associations

Global railway associations highlight post-COVID mobility improvements

A trio of global railway associations have noted that rail is part of the solution to the linked crises of climate change and coronavirus (COVID-19).

In a joint statement, the associations highlight how mobility is key to creating trade and prosperity, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In Europe, rail accounts for 7.6 per cent of passenger and 17.6 per cent of freight transport, while only producing 0.5 per cent of the continent’s greenhouse gas emissions.

During the COVID-19 crisis, rail also provided an essential service, by enabling the movement of essential workers and crucial goods.

Noting that the current ways of doing business are not enough in future, the International Union of Railways (UIC), the International Association for Public Transport (UITP), and the European Rail Industry Association (UNIFE), set out areas where mobility will need to be improved, committing to a sense of urgency in updating transportation.

“Railways have demonstrated their resilience and their capacity to deliver essential services even in these difficult circumstances. We all know that railway and public transport are the key for a sustainable future, provided that they are able to implement seamless multimodal mobility networks,” said François Davenne, UIC director general.

The three primary areas for change are customer experience, increased capacity, and an increased recognition of the importance of collective travel on rail rather than in individual vehicles. Technologies such as flow management to adapt to consumer patters, the design of intelligent infrastructure networks to optimise existing systems, and autonomous rail vehicles are identified as areas for rail to pursue.

Together, the associations welcomed work done by the EU to boost rail travel, but also pointed to the need to continue to invest in infrastructure, rollingstock, and research to meet future challenges, said Philippe Citroen, UNIFE director general.

“UNIFE believes that the [European Commission]’s recent Multiannual Financial Framework and Next Generation EU proposals are powerful recovery instruments that can help complete EU Green Deal objectives, but they must be mobilised for the decarbonisation of European transportation. This is only possible through a greater multimodal mobility shift with rail at its backbone.”

Recognising the value of public transport will be indispensable to ensuring the resilience of cities in the future said Mohamed Mezghani, UITP secretary general.

“Public transport and the environment are inextricably linked and with a strong local network, emissions are lowered and our cities become healthier and more sustainable.”

laser sensors

Targeting accuracy and precision with laser sensors

Bestech is providing the local rail industry with access to products such as laser sensors that are used in driving advanced solutions.

The fundamentals of rail wheel interaction have been established for many decades. The conical shape of the wheels allows for the wheel set to shift while rounding a curve, and for the train to stay on track. These engineering principles have served railways well for centuries, however engineers are now looking for a way to reduce rail wear, allowing the tracks to operate longer without maintenance.

In a trial underway in the UK, an array of optoNCDT 1420 compact laser triangulation sensors from Micro-Epsilon have been installed to provide the measurement behind the ActiWheel solution. The sensors guide the ActiWheel traction system to produce more driving force on one side of the wheelset to ensure the train travels down the centreline of the track. The solution would overcome the compromises and issues that result from the combination of a solid axle and wheel coning and reduce wear on the wheel and the rail.

ActiWheel relies upon precise and accurate measurements from the optoNCDT sensors to provide the information for the artificial intelligence software that drives the motors that are individually affixed to each wheel. The optoNCDT sensors measure the lateral position of the wheel, relative to the rail, and according to Neil Cooney, technical director at the UK company behind ActiWheel, SET, the particular specifications of the sensor made it the perfect fit.

“We initially approached Micro-Epsilon for a suitable sensor and were very impressed with the application engineer who demonstrated the optoNCDT 1420 sensor to us. The sensor met all our technical requirements in terms of its flexibility, resolution and robustness. We are measuring down to 0.1mm accuracy and lateral movement can be up to a maximum of 20mm,” said Cooney.

This is not the only application of laser sensors in the rail industry. Sensors such as the optoNCDT have been widely used for maintenance of rail tracks and to measure wear and tear. This is in addition to track guiding devices that are installed below the train, which also use laser sensors. The conditions within these applications require a certain kind of sensor.

“These require a compact sensor that can be easily installed and provide accurate and reliable measurement at high speed,” said Wirhan Prationo, marketing engineer at Bestech, which distribute sensors from Micro-Epsilon in Australia.

As seen in its adoption for the innovative ActiWheel solution, the compact optoNCDT is optimised for the rail industry as a laser triangulation sensor.

