Designing smarter solutions: 4Tel’s AI innovation

4Tel is working to bring the latest in artificial intelligence technologies to simplify the uptake of condition monitoring.

In a report prepared for Infrastructure Australia ahead of the first Australian Infrastructure Audit, consultants GHD surveyed the maintenance needs of all major categories of Australian infrastructure. When it came to rail, the report found that maintaining Australia’s diverse rail networks was a high priority and in regional rail in particular there was a high likelihood of a coming maintenance gap.

For the regional rail networks, the combination of competition with road freight and existing infrastructure reaching the end of its useful life left much of these networks facing maintenance issues. As the provider and maintainer of train control technology for the Country Regional Network (CRN), Newcastle-based software and hardware engineering firm 4Tel is on the front line of developing innovative technology solutions that provide the ability to bridge the maintenance gap.

General manager of control systems Graham Hjort describes how condition monitoring has been enhanced on the Country Regional Network through application of an Internet of Things (IoT) approach.

“The I/O ports on selected field signalling and telemetry assets are connected to a modem which connects the ports remotely back into a central asset management system called 4Site, which then allows the health of the asset to be interpreted and, if need be, alarms or reports triggered based on the information received from the asset.”

The process also allows changes to be directed back to the field asset by the reverse connection to change selected settings.

“Another way in which condition monitoring has been improved is through improved analysis of information from the field sites,” Hjort continues. “One of the typical functions that 4Site is able to perform is a real time analysis of how long it takes a set of points to move between positions. If the time taken for those points to move and lock into place is above an acceptable threshold, an alarm is raised via 4Site and an appropriate course of action initiated.

By tapping into the existing telemetry, for remote connectivity, 4Tel has been able to remotely control field assets and their reporting without the need for any additional communications hardware. When you start to talk about return on investment, it is minimal outlay, maximum return.”

While this approach to condition monitoring has its benefits, unless maintenance providers use asset condition information as part of their infrastructure maintenance practices, then the benefits may be illusory.

Many physical rail assets are unable to provide an interface for health information, however 4Tel is using emerging technologies to solve this issue. In 2018 4Tel partnered with the University of Pretoria, South Africa, to understand the role that Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) could play in remotely identifying and assessing the health of rail infrastructure. This relationship, along with an existing relationship with the University of Newcastle, NSW, has proven fruitful by providing a platform for researchers to practically apply their work to solving current issues facing one of the largest industries across the globe. With students from these universities, 4Tel is exploring how AI will improve operations for both train operators and rail infrastructure maintainers.

AI is able to mine data collected by cameras

4Tel’s senior artificial intelligence scientist, Dr Aaron Wong is part of the 4Tel Artificial Intelligence Engineering team that includes staff in Australia and internationally. He also continues his work as a conjoint lecturer at the University of Newcastle.

“The use of AI not only can assist in the identification and analysis of defects and faults, but it can also help to reduce cost and risk by allowing the AI to trudge through the data to identify the areas of concern,” said Wong.

Putting these software-driven solutions into practice has also enabled 4Tel to take condition monitoring beyond signalling and cover a broader range of rail infrastructure.

“AI allows us the ability to move beyond track circuits, points, and interlockings for condition monitoring. AI can be applied to rail, ballast, sleeper, and structural defects,” said Wong.

With rail maintenance vehicles and trains travelling across the network, 4Tel is developing a suite of sensors and cameras which are able to easily be fitted to a range of vehicles to provide continuous monitoring of rail condition. The aim of this project is that faults are able to be identified in real time, geo-located and tagged, and then reported back to a maintainer, said Hjort.

“What we are aiming to do here is detect where the fault is or is developing, and if needed, send the maintenance team information about the defect to allow them to conduct their initial assessments before they’ve even left their depot.”

Wong highlighted that ML teaches the AI system the different characteristics of a fault or defect.

“Then the system will be able to utilise that learning in future assessments to identify these faults as they develop over time,” he said.

The introduction of AI into the rail industry in Australia is just beginning with practical applications across a range of environments.

“4Tel’s AI solution allows for multiple inputs into our AI and Machine Learning application. We are able to cater for all the different environments that impact rail operations including in areas of low light such as tunnels, fog, and other challenging spaces including those with high traffic, with the aim of reducing people in the corridor.” said Wong.

“Once the information has been captured through the sensors and/or cameras, the AI processing mines through the data that is collected and then provides detailed assessments to the maintenance provider on the state or the health of the asset,” he said.

