Perth B-series train. Credit: Creative Commons / DBZ2313

Planning, property experts to advise Metronet team

A core group of key housing, urban development and property experts is being formed to advise on upcoming passenger rail projects in the Perth area.

The McGowan Government’s Metronet program includes the ongoing Forrestfield-Airport Link, along with a number of planned extensions and additions to the Perth rail network.

Now transport minister Rita Saffiti has said the Government will rely on advice from a panel of property development experts, as it proceeds with project decisions, and alignment options.

The minister said the aim of the group is to tap into “diverse perspectives” to ensure Metronet projects capitalise on best-practice planning outcomes.

“Building the transport infrastructure, which is a cornerstone of the Metronet plan for Perth’s suburbs, is just part of the picture,” Saffioti said on February 21.

“Metronet is also about building liveable, connected communities. The private sector is well-placed to advise how we make these new developments come to life.”

Eight representatives will be chosen from the Urban Development Institute of Australia, the Planning Institute of Australia, the Property Council of Australia, the Real Estate Institute of WA, the Housing Industry Association, the Master Builders’ Association, the Australian Property Institute and Shelter WA.

The reference group will meet in coming weeks.

No, you can’t tap your hand to get on the train – where biohacktivists stand under the law

ANALYSIS: A man who had the chip of a transport card inserted in his hand has had his card cancelled. He plans to take legal action against Transport for NSW, but does he have a case? Bruce Baer Arnold discusses.

A brave step forward for cyborg rights? A media stunt? Or just indifference to contract law? Those are the questions raised by news that biohacker Meow-Ludo Disco Gamma Meow-Meow plans to take Transport for NSW (TfNSW) to court after it cancelled his digital travel card.

Last April, Mr Meow-Meow removed the chip from his card and had it surgically implanted under the skin of his hand. The dispute highlights tensions in how enthusiasts are adopting new technologies, ideologies of posthumanism and the ability of law to cope with disruption.

It’s also a reminder that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

Parties to the dispute

Mr Meow-Meow is a biohacktivist. He has been a candidate in several elections for the Science Party. Prior to the current controversy he attracted attention for a DIY community DNA lab in Sydney – an expression of citizen science in which members of the public were encouraged to experiment with DNA.

TfNSW runs public transport in the state, and many consumers rely on the TfNSW OPAL card. It’s a stored-value card that replaces traditional tickets and cash payment on buses, trains and ferries. The card is a piece of plastic with a RFID tag – a chip that is read wirelessly at points across the transport network.

That technology is not new – it’s being used in retail logistics and for access cards at universities. It is also the basis for “chipping” cats, dogs and other animals, so that owners can be reunited with their lost companions.

Mr Meow-Meow removed the chip from his Opal card for insertion under his skin. Rather than waving his card at a reader when travelling by train, he merely needed to wave his arm.

The law says ‘no’

Australian law recognises that people use prosthetics, and will increasingly do so. Many people wear spectacles. Some use hearing aids. Others have stents, pacemakers and various implants.

The law, however, does not recognise a “cyborg” and there are no “cyborg rights” in Australia. Adventures with digital implants – and playing with DNA in a community space – instead fall under law covering contracts, public health and other matters.

Use of the OPAL card is a matter of contract law. TfNSW owns the card. Consumers agree to abide by TfNSW’s terms and conditions. These are backed by the Passenger Transport Act, which outlines criminal sanctions for misuse. Those terms specify that the card cannot be modified, defaced or damaged.

The terms do not specifically refer to extraction of the chip from the card. They are silent about placing an extracted chip under your skin. There is similar legislation across Australia, and it is likely that some jurisdictions will fine-tune their law and contracts to reflect the current dispute.

Despite Mr Meow-Meow’s apparent hopes, a court is very likely to find that he has breached his contract and that TfNSW is fully entitled to end it. He will get headlines, but no satisfaction. Claims of discrimination would likely be unsuccessful.

The latest trend in body modification

Using subcutaneous chips to identify hospital patients, refugees, children, soldiers, prisoners, employees or night-clubbers is not a new idea. Technically there is no difference between the vet chipping your family cat and a practitioner chipping you.

There are anecdotal accounts of young IT people engaging in DIY chipping for convenience. It has become something of a fashion-statement in an environment where a piercing and tattoo is commonplace. Fortunately, it seems few people want to indulge in exotic body-modification such as self-trepanning – the practice of boring a hole into your skull.