“It combines speed, size, performance and versatility for measurement applications in the rail industry. This compact laser triangulation sensor is suitable for measuring distance and displacement up to 500mm with maximum sampling speed of 4kHz. It also can be easily integrated in restricted and narrow installation space,” said Prationo.

In the ActiWheel case, the sensor was particularly useful when it came to ensuring that the data collected was only that which was required, said Cooney.

“We’ve also been impressed by the filtering function, which filters out noise from dirt, dust, grease and pieces of bent metal on the rail head, which means we can trust the measurement data,” said Cooney.

To use the sensors, SET created a frame that lies beneath the wheel axle of the train, 400mm from the rail head. The sensors are located in front of the flange and point towards the rail head. The data from this assembly is then transferred to the ActiWheel control system via a 4-20mA analogue signal. Operation and configuration can be done using the web- based interface. While these are the settings used by the ActiWheel team there are other information channels available.

“The optoNCDT laser triangulation sensor offers a range of different output signals that enable easy integration of the sensor into any industrial control system,” said Prationo. “The sensors are operated through the web interface and they also have additional analysis features, such as video signal display, signal peak selection, background noise filtering and signal averaging. A mobile data acquisition unit can be used to collect the data, which can be connected to the computer on board.”

With the trial ongoing in the UK, the optoNCDT’s technical specifications have been tested in a variety of environments. Rated to an IP65 protection level, the system is housed within a casing that is impenetrable by dirt and dust.

During the demonstration, the optoNCDT sensors were able to read accurate data in the harsh environment underneath the train, where dust, dirt, and moisture are present. They also delivered consistent reading irrespective of whether it’s a cold, wet, rainy or bright sunny day. After running for a couple of thousand miles the sensors did not need cleaning.

While the further development of ActiWheel promises much for reducing rolling contact fatigue, this is only one potential application of the optoNCDT sensors.

Located in Australia, Bestech is able to collaborate with rail organisations seeking to leverage the precision and accuracy of laser sensor technology.

“Bestech have more than 40 years of experiences in sensors and instrumentation for solving test and measurement challenges in the industry,” said Prationo. “We offer not only high-quality products, but also our technical expertise and support to assist with real-time application to correctly gather the data you require. Bestech can also customise the product to fit into certain requirements, such as different cable length, integration with mobile data acquisition system or signal conditioning to fit into the existing devices.”

“Our team is supported by highly- trained applications engineers and product specialists with a wealth of experience in sensor applications for measurement of physical parameters in the industry.”

rail manufacturing

Culture of innovation

Stuart Thomson, CEO and managing director of the Rail Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre shares how the industry has collaborated on innovation, research, and development across the past six years.

Formed in 2014, the Rail Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) has continued to work closely with the industry to assist the rail sector to adopt future digital technologies and address coming workforce needs.

Stuart Thomson, CEO and managing director of the Rail Manufacturing CRC said engagement from the rail sector, universities, and research institutions has been the key to collaborative research and development. Co- funded by the Commonwealth government, the Rail Manufacturing CRC provides a platform for the rail industry to work together to increase its capacity to innovate.

COLLABORATIVE FRAMEWORK
Thomson said what distinguishes the Rail Manufacturing CRC is its approach to cross- sectoral research. Bringing together the depth of research in universities and the applied knowledge of the rail industry, along with the support of the federal government, the Rail Manufacturing CRC can advance innovation across manufacturing, design and modelling. After six years in operation, the Rail Manufacturing CRC is coming to the end of its tenure on June 30 this year, with the Centre now working to complete its final projects.

“The Rail Manufacturing CRC has worked closely with the rail sector to deliver industry focused projects. During this time of uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the team has been working to wrap up projects and manage financial and reporting requirements required before the Centre closes,” Thomson said.

Since 2014, the Rail Manufacturing CRC has been driving the development of products, technologies, and supply chain networks to enhance the competitiveness of Australia’s rail manufacturing industry. Thomson said that despite the closure of the Centre, the CRC has created a culture of innovation that will continue to grow.

“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,” Thomson said.

DEVELOPING AUSTRALIAN RAIL MANUFACTURING
Thomson said multinationals have invested in the programs run by the Rail Manufacturing CRC because there is technical expertise based in Australia’s heavy-haul and passenger rail experience that companies know can genuinely assist their businesses. The next challenge for the industry is making sure there’s a pipeline of work to enable investment in capital, research and development, and innovation.

