Call to action: Level crossing survey

A researcher from the Australasian Centre for Rail Innovation is calling for respondents to a survey which hopes to uncover hidden statistics relating to level crossing incidents and near misses.

Australia has more than 20,000 rail level crossings, and 76% of rail-related accidents take place at active crossings.

“Simply upgrading crossings will not eliminate the death toll,” the ACRI researcher said in late April.

“While the Australian rail level crossing death toll is significant, there is a much larger data set that could be collected to help with preventing rail-related accidents.

“That data set is near miss data. It is widely believed that near misses are under-reported.”

Therefore, the ACRI is calling for rail employers and employees to take part in the survey, to shine a light on new data on near misses, and other level crossing incidents.

“You are invited to participate in the rail level crossing near miss survey,” the ACRI told the industry.

“This survey has been designed to better understand what a near miss is and what motivates train drivers to report near misses. This information aims to explore the train drivers construction of a near miss, what motivates train drivers to report near misses, and if organisational culture plays a role in reporting near misses.”

To take part in the survey, click here.

Graffiti. Photo: Oliver Wolters

Sydney Trains targets graffiti with new sensor system

A high-tech sensor system is being used on “an undisclosed number” of Sydney Trains, to sniff out “graffiti thugs,” Transport for NSW said on Thursday.

According to the transport authority, a number of trains on the Sydney network have been fitted with the “Mousetrap” system, which uses an electronic sensor which detects the vapour of both spray paint, and marker pens.

A detection by the Mousetrap system can trigger CCTV captures of alleged graffiti offenders, which can be passed on to Sydney Trains staff, and Police Transport Command.

NSW minister for transport Andrew Constance on Thursday said the system has already let do the arrest of 30 offenders.

“Mousetrap is our latest weapon in the war against graffiti thugs damaging our trains,” Constance said. “Vandals won’t know where and they won’t know when we’re watching.”

The system is in its early stages of development, but Sydney Trains is confident so far in the initial results.

“We know it’s early days for Mousetrap but its success has been in allowing Sydney Trains to move from a strategy of removing graffiti to one where we stop it as it happens,” Sydney Trains boss Howard Collins explained.

“Our message to graffiti vandals is clear: Spray the paint and run the risk.”

It’s estimated that graffiti removal from Sydney Trains cost taxpayers $34 million last financial year, up from $30 million in the prior period.

Collins says graffiti is the cause of a large proportion of customer complaints, with Sydney Trains removing around 11,000 instances of graffiti every month.

“We know customers feel unsafe when they are using a train which is covered in graffiti and offenders often place themselves and others in danger by trespassing on the railway or being somewhere they shouldn’t,” Collins recognised.

“I am determined to reduce the amount of graffiti vandalism on our train network and to make trains a more attractive option for customers.”

Parramatta Station

Humans are traveling less – and that’s a good thing

COMMENT: Patrick Moriarty has some interesting ideas for how we can develop our cities to cope with societal growth, and environmental concerns at the same time.

In 1900, humans travelled a total of just 0.2 trillion km by vehicle, nearly all by train.

By 1950, people travelled a total of 3.3 trillion km, and by 2010, the annual total was over 40 trillion km – or over 133,000 round trips to the sun. That’s an average of nearly 6,000 km per person each year. About half of all travel was by car, and 12% was by air.

But times are changing. Reductions in per capita passenger travel in key OECD countries has already begun. In Australia, per capita surface travel (road, rail and sea travel) has fallen since 2006, while in the US, it is still below its 2008 value.

In Japan, both total surface and air travel have been falling since 2000. A number of European countries are also experiencing “peak travel”.

This is a good thing, and efforts to further reduce travel (both passenger and freight) must be encouraged, for a variety of reasons.


Why we should reduce vehicle travel

Global transport is a major cause of both global oil depletion and climate change. Despite much talk about bio-fuels such as ethanol, oil in 2012 still supplied about 93% of all transport fuels. Global transport also produced 22.5% of all energy-related greenhouse gases.

The official view is that these two problems can be overcome by a variety of technical fixes. These include use of alternative fuels and boosting vehicle energy efficiency, plus more exotic solutions such as storing carbon underground, and geoengineering.

The first two are already used to some extent, but have made little impact on either transport energy use or the resulting greenhouse gas emissions. The latter two technical fixes face serious problems and may never be employed.

