Smarter all the time: Local firm enhancing remote condition monitoring technologies

As the rail industry trends towards more efficient operating practices, MRD Rail Technologies managing director, Rob Gersbach, sees no limit to the application of predictive asset maintenance technology throughout the rail corridor.


“In the future, we believe all major rail assets will be remotely monitored by condition monitoring systems,” MRD managing director Rob Gersbach tells Rail Express. “These will be either built in by the manufacturers (smart) or implemented by third party integrations such as TrackSense. MRD are also working with points machine manufacturers to include TrackSense in their products.”

TrackSense is MRD’s predictive asset condition monitoring system. Relying on Australian-manufactured plug and play loggers designed to be robust, compact and affordable, TrackSense’s primary goal is to give meaning to data to allow the customer to make data driven maintenance decisions.

MRD has 30 years’ experience designing and manufacturing electronic equipment for the rail industry. Three years ago, it launched TrackSense to capitalise on this with a push into the growing space of predictive maintenance and condition monitoring. Now, Gersbach explains, MRD is moving to ensure it can help customers apply predictive asset condition monitoring to improve each of its core maintenance tasks.

“We see all trackside location cabinets (LOCs) being transformed into ‘Smart LOCs’ containing remote condition monitoring systems capable of monitoring all assets within the LOC using one Remote Condition Monitoring (RCM) Logger,” he said. “Price has been a major barrier to achieving this in the past but this has rapidly changed due to competition and technology such as cloud hosting. MRD has adopted this technology and is at the forefront of the movement towards affordable open platform RCM solutions.”

Gersbach says one of the key benefits of TrackSense for his customers is that it is open protocol.

“Open protocol solutions will become the standard in RCM solutions as this gives the customer security, independence and the flexibility to shop around for the most competitive hosting solution and analytics package of their choice,” he said. “It also allows for easy integration with the customer’s Asset Maintenance System.”

This preference towards open protocol is also being driven by specialisation of analytics platforms from major computing vendors.

“We are also seeing the emergence of sophisticated big data analytics packages by vendors such as IBM, Microsoft, and Amazon to name a few,” Gersbach explained. “TrackSense provides API integration with these systems as standard which allows the customer to tap into the power of these systems including advanced machine learning and AI systems as they emerge.”

Since it was launched three years ago, TrackSense has grown to now collect data and measure various parameters of condition in thousands of railway assets across Australia and in international markets.

Product manager Yvie Hough says through a continued focus on listening to and communicating with customers, the TrackSense team hopes to refine its state-of-the-art approach, and help new and existing customers best take advantage of what it has to offer.

“The MRD team has been working closely with our customers to refine and improve our solution to provide a robust, easy to install system that is user friendly and provides valuable information to users,” Hough said.

Despite operational savings being a core benefit of condition monitoring and predictive maintenance systems, one major obstacle MRD has seen operators struggle to overcome is simply the cost of installing and maintaining a condition monitoring system, and the inflexibility of many common solutions available in the market.

“Some vendors charge exorbitant amounts for hardware and lock customers into fixed contracts,” Gersbach said. “The obvious downside to this is that should you decide to break ties with the vendor or they go out of business, you’re basically left with an expensive paperweight.”

Taking a different approach, the MRD loggers used in the TrackSense solution are not bound to that system.

“Yes, we offer a local or cloud server option for accessing the data, but this is optional as our loggers are capable of stand-alone operation,” Gersbach explained. “Our loggers log, process and alarm directly from the device without the need for external servers or software.

“This gives the customer total ownership and control of their hardware and data.”

MRD has recently expanded monitoring capabilities of TrackSense through the addition of new sensors and communication protocols for its range of loggers.

“This sets our customers up for future expansion,” Gersbach said. “They can start off monitoring points machines, then expand to monitoring track circuits, batteries, boom gates, earth leakage and more just by adding additional sensors.”

Another recent addition to the TrackSense offering is a mobile App, which literally puts key data in the operator’s hands, providing a convenient way to view asset performance both on and off site.


One misconception Gersbach says he always aims to address is that a condition monitoring solution will provide maximum results from day one.

“When implementing a condition monitoring solution it’s important to understand it’s not a set and forget solution. It requires operator training, tuning and data input from the user,” he said.

To address this, MRD has developed tried and tested workflows to help operators get started with condition monitoring. The TrackSense team will also work with the customer to refine that workflow to their individual needs.

