Revitalising Newcastle. Photo: Revitalising Newcastle

Newcastle Light Rail tender released

Transport for NSW is seeking a technical advisor for the Newcastle Light Rail project.

An open request for tenders was published to NSW eTendering on August 11, seeking “experienced and suitably qualified organisations for the provision  of engineering, urban design and light rail systems advice for the Newcastle Light Rail project”.

The Newcastle Light Rail line is proposed to run from the Wickham Transport Interchange – currently under construction – through to the Newcastle CBD, at Pacific Park.

To make way for the development, the state government shut down the heavy rail line into Newcastle at Hamilton station on Boxing Day last year. When Wickham Transport Interchange is completed, the line will re-open as far as Wickham.

The long term plan to destroy the heavy rail line beyond Wickham has drawn heavy criticism – and a lawsuit – from community group Save Our Rail.

With the state of that case currently in limbo in the Court of Appeal, the government is moving on with its plan to deliver a light rail network to Newcastle. A fortnight after it revealed the design for the new interchange, TfNSW announced the technical advisor tender.

“Make no mistake, we are getting on with the job of delivering these key revitalisation projects for the people of Newcastle,” state transport minister Andrew Constance said. “This tender represents the next step towards delivering light rail and follows geotechnical investigations that took place earlier this year.”

The tender calls for suitably qualified organisations to fulfil the role of technical advisor. Tenderers must be able to demonstrate specialist experience in engineering, urban design and light rail systems.

Specifically, TfNSW says it will only consider tenderers who have undertaken the design of a light rail “or other relevant rail infrastructure” development project worth more than $50 million, within the last five years.

“We are committed to getting light rail in Newcastle right,” Constance continued.

“To do this, we need the right people to advise us on a range of technical studies that will feed into the planning process.

“The delivery of a well-planned light rail network in Newcastle will help reignite confidence in the region, boosting jobs and visitor numbers.”

Further consultation and the release of planning documents for Newcastle Light Rail are expected in late 2015.

Sydney Train

UGL Unipart wins Tangara upgrade deal

The joint venture of engineer UGL and logistics consultant Unipart has announced a $131 million deal to upgrade Transport for NSW’s Tangara fleet, and will include Mitsubishi in the works.

Sydney’s Tangara electric multiple units (EMUs) were manufactured by UGL predecessor Goninan, under a 450 carriage contract awarded in 1986. Built at Goninan’s Broadmeadow site and delivered between 1988 and 1995, the Tangaras represent Sydney’s third generation of passenger rolling stock.

With the first generation (the ‘red rattlers’) long gone, and the majority of the second generation phased out, the Tangaras are now among the oldest EMUs on the Sydney Trains network.


Tangara details. Graphic: Sydney Trains
Tangara details. Graphic: Sydney Trains


UGL Unipart Rail Services is a 70/30 joint venture, which holds the Sydney Trains Level 3 maintenance contract, meaning it provides heavy maintenance and supply chain services to 1,050 passenger cars in the metropolitan fleet.

The new $131 million contract, awarded to the joint venture last week, means UGL Unipart Rail will carry out a technology upgrade of the 446 Tangara railcars still in service.

UGL said the technology upgrade “extends the life of the existing Tangara fleet and aligns the railcars with the latest generation of trains on the Sydney network”.

The scope of works includes management, design, supply, integration, testing and commissioning of the upgrade to train operation systems, door systems and other customer experience enhancements.

Mitsubishi Electric will be responsible for the train operation system upgrade, along with associated design and other technology or traction related systems, UGL explained.

UGL boss Ross Taylor said the contract was the result of a close, 20-year working relationship between UGL and the NSW government.

“We have undertaken strategic technology projects such as the Digital Train Radio Systems, completed a refurbishment of the Tangara fleet in 2014 under budget and ahead of schedule and have an ongoing role in the maintenance of rolling stock,” Taylor detailed.