In contrast to the current hype about the First World War, the tens of millions of road dead go unremembered. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), some 1.24 million people were killed on the world’s roads in 2010 alone. Traffic deaths are now the eighth leading cause of mortality, and number one for 15-29 year-olds.

Traffic death rates are falling in OECD countries, but generally rising elsewhere as mass car ownership spreads to other countries. For this reason, the WHO forecast traffic fatalities moving up to the fifth leading cause of death globally by 2030.

Paradoxically, fatality rates (deaths per 100,000 people) are far higher in low-income countries, despite their low levels of vehicle ownership. The main reason? Pedestrian and cyclist deaths can be as high as two-thirds of those killed, compared with 16% in Australia.

Tens of millions are also injured each year on the world’s roads. Particularly in low-income countries, this can mean a double catastrophe: loss of earnings and high medical costs for the affected families.

Air pollution also results in millions of premature deaths, especially in Asian megacities, and the rapid rise in vehicular traffic is an important cause. Further, a recent Chinese study has found that children’s school performance was adversely affected by living in traffic-polluted areas.


What’s the alternative?

For some time in OECD countries—and even elsewhere, when we consider traffic casualties and air pollution health effects—the societal costs of extra mobility have been rising faster than the benefits obtained. We must now focus on accessibility —the ease with which people can reach various activities — rather than vehicular mobility.

When access replaces mobility, we can finally start designing our cities for humans rather than cars. We’ll need to design our cities and towns to encourage an attachment to place, rather than endlessly trying to be someplace else. Excess mobility can destroy this sense of place.

As Gertrude Stein reportedly said about her home town, Oakland, California: “Whenever you get there, there is no there there.”

The needed changes may be easier than we think. In 1947, our cities were strongly focused toward the inner areas. Today, with suburbanisation, jobs, retail sales, and services are much more evenly spread over the city. Per capita travel levels have risen several-fold in our cities since 1947, when potentially they could have been reduced.

To hasten this process of “localisation”, we’ll have to reverse our usual urban transport priority of private car, then public transport, and non-motorised modes last. Such a reversal would bring important health benefits; physical exercise has been called the “wonder drug”.

Further, recent research has found that the rise in obesity in recent decades results from physical inactivity, not from increased calories.

Not only will we have to rely much less on car travel, we’ll also need to drop travel speeds, partly for safety reasons. For car collisions with pedestrians at 80 km per hour, most do not survive the impact, but at 32 km per hour, only 5% are killed. And of course, at low speeds, collisions are far fewer anyhow.

Non-motorised travel is superior to other modes in a number of ways: it uses no fossil fuels and produces no pollution. It is also cheap, efficient in urban land use, and needs no licence to operate.

So what’s the drawback? Compared with cars, it’s only good for humans, not for economic growth.

Patrick Moriarty is an adjunct associate professor at Monash University in Melbourne.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article here.

Research importance - Photo public domain / Christopher Pyne

Report highlights importance of industry, university cooperation

Minister for education Christopher Pyne says a new report from the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering will help measure the engagement between researchers and industry members.

“The findings of this report highlight the importance of collaboration between researchers and the industry,” Pyne said on Thursday.

ATSE’s report, Research Engagement for Australia, looks to establish a set of metrics which can quantify the level of take-up within an industry of academic research and development.

The report finds that while good research is an important condition for innovation, it is not sufficient to ensure that innovation occurs; industry cooperation is a crucial component, as well.

“One of the key goals of the associated Boosting the Commercial Returns from Research strategy is to create stronger incentives for university-industry collaboration,” Pyne said.

“Translating research results into the best social and economic outcomes is an important part of the Government’s Industry Innovation and Competitiveness Agenda.

“The metrics developed in the Research Engagement for Australia report have the potential to increase the return on public investment in science, technology, engineering and maths research as well as research in humanities and social sciences.

“ATSE’s work provides encouragement to researchers to engage with industry,” the minister continued.

“What it does not explicitly do is encourage industry to engage with universities. I urge business leaders to meet researchers at least halfway – to engage with them more often, and more deeply, and to bridge the gap which currently exists between the two sectors.”

He concluded: “The Government is committed to ensuring that Australia has a well-functioning research sector as it is vital to our productivity and our future.”

Bryan Nye photo Informa

National prosperity drives Nye’s passion for reform

Departing ARA chief executive Bryan Nye says the industry needs to continue working together to achieve future prosperity for Australia’s economy, and its people.