“Our auto-tuning feature will get you up and running fast and our teach feature will keep the system performing optimally,” Gersbach added. “We use shape recognition to identify anomalies, and KPIs are extracted from logged parameters and used to gauge an assets health and identify trends. All positive alerts and alarms are sent to the system’s fault library and fed back into the system to improve the systems performance. This library is also available for reference and training purposes.”

Critical to this is the use of machine learning to refine how data is analysed.

“The primary output of any condition monitoring system is data. Performing complex analysis of data collected from hundreds or thousands of sensors is a tedious and time-consuming activity, beyond the capabilities of human operators.”

By putting machine learning to work, Gersbach says TrackSense can help operators maximise the value of predictive maintenance while keeping costs down. MRD designs and builds hardware, and develops its software and applications locally in Australia. Along with TrackSense, the company also provides EarthSense, a solution for detecting earth leakage; and RelaySense, a solution to test the condition of relays.



AusRAIL: Innovative train detection solutions

The Australian railway market has a growing demand for innovative solutions that support them in dealing with increasing requirements. These range from challenging environmental conditions and rising train density on track to the implementation of new technologies and possibilities.

At this year’s AusRail PLUS, Frauscher Sensor Technology is presenting a selection of its products and latest innovations that enable the development of appropriate solutions. Covering global requirements at one place Travelling throughout Australia as a passenger gives you the possibility to experience tropical climate or deserts – as well as snowstorms and heavy rain falls.

As inductive wheel sensors mark the state of the art in terms of reliable train detection, they have to maintain maximum availability under all of these conditions. Frauscher has installed a global base of approximately 200,000 wheel sensors – which have proven their appropriate capabilities on all continents.

Based on their robust design, their functionality is not affected by extreme temperatures, moisture or even floods, mechanical impacts or electromagnetic interference. Additionally, the possibility of mounting these sensors using a rail claw allows for quick installation without drilling – and weakening – the rail.

Flexible evaluation for individual requirements The establishment of inductive wheel sensors in different regions and railway segments around the globe means that new areas of use are constantly being discovered.

Due to its open, analogue interface, the Frauscher Wheel Sensor RSR110 can be easily and quickly integrated into any infrastructure. Evaluation of the sensor signal can be realised by the system integrator or operator themselves.

“This allows for the economic realisation of wheel detection-based applications, such as weighing, lubrication, imaging and others in different areas, for example depots or yards. To provide support if required, Frauscher has developed a Wheel Signal Converter WSC, which converts the analogue signal into a digital signal and creates the corresponding interface”, Lee Walker, technical support manager at Frauscher Australia said.

Proven axle counter

Other Frauscher wheel sensors, such as the RSR180, come in combination with evaluation boards, forming full SIL4 wheel detection systems and axle counters. The Frauscher Advanced Counter (FAdC) provides flexible interfaces and high modularity.

It allows for individual solutions to be developed in close collaboration with the customer according to project specific requirements.

Additionally, innovative functionalities, such as Supervisor Track Sections STS and Counting Head Control CHC can increase the system’s availability even when unavoidable external influences occur.

“Connection to a high-performance electronic interlocking is possible both via a customer-specific interface and the freely available Frauscher Safe Ethernet FSE protocol. On that base, centralised architectures and decentralised architectures can be realised, as can a mixture of both. The Frauscher Diagnostic System FDS provides diagnostic data via remote access – which is extremely beneficial for widespread systems. We have realised several projects using the FAdC throughout Australia. We look forward to seizing the opportunity at this year’s AusRail to meet known customers and new interested experts to discuss their experiences and requirements – and how we can support them in meeting them in future”, Walker said.

New intelligent sensors

As a highlight, Frauscher will present their new SENSiS system.

“We presented SENSiS for the first time at InnoTrans 2018 and were overwhelmed by the great interest and positive feedback. With a newly developed sensor, which works as an intelligent device on the track, this system sets new standards. The evaluation of the sensor signal takes place in the sensor – i.e. directly on the rail. Using a dedicated bus system, digitised data is transferred directly from the SENSiS Detection Point SDP to the SENSiS Processing Unit SPU in the indoor location. The possibility of building ring architectures enables immense savings by reducing the cabling required. In addition, the sensor is able to collect information on temperature and vibration. In the overall package, this system opens up completely new possibilities and represents the latest generation of track vacancy detection against the backdrop of an increasing digitalisation of the railway industry”, Walker said.