Within the Australian rail sector, a great deal of focus in the last six years has been devoted to the development of condition-based monitoring systems and applications. Thomson said the Rail Manufacturing CRC has worked on a variety of condition-based monitoring projects, including the development of battery control systems that can extend maintenance cycles, the modelling of wheel bearing wear to determine the best maintenance practices, and developing weld modelling software to assist in improving the quality of welding in rail manufacture.

In collaboration with major rail operators, the Rail Manufacturing CRC has initiated projects to develop models to assess predictive maintenance of rail switches for an operator’s network. Predictive monitoring of rail infrastructure has also allowed the Centre to innovate the use of vision systems to identify maintenance needs on overhead wires and associated infrastructure.

The Rail Manufacturing CRC has worked with Downer and the University of Technology Sydney to develop a new technology called Dwell Track. The new innovation utilises 3D infra-red vision to measure passenger congestion on platforms. This information can be used to better understand passenger movement and to assist operators make decisions to limit congestion, alter platform designs, and – in the future – provide real time information to rail staff and passengers. The technology has since been tested in real time at a train station in an Australian capital city.

Thomson said many of the projects at the Rail Manufacturing CRC have a high probability of future commercial success. “We have six technologies that are likely to yield commercial returns in the near future, so that’s quite an achievement,” he said.

Thomson credits the input of the Centre’s PhD scholarship students who have contributed to research projects. Thomson noted they represent the next generation of highly skilled rail employees. “There is a great deal of discussion around future skills gaps and developing the next generation of rail employees. We anticipate that the vast majority of our rail postgraduates, 51 in total, will seek careers in the rail sector, especially if the sector increases local manufacturing post COVID-19.” Thomson said.

CONTINUING INDUSTRY-FOCUSED RESEARCH
Thomson wants Australia to maintain core national manufacturing and capabilities. “Particularly in Victoria there is a lot of movement happening around local manufacturing because there’s a requirement for at least 50 per cent of components in the rolling stock be produced in Victoria,” he said. Thomson believes the industry is working towards a harmonisation of standards and operations. Putting further policies and governance structures to support rail manufacturing in place will allow market growth and further investment in rail.

Further research and development in the rail sector will support the industry in adopting new technologies, building new local industries, and assisting the sector to increase productivity, safety, and sustainability. The Rail Manufacturing CRC expects its programs will benefit ongoing collaboration after the Centre closes its doors.

“A culture of collaboration has evolved over the past six years and will continue to develop. We’ve seen some incredible outcomes and, for example, I think over the next few years there will be a major interest in energy storage for rail,” Thomson said. The Centre has conducted research in energy storage control systems, and also in the battery area looking at lithium technologies for use in trains. Thomson said back-up systems, rolling stock, and below rail condition monitoring are a highly focused research area too.

“The growth the rail industry needs will most likely happen in the next few years,” Thomson said. Improvements in technology and data collection has aided the acceleration of innovation and Thomson believes automation across rail manufacturing and operations will be heightened. “The sector can expect to see increasing automation and the use of artificial intelligence to monitor and control systems and subsystems above and below rail,” he said.

“New skill sets and innovation from the Rail Manufacturing CRC programs has provided a springboard for industry to engage and collaborate,” said Thomson. “I think it’s a very exciting time for the future of Australia’s rail sector. The industry can expect to see advancements in technology that will be highly relevant for major train operations within the country, and will have global reach and applicability.”

Bombardier

Filling the gap

Bombardier is helping rail operators achieve zero emissions on unelectrified track with its battery electric units while slashing lifecycle costs.

One of the key benefits of rail travel to the community is its low emissions. Whether powered via overhead lines or an electrified rail, trains offer fast, high volume mobility, and if powered by renewable energy, emissions free. That is, until the wire runs out.

In Australia, nationally there is 36,064 kilometres of track, but only a small portion of that in the major cities has an overhead power supply. In New Zealand, out of the total 4,128 kilometres of track, 589km is electrified. As the non-electrified sections of the network are often outside of major urban centres, getting regional travellers to travel by train presents the issue of running higher emitting vehicles, or undertaking costly electrification works on lines that have fewer services. These factors present an impediment to the zero emissions potential of rail transport, however one that is recently being overcome.

