TMS, Mark Lownds, took up the story. “There have been significant environmental concerns with the noise associated with safely moving trains around train yards and hubs,” Lownds told Rail Express. “Clearly something had to be done.”
ITech Corporation engineering director Joe Dwyer said they had worked on similar rail projects before, notably in south-west Sydney. The latest version with TMS was refined with a particular view towards projects in NSW. “In recent years we’ve engineered control systems for rail applications and that is how we came to work with TMS,” Dwyer said.
“We initially did a ground-based warning system about six years ago in the south-west of Sydney that was planned for future housing development.”
More recently, they worked on projects where there was a significant environmental requirement. “People had their nice, quiet country existence and weren’t happy about honking a loud horn in the middle of that,” Dwyer said.
“We wanted some sort of warning system but we didn’t want the noise pollution outside of the stabling yards.
“Trains are parked in hubs while they are waiting to go into service but in such locations, with the new projects that we have done in recent years, you typically have a number of trains in standing rows. Moving them safely and efficiently is key.”
How does it all work?
The TMS system programmatically controls noise by way of Network Amplifier Modules. Each NAM has four 12-watt RMS class D amplifier channels, an Ethernet switch and built in DSP.
Each amplifier also has an individual Dante input allowing for simple zoning and future changes. Dante IP protocol is used in this system, developed by an Australian company called Audinate. This GBWS design has purposefully used Australian developed and manufactured technologies.
“We designed the TMS system to fulfil the need for a warning system; and also addressed the need for a PA system in the yard,” Dwyer said.
“We would effectively double up PA announcements by also using it as a warning system.”
Lownds said they worked with Dwyer and his team to ensure the NAMs were compatible.
“We also built some additional monitoring of the NAM unit itself and then gave physical status back to the IPEX ground-based warning system,” he said.
“It was not just telling the NAMs what to do but giving the NAMs feedback,” he said.
“It was also giving the NAMs feedback into the system and confirming there were no faults and providing a really robust system that was capable of being part of this GBWS.”
Lownds said the reaction was positive.
“The residents surrounding the hubs have been taken into consideration and environmental studies have been conducted in order to determine the appropriate audio levels,” he said.
Dwyer says the system designed by TMS and ITech represented significant progress in handling noise around rail hubs.
“When we were going over the design of that – previously you could control the noise but it was a lot more ‘agricultural’,” he said.
“Within the shed there was a slightly different requirement and generating warning sounds within the sheds. Overall, it was about a system with greater flexibility and more control. “
Lownds said that in the past if one required two independent systems then it would involve separate amplifiers and speakers, and one would be paying for hardware and the extra labour.
“With this solution, we were able to share the system and still have all the priorities go to the GBWS, over and above the paging and announcement system,” he said. “Fibre is used for all interconnections so only power and fibre connections are required.”
The TMS business has been in operation for a decade and Lownds said they were looking forward to an exciting next decade ahead.
“Some of our recent projects in rail show how much we can do and skill level involved,” he said. “As an audio and visual technology specialist, we believe we have a tremendous amount to contribute in the world of rail.”
As the supply chain moves further towards integration and automation, there’s no reason why rail signalling systems should be left behind. RCS Australia explains.
There’s no doubt that the coming generation of intermodal terminals will take the next step forward in efficiency, backed by the latest in automation technology. Already, the Moorebank intermodal facility is touted as the world’s first fully automated intermodal terminal, comprising automated load and discharge of containers, and automated handling of containers to and from trucks.
Having these automated processes will enable equipment to communicate with each other, increasing up-time and improving efficiency.
In this case, why shouldn’t the systems that provide the critical link between the automated intermodal terminal and the wider rail network also interface with the intermodal’s machinery and equipment,
while providing an automated and safe rail control system?
This is the question that Richard Ogilvie, director at Rail Control Systems Australia (RCS Australia), is asking.
“What traditionally has happened with intermodal facilities is that train control systems have been put in by the same people that have done the mainline signalling and you often end up with a system that’s perhaps not fit for purpose for the facility. It’s either inflexible or it’s overkill and it doesn’t really suit their needs and they have to interface more often with another organisation’s
train control centre to make their moves,” Ogilvie tells Rail Express.
Over the past few years, Ogilvie and the team at RCS Australia have been highlighting
the benefits of signalling systems constructed from commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) products. With components drawn from the process automation and control industry, RCS Australia provides the systems integration and rail knowledge to design and fit these systems to the size and scale required for intermodal facilities and other private sidings.
“It’s very scalable and very flexible,” said RCS Australia engineering leader Bret Parker. “You can build it just to control the signalling and then as your other systems come online you can add parts to it from those manufacturers using the standardised interfaces to get to the level of automation that you want to achieve.”
Using standard industrial safety controllers, protocols and interfaces means that the technology is familiar to those working on it, even if they come from outside of the rail industry.
“If there are systems for controlling the movement of cranes, reach stackers or gates, the signalling system is readily able to be interfaced with that and can be modified
by the people who usually look after that equipment because they’ll be familiar with that style of technology,” said Parker.
With a COTS system, describes Ogilvie, the flexibility that the array of hardware and software makes possible means that the system can be designed to be fit for purpose, and if that purpose changes, can be scaled to suit.
“You can tailor it through levels of complexity and automation to suit what you need. You might have an operator of a busy facility who has multiple trains moving at once, who needs to ensure separation of those and wants to do that remotely under the control of a master operator. That’s one level. At the other extreme you might have a facility who, from a safety perspective, just finds it’s better not to have drivers getting out of cabs and having to operate sets of switches. You can put a small level of automation in there so that can be done either remotely from the cab or from the line side, or remotely from another site. You can really pick your sweet spot anywhere in-between.”