“This contract further demonstrates the capability of UGL Unipart Rail to add value to the Sydney fleet and we look forward to working with our customer to achieve their goals in enhancing the transportation system for Sydney commuters.”

Hyperloop. Artist's impression: SpaceX

The future of rail travel, and why it doesn’t look like Hyperloop

As the world’s population becomes increasingly urbanised, it is estimated that the number of journeys measured in passenger-kilometres will triple by 2050. Roads simply can’t absorb this increase, but what can? Roberto Palacin investigates.

Railways, with their greater capacity for carrying more people, quickly and with greater energy efficiency, are the best bet to become our mobility backbone. Of course, engineers’ imaginations have created many alternatives to the original steel-on-steel approach to the railway. Maglev and the much-publicised but so far theoretical Hyperloop are often regarded as the ones to watch – but do they really represent the future of rail travel?



Magnetic levitation (maglev) uses powerful magnets to propel the train along dedicated lines that are as straight as possible. The attractive forces between electronically controlled electromagnets in the vehicle and the ferromagnetic guide rails pull the vehicle up, while additional guidance magnets keep it laterally on track. This version of the technology was developed in Germany and is currently used to link Shanghai airport with the city centre at speeds of 430kph (267mph).

However it’s perhaps Japan that is most associated with maglev. The nation that established the modern era of high-speed trains is also attempting to define the next chapter. Superconducting magnetic levitation (SCMaglev) has been in development for decades but was recently approved to run from Tokyo to Osaka from 2027, when it will complete the 500km (311 mile) journey in just over an hour. Unlike the Transrapid system in Shanghai, the Japanese maglev principle uses more powerful “superconducting” magnets and a guideway design based on repulsive rather than attractive forces.

But while maglev is technically possible, its commercial viability is questionable. There is an extremely high initial infrastructure cost – Japan’s SCMaglev line is expected to cost ¥9 trillion (US$72 billion). It also cannot be integrated with existing rail networks and has a phenomenal energy demand, during both construction and operation. This casts serious doubts about maglev’s true potential as an alternative to conventional high-speed technology.



Hyperloop is an elegant idea: travelling seamlessly at 1,220kph (that’s right, 760mph – just under the speed of sound) in gracefully designed pods that arrive as often as every 30 seconds is very appealing. The concept is based around very straight tubes with a partial vacuum applied under the pods. These pods have an electric compressor fan on their nose which actively transfers high-pressure air from the front to the rear, creating an air cushion once a linear electric motor has launched the pod. All this would be battery and solar powered.

Technically it’s a challenging design, although if someone can make it happen it’s the man who proposed the idea, Elon Musk, the man behind SpaceX and Tesla. However, Hyperloop is not rail travel. It is, as Musk puts it, a fifth mode of transport (after trains, cars, boats and planes). It’s designed to link Los Angeles to San Francisco; cities hundreds of miles apart that can be connected in an almost straight line over a relative flat landscape. This simply isn’t an option in much of the world.

Ultimately, if Hyperloop happens at all it will be a stand-alone system. It’s no substitute for rail.


What else?

In practice, the vast majority of us will continue to travel on trains that are not dissimilar to those that are around today. The UK is about to take delivery of 122 trains that will be the workhorses of most intercity travel for decades to come. They could still be in service come 2050, albeit following several refurbishments.

Greater automation are expected to dominate not just rail but all types of travel. Automatic train operation is already used in some urban railways which allows for shorter distances between trains on the same line. It is anticipated that in the future all mainline trains will be able to communicate with each other, meaning significantly more trains on the track, increasing capacity and service levels.

This in turn will make physical line-side signalling equipment redundant, leading to more simple layouts for new lines. Better use of energy on electrically powered intercity rail travel will likely play a significant role. For instance, energy storage systems and advanced substations will allow a shift to smarter rail systems.