AI can significantly shift the rail industry in Australia to more proactive maintenance structure. While this is an example of 4Tel using AI to monitor the health of rail infrastructure, the application of this technology also extends to the above rail operations.

Railway networks and train operations are going to be extensively impacted by AI-based innovation over the current decade and in the future.

collaborating

Collaboration to drive safer railways

ONRSR, RISSB, and ACRI are collaborating to provide the Australian rail industry with the best track worker safety technologies and systems.

In one of only two prosecutions carried out in the 2018-2019 year, the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR) brought two charges against Sydney Trains after a track worker was killed while working on the network in 2016.

The rare use of the most severe enforcement tool, besides a revocation or suspension of accreditation, signalled to the industry just how serious the regulator was taking the issue of track worker safety.

CEO of ONRSR and Australia’s National Rail Safety Regulator Sue McCarrey said that currently, the Australian rail industry is not going in the right direction on track worker safety.

“Track worker safety is a continuing priority for us because some of the data and the information that we have says we’re not quite improving as much as we would like to.”

Focus areas are based on inspections, audits, and the compliance activities of ONRSR, and in the case of track worker safety, both the number of breaches and the rate of incidents per thousand of track kilometres has increased since 2015-2016.

“Our rail systems are getting busier and rail is under pressure to keep moving,” said McCarrey. “If you look at the work that’s happening right across the rail industry, whether in Sydney, Melbourne, or Brisbane, that puts additional pressure on the system, and with many more worksites happening, that does cause an increase in the statistics.”

While few incidents are fatal, with the 2016 Sydney Trains being one of the tragic few, what is frustrating to the regulator, said Peter Doggett, ONRSR chief operating officer, is that all are preventable.

“We see a large number of very significant near misses and when you go into the factors that contributed to them, every single one I’d argue is preventable with really simple changes and processes. It’s simple stuff that is breaking down and leading to these incidents.”

IMPLEMENTING GLOBAL BEST PRACTICE
The issue of track worker safety and more work going on within the rail corridor is not only an issue in Australia. According to McCarrey, there is a global push to put the best technology in the hands of rail maintenance workers and network managers to prevent track worker safety incidents.

“It’s an area of concern for rail right around the world. There’s a whole lot of work that’s being undertaken by individual rail companies in Australia and overseas looking at what are different systems, approaches, and, in particular, uses of technology that are being used to keep track workers safe.”

Seeing this work in action, ONRSR, are collaborating with the Rail industry Safety and Standards Board (RISSB), and have tasked the Australian Centre for Rail innovation (ARCI) to conduct a global survey to provide a baseline reference for Australian operators of global best practice when it comes to track worker safety.

By collaborating and combining insights from government, research bodies, and the rail industry, the project aims to provide useful information that can be applied straight away.

“The idea is that this research will help companies make decisions as to what is the best approach for them,” said McCarrey. “It’s different if you’re a Sydney Trains or a Melbourne Metro, or if you’re in the Pilbara and you’re in a fairly remote part of Australia or you’re the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) and your track goes across the Nullarbor. The approach has to be different but everybody’s out there looking at similar systems around the world.”

To be completed before the end of 2020, the research will be a result of collaborating and describe what systems and technology are available, what are the advantages and disadvantages, and where has the system been proven to work in different environments.

Andrew Meier, CEO of ACRI, describes the project as a proactive tool.

“It will be seeking engagement from across industry to find out about those trials that are not widely known and that are underway or have completed and what decisions have been made on those that are safe solutions. Being able to have that information available for industry is vitally important.”

The final report will be made up of a literature review as well as a scan of technologies on the horizon, informed by collaborating with industry through a survey as well as stakeholder workshops.

“ONRSR and RISSB are collaborating and want this to be a seminal tool for industry to use, to say this is what we know, and you can take this from here. It may well be that some of the things that are identified still need a level of development but perhaps someone will want to pick up that trial and take it further. It will give people a baseline of information to immediately know what they can do to keep their track workers safe,” said Meier.

“It’s a tool for now.”

THE REGULATORY APPROACH
With the adoption of new, safety critical technologies, McCarrey outlines that ONRSR and the National Rail Safety law allows rail operators to adopt new technology, for example in the adoption of driverless trains on the Sydney Metro network and on Rio Tinto’s network in the Pilbara.