Launched in 2018, the Bombardier TALENT 3 train is a battery-electric multiple unit to fill the gap in-between electrification of entire rail networks and continued reliance on diesel-powered units. The TALENT 3 train can provide an operator with a 30 per cent reduction in the total cost of ownership, when compared to a conventional diesel multiple unit over a 30-year service life. The train is powered by Bombardier MITRAC traction batteries and can run on non-electrified lines for distances of up to 100km. The batteries utilise recent technological innovation in fast charging and high-density lithium ion batteries which can be charged in less than 10 minutes while running on an electrified section of track, or through recuperating otherwise lost energy when the train is braking.

The research and development work that went into the TALENT 3 train was supported by the German federal government, research institutions, and regional German transport operators. Additionally, the technology behind the train was developed by Bombardier in its Mannheim laboratory in Germany. The newly inaugurated €1 million ($1.72m) facility contributed to the battery components for the TALENT 3 train. In Europe, the demand for battery electric units is increasing, as shown in recent orders for trials of the trains in multiple countries.

In Germany, the innovation involved in the development and production of the TALENT 3 train was recognised in late 2018, when Bombardier won the Berlin Brandenburg innovation award. In particular the jury singled out the role that battery electric trains could provide to Germany’s non electrified network. The train could already operate on 30 per cent of the country’s non-electrified lines, and if cost- effective electrification was done at end points, 75 per cent of lines that currently run diesel-powered services could be operated with battery power.

Commenting on the project, Bombardier’s head of sales – Australia and New Zealand, Todd Garvey, highlighted how the train would overcome network limitations.

“It was Bombardier’s goal to develop a quiet and eco-friendly train for passengers, while also offering operators the best alternative to higher emittting diesel trains on both cost and safety aspects.”

In Australia and New Zealand, where there are already proposals for the electrification of sections of regional and intercity track, the Bombardier TALENT 3 train could readily operate on lines such as the Hunter Line, a variety of V/Line services in Victoria, and partially electrified sections of track in New Zealand. However, the flexibility of battery- electric trains enables new connections to be made.

“The BEMU – as we call it – has massive potential in the ANZ market as the cost barriers to deploy widescale electrification are considerable.

“Our BEMU provides operators and governments with a zero-emission alternative to diesel propelled vehicles across their extended networks. Once the electric line runs out, the batteries kick in and the vehicle can continue running as normal for up to 100 kilometres.

“The only additional infrastructure then would be strategically placed charging stations throughout the regional network that the vehicle can plug into, to recharge the battery,” said Garvey.

“This presents big savings and reduces the need for a large-scale civil works program. These battery trains are also quieter, and this is good in greenfield residential areas, for example, where diesel trains might not be the preferred option.”

The key to realising the benefits of battery trains is their flexibility. Not only do they reduce a network’s total emissions but eliminate the immediate impact of emissions caused by the trains themselves. Emissions from diesel powered vehicles can limit their use in inner city areas and confined spaces such as tunnels. In addition, Bombardier’s TALENT 3 can achieve a significant reduction in noise, when compared to conventional DMUs.

Combining the latest in battery technology and a pedigree of innovation, the TALENT 3 provides zero emissions mobility to a much wider audience.

Cohesive approach to research and development needed to maximise rail investment

A new report will provide the rail industry with recommendations to ensure that research leads to a thriving technology and innovation culture within the rail industry.

The Australasian Railway Association (ARA) has commissioned L.E.K. Consulting to benchmark the industry’s investment in and use of technology.

The report comes as one of the key sponsors of research in the rail industry closes down, the Rail Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (CRC). The ARA highlights that CRCs, including the previous Rail CRC and Rail Innovation CRCs have driven innovation, and without the Rail Manufacturing CRC there will be a “significant void”.

By sponsoring cross-sector research and collaboration between researchers and industry, CRCs have overcome one of the key deficiencies in Australian research and development (R&D), a lack of collaboration between industry and research. This lack was identified as the lowest in the OECD by the federal government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda Report.

Another challenge for innovation and technology adoption in the rail industry is the lack of alignment across the sector. The disparate aims of state and federal governments, purchasers, suppliers, and researchers has created a disconnect between planning, action, support, and adoption, the ARA write in their briefing note.

The ARA highlights that a cohesive business case is needed to support investment in rail technology and innovation.