Nye doesn’t describe himself as a rail tragic. Instead, he sees himself as being passionate about transport reform.

“We’ve got it wrong in Australia,” Nye told Rail Express, “and we’re lagging behind the rest of the world … We’ve got to change that.

“You think about Australia’s geography, the demographics, the size of the country and where the centres are: Rail is a mode of choice that we have failed to address, and we’re just beginning to address it properly now.”

Nye this week announced his decision to leave the ARA after 12 years of hard work as its chief executive. When he joined the association in 2003, he and his staff had to build from the ground up.

“We had to build a credibility within the industry first, to establish ourselves,” he explained.

“We did that by getting the companies to work together, developing some policies, papers … As soon as the government realised the industry could get itself together, it started to listen.

“I think that’s the importance of it,” he continued. “If everybody says, for example, ‘The number one priority right now is Inland Rail,’ then the government will sit up and listen.

“That’s what excites me. Trying to get governments to pick up good reforms.

“Look at Sydney: it’s getting another harbour crossing, new light rail, the North West Rail Link … all of that comes from the public and the industry getting together to put pressure to make the government respond.

“That’s the benefit of the industry working together.”

Nye, who championed the establishment of the Rail Industry and Safety Standards Board in 2005, was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for his services to the rail transport industry in January 2014.

He plans to continue to work with the rail industry, and feels he can be a valuable contributor to industry boards and panels in the future.

“Rail is crucial to Australia’s economy, and it’s whole productivity,” Nye said.

“If we’re going to get greater government involvement and investment in rail, the industry needs to come together and be of one voice. That’s vital.”


A full profile of Bryan Nye and his career with the ARA will feature in the AusRAIL edition of Rail Express, which will be released at this year’s AusRAIL PLUS, scheduled for Melbourne from November 24 to 26.

Opinions - Ingram Publishing

Opinions abound on ‘absurd’, ‘disastrous’ East West saga

A day on from the Andrews Government’s announcement that $420 million would be spent to move on from the cancelled East West Link tollroad project, commentators were debating who’s to blame.

Herald Sun columnist – and conservative provocateur – Andrew Bolt laid the blame squarely on Victorian Labor and premier Daniel Andrews, for allegedly breaking his pre-election promise to not pay compensation to East West Connect consortium members.

“Before the election, [Andrews] claimed there wouldn’t be much money wasted if he cancelled the contract to build the East West Link,” Bolt said on his blog on Thursday morning.

“Andrews implied that just $15 million or so of work might have to be paid if he cancelled the contract … and four days before the election Andrews claimed he wouldn’t have to pay compensation.”

Indeed, Andrews was quoted just prior to the election saying consortium members would have to be paid “some modest compensation” paid to the consortium for some “soil testing” work already conducted, according to the Herald Sun.

Andrews’ announcement yesterday that the consortium would be paid $339 million to settle the contract – and that a further $81 million would be spent to transfer the East West Link debt facility to be used for the Melbourne Metro rail project – contradicts the premier’s pre-election commitments, according to Bolt.

“None of the above squares up with what Premier Andrews said yesterday,” the commentator wrote, before quoting RMIT economics professor Sinclair Davidson, who yesterday quipped: “That must be the most expensive soil testing in human history.”

“Or, of course,” Bolt added, “this is compensation by other means.”

Fellow Herald Sun commentator James Campbell called the East West decision a “gamble”.

“Daniel Andrews will be hoping Victorian’s forgive him for spending their money on nothing and instead blame the previous government,” Campbell wrote on Wednesday. “If he’s wrong he could be in real trouble.”

As far as Bolt’s concerned, however, Andrews’ ‘gamble’ has already failed.

“Tony Abbott will be sending a big thank you to [Andrews],” Bolt wrote in a separate column. “See, a key factor in the Prime Minister’s poll recovery is the awfulness of the new Labor governments in Queensland and Victoria.

“Abbott figures voters now need only look north and south to see how dangerous it could be to vote Labor federally, too. Queensland Labor was already warning enough. Narrowly and surprisingly elected in February, it is in crisis just two months later.

“But worse is Victoria’s new Government,” Bolt continued, “rapidly threatening to be as union-matey, ideological and incompetent as [former Labor premier] Joan Kirner’s. Yesterday it set a new standard in craziness by announcing it would give at least $420 million to a foreign consortium to NOT build the East West road link Melbourne badly needs.”