“The law actually allows rail companies to introduce new technologies but what we do as the regulator is to have a look at their safety assurance of that,” said McCarrey. “We will work with the rail operator all the way through. We will be looking at where did the technology come from, where has it been used before, how have you tested it in your system, so that we can ultimately see that, so far as is reasonably practical, they have put all the assurance and a governance system in place to ensure that they believe that the system is safe.”

With the adoption of technology to improve track worker safety, the reduction in cost of GPS-based location technology, as well as real-time communication systems which can alert the driver and network operator, it is becoming more important than ever that rail operators look at what can be applied to their network or operations.

Meier also notes that ACRI is conducting research into the application of off-the-shelf robotics technology to remove people from potentially dangerous locations. However, McCarrey stresses that this research project and ONRSR more generally will not select any particular product or technology.

“We’ve got to be really careful as a regulator, we must remain independent, because different companies will implement different things,” she said.

“What the project will develop is a suite of possible solutions. It’s not going to pick a winner of some kind of technology but what it will produce is a table of technologies and techniques around track worker safety. This will cover at indicative costs, time frames for implementation and where they might be useful in different environments. It’s not going to say, ‘This is the best.’”

Instead, noted McCarrey, the research project will be a resource for industry.

Currently, the project is conducting desktop research and is seeking industry feedback. Companies seeking to be involved should contact ACRI.

First hydrogen filling station to power emissions-free trains

Rail manufacturer Alstom has joined with gases and engineering company Linde to build and operate a hydrogen filling station to support hydrogen trains on the Elbe-Weser network, in the German state of Lower Saxony.

The hydrogen filling station will provide the fuel for the operation of Alstom’s Coradia iLint hydrogen-powered trains, which completed a test phase in February.

While operating passenger services, the trains were able to replace diesel-powered services, and only emit water vapour and condensation.

Completion of the filling station is expected in mid-2021 and 14 hydrogen trains will be utilising the facility by the beginning of 2022.

Once filled at the station, the trains will be able to run for up to 1,000km, meaning they only require one tank filling. The station has room for expansion to produce hydrogen on site through electrolysis and regenerative electricity.

Hydrogen is a key fuel in the decarbonisation of rail where electrification is not possible, facilities such as the filling station will enable emissions-free transport and support Germany’s goal to become carbon neutral by 2050.

“The construction of the hydrogen filling station in Bremervörde will create the basis for the series operation of our emission-free hydrogen trains in the Weser-Elbe network,” said Jörg Nikutta, managing director Germany and Austria of Alstom.

Mathias Kranz, responsible at Linde for the onsite and bulk business in Germany, said the switch to hydrogen would improve environmental outcomes.

“The introduction of hydrogen as a fuel for trains will significantly reduce the burden on the environment, as one kilogram of hydrogen replaces approximately 4.5 litres of diesel fuel.”

According to Andreas Wagner, head of local rail passenger transport and signatory of the Elbe-Weser Railways and Transport Company, the introduction of hydrogen trains has promoted interest in rail from passengers and motivated drivers.

“Our passengers were very curious about the trains and their technology from the very beginning. In addition to the very low noise level, the hydrogen train impresses with its zero emissions, especially in times of climate change. For our train drivers, the operation of iLint was a very special motivation,” he said.

DAS

“This is for our grandchildren”: Why KiwiRail’s C-DAS is about more than saving fuel

KiwiRail tells Rail Express how its adoption of driver advisory systems (DAS) from TTG Transportation Technology is delivering benefits now and over the long term.

When representatives from TTG Transportation Technology first contacted KiwiRail with their new system, the New Zealand rail operator couldn’t believe what they were hearing.

The Sydney-based manufacturer was introducing their driver advisory system (DAS), Energymiser to KiwiRail and were suggesting that the state-owned enterprise could save 10 per cent of their fuel bill. According to Soren Low, technology and customer innovation leader at KiwiRail, it would take a change of management for the offer to be taken up.

“We struggled at first to get any interest in installing Energymiser, but a couple of years later there was renewed interest and the group general manager at the time said ‘Let’s give it a crack and do a trial and see what happens, if nothing comes out of it that’s great, at least we can say we tried.’”

KiwiRail chose to test the system on a freight line that took wood pulp from the mill at Karioi in the middle of the North Island to the Port of Wellington.

“We did a trial over three or four months and what became really clear is that the numbers that came out of this trial were too good to be true,” said Low.

The initial figures promised by TTG were being delivered and led to the DAS modules being rolled out across the entire network.

“We used the trial to write a business case to justify the investment to roll out Energymiser across the business,” said Low.