Studies over the past decade have, however, expressed concern about ethical, legal and health issues – particularly in relation to DIY chipping. It’s not a reimbursable service under the national health system. There is a danger that chips could migrate from one part of the body to another. They could fail, and require removal. The enthusiast could end up with a scar or a nasty infection.

Responsive regulation

Much regulation of innovation is responsive: it occurs after things go wrong or are perceived as likely to go wrong in a big way.

But we need to think about principles regarding autonomy, harm and regulatory effectiveness. That is particularly the case with community DNA labs, due to concerns they raise about infections, antibiotic resistance and terrorism.

Law does not prohibit Mr Meow-Meow from inserting a chip under his skin. He is an adult and is thus free to get a piercing, a tribal tattoo or modify his body in any way he chooses.

He cannot, however, appropriate a TfNSW chip without falling afoul of the law.

The ConversationShould we specifically prohibit adults from engaging in self-chipping? There’s no need for specific prohibition. Medical practitioners should however refuse to assist DIY chipping. Public health and transport bodies should be encouraged when they refuse to endorse technological adventurism.


Bruce Baer Arnold is Assistant Professor, School of Law, University of CanberraThis article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Your Rail Express January-February digital edition has arrived

Rail Express is pleased to release its latest instalment for online readers in a digital, true-to-life format.

The January/February issue of Rail Express is now available to view, for free, on your desktop, laptop, tablet or mobile device.

  • Click here to read the main magazine (68 pages)
  • Click here to read our special Light Rail pull-out supplement, sponsored by Transdev

“With the ARA’s Light Rail Conference coming up, we’ve put together a great supplement on light rail in our first issue for 2018,” editor Oliver Probert said. “We’ve also got plenty of coverage on the recent AusRAIL Coference & Exhibition in Brisbane, and of course our regular, reliable updates on rail news across the country.”

Instructions: simply use your mouse to drag the pages as if you were reading a magazine. Alternatively, you can use the left and right arrows on your keyboard. To zoom in on a page, use the magnifying glass icon on the bottom centre menu. To download the magazine as a PDF, click the downward arrow icon in the bottom centre menu.

Airport. Photo: Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development

Airport rail link options to be determined soon, says Fletcher

Sydneysiders are still in the dark as to whether the new Western Sydney Airport will feature a rail connection from the first days of its operation in 2026, while the results of a joint NSW and Commonwealth Government study into the best rail link option are set to be released in coming months.

Responding to a journalist’s question at Badgerys Creek about the likelihood of rail operations to the new airport “from day one”, federal urban infrastructure and cities minister Paul Fletcher made no commitment to a rail link, and at first instead spruiked the road construction works and upgrades concomitant with the development of the airport.

“There’s $3.6 billion being spent under the Western Sydney Infrastructure Plan, including the Northern Road, which is not too far from us in that direction, being upgraded so it’s at least four lanes across its full 35-kilometre length,” he said.

“In addition, there’ll be a new M12 motorway that will run from the airport to the M7 and connecting to the Sydney motorway network. And, of course, over those roads there will be public transport buses.”

He then briefly indicated that the results of the joint federal and state government scoping study which had been examining the need for a rail connection to the airport were currently informing the government’s future plans on the matter.

“That joint scoping study has now reported to the two governments, and we’ll have more to say about the next steps in coming months,” he announced.

According to its terms of reference, the scoping study was undertaken to “define the need, timing and service options for rail investment to service Western Sydney and Western Sydney Airport”.

The study was to reportedly identify and assess the range of rail service solutions that will be required to meet the transport needs of Western Sydney, including the development of a “dedicated airport express service” between Western Sydney Airport and a “key transport hub” on the city network.

However, other options have been placed on the table by the scoping study, including an extension of the existing South West Rail Link, or an extension of the planned Sydney Metro West network, which was cited by state transport minister Andrew Constance in June last year as the optimal solution for an airport connection.

More recently, federal assistant cities minister Angus Taylor told The Daily Telegraph that a direct city-airport link was “crazy” and would lead to Badgerys Creek becoming a “dormitory suburb”. Priority ought to given, Taylor said, to road developments and a North-South rail link, which would establish the “connectivity that keeps people in the west where they work and live”.