Future predictions are to be treated with caution. But state-of-the-art railway investment around the globe is still largely based on the steel-on-steel principle of trains on tracks. And there’s no reason to doubt that this will be the define future of rail travel in coming decades – just as it has done since the birth of rail nearly 200 years ago.

Roberto Palacin is senior research associate, Railway Systems Research Group at Newcastle University. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article here.

Union station rail incident. Photo: Oneida County

How was boy, 13, able to cause train wreck?

VIDEO: US officials have released stunning footage of a rail car ploughing into a station after a 13-year-old boy allegedly set the car in motion while playing in a rail yard.

Footage shows a single, uncontrolled rail car travelling towards Union Station, in Utica, New York, before it slams into the railway station’s building, narrowly avoiding bystanders waiting to board an Amtrak passenger service.

According to reports, nobody was killed in the incident, and just one minor injury was recorded.

The wagon was filled with plastic pellets, and weighed more than 100 tonnes at the time of the collision, according to Utica Police Lieutenant Steve Hauck, who spoke the following day with local radio station WIBX.

Hauck said the wagon travelled downhill for several miles, hitting a car (resulting in the minor injury) on its way to Union Station.

At Union Station, the wagon reached the end of a runoff track which backed onto the station building.

It rammed into an antique locomotive stationed at the end of the track, resulting in damage Oneida County said will be very costly to undo.


Police later ascertained a 13-year-old set the car in motion, while playing in a rail yard. According to an AP report, police allege the child accidentally kicked the rail car’s latch while playing on it, setting the wagon in motion.

Oneida County has accepted the judgement of Utica Police Department investigators, that the child had no criminal intent.

But county executive Anthony J. Picente, Jr. says someone else should have to pay to fix the damage.

“Of continued concern is how it was possible for a 13-year-old child to set this train car in motion through the City of Utica,” Picente said on July 31.

“I understand that the Federal Railroad Administration has concluded that proper procedure was followed. That is astounding.

“There was significant danger to our citizens and there is significant damage to our train station and someone is responsible and it isn’t the taxpayers of Oneida County. Oneida County Government has done nothing wrong. Oneida County taxpayers have done nothing wrong.”

Picente said the county was owed a better explanation than ‘proper procedure’ was followed.

“I call on the FRA and the NTSB to give this government and the people of this county a real explanation,” he campaigned.

“If ‘proper procedure’ can result in an accident caused by a 13-year-old playing on a rail car that has sat unattended for 14 days, someone should change the procedure – immediately.”

Electronic Authority. Photo: 4Tel

Electronic Authority functionality a success on CRN

4Tel’s recent work installing Electronic Authority functionality on a NSW rail network is just one example of where digital technology can help the industry, managing director Derel Wust says.

A telecommunications engineer by trade, Wust says the rail industry can benefit significantly through the use of modern digital technologies to solve railway safety and operational problems.

“One issue the rail industry generally doesn’t understand is ‘digital’ communications, and the safety and efficiency benefits that can be derived from digital solutions,” Wust said in a Q&A with Rail Express affiliate Informa Insights this week.

“For example, the rail industry will often refer to the need for ‘vital communications’ to protect safety for the carriage of signalling data.

“However, in the digital world, communications are not vital as all communications use connectionless packets of data. Communications can be interrupted at any time.

“Therefore, safety is achieved by safe processes, not any given communications path used. The only common methodology between the two concepts is that systems need to ‘fail-safe’.”

4Tel develops and maintains systems as a subcontractor on John Holland’s Country Regional Network in NSW.

As part of its most recent work for John Holland, 4Tel has delivered Electronic Authority functionality within the Train Management and Control System’s computer-based Train Orders System.

Under the new system, Wust explained, an Electronic Authority is transmitted to the train as an encrypted digital message, and is then displayed on the train-fitted radio screen.

“Prior to this enhancement, a Movement Authority was issued by the Network Controller, initiating a voice telephone call to the train driver, and reading out the Electronic Authority contents for the driver to write down onto a form,” Wust explained.