A few years later, the onboard systems were in the cabs of KiwiRail’s fleet of 180 locomotives and 350 train drivers were trained how to use the system. Now, across KiwiRail’s 4,500km network the DAS technology delivered by TTG indicate to drivers when to increase speed, when to brake, and when to coast to enable the most efficient runs possible.

The DAS system enables KiwiRail to make the most of a 150-year-old narrow gauge network with many tight corners and steep inclines. Whether hauling bulk freight, logs for export, and dairy during the milking season, Energymiser is enabling KiwiRail to cut fuel costs and significantly reduce emissions.

CHANGE THE WAY YOU DRIVE
While the figures from the trial convinced KiwiRail’s management of the benefits of the DAS technology, there was another group who needed to come on board.

“When we first started talking about DAS to the driver union representatives, there wasn’t much support for it,” said Low. “There was a straight-out view that no technology can tell a driver how to drive a train better than they can. In time, the Rail & Maritime Transport Union representatives came on board, and really helped us sell it to our people. Being able to pull together a small team of committed drivers who believed in what we were doing really helped us test, tweak and deliver the system.”

Until the incorporation of Energymiser, KiwiRail drivers had been trained to travel at the maximum track speed. Now, the DAS onboard screen was telling drivers that they could travel below the track speed and coast on downhill sections and they would arrive at their destination at the scheduled time.

To communicate this change in practice, KiwiRail enlisted the help of a senior driver, Robin Simmons. Having someone with Simmons’s respect within the organisation helped to win over resistant drivers.

“Simmons really quickly bought into this,” said Low. “He really quickly said, ‘You know what, this is actually a really good thing.’ To this day, he is our DAS champion. He has been pretty much working full time on DAS. The training program that we built was very heavily influenced by Simmons and in the early days he did most of the training himself. The fact that he’s a locomotive engineer and train driver was really good in terms of his credibility.”

Another important factor said Low is to ensure that the information that is displayed in cab is not in conflict with conditions on the track. For example, during summer some parts of the KiwiRail network have speed restrictions due to heat. This function was not inbuilt into the Energymiser system initially, so KiwiRail and TTG updated the software.

“The DAS was saying you should be doing 70 km/h whereas the driver knew they should be doing 40 because they were in a heat restriction area and we try and avoid having those mixed messages in the cab,” said Low.

KiwiRail found drivers were in three camps; those that embraced the technology, those who used the DAS because they had to, and those who would prefer not to use the technology. Convincing the second and third camps and encouraging the first to become advocates for the system would take a different approach.

“In our training, we spend a day in the classroom with our drivers and most of it is really hearts and minds stuff. It’s about the bigger sustainability picture, it’s about why this is important, it’s about how organisations like KiwiRail need to cut costs, how we need to invest our money wisely and then a little bit of the training is actually the technical bit of how you use the tool,” said Low.

Acknowledging and incorporating these factors has led to the success of the system.

“The reality is if you can’t get the drivers on board then you are dead in the water.”

KiwiRail tested the system with driver Robin Simmons, who became an advocate for the technology.

ENCOURAGING CLEAN AND EFFICIENT OPERATIONS
Seven years on from the first contract signed between TTG and KiwiRail the system has enabled a 10 per cent reduction in fuel costs. However, even more important than the savings are the benefits that the system has brought to KiwiRail.

KiwiRail has three carbon reduction targets and by the end of June 2020 is aiming to reduce energy consumption by 73.5 GWh. This target was raised from 20 GWh, which was reached only eight months after the agreement between KiwiRail and the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) in 2016. Fuel savings in locomotives are a major part of this effort and already 17 million litres of fuel have been saved since 2015.

By 2030, KiwiRail must reduce is carbon emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels, in line with the Paris Agreement. Finally, as a state-owned enterprise, KiwiRail must achieve net zero carbon emissions, in line with New Zealand’s overall climate goals. Since the 2012 financial year, the company has reduced its carbon intensity of rail freight by 15 per cent.

To meet future goals, DAS has a role not only to ensure the efficient movement of freight but to provide a better service for KiwiRail’s customers, enabling more goods to be moved on rail rather than road. The KiwiRail network is predominantly single track, so making sure trains run to schedule is essential. This is where the connected DAS technology can contribute.

“The connected DAS, where you integrate the onboard systems back to the back end of train control can create a potential opportunity to tie those things together to take it to the next level,” said Low.

This can enable better scheduling to move freight quicker, without using more fuel.