On the question of timing, Minister Fletcher himself said last November that, while a rail link would definitely be a part of the Western Sydney airport precinct in the future, “the honest answer is, from an airport perspective, rail is not that important from day one,” he told The Advertiser.

“The question of rail is very important in terms of the urban growth and development in this region, but from a pure airport point of view, rail is not a critical success factor in the early years of the airport and you can’t justify the rail on the strength of the airport alone.”

Next edition features: Light Rail, Passenger Rail, Urban Infrastructure

The first 2018 edition of Rail Express magazine lands in just a few weeks time,  with three strong features to kick-off our brand new bi-monthly schedule:

Light Rail (special pull-out supplement)
Rail Express’s first special supplement in 2018 will focus on the light rail revolution taking place across Australia. Published ahead of the ARA’s Light Rail 2018 event in Sydney in March, and distributed at the event, the supplement will cover new and ongoing light rail developments in Sydney, Newcastle, the Gold Coast and Canberra, as well as the latest from Melbourne, the site of the largest urban tram network on the planet. The supplement will also address the latest technological trends and other research and development going on around light rail, and will discuss the potential of future light rail networks in places like Perth, Adelaide and Auckland.

Passenger Rail
Rail Express’s special feature on passenger rail will expand on the magazine’s regular coverage with in-depth features on ongoing projects like the Sydney Metro, the Melbourne Metro Project, the Forrestfield-Airport Link in Perth, and the City Rail Link in Auckland. New and ongoing passenger rollingstock contracts will also be reviewed, with a particular focus not only on the key manufacturers, but their suppliers as well. The feature will also include the latest offerings from the academic community, and analysis of recent state and federal politics, and what it will mean for the sector.

Urban Infrastructure
Coupling nicely with both the passenger rail feature, and the light rail supplement, the January-February feature on urban infrastructure will cover the interaction between rail and the urban environment. From new station construction in Sydney and Melbourne, to the major rearrangement of rail corridors south of Melbourne and in metropolitan Adelaide, the feature will consider the latest trends and challenges facing rail developments in Australia’s and New Zealand’s rapidly growing city centres.

Please click here to download our media kit.

Missed the previous editions of Rail Express? Please click here to view all of our 2017 digital editions.

If you’re looking to target the Light Rail, Passenger Rail or Urban Infrastructure markets, or run a general branding/awareness campaign, this edition will reach well over 30,000 unique eyeballs in the Australasian rail sector. As Australia’s leading business-to-business rail publication, with an industry only circulation, we can offer you an unparalleled audience of rail industry specific leaders, buyers, decision makers and influencers to ensure maximum yield from your marketing spend.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact Daniel Macias on 0427 270 774.

Draft ports and freight strategy highlights Inland Rail’s role

The NSW government has released a draft plan outlining the key challenges and priorities to improve the efficiency of freight transportation across the state into the future, and which emphasises the imperative of harnessing Inland Rail’s potential into the future.

Feedback from those involved in the freight industry is being sought on the NSW Draft Freight and Ports Plan, with formal submissions able to be lodged until late March 2018.

Melinda Pavey, state minister for roads, maritime and freight, said that, with an exponentially expanding international demand for Australian exports, NSW’s freight system had to respond with an effective strategy that satisfied customers.

“Our major commercial ports at Port Botany, Port Kembla and Newcastle are managing increasing volumes of imported and exported goods, requiring faster, more efficient road and rail access with our Sydney and regional NSW markets,” Pavey said.

“We need a strong plan to ensure that our farmers, miners and industries can respond to all opportunities, delivering successful outcomes for the NSW economy and local communities.”

Among the most important challenges identified by the draft plan is the long-term projected increase in NSW population growth, which is increasing the freight task and influencing the direction of freight flows.

The encroachment of residential and commercial developments on freighting precincts and corridors, is also highlighted, along with the constraints caused by the sharing of infrastructure (e.g. freight movements having to take place along lines used by passenger rail services).

To meet the growth in freight demand, the report states, freight will need to have increased access to the rail network between freight facilities, gateways and corridors. This will include planning Transport for NSW actions such as expanding and upgrading the network to enable higher productivity, and pursuing “opportunities to provide dedicated rail networks for passengers and freight, to reduce sharing of busy rail corridors”.