“Voice-based authorities are time-consuming to issue and prone to human error. By digitising this process, we have increased safety and efficiency of both above and below rail operations without the need to fit any new equipment to a locomotive.”

This project went live on June 25 this year, and uptake has been very high, according to Wust.

“Just last week [July 19 to 25], we had an average of 91% of Electronic Authorities for the week and we anticipate reaching closer to 100% in the near future,” he said.

“The response from John Holland Network Controllers and the train drivers to the implementation of Electronic Authorities has been very positive.”

Wust will speak at the Telecommunications and Train Control Forum in Sydney next month. Click here for more information.

NSW TrainLink. Photo: Creative Commons / Abesty

Maitland support centre to track customer safety

NSW Trainlink on Tuesday opened its new state-of-the-art Regional Customer Support Centre at Maitland Station to provide 24 hour, seven day a week support to its customers.

State minister for transport and infrastructure Andrew Constance officially opened the new centre.

He said it is equipped to provide up-to-the-minute travel information to customers from the Central Coast, Hunter and the state’s North and North West, and to deal swiftly with safety or service incidents on the network.

“This is the first ever dedicated centre of its kind for the state’s regional train customers,” Constance said. “The support centre will give real-time service updates to customers using station speaker systems, help points and CCTV to help customers with questions or safety concerns.”

In the past, this service was provided to customers remotely from Sydney with the help of a small team in the Hunter with limited technology, Constance explained.

“This new centre is a smarter and safer way of working and means our train customers know they’re being looked after by a team of regional staff located closer to the action.

“By having this new customer centre based in Maitland, staff will be able draw on their local knowledge and contacts to help customers.”

Constance noted the Maitland centre also means if a safety or security incident does occur, NSW TrainLink can work directly with local police commands and other authorities to speed up the response.

Initially the new centre will be trialled for intercity stations on the Central Coast & Newcastle and Hunter Lines, before being expanded to monitor 13 major regional stations including Armidale, Casino, Coffs Harbour, Gloucester, Grafton, Gunnedah, Kempsey, Moree, Murwillumbah, Narrabri, Tamworth, Taree and Wauchope.

Subway station. Public Domain

$280m contracts continue New York’s CBTC rollout

VIDEO: The installation of Communications-Based Train Control (CBTC) in one of the world’s most-used rail networks will continue, with a pair of contracts handed out in New York this month.

New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) announced on July 20 that 67-month contracts had been awarded to Siemens Industry Incorporated, and Thales Transport & Security Incorporated, currently the only two MTA-qualified vendors for CBTC projects.

The Siemens contract is for approximately US$156.2 million, and Thales contract is for US$49.6 million. Together they are worth US$205.8 million, or roughly A$280 million.

The contracts cover the installation of a CBTC signalling system on the Queens Boulevard Line.

Known around the world as the Subway, New York City’s rapid transit system is one of the world’s largest, with 1,355km of track along 373km of defined routes, and 468 stations in operation.

The New York Subway served 1.75 billion passengers in 2014, making it the seventh-busiest metro system globally, behind only the Beijing Subway, the Shanghai Metro, the Seoul Subway, the Moscow Metro, the Tokyo Metro and the Guangzhou Metro.

The Queens Boulevard Line is one of the Subway’s busiest, with a daily ridership of more than 250,000 in 2014.

CBTC signalling, which is replacing the existing interlocking system, is currently in operation on the Canarsie Line (567,000 daily ridership in 2014), and is being installed on the Flushing Line (818,000 daily ridership in 2014).

“The CBTC signalling system is a vital part of our plan to address issues of overcrowding, record ridership and service delays,” MTA boss Thomas F. Prendergast said.

“CBTC represents the MTA’s efforts to bring advanced technology to a century-old subway system that, in some parts, has not been updated in decades.

“On the L Line [the Canarsie Line] where CBTC has been installed for several years now, we have seen improved service and we have been able to increase capacity significantly.