As part of the research project, the L.E.K. report will benchmark investment, development and adoption of technology, outline the benefits, and challenges for the development and adoption of technology, review and identify solutions and make recommendations.

The potential of coherent investment in rail technology and innovation has the potential to improve productivity in the sector, creating jobs and economic growth. In addition, local investment in R&D can increase local capacity and maintain areas of competitive advantage.

The ARA highlights that the current investment pipeline represents an opportunity for investment in R&D, that can maximise efficiency in the delivery of rail infrastructure.

The report follows increasing calls at a federal level to support local suppliers and producers. Industry Minister Karen Andrews noted that there is the potential to support local supply chains.

“This is about embracing the incredible quality of Australian-made products – products that nations around the world associate with being top-notch.”

Shadow Infrastructure Minister Catherine King said that calls for locally produced goods should extend to infrastructure projects.

“Employing Australian workers and using Australian-made materials on Government-funded infrastructure projects creates more jobs all along the supply chain and ensures that Government investment remains in our community, rather than flowing to overseas companies.

“This should include building trains here and working with the States and Territories to smooth out production, lower costs and build skills and capability.”

Report highlights challenges and opportunities for rail’s response to COVID-19

Global technology provider Thales has released a new report highlighting the challenges of and solutions to the current coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis in the rail transport sector.

Acknowledging that in many cases transport networks have been on the front line of responding to COVID-19, the report’s authors write that transport operators will need to develop new ways of operating.

“There is no historical precedent for this, no model to work from. The challenge is huge,” the report highlights.

Since the arrival of COVID-19 onto the global stage, a range of challenges have emerged for transport operators. The report categorises these into four sectors: revenue, health, mobility, and climate challenges.

For operators which rely on fare revenue for operations, rapid drops in ridership numbers have had a severe financial impact. In addition, extra cleaning and the introduction of social distancing measures has increased costs, while restrictions on capacity have limited revenue.

Transport has also been identified as an area of concern when it comes to the transmission and spread of COVID-19, placing extra responsibilities on transport operators to ensure the health of their passengers and staff.

Maintaining mobility while staff work from home and cybersecurity threats increase is also a challenge for operators.

Finally, climate challenges have not been altered by COVID-19, and the rail sector continues to play a part in helping communities achieve their emissions goals.

To meet these challenges, Thales has catalogued a range of digital tools which can assist transport operators. These range from using cameras to detect body temperature and compliance with mask wearing, and integrating traffic management systems to reduce crowding by smoothing connections between modes and services, to technologies for remote operations and infrastructure maintenance.

While some of these solutions are in direct response to the COVID-19 crisis, in other cases, the pandemic has served to highlight areas where existing issues need to be overcome. For example, the adoption of flexible train services to adapt to changes in demand and the provision of dynamic passenger information systems.

Amid these uncertainties, Thales highlights that rail operators should start asking more fundamental questions about their services to ensure that once the immediate crisis is over, they continue to provide adaptive and appropriate mobility solutions.

“For now, the priority is restoring services and rebuilding trust,” write the report’s authors. “Looking to the future, the trends point to a need for next-generation transportation systems. Access to secure, diverse and reliable sources of mobility will be vital not only to ensure long-term economic recovery, but also to address wider societal goals.”

Read the report here: https://thalesgroup-myfeed.com/ThalesTransport_Covid19_Whitepaper?elqCampaignId=458.

Trial of hydrogen-powered trains in passenger service complete

The world-first trial of two hydrogen fuel-cell trains in passenger service has been successfully completed.

The two Alstom Coradia iLint trains have passed 530 days and 180,000km of operation for LNVG, the transport operator for the German state of Lower Saxony.

With the trial now completed, 14 Coradia iLint trains will enter service in 2022, replacing the existing diesel multiple units.

Alstom will manufacture the trains and maintain them at its site in Salzgitter. Gases and engineering company Linde will construct and operate a hydrogen filling station near Bremervoerde station.

Jörg Nikutta, managing director for Germany and Austria of Alstom Transport Deutschland said that the new trains are a step forward for emissions-free transport.

“Our two pre-series trains of the Coradia iLint have proven over the past year and a half that fuel cell technology can be used successfully in daily passenger service. This makes us an important driving force on the way to emission-free and sustainable mobility in rail transport,” he said, noting that data from the trial will inform the development of hydrogen propulsion technology.