“Our job is to provide excellent customer service outcomes,” said Low. “The first step is to analyse schedules to ask, ‘How do we take our existing journey time and look to cut up the journey into more fuel-efficient increments, what kind of fuel saving can we derive from that?’”

Getting to that point, however, requires buy-in from across the organisation, and this is where DAS’s fundamental benefits are important, concludes Low.

“This is not for us right now, it’s for our grandchildren’s grandchildren. It’s a long-term project, that’s why it’s so vitally important.”

Managing director of TTG Dale Coleman said TTG are extremely proud of its relationship with KiwiRail that embodies what success looks like. TTG and KiwiRail have combined world leading research into to technology that can be successfully implemented into an existing operating environment by a committed Kiwi Rail management and operations team.

Coleman also acknowledged the research excellence of the University of South Australia, which has been instrumental in the delivery of Australian knowhow in building a fully connected and integrated DAS deployed on more than 8,000 devices operating over 60,000 kilometres of track in more than 10 countries worldwide. The system delivers sustainability not only to KiwiRail but also other leading world class railways including SNCF, Arriva, First Group, Abellio, and Aurizon.

hydrogen-powered

Partnership to produce hydrogen-powered trains in UK

UK rollingstock owner Eversholt Rail will join forces with Alstom to produce a new class of hydrogen-powered trains to decarbonise the UK rail sector.

With a combined investment of £1 million ($1.78m), the new trains nicknamed Breeze will be re-engineered versions of Eversholt’s Class 321 fleet, which have been in use on the UK rail network since 1988.

The hydrogen powered trains will be built at Alstom’s Widnes Transport Technology Centre near Liverpool and are expected to create 200 jobs in the North West region of England. Alstom will use its hydrogen train technology that has been in service in the Coradia iLint trains.

Nick Crossfield, managing director of Alstom UK and Ireland, said that the new trains would support the UK government’s initiatives in hydrogen power.

“It’s time to jump-start the UK hydrogen revolution. With the government looking to invest in green technologies, Alstom and Eversholt Rail have deepened our already extensive commitment to this job-creating technology with a further million-pound investment.”

The partnership expects the trains to fill the gap in zero-emission services where electrification of lines is not possible. This would be particularly the case on regional rail services.

Alstom’s hydrogen-powered Coradia iLint trains have run trial passenger services in Germany and the Netherlands, and Alstom recently signed a deal to prepare for the introduction of hydrogen trains in Italy.

CEO of Eversholt Rail Mary Kenny said the hydrogen trains extended a commitment to innovation.

“Eversholt Rail has a proud record of innovation in key rolling stock technologies and this further investment in the Breeze programme demonstrates our commitment to providing timely, cost-effective solutions to the identified need for hydrogen trains to support the decarbonisation of the UK railway.”

The UK government aims to phase out diesel-only trains by 2040 and Alstom and Eversholt rail expect to have the first Breeze trains in service by 2024.

Alstom to trial fully autonomous shunting in the Netherlands

French rail manufacturer Alstom has signed an agreement with Dutch infrastructure operator ProRail to test automatic shunting locomotives in 2021.

The tests aspire to a level 4 grade of automation (GoA4) where the trains will be fully automated, a first for shunting trains in the Netherlands.

Alstom will fit the automatic train operation (ATO) technology to diesel-hydraulic shunting locomotives owned by Lineas, the largest private rail freight operator in Europe. This technology will include automatic control technology, intelligence obstacle detection, and environment detection.

During the tests, train staff will remain aboard to ensure safety, however regular tasts such as starting and stopping, pushing wagons, controlling traction and brakes, and handling emergencies will be fully automated.

Bernard Belvaux, Alstom managing director for Benelux said that the trial would improve the operation of railways.

“This project is paving the way for fully digitalised railway. These tests will help the European rail system benefit from an increase in capacity, reduced energy consumption and cost while offering higher operational flexibility and improved punctuality. This test is fully in line with Alstom’s strategy to bring added value to our customers for smart and green mobility.”

Alstom has previously delivered ATO for metros around the world, including on the Sydney Metro, where the system also runs at a GoA4 level. This experience has enabled Alstom to demonstrate the benefits of an automated railway. By reducing headways and operating uniformly, automated trains can increase capacity, cut costs, and save energy.

ProRail has previously carried out tests with freight locomotives at GoA level 2, where a driver remains in control of doors and in the event of a disruption, with Alstom on a freight locomotive on the Betuweroute, a freight railway running from Rotterdam to Germany.