Other commentators were more measured in their views.

The AFR’s Tony Boyd called Wednesday’s decision “pragmatic,” saying it “pulls the state back from the brink of being the sovereign risk pariah of Australia”.

“But the Labor government’s policy of dishonouring the contractual terms of a $10.7 billion contract marks a new low in political expediency,” Boyd conceded.

“While there were doubts over the efficacy of the East West Link contracting process and the project’s wobbly economics, these did not warrant abandoning a principle that has prevailed in Victoria for more than 20 years.”

Boyd, like Bolt, pointed out Andrews’ pre-election references to “modest” payments that would have to be made to the consortium.

“Their costs were not ‘modest’,” Boyd wrote on Thursday. “This is one of the running sores of infrastructure projects in Australia. Multiple consortiums bid for projects, expend tens of millions of dollars whilst facing the possibility of getting no work.”

Another columnist, John Durie, agreed that the process was flawed, writing in The Australian: “The politics of Victoria’s $10.7 billion East West project was bad on both sides, but the dumbest part of the saga was the way the public-private partnership deal was written to front-load commissions on work that wasn’t planned for years.”

Sydney Morning Herald commentator Malcolm Maiden also spread the blame, saying Labor “lit the fuse” by opposing the East West Link in the lead-up to the election, but the former Napthine Government and the Lend-Lease led consortium were also partially responsible, “by pushing ahead with a project that was set to return only 45c on the dollar, using Infrastructure Australia’s cost benefit methodology”.

And AFR columnist Jennifer Hewett summed things up, scalding all those involved.

“Given the figure of $1.2 billion in compensation originally in dispute, the outcome is better for taxpayers than it might have been,” Hewett said. “But Andrews is certainly wrong in describing this agreement as ‘the best possible result’.

“The whole episode has been an absurd waste of opportunity, of money and of very valuable infrastructure.

“The East West saga counts as a political and commercial debacle for a country that urgently needs better infrastructure, including the jobs that go with building it, at lowest possible cost.”

Rail turnout - RISSB

Nye, Tanner to leave ARA

Australasian Railway Association chief executive Bryan Nye will leave the organisation by April 30, following the association’s split with the Rail Industry and Safety Standards Board (RISSB) announced earlier this year.

ARA chairman Lindsay Tanner will also leave the association following the end of his term this year.

“This is a new phase for the ARA, and it will be led by a new CEO, following the decision by existing CEO Bryan Nye to stand down as of 30 April 2015,” Tanner said this morning.

“Bryan has made an enormous contribution to the industry since he was appointed as CEO of the ARA in 2003, some twelve years ago.

“In January 2014 he was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for services to the rail transport industry, and to the business sector.

“On behalf of all of its members, the ARA would like to thank Bryan for his leadership over the past 12 years and wish him the very best for the future.”

Tanner continued: “After a two year period assisting the organisation with its transition I will finish my term in April 2015.”

Bob Herbert has been appointed as interim chair to complete the review process.

The ARA has been undergoing lengthy reviews in recent months, with the first major result being the announcement of the separation of the ARA and RISSB.

“This decision was aimed at driving further progress in improving rail’s safety and productivity and to more closely align to the objectives of the newly established Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR),” Tanner said of the split.

RISSB will be formally established as a separate body on July 1.

“The ARA is now well positioned to review its own important role within the industry as the peak representative body for rail,” Tanner concluded.

“This review is being led by a sub-committee of the ARA Board and will be completed over the next three months.”

John Anderson - Toowoomba City Council

Anderson calls for rail innovation

Australian Centre for Rail Innovation (ACRI) boss John Anderson says innovation in the rail industry could be the key to the future prosperity of Australia’s logistics sector.

“For every kilogram of weight removed from a locomotive, you can add another kilogram of goods,” Anderson told the Australian Logistics Council’s annual forum last week.

“When carriages are made stronger and lighter, again more freight can be carried.”

Addressing some 400 guests at the ALC forum, Anderson said alternative materials that do not compromise safety, performance, recyclability or add to maintenance costs present great opportunities for rail and more research into materials technology is needed.

Given Australia’s world-leading position in the area of heavy haul, he said, export opportunities await.