Lower Saxony’s Minister of Economics and Transport Bernd Althusmann said that the completed trial has a significant beyond transport.

“Alstom has made hydrogen history here. The project is of a great importance to industrial policy that goes far beyond Germany. Here, we are witnessing the first competitive product of hydrogen mobility at industrial level.”

When used, hydrogen produces no emissions, apart from water, and the hydrogen-powered propulsion system also reduces the amount of noise the trains produce. The Coradia iLint has been designed to replace diesel units on non-electrified lines. Enak Ferlemann, parliamentary state secretary at the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure, said that this was where hydrogen could play a big role.

“Hydrogen is a real low-emission and efficient alternative to diesel. Especially on secondary lines where overhead lines are uneconomical or not yet available, these trains can travel cleanly and in an environmentally friendly way. We would like to see more such applications.”

digital rail

The digital rail revolution

As one of the leading providers of digital technology in the digital rail sector, Mark Coxon of Alstom explains what changes rail can expect to see in its digital future.

Since the beginning of the modern era, rail has been closely connected to each major industrial innovation. Initially, in the first industrial revolution, the use of steam to textile mills was almost as iconic as the steam-powered train engine, which became the symbol of increased productivity and modernisation during the 19th century.

In the next era, the adoption of hydrocarbons as a source for fuel also enabled the diesel train, able to haul large loads for transcontinental journeys. Simultaneously, widespread electrification and the urbanisation of worldwide populations saw the adoption of electric, underground metro services that have kept crowded cities moving. Now, as the information revolution looks to set to be the next defining wave of innovation, train technology is leading the way in innovation.

Alstom is one of the early adopters of the digital wave in rail, and indeed has become one of the drivers. The significance of this shift is not lost on Mark Coxon, managing director of Alstom Australian and New Zealand.

“Digital Railways doesn’t have quite the romantic ring of the great train services of the past – the Orient Express, the Canadian Pacific or the Trans-Siberian. But digital is the next big wave in the railway sector, and train users can look forward to higher service standards, more timely information and even better ticket pricing,” he said.

The two primary technologies that have come to define digital rail are digital train control and digital signalling. Although there is an array of other technologies, according to Coxon, these tools will have a fundamental impact on the evolution of rail during the current industrial revolution.

“Digital signalling and digital technologies in general will have a huge influence on the evolution of rail services. They are just the latest developments in an industry that has a great track record (pun intended) of technological innovation. From steam to diesel to electric power, the railroad’s evolving technologies have unleashed economic potential and social mobility wherever the rails were laid.”

Indeed, the new technologies exist in order to improve the usefulness of rail networks, rather than being a cosmetic add on.

“Today we are entering an age where digitalisation allows operators to have real- time information on train movements and analyse overall performance – ultimately reducing costs by streamlining processes and improving efficiency and reliability,” Coxon said.

UNLOCKING THE URBAN
For many cities, including Australia’s urban centres, the efficiencies promised by digital rail could not come soon enough. Traditional signalling systems have reached the end of their useful life, while patronage continues to increase. Additionally, building new rail lines through cities is often not an option, and tunnelling underneath poses significant cost challenges. This has put pressure on existing technology, said Coxon.

“Railways have been part of the urban landscape for so long that networks in many countries have become extremely dense, especially on commuter lines in major cities, making it difficult and costly to implement major upgrading projects. Instead, the kind of improvements in efficiency that digital technology excels at can have massive operational impacts.”

Digital rail can also extend to find connections with other forms of transport, across heavy rail, metro, light rail and also bus and micro-mobility networks. Finding these efficiencies in the digital ecosystem can deliver major benefits to transport and city planners.

“Digital technologies hold out the promise of true transport integration, linking main-line rail services with other urban transportation modes, enhancing efficiency and passenger convenience,” said Coxon. “The introduction of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT), Intelligent Transport Systems and open- data/open-source transport applications are transforming urban transportation, optimising the efficiency of existing and new urban transport systems, at a cost much lower than building new infrastructure from the ground up.”

Within the railways themselves, the enhanced data and feedback gathered by digital sensors form a connected railway that can reduce costs and improve service delivery.