In May, Alstom announced that it would be trialling ATO on regional passenger trains in Germany in 2021.

COVID

The digital pandemic: How COVID-19 has accelerated digital rail

COVID-19 has upended many aspects of rail transport, however there are aspects of the disruption that provide an opportunity for digital transformation.

By March 23, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic had hit New Zealand.

Already, the country had closed its borders to anyone who was not a New Zealand citizen or permanent resident and those who could return had to isolate for two weeks. But in late March, the way that New Zealanders would get around their cities decidedly changed.

On March 25, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the country had moved to alert level four. This meant that New Zealanders could not leave their homes unless for essential services and in Auckland, the public transport network reduced to weekend level services.

Callum McLeod, who is in charge of Auckland Transport’s web presence, mobile app and journey planner, could see that there were still passengers making use of the network.

“There were still Aucklanders that needed to travel for essential purposes, be that workers in health care, people travelling to the doctor or the pharmacy, or even just getting their groceries in areas that had limited other options for transportation. We knew that these customers were wondering, ‘How do I travel and get to where I need to go while still being safe?’”

Physical distancing measures applied by that point required people to keep a distance of at least two metres between themselves and others, and this applied to public transport as well. McLeod understood that passengers wanted to know whether there was enough room on the buses, trains, and ferries that were still operating before they got on. Luckily, McLeod and his team had a solution.

“We had bus occupancy information available internally, as an operational tool, for about the last year or so, and we’d been using that to manage patronage and understand where certain routes might be getting a little busy.”

Up until then, however, that information was not available to passengers. Seeing how critical this information was, the team of software developers at Auckland Transport got to work.

“We’d been doing some design exploration, but we hadn’t intended to launch it as quickly as we did. Given the situation we pulled the team together and over the course of about a week implemented the capability to display occupancy data that from our real time streams and then present that in a way to the customer that made sense,” said McLeod.

While the Auckland Transport app had previously categorised capacity in terms of many seats, few seats, and standing room only, this needed to change for the COVID-19 reality, said McLeod.

“In the context of COVID-19, this function became even more important and it became less about needing a seat and more, ‘Can I travel while keeping enough distance between myself and others?’”

The system, initially rolled out for buses, was based upon passengers tagging on and off with their Hop travel cards. Every nine seconds, that information is transmitted back to Auckland Transport, along with the bus’s location, determined by GPS. With the system up and running for buses, the time came for it to be deployed for trains as well, however a different method of collecting data had to be used.

“With our trains the tag on, tag off point is at the station level, it’s not on the train itself, so we weren’t able to use that information. But what we do have on our trains is automatic passenger counters in each of the doors and we’ve been using that historically for boarding and unboarding patronage,” said McLeod.

Similar to the deployment of the bus information in the AT App, a development cycle that was expected to take many months was compressed down to a week.

“We worked with CAF, who build and maintain our trains, to build and install that software update across all of the train units over the course of a week. Then we used the same model on the backend to turn that boarding and off counts into the appropriate category – empty, few seats available – and that fed in automatically to AT Mobile.”

With the programming now in place, Auckland Transport have updated display boards at stations and stops and expect the solution to be one of a number of permanent upgrades to service delivery.

Thales is working on a suite of measures that are designed to help operators overcome the disruptions of COVID-19.

A DIGITAL SANDBOX
While transport authorities the world over have had to make rapid responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, and associated lockdown and distancing measures, it has also been an opportunity for experiments. In particular, as Elias Barakat, general manager, ground transportation systems at Thales outlines, operators are looking for ways to get passengers safely back on public transportation systems.

“As the restrictions are eased off slowly, operators need to be putting measures in place to actually try and reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmissions.”

Barakat highlights that data will be a key resource for operators.

“The data that they need to manage patronage and provide a safe transport environment are things like crowding on trains, crowding on platforms, adherence to distancing rules and hygiene requirements.”

Just as important as the data itself, however, is how it can be used to manage the perceptions that commuters will have of how safe the service is.

Being able to source data from multiple different points is also important. Sources of this data include ticketing gates and CCTV systems.

“When passengers arrive at a station and they find overcrowding, they’re not going to feel safe and they’re going to avoid using public transport,” said Barakat. “Passenger crowding and passenger flow analytics are becoming more important in terms of the data that public transport authorities need to gather and use to try and control crowding on platforms and trains.”