Visit Frauscher at AusRAIL PLUS at Stand 182.


AusRAIL: Staying agile in the changing rail industry

Tim Young explains how Downer is helping realise the benefits of passenger rail growth.

A Deloitte Access Economics report found each passenger journey made by rail instead of road generates benefits to society of between $3.88 and $10.64 by reducing congestion, accident and carbon costs. In September, 1.2 million trips were taken on Sydney’s trains and trams each day.

There is no better time to realise the societal benefits of rail travel. But the transport and infrastructure sector is changing, and the challenge for rail operators, maintainers and manufacturers is keeping pace with the evolving industry and expectations of an evergrowing customer base. That’s an opportunity – and challenge – the industry is keenly aware of, Downer’s Rollingstock Services executive general manager Tim Young says.

“We’re seeing a huge shift in what passengers expect from their transport providers, and in turn, what our customers expect from us,” Young tells Rail Express. “From technology to sustainability, urban services is changing across Australia, and being agile in these circumstances is key to the industry’s success. It is the passengers that we really need to start to focus on and service better. As we know, passengers don’t measure averages, they measure variation, and the old adage, that you’re only as good as your last game, could never be truer than today.”

Partnering for success

“At Downer, we talk about relationships creating success – and that’s a commitment we take seriously across our business. It means partnering with our customers, suppliers and academia to address challenges across our industry, recognising that we can do much more together than alone,” Young says.

One partnership Young says has proved immensely successful is Downer’s work with the Rail Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (CRC). Launched in 2014, the initiative works to foster, sponsor and direct collaborative research and commercialisation partnerships in rail manufacturing.

By bridging the gap between industry and academia, Downer has been able to develop innovative solutions to complex problems and tap into a nation-wide network of expertise.

“We’re investigating diverse issues ranging from data analytics to virtual reality, exploring how they can help us improve various aspects from engineering design, to maintenance, to operations. We’ve got some really smart people working with us thanks to these partnerships, bringing their expertise to the table to help us develop real, industry focussed solutions to improve the lives of everyday Australians,” Young explained.

The Rail Manufacturing CRC has actively worked with Downer on a wide range of innovative projects over the last five years, including predictive maintenance, passenger dwell time management, and battery systems. “Downer has committed to engaging with the Rail Manufacturing CRC to support the creation and adoption of new domestic rail technologies, including Dwell Track and TrainDNA. This is in addition to generously providing support to several PhD students working in leading research on miniature robots for rollingstock maintenance, and virtual and augmented training for rail,” Rail Manufacturing CRC CEO Dr Stuart Thomson said. “Not only will this research drive innovative improvements to Australia’s rail sector, it also highlights the value that Downer places in collaboration, and the resulting benefits that this provides to their organisation’s competitiveness on a global stage.”

Integrating operations

With passengers expecting a seamless transport experience, closer partnerships are just part of the answer. Organisations must also look into how technology and knowledge can be integrated for better maintenance and operations outcomes.

In May 2019, Downer launched their Integrated Operations Centre (IOC), a hub of cutting-edge technology, co-located staff and integrated systems.

The IOC brings together critical functions such as planning, engineering, mobile response and materials supply personnel to enhance operational asset management. Young says the IOC is another piece of the puzzle to improving the passenger experience.

“With the growing pains of the heavy rail networks and potential capacity gap along the east coast of Australia, we see the IOC as an opportunity to aid in the passenger experience and bridge the capacity gap through enhanced fleet management, stimulating greater reliability, capacity, availability and immediacy of response. In addition, it will unlock value to operators in the form of enhanced driver education, timetable development and passenger satisfaction,” he says. “Not only that, it provides an opportunity for us to work more closely with our customers to enhance operations, through better sharing of data, recprical information flows and real-time reporting.

“Understanding passenger experience is key, and they too can help in this process,” Young adds. “For example, the IOC also monitors social media, enabling real time monitoring of asset condition and passenger sentiment. On several occasions this has resulted in us sending a technician to the train to rectify an issue whilst it remains in revenue service.

“In the future, I think we can expect to see this kind of integration and innovation take hold across the transport industry – embracing the full ecosystem of operations, improving the passenger experience while enabling ease and speed through the rail network.”

A commitment to sustainability

Young also emphasises the increasing importance of sustainability and environmental concerns to business outcomes. “The drive towards a more sustainable future continues to gather pace, and it’s something investors are becoming more passionate about and the industry must address, while delivering an efficient, reliable and cost-effective service,” he says. “An emphasis on sustainability is core to achieving our goal of Zero Harm, and for several years Downer has focussed on developing solutions to reduce energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and repurpose trade waste across our business.”