“Once we’re done installing CBTC on the 7 Line [the Flushing Line], those customers will also benefit from similarly improved and increased service, and the Queens Boulevard project is a continuation of our efforts to make those improvements system-wide.”

As well as awarding the two CBTC contracts to Thales and Siemens, MTA also approved a separate US$1.2 million contract for Mitsubishi Electric Power Products Incorporated, to develop and test CBTC software and systems, with the goal of qualifying an additional supplier for future CBTC projects.

“This process widens the pool of vendors to compete for such projects and increases the potential for cost savings for the MTA,” the authority said.

Politics reportedly delaying Metro timetable

Melbourne newspaper the Age has claimed the new Metro timetable is being delayed by the Andrews Government’s hesitation to remove peak-hour services from the politically-critical Frankston line.

The government opened the 47.5km Regional Rail Link in June, separating regional Ballarat, Bendigo and Geelong services from suburban services. To take advantage of the new capacity, it planned to release a new timetable.

So far no timetable has been released. And according to a Wednesday report in the Age, the delay is due to the government’s desire to maintain current peak services to the Frankston line.

Four election seats – Bentleigh, Carrum, Mordialloc and Frankston – are situated along the Frankston line. Known as the ‘sand-belt’ seats, all four changed hands to the Coalition at the 2010 state election, and all four changed hands again, to Labor, at the 2014 election[note]Frankston was won by Geoff Shaw in 2010, when he was part of the Coalition. He resigned from the Liberal Party in March 2013, becoming an Independent. Labor won the seat in 2014.[/note].

Public transport minister Jacinta Allan said in February the timetable would be delayed in line with a delay to the opening of the Regional Rail Link, saying the previous Coalition Government delayed the project when it failed to order V/Line rolling stock in its first two years in power.

“The Liberals and Nationals were going to open Regional Rail Link knowing there was a massive risk of service cancellations and commuter chaos,” Allan claimed.

“The Regional Rail Link was planned and funded under the previous Labor Government,” she said. “All the Coalition had to do was order enough trains but apparently that was too hard.”

At the time, Allan said the delay to the opening of the Regional Rail Link also meant a delay to the implementation of metropolitan train, tram and bus timetable changes.

But according to the Age report, the only thing holding the new timetables back is the Andrews Government “baulking” at changes that would remove some Frankston line trains from the City Loop during peak times.

Changes stalled by the government would also see Glen Waverley line trains, which use the loop in the afternoon, instead terminating at Flinders Street. And like the Frankston line, some peak-hour trains on the Craigieburn line would also miss the City Loop.

It’s all part of the former Coalition Government’s five year plan, which was scheduled to run to 2017, had the Andrews Government not intervened this year.

“The secret Liberal timetable would have come at the expense of thousands of commuters on Frankston, Glen Waverley and Craigieburn lines,” acting public transport minister Luke Donnellan was quoted by the Fairfax paper.

On his personal blog, Public Transport Users Association spokesman Daniel Bowen wrote that he was disappointed the changes were being delayed, but said he hoped they went ahead eventually.

“The Loop changes would be painful for some, but the pay-off (as usual) is more frequent services, roughly a 20% peak boost on some lines, up to 50% in the evenings (from two trains per hour to three) and further moves towards ten minute services all-day everyday,” Bowen wrote.

“You can’t have all the lines converging on the four track City Loop,” he said. “Those tracks are pretty much full. To make better use of the substantial track capacity in the CBD, some lines have to go direct into Flinders Street and Southern Cross.”

CAF AM class train Auckland. Photo: Creative Commons / Dc4444

After tough transition, electric takes over in Auckland

CAF-built electric trains will be operating on all of Auckland’s lines from next Monday, July 20, with a tough transition from diesel rollingstock now nearly complete, local authority Auckland Transport has said.