The draft plan also emphasises the need for NSW to focus on ensuring the Inland Rail project optimises the movement of freight in regional NSW through efficient links to Port Botany, the Port of Newcastle, and Port Kembla, thereby encouraging opportunities for the development of “economically sustainable” freight hubs by the private sector along the route, and, further, the development of intermodal terminals.

Transport for NSW is currently providing the ARTC with technical advice in the latter’s preparation of its Narromine to Parkes and Narrabri to North Star brownfield projects.

The final NSW Ports and Freight Plan will be closely integrated with other major transport and infrastructure plans that have been established by the NSW government, including the State Infrastructure Strategy, the Future Transport 2056 Strategy, and the Regional and Greater Sydney Services and Infrastructure plans.

The Australian Logistics Council has quickly embraced the release of the draft plan, with managing director Michael Kilgariff saying that the priorities outlined complemented those included in other significant NSW government transport plans and echoed the sentiments of the federal government’s Freight and Supply Chain Strategy.

“[I]t is pleasing to see the draft plan also supports increasing road and rail capacity around Port Botany, including duplication of the freight rail line at the port. This is a vital national economic imperative, and its positive impacts would be felt beyond the borders of NSW,” Kilgariff said.

“ALC also welcomes the Draft Plan’s recognition of the increasingly important role intermodal terminals will play in meeting our freight task, the need to develop efficient rail linkages from the Inland Rail to existing ports in NSW and additional investment to separate freight and passenger rail to alleviate congestion on the Sydney rail network.”

The draft NSW Freight and Ports Plan will be open for feedback until March 25 2018.

Crowding Sydney Trains. Photo: Transport for NSW

What public transit can learn from Uber and Lyft

ANALYSIS: Millions of commuters rely on public transit to get to school, work or stores, but many can’t get the service they need. ‘Uberizing’ transit by offering more options on demand could fill the gaps, U.S. researchers Junfeng Jiao, Juan Miró and Nicole McGrath write.


For all of their complaints about it, Americans care about public transit. Surveys show that large majorities support public transit initiatives. Nearly three-quarters of Americans approve of using tax dollars to fund transit initiatives. Every year new transit-focused ballot measures pass across the country.

But public transit ridership is falling, and the number of drivers is rising. U.S. drivers hit a record in 2016, traveling over 3.2 trillion miles in one year.

Unsurprisingly, with all of those cars on the road, traffic congestion is getting worse. According to the Federal Highway Administration, average daily congestion in Washington, D.C. increased by 15 minutes from 2015 to 2016. In Dallas-Fort Worth it rose by 23 minutes. In Portland, Oregon – a city known for its strong focus on transit issues – commuters face a whopping 41 additional minutes of average daily congestion.

New technologies and business models can inspire us to reconsider how we move through society. “Sharing economy” companies use digital technologies to connect customers who want something with people offering it directly – in the case of Uber and Lyft, transportation services. Applying this approach to public transit offers new solutions to mobility problems. “Uberizing” public transit services – bringing them to customers on demand – can transform our approach to transportation issues.

The density factor

Most U.S. cities are “landscape cities”: open and low-density, with lots of single-family homes. In contrast, many European cities are “compact cities” that encourage high-density and multi-family housing. The lack of density in U.S. cities makes it very inefficient to run fixed-route transit systems that cover an entire town or city. As a result, almost all U.S. cities have transit deserts, areas without enough transit supply to meet demand.

Many transit advocates and urbanists are pushing for policies that will encourage greater density in U.S. cities, following the compact city model. However, European cities and American cities have markedly different historical, geographic and cultural influences. Simply pushing for policies that focus on land use and density changes may not be enough to make U.S. cities more transit-friendly.

We must also acknowledge that for many Americans, lack of density makes certain areas attractive places to live. Suburban residents may complain about traffic, but they also have strong attachments to their low-density neighborhoods. Moreover, traditional federal and state transportation funding systems – notably, relying on gasoline taxes to pay for highway construction – simply are no longer sustainable for maintenance and new construction. With limited transportation funding and low-density development, cities have to get creative.

Map of Munich’s public transit system, including U-Bahn (underground trains), S-Bahn (commuter/street rail), bus and tram lines. Source: Maximilian Dörrbecker

Public transit on demand

In fact, public transit “Uberization” has already begun. Many U.S. cities are teaming up with ride-hailing companies to provide on-demand public transit, as well as so-called first- and last-mile connections to transit services. These offerings appeal to riders’ desire for individual flexibility. By connecting ride-hailing apps with public buses and rail, cities can help residents seamlessly move from one form of transportation to another.