Earlier this year, Downer delivered the first Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) in the Southern Hemisphere for a rollingstock asset – the Waratah Series 2 train – and was recognised as an industry leader at the 2019 Australasian Rail Industry Awards.

“The EPD shows the environmental impact, resource use and carbon footprint of our trains across their 30-year lifecycle and can also help predict the future performance and environmental impact of the train even at the end of the vehicle’s life. It’s something that our customers are increasingly asking for and demonstrates Downer’s commitment to environmental responsibility across the life cycle of our assets,” Young says. “With an improved understanding of our rollingstock’s full carbon footprint, we are leveraging this to shift our thinking to investigate what we can do to improve both our end of life management and through life management options during . maintenance and overhauls, to reduce the carbon impact as opportunities arise.

“For example, we’re currently investigating opportunities in cradle to cradle asset recovery in Victoria, where we’ve been working with local suppliers to understand how we can recycle laminated glass and what re-use potential there is for it within our business.

“Thought leadership is fundamental to our success, and we need to continue to collaborate and innovate across the value chain. It’s these alliances and arrangements between academia, suppliers and industry that will unlock even greater value for the rail sector.”


Visit Downer at AusRAIL PLUS at Stand 175.

Digital Rail experts to talk emerging tech, key trends

With the increasing demand for faster, reliable and state-of-the-art rail services, it’s no wonder major railway organisations and authorities across the country are harnessing technology innovation that will transform rail experiences for the future.

Some of rail’s key digital systems, data and analytics experts will gather to discuss key trends and new technologies in the digital rail sector, in Sydney from August 26 to 28 at the Digital Rail 2019 conference.

A full agenda and brochure have been released for the event, which is being run by IQPC Australia.

Speakers include:

  • Gerald Schinagl, Digital Innovation Manager, OBB (Austrian Federal Railways)
  • Chris Bennetts, Executive Director, Digital Products & Services, Customer Services, Transport for NSW
  • Sarah Capstick, Executive Director (Transition) NGTS Project, Department of Transport and Main Roads QLD
  • Warwick Talbot, Deputy Executive Director, Engineering & System Integrity, Sydney Trains
  • Paul Davies, Communication & Sustainability Manager, Northwest Rapid Transit
  • Ryan Townsendd, Manager, Digital Engineering, Sydney Metro
  • Simon Sinnott, Systems Engineering Manager, Metro Trains Melbourne
  • Stephen Lemon, Digital Systems Program Director, Transport for NSW
  • Helen Williams, Director, Rail Systems Development, Transport for NSW
  • Yvie Hough, Product and User Experience Manager, TrackSense
  • Tiago Pinto, WW Transport Solution Architect, Huawei Transport Solutions Group
  • Anthony Loui, Senior Transportation Planning Manager Metro Operations Liaison & Planning, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro)
  • Sudath Amaratunga, Technical Manager – Precincts & Infrastructure, Infrastructure & Services, Transport for NSW
  • Simon Vaux, Director Digital Engineering, Infrastructure & Services, Transport for NSW
  • Laura Stewart, Design to Innovate Partner, Aurecon
  • Jeroen Weimar, Chief Executive Officer, Public Transport Victoria
  • Professor Graham Currie, Director of Monash Infrastructure, Chair of Public Transport, Professor in Transport Engineering, Monash University

For tickets and more information, click here.

Agenda finalised ahead of next week’s Digitalize 2019

More than 51 speakers and panellists have been confirmed for next week’s digital technology and industry 4.0 event, Digitalize 2019.

The event, now in its fourth year, will take place in Brisbane on July 23. Organiser Siemens this week says delegates can expect more than 40 external speakers, and 11 global and local representatives from Siemens to speak or take part in panel sessions at the event.

This year’s conference will explore Australia’s digital future across the four core themes: workforce of the future, intelligent infrastructure, the country’s energy transition and Industry 4.0.