“New transport data collection technologies are also being deployed to provide information about delays, downtime, and predictive maintenance which could lead to huge improvements in service standards, safety, and unlocking the potential of railways. Passengers will also be able to make real-time decisions about their journeys based on the features that matter most to them such as reliability, safety, travel time, and cost,” said Coxon.

In addition, as governments and individuals increasingly identify a project’s sustainability as a key factor, adopting the digitalisation
of railways can enable railway operators to reduce energy usage, improving air quality, while also delivering a seamless experience for the commuter.

“Enhanced safety, predictive maintenance, and automated driverless operation are all part of rail’s future,” said Coxon.

PUTTING THE PASSENGER FIRST
Perhaps an even more fundamental shift will be occurring in the way that passengers interact with transport. Currently divided into discrete journeys often limited by transport mode, a connected digital railway can enable the rise of Mobility as a Service (MaaS). Via data-enabled apps, commuters can move through transit modes made as one seamless trip, with real- time information to smoothen the transition.

“From the passenger’s perspective, access through online apps to real-time information on travel times, potential service interruptions, ticket prices, seating arrangements and even on the least crowded places to wait on a station platform, will enhance convenience and reduce the stress of travel,” said Coxon.

Reducing disruptions also enables transit time to fit into the other rhythms of daily life, with enhanced services available onboard.

“Railways today offer a connected service all along the passenger journey with on-board Wi-Fi for internet and entertainment options. Passengers are able to experience these services using their own mobile devices –laptops, tablets and smartphones,” said Coxon. “This approach to train connectivity can unquestionably deliver a significantly improved passenger experience.”

These developments occur as part of a strategy of putting the individual first, rather than forcing the individual to comply with the requirements of the service.

SEIZING THE DIGITAL FUTURE
However, just as digital rail offers solutions, there are challenges too, as Coxon acknowledges.

“The path to digitalisation will not, of course, be entirely smooth.”

The benefits of digital rail require collaboration and coordination between companies, agencies, and organisations that have up until now existed in their own silos, with limited interaction. In addition, the skills and knowledge that is required to build and run a digital rail system is quite different to those needed in an analogue rail environment, although Coxon notes that these changes could have their own benefits.

“Despite the challenges, the railway sector’s move to digitalisation is clearly unstoppable. Digital technology in the railway sector will see a shift from the traditional emphasis on heavy engineering, to software and data handling skills. In the future, once the hardware is installed, upgrading a signalling system will no longer require hundreds of workers out on the tracks; it might be more like upgrading the software on your phone.”

Getting to this digitally enabled future may require some difficult transitioning, however through collaborating across industry lines, returns can be found.

“Rail operators should take this digitalisation opportunity to integrate different mobility options into their existing offering and consequently focus on value creation through innovation,” said Coxon.

“Without a doubt, it is the quiet efficiency of digital technology that will take rail systems and their passengers into a new age of rail travel that is safer, more convenient and comfortable, more economical, and more climate-friendly.”

Innovation in the world’s largest tram network

Melbourne’s iconic tram network operates across 250km of double track. Xavier Leal from Keolis Downer shares Yarra Trams’ latest innovation strategy that is digitising the network’s 5,000 daily services.

The world’s largest operational tram network has been transporting passengers in Melbourne for over one hundred years. Xavier Leal, manager of innovation and knowledge at Keolis Downer, acknowledges that operations throughout the urban tram network have considerably advanced since the first tram line was pulled by horses in 1884. As the operator of Yarra Trams, Keolis Downer has been investing in its digital strategy to prioritise data collection and improve passenger experience.

Leal has almost fifteen years of experience in strategy and innovation management. Since he joined Yarra Trams in two years ago, he has been driving forward innovations in the business that support enhanced passenger experience, operational effectiveness, and safety in the network.

Before his current role at Keolis Downer, Leal worked in the mobility and transport sectors in Europe. He has led a wide range of international projects that explored digital innovations and defining technology diffusion processes. His previous projects include developing innovative information and technology services, including T-TRANS and Collective Intelligence for Public Transport in European Cities (CIPTEC). Leal said Keolis Downer leverages its worldwide operational experience to explore innovations in smart cities through a digital mobility observatory.

Leal highlighted that it is important to note the difference between tram networks in Europe and Melbourne to understand how investment in processes will allow Melbourne to set an international benchmark for light rail infrastructure.