Among many examples, in mid-2017 Capital Metro, the regional public transit agency for Austin, Texas, piloted the Pickup app, which allows customers to request rides to anywhere within its service zone in a section of northeast Austin from their phones. In Central Florida, five cities have launched a unique pilot program that offers discounted intercity Uber trips. And the city of Centennial, Colorado recently partnered with Lyft to provide transit users free trips to and from their Dry Creek light rail station.

Another option is offering fixed-route, on-demand bus service, like Ford’s Chariot, which is currently available in New York City, Austin, Seattle and San Francisco. This approach, which is a cross between a ride-hailing app and a bus route, provides more flexibility than traditional public transit while keeping costs low. Chariot operates during commuter hours, guarantees riders a seat once they reserve a ride online, and accepts employer-paid commuter benefits. Not to be left behind, Lyft and Uber are also trying to fill this hybrid bus/on-demand type service with Lyft Shuttle and UberPool.

This idea is not as new as it may seem. For years Americans have relied on a dependable on-demand, door-to-door public transportation system: The yellow school bus. According to the American School Bus Council, every school day in 2015 nearly 484,000 school buses transported 27 million children to and from school and school-related activities.

However, most school buses are used only twice a day, in the early morning and again in the afternoon. Local governments, transit agencies and private enterprises should consider partnering with school systems to turn school buses into on-demand transit services during idle hours.

We can also look to other countries for innovative ideas, such as colectivos – buses in South America that operate as shared taxis running on fixed routes. Via, a new ride-hailing vanpool service operating in New York City, Chicago and Washington, D.C., was inspired by “sherut” shared taxis in Israel. Other forms of informal transit, such as Thailand’s tuk-tuks or jeepneys in the Philippines, may also inspire ways of filling transit gaps here in the United States. The beauty of Uberizing transportation services is that it can take many different forms.

Importantly, Uberization is not a replacement for traditional public transit. While there is some indication that ride-hailing apps reduce transit ridership, shared mobility services actually complement public transit.

Ride-hailing apps are usually used for social trips, and are most popular late at night, when traditional public transit is less frequent. Also, ride-sharing services reduce car ownership and decrease traffic congestion. And research shows that people who use ride-sharing services tend to use public transit more often.

The ConversationAs U.S. cities continue to grow, their leaders will need to think creatively to reduce traffic congestion and ensure that all residents’ mobility needs are met. They can learn from Uber and Lyft about providing more flexible and responsive public transit services.


The Conversation logo

Junfeng Jiao is an Assistant Professor of Community and Regional Planning and Director, Urban Information Lab, Juan Miró is a Professor in Urban Studies, and Nicole McGrath is an M.S. Candidate, Community and Regional Planning, at the University of Texas at Austin. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article here.

Delegates at AusRAIL PLUS 2015. Photo:

AusRAIL: Artificial intelligence pitch wins young professionals comp

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.

Metro Trains Comeng EMU. Photo: Zed Fitzhume / Creative Commons

AusRAIL: Predictive onboard diagnostics to help Melbourne trains meet rising demand

Data-driven onboard diagnostics technology can predict problems in Metro Trains’ fleet and asset management, and thereby deal with the challenges arising from rising passenger demand and higher performance targets, according to Neal Lawson, the operator’s deputy CEO.

Metro Trains Melbourne (MTM) has been operating Melbourne’s passenger rail network since 2009 under the (soon to expire) MR3 franchise agreement with the state government.

The new MR4 agreement that the operator was recently awarded (to take effect on November 30) has established tougher performance targets, including monthly punctuality targets requiring 92 per cent (up from 88 per cent) of trains to run within 4 mins and 59 secs of their scheduled arrival time, and a new delivery target for timetable services of 98.5 per cent.

Lawson, who spoke at the AusRAIL conference last Wednesday, said that while MTM had effectively responded to the demands of patronage growth over the last 8 years, the expected increases in this demand over the next 10 years – almost 100 per cent on some lines – along with disruptions caused by massive government investment programmes to keep up with this growth, will place greater pressures on the operator to deliver high-performing passenger services on time.