Speakers and panellists include:

  • Sophia Hamblin Wang, Chief Operations Officer, Mineral Carbonation International (MCi)
  • David Chuter, Chief Executive Officer, Innovative Manufacturing CRC
  • Warwick Sommer, Chief Executive Officer, AmpControl
  • Ron Victor, Chief Executive Officer, IOTium
  • Brad Flanagan, Director, Digital & Cyber Risk, Deloitte
  • Justin Nga, APAC ICS Cybersecurity Manager PAS
  • Callum Reeves, Co-owner, Kaiju Brewery
  • Simon Carr, Co-owner, Brogan’s Way Gin Distillery
  • Warren Bradford, Director, Deacam Industrial Electrical Engineering
  • Rafael Amaral, Chief Technology Officer, Nukon
  • Vikram Kalkat, Senior Manager and Didi Ismawan, Manager, Kaspersky
  • Jon Clarke, Head of Smart Building Delivery, Dexus
  • Philip Downie, Facilities Management Solutions Director, Serco Asia Pacific
  • Adrian Fahey, Chief Executive Officer, Sage Automation
  • Megan Houghton, Executive General Manager, Energy Solutions, ERM Power
  • Alexandre Torday, Global Head of Professional Services, Aimsun
  • Adam Bryant, Head of Customer Solution Architects, Asia Pacific, Nokia
  • Paul Gleeson, Managing Director Energy, Resources and Manufacturing, Aurecon


Also joining the speakers will be representatives from universities like Swinburne University of Technology, University of Technology Sydney, University of Queensland, University of Western Australia and University of Tasmania.

Digitalize 2019 is sponsored by Platinum sponsor Dell EMC, Gold sponsors Phoenix PLM and Sage Automation, and coffee cart sponsor APS Industrial.

Find out more:

Steel sleeper system trialled on Goldfields freight line

Arc Infrastructure has trialled a new style of sleeper on a freight line running from Leonora to Kalgoorlie in the Goldfields region of Western Australia.

The line is undergoing $2.3 million of improvements, including the replacement of more than 6,000 sleepers and upgrade of 2,400 sleeper plates.

The company stated that its system which involves the sleepers’ fastening system being pre-attached as a single unit to cut down on installation times would outperform traditional steel sleepers as well as timber sleepers due to reliability improvements and a longer life cycle.

“We are the first in Australia to use this type of steel sleeper which we’ve had slightly modified to better suit our installation processes,” said Arc Infrastructure head of network strategy and long-term planning, Michal Golinski.

“The sleepers are also delivered with all fastenings attached as one unit and as such reduce the number of steps within the installation process for the teams on the ground.”

The works have been delivered as part of Arc’s ongoing maintenance with major projects teams and local contractors over a two-month period.

The company said it would montior the perofrmance of the sleepers over the coming years to monitor potential improvements.

The sleepers are also recyclable once they reach the end of their usable life, being able to be recycled into new steel products.

New South Wales pushes on with rail automation

Rail Express speaks with experts from Alstom about the signalling revolution underway in New South Wales, and how modern technology helps drive capacity and performance.


The opening of Sydney Metro Northwest in May represented the first revenue services for a completely driverless passenger train in Australia.

The new line’s Alstom trains operate at the highest grade of automation as defined by the International Association of Public Transport, which defines five Grades of Automation (GoA) as follows:

  • GoA 0 is traditional on-site train operation, without any automatic systems assisting the driver or controlling the vehicle.
  • GoA 1 sees the train driver remain in full control, while being advised by an Automatic Train Protection (ATP) system, which checks the train’s speed against what is permitted by the signalling, and can help adjust speeds to stick to a timetable or improve capacity.
  • GoA 2 uses ATP and Automatic Train Operation (ATO), which drives the train during regular operations, but still uses a driver to control doors and operate the train in the event of a disruption.
  • GoA 3 removes the driver, leaving a train attendant to open and close the doors and operate the train in the event of a disruption.
  • GoA 4 is a completely automatic train system, with no staff onboard. Movement and door operations are all controlled automatically.

With GoA 4 now implemented on the Sydney Metro, Transport for NSW continues its rollout of GoA 1 through its ongoing ATP program across the electrified Sydney Trains and NSW TrainLink network, including the South Coast Line as far as Kiama, the Blue Mountains Line to Lithgow, and the Central Coast / Newcastle Line.

Rollout includes installation of balises in the rail corridor between existing trackside infrastructure to monitor train speeds, and the installation of equipment on board all suburban and Intercity train fleets, and is set to continue until at least 2020.

Meanwhile, the state will incorporate the ATP program and achieve GoA 2 on the Sydney Trains network through its Digital Systems program. Announced last year, Digital Systems is an $880 million investment in ETCS Level 2 technology, ATO, and a Traffic Management System for more effective incident management and service regulation across the network.