As well as research into materials technology, Anderson believes further nuanced research is needed to highlight the safety and economic gains before governments and the public can be persuaded of the case for change and the case for investing.

“When the research base is persuasive, a national bipartisan rail policy is more likely to emerge. That will benefit all in the industry and, more importantly, consumers and business who directly or indirectly use rail.”

Anderson said more research was also needed in areas of:

  • track conditioning monitoring
  • technologies for improving rolling stock performance
  • new technologies for improving worker and passenger safety and operational efficiency
  • improving transport mobility in urban centres
  • economic analysis for calculation projections for population and freight movements for planning purposes
  • calculating the costs and efficiency of links between rail and other modes of transport

The former deputy prime minister stressed the importance of concentrating on where rail does well or where expansion will pay off rather than wasting resources, saying: “You can only make that judgement after the research has been done”.

“Australian rail manufacturing faces strong competition,” he added, “particularly from China, and suffers from inadequate infrastructure, historic under-investment and the legacy of interstate rivalry.

“This is perhaps why the case for research into better methods is more pressing.”

Anderson said ACRI hopes to “publish research to the widest possible audience and to contribute more broadly to the Australian and New Zealand public debate about rail transport and transport more broadly, with the aim of delivering economic and safety benefits to the whole community”.

He argued that rail needs national standards and national regulation in matters like product approval and validation, bidding processes, safety, wayside energy storage, data and communication, intermodal cargo handling, electronic systems, and risk management.

ACRI was launched in 2014 to build upon the research base generated by the Cooperative Research Centre for Rail Innovation, which was part of the Federal Government’s general program of scientific research and ended after seven years on June 30, 2014.

Originally published in Lloyd’s List Australia.

Rail turnout - RISSB

ARA rejects leadership, membership unrest

The Australasian Railway Association has rejected speculation in regard to leadership changes and membership unrest.

This follows an article published today on the Rail Express website today which reported on the separation of the ARA board and the Rail Industry Safety Standards Board (RISSB) and also an ARA announcement to members that it will undertake a review of its role in the Australasian rail industry.

The Rail Express article quoted un-named sources which speculated on ramifications of the split in the ARA and RISSB boards.

“The fact that Rail Express sourced and published the content of this member communique is disappointing in itself but to rouse speculation on the roles of the ARA staff is completely pre-emptive not only to the ARA and our staff but also to the review process currently underway,” the spokesperson said.

FOOTNOTE: The earlier Rail Express article indicated that the ARA Chief Executive, Bryan Nye, had not responded to calls further information. Rail Express acknowledges that Mr Nye was not contacted personally about this matter.

‘Pave over the tracks’, think tank says

A British think tank has suggested commuters could pay 40% less for their journeys if the UK government ripped up some railways and replaced them with dedicated bus roads.

The Institute of Economic Affairs this week released a report, ‘Paving over the tracks: a better use of Britain’s railways?’

“The reluctance of policy makers to consider more efficient forms of public transport has led to expensive fares and sardine-like conditions for commuters across the country,” the IEA said on Tuesday.

According to the IEA’s report, above-ground commuter railways transport a quarter of a million passengers into London during the morning peak hour.

That works out to about 10,000 commuters per track, “many of whom have to stand during their journey”, the IEA said.

“150 express coaches, each seating 75 individuals would be able to carry the same number of commuters while occupying one seventh of the capacity of a one-lane busway, of a similar width to that required by a train,” the IEA said.

The British think tank said the busways could offer comparable, if not shorter travel times, and could do so at a cheaper cost than existing railways.

The IEA said rail had received a “disproportional” amount of funding compared to alternate modes of transport, and that this needed to be fixed.

“Individuals in the UK are far more likely to travel by car than train, with 90% of passengers and 70% of freight traffic carried by roads,” the group said. “Despite this disparity, state funding of railways is just 30% lower than that spent on roads.”

Report co-author and IEA transport head Dr Richard Wellings said politicians were to blame.

“Ongoing interference by politicians in the rail industry has led to everyone getting a raw deal,” Wellings said.

“Passengers face increasingly expensive fares only to fight their way onto trains during peak times and taxpayers continue to prop up an industry whose importance to the country is disproportionally small relative to the level of resources it receives.

“Adopting more efficient methods of transport could offer considerable benefits to passengers and the taxpayer alike. But only when the sector is liberalised from rigid state control, will we see such alternatives being seriously considered.”

The report can be viewed here.