“For the world’s most liveable city, public transport is going to be the lifeblood that keeps it there. Therefore, the transport system needs to stay safe and reliable under ever-increasing load pressure,” Lawson told the audience. “And asset management and user-data and moving from a reactive to a predictive maintenance regime is going to be absolutely critical to keep the people of Melbourne moving.”

Lawson indicated that improvements in infrastructure and rolling stock performance had been the “key driver” in providing the higher service reliability performances MTM has been delivering over the last couple of years. However, the tougher performance targets, and the disruptions that will be caused by the development of capacity and capital programmes, mean that data-driven technological change will be the best way to keep up with rapid transformations and changing conditions.

“It is fortunate that technology and data information is improving and growing at such an exponential rate, because I believe that it is the absolute breakthrough and what we’re going to need to harness really quickly to conform to these higher targets through the next seven years,” he said.

It is above all the installation of onboard diagnostics systems on new and existing rolling stock, Lawson emphasised, that would provide the means towards realising MTM’s future performance goals.

Not only will the new fleet of high-capacity trains (to be introduced by 2019) feature onboard diagnostics systems from the get-go, but the some of the currently existing and aging rolling stock will be targeted with the programme as well. This latter strategy will be key, Lawson said, towards achieving the reliability growth and performance improvements the operator seeks.

Lawson drew a distinction between what he considered the “reactive” maintenance regime of the previous MR3 era and MTM’s new “predictive” approach, characterised above all by the use of this data-driven technology.

“Onboard diagnostics forms a key part of asset management strategy going forward as we move from more reactive to more proactive forms of maintenance, where the data is used to inform immediate maintenance responses, or alarms,” he said.

“But far more importantly, we can use that data to understand the asset, and predict degradation rates to be able to make periodic maintenance more appropriate to the failure mode,” he told the conference audience.

This allows “condition-based” monitoring of rolling stock, Lawson said, where data provides enough information to enable trains to receive maintenance before they fail while out on the track and fixed quickly – maximising availability and minimising downtime.

Lawson emphasised that the success of the programme would also rest on the ability of the diagnostics system to “leverage” the data already existing on trains, gathered, for instance, on older forms of event-recording “black boxes”.

“As previous speakers have said, the data is only as good as the tools and the processing that you have to turn it into useful information,” Lawson said.

“So if your infrastructure, your technology infrastructure, and your data information management plan doesn’t support what you want to do in an asset management sense, then it’s not going to succeed. The onboard diagnostics strategy is therefore heavily linked to the technology strategy.”

Once captured, organised, and analysed, data will used in situations beyond day-to-day rolling stock maintenance, including timetable analysis and optimisation and the investigation of track defects through box vibration detection, with real-time data enabling teams to prevent these defects from deteriorating to critical levels.

Lawson came to the end of his presentation by outlining case studies that he said proved the data-driven technology could reduce service failures, save costs, reduce repair times, improve timetabling and enable better safety investigations – all ways to help meet the challenges of MTM faces over the next 7 years of its fresh contract.

“And the onboard diagnostics tool – which is only one of our planned improvements – it has been strongly proven that is does work, that it does produce benefits,” he concluded.

“It’s an amazing use of technology and available data, and, ultimately, drives the improvements we will need to satisfy our passengers, which is, after all, what we’re all here to do.”

Rail Manufacturing CRC on hunt for final round of projects

The Commonwealth Government sponsored Rail Manufacturing CRC is looking to create more partnerships between rail businesses and universities in its final open funding round. Rail Express spoke with Chief Executive Officer Dr Stuart Thomson about the CRC’s model, and what could be next for the organisation.

The proposal to form a Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Australia’s rail manufacturing sector came from the ‘On Track to 2040’ program.

Subsequently, the Rail Manufacturing CRC was established in 2014 and will operate for a period of six years, funded by the Business Cooperative Research Centres Programme of the Australian Government’s Department of Industry, Innovation and Science.

Since commencing, the Rail Manufacturing CRC has held two funding rounds, and now embarks on its third and final round, with submissions due early next year.

“Our focus is set by industry,” Dr Thomson told Rail Express. “It’s very industry-led. Part of [On Track to 2040] was developing a 30-year strategy for the rail industry, and three specific research areas were identified, which we’ve committed to as our three key objectives.”