Not only is the technology flexible, but by having a system that is fit for purpose, this is able to support network rules while providing controls that are designed for the needs of the facility.
“By using a COTS type system, you have the ability to move away from rigid and sometimes inflexible signalling procedures that traditional signalling technologies would force upon you,” said Ogilvie. “If you use a COTS system that is more flexible and more powerful and able to deal with more situations and interface to other systems then you can end up with a better solution to your facility.”
Having a system such as this in place means that rail signalling technology can be another automated link in the wider system.
“COTS signalling technology has the ability to provide an interface to a larger integrated system, with digitisation and measurements of weights coming through from vehicles and other measurement systems that might be online at an intermodal facility. There could be a seamless integration and a single control centre for a whole range of different equipment types, not just the signalling system,” said Parker.
Ogilvie, concurred, noting that the potential for integration is immense.
“COTS systems by their very nature are more than capable of running things like RFID systems or interfacing directly to them, weigh bridges, acoustic bearing detectors, all those sorts of analogue signals can all plug directly into your COTS system and you have the ability to bring it all together.”
Visualising this in the control room means that rather than an operator having one screen that ties together a number of processes and then a separate monitor for signalling, it can all be brought together.
“There’s a real opportunity to bring those systems together and make them work, so you reduce hardware, interfaces, and complexity and you give a better picture overall to the operator and the user,” said Ogilvie.
SWITCHING OFF FROM THE DAILY GRIND
One beneficiary of this COTS technology has been Boral. The cement and construction materials manufacturer, which utilises
rail for the transport of its products and materials, called on RCS Australia to install a signalling solution for two sets of points near Marulan, in NSW.
A single branch line connected two separate quarries with the main line and one junction in particular was located on a steep grade. Having manually operated points not only reduced efficiencies but was causing significant rail wear through the starting and stopping of loaded freight trains.
Cameron Atkinson, acting rail infrastructure manager at Boral Cement, described the advantages of the system.
“It allows for the trains to come and go, controlled remotely by the main controller.
This essentially means the train driver doesn’t have to get out and switch the points manually, which in turn means better production times and cost efficiency for our train operations. The points are on a fairly steep incline, so having manually operated points there increases the capacity of rail wear which therefore is a bigger cost to our business. Having this lowers our costs, increases our time efficiency and cost effectiveness when we’re delivering the product.”
Atkinson also noted that the new system improves workflows for train staff.
“Train drivers don’t like getting out there and changing the points, especially when for one of the quarries there’s five trains in there a day, so there’s 10 movements past those points At the other quarry there’s eight movements, so it’s a high volume area. By being a single line coming into that, if that train doesn’t stop and move, the other train has to hold back just next to the mainline which is about 6 kilometres away, so there’s 20 minutes of travel time gained.”
What made the COTS solution particularly beneficial was its familiarity to a business like Boral, whose engineers and staff were familiar with similarly designed process control solutions.
“They have electricians and technicians who maintain their safety controllers across all their range of equipment, and because the COTS equipment looks and smells and behaves like what they’re used to then it’s not then considered a black box that no one’s ever seen before,” said Ogilvie. “They’re able to go out, interrogate it, look at it, treat it and even have a maintaining and holding requirement that’s much smaller because it’s the same equipment that’s used for other functions across their site.”
These benefits came into stark relief in late 2020 when the network controllers suddenly could no longer control the points after a storm damaged equipment inside the cabinet.
“I went out there and the team assistant was showing error codes on all four different fields,” said Atkinson. “I ended up talking to Daniel Grivicic, senior systems and safety engineer at RCS Australia, and he couldn’t help me more. He was on the phone whenever I needed to be, and he worked with us for probably two to three days with our electricians and electrical engineers that we had on site.”
With a bit of remote assistance, the on-site electrical engineers were able to find a fault with the controller, but unfortunately Boral did not hold any spares. A call was made back to Grivicic who was able to quickly ship a replacement part. Ogilvie then travelled to site to oversee installation.
“We were able to recognise the part they had was no longer produced by the manufacturer, but because it’s a COTS system there was a straightforward and easy to implement upgrade solution,” he said. “We were able to work with them, show them how the upgrade path works, and do the work from an engineering perspective.
“To be honest they would be perfectly capable of installing that component themselves, it just happened we were nearby, and we went and helped them out.”
Rather than having to wait for a proprietary part to become available, RCS Australia were able to purchase the replacement component immediately. In this case, the existing PLC had been discontinued, however due to it being a COTS component, the next generation replacement was easy to install.
“If you didn’t know what you were looking at you would think it’s exactly the same unit, it all plugged in like for like, same bracket, same size, same everything,” said Atkinson.
While the Boral system is relatively simple, the COTS system installed there has been scaled to the size of the user need. Having been in place since 2013, Atkinson is exploring with RCS Australia what possibilities there are to have the technology deployed at other locations in Boral’s network.
“That’s readily expandable to more sets of points in that area or to control other bits and pieces,” said Parker. “It doesn’t need to stay like that and it’s very scalable from that point of view, you can start small and build up.”
Not only is the system scalable but added to the initial cost savings are the benefits over the lifetime of the technology, as
seen by Boral.
“It’s really that whole of life cost for an operator, to understand that they have an obsolescence path, they have a system that they can maintain using not necessarily railway background staff. “They will always have an assurance that they can go to a manufacturer and get the part that they need,” said Ogilvie.
To meet the demand for safer, more efficient and increasingly sustainable mobility, railways are taking the next step forward towards autonomy. Thales is showing the way. Read more