Alstom has worked with Transport for NSW on its ATP program for the last seven years, it delivered the rollingstock and signalling for Sydney Metro Northwest, and it is one of the top candidates in the ongoing procurement of the Digital Systems platform, which is expected to roll out in stages from the early 2020s.

With all that in mind, Alstom’s ETCS Solutions Director Vincent Passau gives Rail Express his thoughts on how operators can use ATO as a tool to improve their operations.

“When we speak about ATO, it is not simply an onboard function. It is the way you regulate and optimise the capacity of your network,” he says.

“An integrated Traffic Management System (TMS) gives a global view of the complete performance of your system; you know where your trains are, how they are behaving, where they are in comparison to the timetable.”

Passau says the accurate tracking of trains provided through modern onboard and trackside technology further aids the performance of a TMS.

“Iconis [Alstom’s mainline TMS solution] is working well in combination with ETCS technology, because the data being sent by ETCS are giving us very accurate information about the train. Not just the track section the train is on, but its exact location, speed, and its mode of operation, so our system can detect not just if a train is late, but why it is late, and adjust automatically.”

The technology allows the transfer of instructions in the other direction, telling a train to speed up or slow down within safe limits, to better comply to its timetable and to improve capacity and performance on a network-wide level.

“Once the train receives the information from the control centre, it will have the expected speed profile and the arrival time at the next station, and the ATO will compute a speed profile to achieve that within the safety limits, and while using energy in the most efficient way.”

At the control centre, Alstom’s Iconis system incorporates automatic path management functions with the goal of achieving greater efficiency on large networks with dense traffic.

Implemented in Bologna, Italy, the system automatically routed 80 per cent of traffic, and achieved a 15 per cent capacity boost. “Because you have better stability, you can increase your margins and operate your network in the most efficient way,” Passau says.

Passau says Alstom’s systems, as well as its onboard and trackside technologies, are designed with the potential for a transition between GoA 2 and GoA 4 in mind.

“Every transportation segment of rail is going towards ATO, and then we see it progressively moving from GoA 2 with a driver, to GoA 3, where it is driverless but you have a person on the train in case of incidents, or to support the passengers should they need it, up to the unattended Grade of Automation 4.

“The important element is moving fromGoA 2 to GoA 4, and key to this is replacing the driver not so much with something that can drive the train, but with something that can react to unexpected situations.”

Local track record with global support

“We’ve built up a reputation for solutions in rollingstock, signalling, systems and services, and we like to think we can take very small components – effectively products and their sub-components – to standalone solutions, all the way to bundled offers of two or more of our solutions,” Alstom Australia’s Customer Director NSW Alan Trestour says.

In Melbourne, Alstom continues to deliver its Metropolis trainsets. For the Sydney CBD & South East Light Rail project, Alstom is delivering traction power substations, overhead catenary systems, rollingstock, signalling, passenger information systems and the ongoing maintenance of those solutions.

Alstom delivered and will maintain the new rollingstock for the recently-opened Sydney Metro Northwest, and will also maintain the CBTC signalling solution it provided for the new line.

Alstom’s Mainline Platform VP Jean-Marc Nizet, visiting Australia in April, reflected on how the company was responding to an increased desire for modern signalling technology around the world.

“Just as you have in Australia, there is a growing demand all over the place for signalling for railways,” he told Rail Express. “The biggest challenge we face as an industry is having the competence to sustain all that.

“To respond to this we have our global strategy, which first aims to provide our customers with strong local teams, to help with all aspects of a project – whether it’s engineering, maintenance or design – but to then support that team with global network of knowledge bases.”

Digital technologies transforming conservative rail sector

Siemens Mobility’s Vice President of Data Services Gerhard Kress will discuss the challenges faced by rail during its digital transformation, as part of a cross-industry panel at a Brisbane event in July.

Kress has been added to a cross-industry panel of experts who will discuss the potential of artificial intelligence, data analytics and insights at the Siemens’ Digatilize 2019 conference in Brisbane on July 2.

“Digital technologies, especially the smart use of data, is transforming what has so far been a conservative rail industry,” Kress said ahead of the event.

“For rail and other industries, digitalization is not an option. There is no alternative to implementing such technologies and embracing the changes.

“However, there are challenges to this transition. From finding people with the right digital skills to changing the way a rail operator does business by leveraging the digital technologies and data analytics to offer better services to customers and passengers.