“We have had positive reviews and social posts. One of them was ‘The latest feature on how full the bus is helps me with physical distancing. Thank you, AT.’ Another was, ‘Finally Auckland Transport added capacity checking for their buses. No more waiting at the stop only to have a full bus pass you by.’”

Already public transport operators in Australasia are having to deal with patronage levels that are at the upper end of what is permissible under physical distancing regimes. Using data to enable customers to make choices about when to travel is one area that McLeod is looking to explore.

“We’ve been looking at how we can use the occupancy information in broad ways. We are trying to work out how we do it at an agency level or route level, and show the occupancy levels across the day, particularly in our peak service periods. If we can break that down into 15 minute buckets and show that before 6.30am there’s plenty of room, it starts to ramp up and then ramp back down after the peak, that can help people make decisions about when they can travel, and allow them to shift their behaviours to maintain their safe distance.”

In other contexts where the wearing of masks is mandatory on public transport, Thales has deployed its facial recognition technology using CCTV feeds.

“We have systems that perfom data analytics to do facial recognition and detect whether some people are not wearing mask and highlight that to the operator in the operations control centre. Thales has solutions where we can do video analytics to measure the separation between crowds on the platforms and similarly on the trains themselves, to make sure that people are not sitting in seats next to each other and not standing next to each other in breach of social distancing rules” said Barakat.

These data feeds can then be configured to trigger an automated response.

“As soon as a facial recognition algorithm does the facial analysis and they discover someone is not wearing a mask, that would come up as an alarm in the control centre and you can automatically contact that person through an automated warning communicated via the PA system,” said Barakat.

Barakat highlights that as much as these technologies enforce physical distancing at an individual level, the deployment of such technologies can assure other passengers that the service is safe.

DATA DEPLOYMENT IN OPERATIONS AND MANUFACTURING
Just as important as keeping passengers safe is ensuring that the public transport workforce is safe as well. Reducing the number of hours on site via predictive intelligent asset management and maintenance can reduce the risk of staff infections and subsequent disruptions to the workforce. One tool that is enabling operators as well as equipment manufacturers to be able to flexibly respond to these requirements are virtual twins. Prashanth Mysore global strategic business development and industry marketing director at Dassault Systèmes, highlights how virtual twins are being adopted.

“We’re seeing a surge in an adoption of technologies such as virtual twin experience to automate factories and operations, so they can be more flexible and agile.”

With much of the workforce encouraged to continue working from home, cloud-based platforms are providing businesses continuity.

“Virtual twin experience provides a way to interact, collaborate, and control the real-world operation while remotely working,” said Mysore.

In product design, digital twins can be used to recalibrate designs to accommodate physical distancing measures, while also virtually testing the spread of diseases within confined environments such as a rail carriage.

“There is an increasing adoption of simulations of design for safety, for example railcoach designs and cabin designs are using this widest propagation simulation technology to better design for safety,” said Mysore.

Working with a model-based design on a virtual platform can allow for the rapid altering of existing products.

“Model-based design will really give a lot of flexibility in implementing concepts such as scientific simulation models that really helps with adopting those safety principles,” said Mysore.

Dassault Systèmes SIMULIA technology shows how particles are distributed during a simulation of a sneeze in order to design and create better personal protection equipment.

UPDATING DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION
While it is too early to definitively state what aspects of our lives have been permanently changed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Barakat sees a shift in how willing passengers may be to have their movements captured as data, and how disposed operators will be to apply the collected data.

“What we are finding now with COVID-19 is that, because it’s about the personal safety of each passenger, including their own, commuters seem to be more accepting of CCTV data being captured and analysed to detect safety breaches,” he said.

One area where passenger data could be used more, highlighted Mysore, is in workforce planning and schedule optimisation.

“For the transportation sector more frequent workforce planning is needed in order to have your business continue amid the developing norms of social distancing and minimal workforce availability. Platforms have the capability to focus on scheduling agility. To accommodate disruptions, you need to have workforce planning agility and the scheduling agility, both on the production side and the operations side.”

In order to reduce crowding at the station and on carriages, Barakat foresees an appetite for more integrated transport management.

“What could be improved is interconnectivity between multimodal transport and ensuring that the timetables are coherent so that when a ferry or a bus arrives at a hub there’s a train ready within a few minutes so that you reduce the dwell time of the passengers.

With reduced patronage during this period of COVID, operators need to maintain a reasonable level of train and public transport operations, so by having an intelligence train management system you can have time table management in real time to deal with passenger flow unpredictability as commuters stagger their working hours and balance work from home and work from the office.”

