Rail Express speaks with Aldridge Railway Signals experts David Aldridge and Phil Anderson about the group’s turnkey rail signal offering, and a new approach to the design and manufacture of automated railway crossings.
Aldridge Railway Signals has supplied signals in Australia since 1989. Today, it exports signals to New Zealand, Ireland, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Myanmar, where it has opened an office. In another turn of growth, the company has established an arm dedicated to the complete design, construction, testing and commissioning of signalling projects, named Aldridge Signal Infrastructure (ASI).
Established by Aldridge in 2015 with a small team boasting more than 100 years of collective experience in rail, ASI has continually developed its internal team of specialists.
ASI Managing Director Phil Anderson says the business has gone to great length to engage leaders in the signalling field, particularly around the benefits of a single provider to administer the design, installation, testing and commissioning of turnkey signalling solutions.
“This approach can help minimise a client’s exposure to variations, lower their project management and administration costs, and can provide them with tighter control over project outcomes,” Anderson tells Rail Express. “It also mitigates the client’s exposure to project delays which can arise when they must engage multiple stakeholders to deliver the work. Additional time and cost savings come in a similar way when it comes to WHSE, Quality and Environmental issues; a single provider means uniformity of project control systems.”
ASI breaks each project into eight discrete steps: client concept design and specification; rail signal functional specification; supply and manufacture; site installation; testing; commissioning; site demobilisation; warranty. The aim is to ensure all projects are delivered on time and on budget with zero harm, meeting the client’s project coals.
Anderson says ASI puts a team of highly skilled professionals behind each step of this turnkey process. During peak work periods, ASI also engages a pool of highly experienced, trusted and respected subcontractors.
“ASI has a network of subcontractors that are engaged on a needs basis,” he explains. “These subcontractors are a critical part of project delivery and as such regular open communication is in place with all subcontractors providing early warning of upcoming works. ASI acknowledges that the rail industry has limited qualified resources and as such shares its resources with other subcontractors if an when required. This willingness to assist others attributes to the high level of cooperation and support ASI receives in return.”
Since its launch in 2015, ASI has delivered a number of projects. At Moorebank in Sydney, ASI upgraded the existing Westrace MKI Interlocking to the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC)’s first Westrace MKII interlocking through the Sydney Intermodal Terminal Alliance (SIMTA) Terminal.
Regional work has included the Georges Plains Crossing Loop; a new loop between Bathurst and Newbridge on the Main West Line. The project, delivered for John Holland CRN, included four new level crossings and in-section controlled signals for following movements in the Georges Plains to Newbridge section.
ASI has also upgraded eleven level crossings throughout New South Wales for the ARTC and John Holland CRN under the Level Crossing Improvement Project.
New regional offices
Recognising the importance of upplying services to the Southern and South Western districts of NSW, ASI opened an office and manufacturing facility in Goulburn in June 2019.
The facility’s team includes four Signal Engineers, four Signal Electricians, a Workshop Supervisor and many Signal Installers.
Aldridge says the facility will provide engineering and support services to all clients, and lead the building of signalling location cases, walk in huts and ancillary equipment.
Recognising the importance of supplying its services to Inland Rail, Aldridge says it won’t be long before offices will be announced in other regional locations.
A better solution for rural crossings
Automated railway crossings traditionally come at a significant capital and ongoing cost. The installation of remote track sensors often means kilometres of trenches must be dug trackside for cabling.
Ongoing costs and inconveniences can arise particularly in rural areas, where traditional track circuit based solutions can be made unreliable due to oxidation of rail surfaces, and other failures due to materials on the tracks such as oil, leaf litter, crushed ballast and sand; factors all exacerbated by the range of environmental conditions such as extreme temperatures and rainfall. Additionally, traditional track circuits have high power requirements requiring mains infrastructure for continuous operation.
These sorts of factors can make automated railway crossings prohibitively expensive for many rural locations, leading to the use of passive systems, unpowered in many situations.
With projects like Inland Rail set to boost traffic on regional rail, Aldridge’s Managing Director, David Aldridge, says the company’s Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) business, has been developing the Wireless Level Crossing (WLX) solution, which takes on the challenge of designing a better, safer and cheaper automated level crossing system for rural intersections.
Aldridge says the WLX avoids the problems and high costs associated with track circuits and cabling for automated level crossings by incorporating low power high security radio technology with inductive sensor technology to detect trains approaching a level crossing.
Wireless technology communicates information about the approaching rail vehicles to wayside equipment which provides a warning to road users. System power is derived from solar panels, and communication back to a central server uses 3G/4G to log and manage system data. User access is managed from the central server.
Should sensors need to be located in cuttings or on bends, relay towers (repeaters) can be set up between the sensor transmission tower and the railway crossing to prevent transmission loss.
“There are no cables between any warning devices which electrically isolates the warning elements, further increasing the resilience of the system,” Aldridge explains. “The inductive wheel sensor’s detection electronics are integrated into the main controller, increasing the reliability and reducing the cost of the system. Battery and solar powered technology also significantly reduces the costs for remote sites that have no power.”
This suits the primary aim of the WLX system: to provide a low-cost and low-maintenance alternative for delivery of safety-critical warnings to road users at railway level crossings. In addition, the WLX provides back-to-base monitoring and real-time reporting of every installed device thus allowing for increased efficiency in maintenance activities.
“The WLX system is designed to SIL3 standards, and has two independent RX5 warning signals per level crossing, further increasing resilience,” Aldridge adds.
A pre-production version currently being installed for type approval with the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) at a rural NSW site. Subject to receipt of that final approval, the WLX product will be ready for commercialisation to other RIMs in Australia and overseas from early 2020. This new system represents a completely new approach to the design and construction of automated railway crossings, making them particularly attractive to remote, rural locations.
The WLX System is built and tested in the Aldridge manufacturing factory in Sydney. The WLX System is extensively tested before shipping to site. Very little work on site is required to install and commission the WLX System greatly reducing the installation and commissioning costs compared to a traditional level crossing system.