“I’m looking forward to visiting Brisbane for Digitalize 2019 where I can share my experience implementing digital technologies globally and discuss how we can together overcome the challenges ahead.”

A prolific global speaker on Internet of Things (IoT), Kress was responsible for starting Siemens’ data services team in 2014 in Germany and growing it into a world-renowned new business model of MindSphere Application Centres that collect and analyse big data in over 60 countries, including Australia.

While his current focus is on machine learning and artificial intelligence concepts in rail and rail infrastructure, Kress has extensive background in other industrial process sectors and data-centric IT strategies.

Kress started his professional career in McKinsey & Company, where he focused on growth initiatives and high-tech industries. He holds a German diploma in Theoretical Physics and a Master of Arts in International Relations and European Studies.

Before his time in data services, he worked in Siemens Corporate Technology as well as Siemens Corporate Strategy and was responsible for the corporate big data initiative “Smart Data to Business”.

Kress is added to a list of key speakers also including Michelle Price, CEO of AustCyber, Kevin Kehl from Powerlink, Grant Statton from FKG, Will Shrapnel, CEO of Helimods, and Martin Powell, Head of Urban Development at Siemens – formerly the Deputy Mayor of London for Energy & Environment.

Themed ‘Unlock the Potential’, the full-day conference will feature a line-up of global and local industry experts engaging in keynote sessions and panel discussions around how Australian businesses across various sectors can unlock their potential with the use of digitalization. The discussions will centre around four sub-themes of Industry 4.0, Intelligent Infrastructure, Australia’s Energy Transition and Workforce of the Future.

More information is available here.

Rio Tinto AutoHaul trains establish WA as ‘global leader’ for rail technology

Mining major Rio Tinto has joined the Western Australia Government and technology partner Hitachi Rail STS to celebrate the successful rollout of its AutoHaul autonomous freight rail network.

The project, which has been in the making for over 10 years since the launch of Rio Tinto’s Mine of the Future initiative in 2008, is formally considered the world’s first automated heavy-haul long distance rail network, and delivering its first iron ore in July 2018. The driverless train system has also been informally referred to by Rio Tinto itself as the “world’s largest robot”.

The 2.4 kilometre-long trains, which are monitored and controlled from Rio Tinto’s Remote Operations Centre (ROC) in Perth, deliver iron ore from 16 mines to ports in Dampier and Cape Lambert across a 1,700-kilometre network. In total, the trains have now travelled over 4.5 million kilometres collectively since their first deployment last year.

Rio Tinto Iron Ore managing director Ivan Vella said that the project had attracted worldwide interest and cemented Western Australia as a heavy-haul rail leader.

“The success of AutoHaul would not have been possible without the expertise, collaboration and dedication of teams within Rio Tinto and our numerous partners,” said Vella.

WA Minister for Mines and Petroleum Bill Johnston also congratulated Rio Tinto, Hitachi and other partners on the project (which includes companies such as New York Air Brake and Wabtec) for their dedication to delivering AutoHaul.

“AutoHaul has brought the rail freight industry in this country into the 21st century and is rightfully the subject of global interest,” Johnston said. “I’d also like to mention that the development of the world’s biggest robot is such a success because of the contribution from Western Australia’s skilled engineers and innovative workers.”

Applying the lessons of Gotthard to the local market

Passenger rail owners and operators in Australia and New Zealand are keen to embrace the digital revolution to enhance the efficiency and capacity of their systems. What lessons can be learned from the European market, and one of its biggest ever projects?

Chris Glaettli is the Technical Solutions Manager for Rail Signalling within Thales’ Ground Transportation Systems business in Australia. Prior to a recent move Down Under, he worked with Thales to deliver signalling solutions for a pair of massive Alpine tunnels: the 35-kilometre Lötschberg Base Tunnel, and the world record, 57-kilometre Gotthard Base Tunnel.

The Gotthard Base Tunnel is the longest railway tunnel on the planet. At a maximum depth of 2,450 metres, it is also the world’s deepest traffic tunnel. Excavation began in 2004, 12 years before the tunnel was finished and opened to passenger and freight services, in June 2016.

As a member of the rail delivery consortium for the project, Thales integrated its ETCS Level 2 technology into the Gotthard Base Tunnel, facilitating the circulation of more than 300 trains per day at operational speeds of 200km/hr in both directions. After designing and testing in its Zurich laboratory, Thales managed the production, installation, integration and homologation of rail signalling for the tunnel, within the overall system.