Alstom

Alstom using AI solution to manage social distancing in Panama

Alstom is using artificial intelligence (AI) technology to manage passenger flow and maintain social distancing.

The system is currently in use on the Panama Metro, where Alstom has deployed its Mastria multimodal supervision and mobility orchestration solution.

Initially used to manage passenger crowding in peak periods, the system has been adapted to maintain social distancing requirements due to the coronavirus (COVID-19).

“The ability of this tool to analyse millions of pieces data in real time makes it an indispensable ally for operators at all times, but especially in the current context. Simply put, it matches transport offer to demand, no matter the conditions,” said Stephane Feray-Beaumont, vice president innovation & smart mobility of Alstom Digital Mobility.

The system gathers data from a various of data sources, including train weight sensors, ticketing machines, traffic signalling, management systems, surveillance cameras, and mobile network.

This data is then fed into an algorithm, which determines when the network is reaching its capacity limit. The operator can then carry out actions in response to the data, whether that be increasing train frequency, adjusting entry to the system, managing people on the platform, or suggesting changes to transport systems that feed into the rail network.

Since being installed on the Panama Metro late in 2019, Mastria has been mining the system’s data to be able to intelligently predict when the system will be reaching capacity through machine learning techniques. After three months, the system could predict saturation up to 30 minutes before it was visibly observed, enabling remedial action to be taken, and reducing wait times in stations by 12 per cent.

During COVID-19, the system has been used to limit train loads to 40 per cent of maximum capacity. To achieve this, new features such as real time monitoring of passenger density and flows, simulating limiting access to stations, and analysing the distribution of passengers along trains have been developed.

When the COVID-19 threat recedes, Panamanian operators will be able to use the new features to manage the return to public transport, said Feray-Beaumont.

“All experts agree that public transportation, and particularly rail, will continue to be the backbone of urban mobility. Artificial intelligence will be our best travel partner in this new era of mobility.”

Rail Manufacturing CRC

Closure of Rail Manufacturing CRC leaves room for R&D investment

The Rail Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) held its last event on June 25 and officially closed on July 1 leaving a gap in the Australian rail industry’s research and development landscape.

Established in 2014, the Rail Manufacturing CRC has left a legacy in the form of new products for commercialisation, including passenger information systems installed at Wynyard Station in Sydney and prototypes of supercapacitor control systems and composite brake discs.

Stuart Thomson, Rail Manufacturing CRC CEO, said that more work needs to be done to build off the centre’s successes.

“New models of cooperation between industry and researchers, individual state governments and the Commonwealth Government will need to be explored. A national strategy for rail and rail innovation would be a great impetus for ensuring a future innovative rail sector.”

Caroline Wilkie, CEO of the Australasian Railway Association (ARA), said that the CRC’s work is already having an impact.

“The Rail Manufacturing CRC has worked alongside rail manufacturers and operators to deliver new technology and innovation that will make a real difference to the industry,” said Wilkie.

“The CRC’s collaborative focus has delivered some great results and the team can be very proud of its record of achievement.”

With the CRC now closed and no immediate plans for a replacement, Wilkie notes there is more need than ever for support for collaboration between industry and research organisations.

“New funding is now essential to keep the focus on technology and innovation in rail.”

Thomson said that with the current levels of investment in rail, there is an opportunity to grow local manufacturing.

“There is a need to strengthen the domestic rail supply chain. By providing incentives for SMEs to invest in research and development, and encouraging global suppliers currently not investing in local innovation or local supply chains to invest in the long term future of the local rail sector, this will create future advanced manufacturing businesses and employment opportunities.”

As the Australian rail industry adopts digital technology and smart systems, this investment should be supported with local research and development.

“Technology will play an increasing role in the rail industry and continued investment is essential to make sure Australia remains at the forefront of innovation,” said Wilkie.

“It is more important than ever that this work continues as the industry prepares for new growth.”

Projects conducted by the Rail Manufacturing CRC have been highly regarded, with the Dwell Track technology winning the CRC Association’s annual Excellence in Innovation award. In addition, projects have led to industry implementation, with CRRC, Bombardier, and Downer having already put the projects to work.

In a recent interview with Rail Express, Thomson said that the CRC was able to design research that met the needs of industry.

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

Projects completed by the Rail Manufacturing CRC can be found here: https://www.rmcrc.com.au/.

Thales to support NSW digital strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cyber security is also a focus for Thales.

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