“Melbourne has a unique tram network. Trams elsewhere don’t have the same challenges that we have here. Not only is it the world’s largest operational tram network with over 250km of track and more than 1,700 stops across the city, but 75 per cent of the network is shared with road vehicles,” Leal said.

This means trams do not have separated corridors on Melbourne roads and operate amid buses, cars, cyclists, and pedestrians. This brings particular challenges with safety and operational performance, particularly travel times. Melbourne’s tram network could run more efficiently. To enhance network capability, Yarra Trams have used technology to enable faster services.

However, due to the nature of having assets distributed widely across the network, including the vehicles themselves, stations, and other monitoring points, there is the potential for the accumulation of digital data to support the more efficient operation of the network. Yarra Trams has recognised this, and is looking to digital innovation, with a number of projects deployed to target priorities including faster travel times, reduced disruptions, and customer safety. These initiatives include digitising asset management through real time-based platforms, to exploring crowdsourcing of data for safety and unplanned disruption management.

One project that Yarra Trams has trialled is the on-board collection of image-based data on traffic. In developing the technology, Yarra Trams took a consultative and collaborative approach by incorporating feedback from multiple stakeholders which come into contact with the relatively open network.

The development team looked to how they could incorporate real time data on traffic volumes to maximise operational efficiency and passenger experience. However, solutions were not always going to come from within the organisation, and Yarra Trams looked for partners who could enable this digital data project.

“Effectively engaging with the innovation ecosystem is another critical success factor to maximise digital technologies,” Leal said.

Keolis Downer collaborated with the Australian Integrated Multimodal Ecosystem (AIMES) to procure Toshiba’s traffic sensing technology. Leal said the data collection and analysis system was based on image processing and deep learning technology in a smart transport cloud system. A trial of traffic sensing by on-board unit (OBU) based image processing technology took place in March 2019 with two C2 trams travelling on route 96 from Brunswick East to St Kilda Beach.

Leal said the trial tested the capability of the technology to detect various states of traffic by deploying image processing techniques and transmitting the results to a cloud system. The OBU could detect traffic in terms of volume, vehicle queues, vulnerable road users, pedestrians and obstacles.

HD cameras captured real time traffic and processed and measured the information as it happened. The information collected from vehicle queue lengths waiting at red signal and pedestrian flow assessed traffic conditions to
a degree, while also detecting obstacles and service adjustment.

The OBU system consists of three units, a stereo camera, image processing hardware, and a signal divider. The OBU system sends detection results back to a central server. These results include images that have been tagged with GPS data. The trail enabled Yarra Trams to obtain geographically precise data to illustrate issues in the network in real time, enabling faster responses and comparisons with historical data.

The digital data collected throughout this trial may allow traffic management and operation control staff to instantly evaluate risks as well as predict needed safety measures.

Images taken by trams are used to map pedestrians and crowds.

“It was a successful project,” said Leal. “We assessed the system capabilities
to detect traffic volumes, vehicle queue lengths at intersections, pedestrian crowd volume detection and estimation around tram infrastructure. Now we are discussing with Toshiba, government stakeholders, and Melbourne University researchers the next steps to further evolve the system,” Leal said. Leal is proud to pioneer the use of digital data to evaluate complex transport networks. He said it’s not uncommon for large networks such as the Melbourne tram network to experience unplanned disruptions, so managing data from Yarra Tram allows a clearer understanding of behaviour of motorists, pedestrians, and other vehicles which the network comes into contact with.

Leal said trams and light rail services are the lifeblood of Melbourne, as they are the primary mode of public transport for inner suburban residents. Globally, more than 200 cities are now recreating, building, or planning tram networks. If the Melbourne network were to be rebuilt today, it would cost more than $20 billion and take several decades to complete.

“It’s important to us to have a holistic approach to our digital strategy, that leverages Keolis’s expertise in mobility and digital technology with a robust data management platform that aligns with the Department of Transport’s systems and tools,” Leal said.

“We are increasingly gaining more data flowing from digital channels. From a passenger experience perspective, it is important for us to integrate reporting capabilities with analysis of inputs coming from diverse channels,” Lead said. He said the company expects these channels to grow and further diversify as new streams of data and incorporated into the network.

“We are committed to keep pushing for further integration of information and data to ensure the right actions are taken to enhance Melbourne’s dynamic network,” he said.