The CRC’s three research program themes are ‘power and propulsion’, ‘materials and manufacturing’, and ‘design, modelling and simulation’. Within each theme there are already several ongoing projects, which each see at least one industry member partnered with a university or research institution.

“When the Centre began, we had an initial number of members who joined the Centre,” Thomson explained. “Our membership ranged from the tier-one manufacturers, right through the SMEs, and now we have operators on board as well … because they are clients for a lot of our work.”

Companies already undertaking CRC-driven projects include Knorr-Bremse, Bombardier, UGL, OneSteel, Downer, CRRC, and Sydney Trains. Academic and research institutions include the University of Technology Sydney, the CSIRO, the University of Queensland, the University of Wollongong, CQ University, QUT, Deakin University, Swinburne, Monash University and RMIT.

To take part in research, companies are invited to approach the CRC with an idea for new R&D. The CRC will match their funding – with grants worth up to $1 million in this third round of funding – and help partner those companies up with the most suitable  universities and researchers.

“We’re set up to provide capacity for business who want to undertake research that, perhaps is either very high risk [technically], or requires extra skillsets, for organisations which typically may not have those people working inhouse.

“Australia has an excellent research history. It punches well above its weight globally. I think that’s underutilised at the moment within the rail industry, and our focus is really to ensure that rail makes the most of those skillsets and opportunities.”



The process

The CRC’s third round of funding is open to applications until early March 2018.

“We work with rail businesses to identify innovation opportunities and introduce them to identify the universities they could partner with,” Thomson explained. “Then we start to engage with the universities to find the right people, and develop a project brief.”

Thomson says the CRC will match any amount of funding, “whether it’s $50,000, or $1 million,” for the right project.

“The money is then used to fund activities and supply equipment for that project,” he explained. “Typically, the money goes to support labour costs within the university undertaking the project.

“Obviously, because it’s taxpayers’ money, there must be a benefit to Australia, so a lot of the support is for either projects that are specific to Australia, or would help the development of intellectual property and technologies that are going to have a distinct benefit to Australia.”

The CRC helps coordinate the intellectual property (IP) and technology ownership agreements between the industry participant and university in each project upfront, and Thomson says these deals are established early in each project’s development.

“Our model is very simple,” he explained. “We don’t take any ownership of any of the IP. The IP terms and conditions, and the commercialisation rights, will be negotiated between the parties – the university and the industry participant. That’s specified in the agreements, and is all done prior to the project starting. It’s very much a commercial contract.”

With over a dozen ongoing projects, there is no limit to how many – or how few – the CRC may take on in its third and final funding round.

“There’s no set number,” Thomson said. “It’s really about the quality of the projects. Where we feel that it’s answering a need, there’s a benefit for Australia, and there’s going to be a benefit to the industry, we will support those projects.”

The CRC has a prescribed lifetime of six years, and has just passed the halfway point. After the final round of projects are selected, they will be expected to commence in April 2018, and run for up to 18 months.

“The success of the [CRC] will really be borne out by the outcomes of the projects, and we have a number of them ongoing,” Thomson said.

“The CRC has two missions: one is to develop projects with industry, and the second is to train the next tier of postgraduate researchers for the rail industry. We currently have over 20 PhD students, and so our current focus is keeping them within the rail industry, making sure they engage with the industry participants we’re dealing with and increase the knowledge within the industry.”

Longer term, the CRC will be seeking to establish a new proposal to take to the Commonwealth and will be seeking continued funding for the rail sector.

Thomson believes the continued development of Australia’s intellectual property will help it continue to thrive in the rail space.

“It’s clear that the next ten years is really going to be a golden era for rail. I think events like this become more and more important, given the amount of work that’s on, but also in helping the industry to shape its thoughts and strategies,” he said.

“Because we’ve got this period where the [work] pipeline is going to be full for an extended period of time, it creates both challenges and opportunities for the rail sector. Keeping and retaining qualified staff in the industry is just one example of this.

“Traditional manufacturing is one thing that will benefit over the next few years, but there’s also a period of time we’re reaching, where business can look to diversify what they’re doing to develop niche technologies,” he said.

“Through intellectual property – and the protection of that intellectual property – we can create new industries, that will hopefully create new export opportunities. So it’s an exciting time for rail, and AusRAIL helps play a major part in shaping how we’ll go forward in the future.”


Applications for Rail Manufacturing CRC’s third funding round close on March 9, 2018. Visit to find out more.