Glaettli speaks fondly of his eight years working on the delivery team for Gotthard, and is keenly aware of the lessons learned along the way.

“The biggest lesson from the Gotthard experience was the importance of collaboration,” he tells Rail Express, “starting with a collaboration with the railway operator, to determine what the real need was.

“It’s really about understanding each other. More collaboration in the early phases of the project is a big reason we were able to deliver an optimal solution over a year early, despite the scale of the project.

“Collaboration is one of our key strengths at Thales. We’re close to the customer, we’re open to learn what the particular needs are, and we’re also open to share some knowledge about our product and the processes to apply our product. It’s a win-win.

“It’s really important that the operator understands the products of the suppliers, and the suppliers understand the needs of the railway, so when it comes down to tendering there is a much more informed set of requirements to fulfil which leads to a more efficient and targeted tender process.”

Glaettli believes Australian operators could benefit from this same level of collaboration during the early phases of major projects. “Australia has a different way to contract railway suppliers [to Europe],” he notes.

Collaboration and mutual understanding are especially important in the current market in Australia and New Zealand, where operators are keen to embrace the global trend towards the digitalisation of rail systems, to enhance their efficiency, capacity and reliability. Glaettli says he sees a number of opportunities in the region where digitalisation can impact passenger operations from the ground up, helping busy operators get more efficient, and boost their capacity.

“When we look at Australian cities, we see an increasing need for more trains, to move more passengers per corridor, across the whole rail network,” he says. “Just about everywhere we look, key railways are reaching their peak capacity, so they need to find ways to operate more efficiently.”

Glaettli says Thales is ready to work with operators early in the process to understand their needs.

“We have to deliver value for money, so first we need to carefully understand what is the best approach to an optimal outcome for the customer,” he explains. “Often the pressure on the operator comes from legacy systems which are end-of-life, and we will replace them or interface to them, depending on the specific need and operational requirements. Thales assesses the operational procedures of these legacy systems and will configure our systems to help improve them.

“The customer can choose what components they want to focus on, and we can configure for them the needed parts; all the way from the axle counter up to the interlocking, and up to the traffic management system.”

These components are what Glaettli refers to as the ‘building blocks’ of rail digitalisation. Whether the focus is on traffic control, scheduling, planning, routing, signalling or monitoring, there are advantages to be gained from a digital approach.

Digitalising a TMS

Glaettli says his team has developed a specific process when it comes to the digitalisation of a rail operator’s Traffic Management System (TMS). Thales has broken down the process of transitioning from a legacy TMS to a fully digital TMS, in three stages.

“The first stage is just for the TMS to assess the timetable, isolating its different routes and services,” Glaettli explains. “The second stage, interfacing, is where the TMS is allowed to ‘read’ off the network, but not ‘write’ into the system – instead it simply suggests changes when conflicts arise.

“The final stage is a fully integrated TMS, which can not only read the network, but make decisions based on its knowledge of the network, and directly set routes accordingly. We call this automatic conflict resolution.”

Thales’ TMS can be coupled with train control systems at varying levels of automation, looping in with driver advisory systems where applicable.

“That’s where it gets really interesting,” Glaettli says. “We can really make use of the Big Data we gather from the network, and we can go into flow control of the network, meaning every train journey is optimised for energy use and time.”


One discussion during a recent RISSB conference in Melbourne focused on the merits of both ETCS (European Train Control Standard) and CBTC (Communications Based Train Control) as contrasting options for operators seeking a modern signalling solution.

Speaking with Rail Express, Glaettli weighed in, concurring with the general sentiment that neither solution is universally better than the other. Thales offers both in its signalling portfolio, and Glaettli says finding the right option comes down to the precise needs of the customer.

“What we’ve seen is there are really two kinds of networks,” he says. “The first is a metro style network, more suited to CBTC, which is a linewide approach, benefitting from its isolation.”

CBTC is the technology being installed on new standalone metro lines being built in Sydney and Melbourne.

“Then there is mainline, or regional, where ETCS is more appropriate,” Glaettli continues. “Under ETCS there is a standard interface between the unit on the train and the track, so you can have different vendors at both stages.

“ETCS allows for multiple rollingstock types running through the same network, and for mainline use this is a basic need. ETCS is an open standard and is interoperable, because this is a basic requirement in Europe, where we have many countries and operators.”