Auckland Transport rail services manager Craig Inger said the rollout has been completed a few weeks ahead of schedule. “We started running the first electric trains in April last year and here we are 15 months later going all electric,” he said. “That’s great.”

The new trains are the New Zealand Auckland Metro (AM) class EMU, manufactured in Spain by CAF, under a contract signed in 2011. In total CAF will deliver 57 trains to Auckland, and Auckland Transport said the last trains are currently being shipped from Spain, with the full fleet set to be in service by the end of the year.

CAF AM class train Auckland. - Photo: Auckland Transport
Photo: Auckland Transport

Inger said the trains have so far been very popular with customers. With each 3-car, 72m train able to carry 380 passengers – roughly 230 seated – the new trains mean extra capacity as well as improved comfort for passengers, he said.

At peak times, the trains can be coupled into 6-car sets to provide even more capacity. They also have wider doors than the old trains, are much quieter, and accelerate faster, according to Inger.

By the time the new timetable comes into effect, Aucklanders will have taken more than 14 million trips across the Auckland rail network in the past year, a 21% increase, Auckland Transport estimates.

But the transition to electric trains has not been without issue. Ongoing issues caused by the ageing diesel fleet have for “a tough few months”.

“Running both electric and diesel trains has caused a few problems,” Inger explained. “We are working hard with KiwiRail, CAF and [operator] Transdev to improve performance and reliability.

“We will continue to make improvements when the all-electric fleet is operational.”

CAF AM class train Auckland. Photo: Creative Commons / Auckland Transport Blog
Photo: Creative Commons / Auckland Transport Blog

With the increased number of services now operating on the network, schedules are very tight, and work is continuing to make sure trains meet their spot at the busy Newmarket and Britomart stations.

Customers will see an improvement in punctuality as drivers become more familiar with the new trains, Inger added.

“We hope we can keep any disruption to a minimum but overseas experience shows that we have to be prepared for the possibility.”

From 20 July, buses will shuttle passengers between Swanson and the former Waitakere station. On the Southern Line, the electric trains end at Papakura and there will be a shuttle service using diesel trains to and from Pukekohe.

Perth B-series train. Credit: Creative Commons / DBZ2313

WA consulting market on Perth transport Wi-Fi

WA’s Public Transport Authority has launched a market consultation tender on behalf of the WA Government, to investigate providing free Wi-Fi to public transport customers.

The Free to Public Wi-Fi Access on WA Public Transport Market Consultation was issued to Tenders WA by the Public Transport Authority on July 7, and state transport minister Dean Nalder on Sunday said the government planned a trial involving trains and buses, as well as central Perth stations and bus stops.

“We live in a highly connected community,” Nalder said. “We use online services to shop, bank and chat with our friends and families.

“Governments need to respond to the community’s preference for greater flexibility, quick access to information and easier transactions.

“This is part of our strategy to deliver a better customer service for passengers.”

A number of companies have approached the government in recent times, with some offering to install Wi-Fi for free, in exchange for advertising revenue, Nalder said.

“I am confident we already have the best public transport system in the country,” he said, “but it is important we stay ahead of the curve and look at ways we can improve.”

The planned trial would run on 10 trains, on all lines. The length of the trial is still to be determined. The market consultation tender closes on September 1.

PTA said on the WA Tenders site: “Respondents are invited to provide details of supplying a completely separate and managed carrier grade solution which satisfies free public Wi-Fi access at PTA Public Transport stations or terminals and on-board Transperth transport services.

“Details on whether the carrier service is a public or controlled private network, network security methodologies and issues such as reliability, guaranteed throughputs, bandwidth capacity and flexibility should all be addressed. The specific requirements for respondents to address can be found in Book 2(a) of this document.”

Click here for the full tender information.

“This Government is committed to delivering smart and effective transport solutions for our growing city,” Nalder concluded. “That’s why we’ve decided to go to the market to find out if it’s reasonable to improve the customer experience in this way.”