Alstom is now the first company to be fully certified to the latest onboard and trackside European Train Control System (ETCS) standards. Read more
Two contracts have been awarded for the delivery of works for Auckland’s City Rail Link.
Known as C5 and C7, the contracts have been awarded to delivery consortium Link Alliance and are within the existing project budget.
C5 primarily involves the connection between the new line from Britomart, via Aotea and Karangahape, to the existing line at Mt Eden. Where the CRL meets the North Auckland Line at Mt Eden, the twin track split into two branches, eastbound and westbound, said Francois Dudouit, project director for the Link Alliance.
“This requires changing the vertical alignment of the NAL tracks and partially the horizontal alignment, meaning replacement of tracks and overhead line equipment (OHLE) on more than 1km of the North Auckland line,” he said.
“It also requires retaining walls to transition from the existing NAL track level to the CRL line – a 3.5 per cent slope. More than 1,000 piles, diaphragm and sheet pile walls will be needed to build these retaining structures and the two cross-over structures to connect to the NAL upmain.”
Road and pedestrian bridges at a number of level crossings will also be built, including at Normanby Road, Fenton Street, and Porters Avenue, to improve cyclist and pedestrian safety.
The C7 contract covers the Systems Integration, Testing and Commissioning components of the CRL project. These include trackslab, track, overhead line, signalling, control systems, communications systems, control room fit-out and building work, and trackside auxiliaries. Work also includes integrating the new line and systems with the legacy systems on the Auckland rail network.
Dudouit said that work to connect the various components of the project is already occurring.
“Integration of the C5 and C7 teams into the Link Alliance is well underway across multiple workstreams including civils, programme and cost control. Early works such as utility relocations and establishing single-line running are already taking place as part of an integrated programme to deliver the City Rail Link to Aucklanders in 2024.”
As these elements of the project require involvement from various stakeholder from the current network, such as the transport authority, Auckland Transport, close working relationships have been established.
“KiwiRail and Auckland Transport, and their supply partners, are formally engaged for the City Rail Link project through stakeholder partnership agreements. On a day-to-day basis, staff from both Auckland Transport and KiwiRail work in the Link Alliance offices to maximise collaboration opportunities, as part of an established interface and relationship management programme,” said Dudoit.
Omada Rail Systems have expanded their footprint and their capabilities.
Since establishing the company in 2016, directors Luke Craven, Mark Hadfield, and Christopher Miller have grown Omada Rail Systems into one of the top railway signalling engineering companies in Australia; providing high quality professional management and engineering services from project inception and feasibility, through to the testing, operations, and maintenance phases.
A growing footprint
Since the beginning of 2020, the company has expanded their team’s physical presence into New South Wales and South Australia. Now with more than 30 full time staff, this expansion adds to the existing teams in Queensland and Victoria.
This recent growth has been concentrated in Omada’s testing team. Speaking in an interview on Omada’s expansion, Hadfield said, “Employing experienced engineers in these locations has opened up opportunities for us to work on projects that have previously been too costly to take on. The reduction in costs associated with not having to fly our team interstate to these locations, allows us to provide our clients with a great value for money service.”
The mass of rail projects underway across Australia has created huge demand for testers, however, this resource in the industry is a sparse commodity. Attempting to meet this demand, Omada’s directors made the decision to bring Ian Arnold into the company as Testing Engineering Manager to develop and lead the Omada test team. A highly experienced Tester in Charge (TIC) and well-known in the industry, Arnold quickly got to work in building an effective team of testers.
Julie Pennington, the first person to be employed by Omada in New South Wales, was brought in as an experienced TIC. In South Australia, Matthew Hooper has joined Omada, a tester with more than 17 years of experience in leading teams on large projects. The arrival of these new engineers has added a new dimension to Omada’s services, combining high quality design and management services with onsite testing and commissioning work. Now with multiple TIC’s, principal testers, functional testers and test assistants across Australia, Omada has built a diverse testing team, capable of meeting project requirements with minimal risk.
“The additions we made to our team were carefully selected to ensure we significantly increased our testing and commissioning capabilities. Not only have we expanded into new locations, but we have now positioned our company to be able to deliver full projects, rather than just packages of work,” said Hadfield, “The diverse experience of our staff provides us with the unique ability to solve any potential problem our clients may throw our way.”
Omada is fast becoming known in the industry as one of the most reliable and effective engineering options. Hadfield backed this claim by saying, “We have received excellent feedback from a number of our clients on recently completed projects. In particular, Ian Arnold was singled out by a client for being particularly effective, pulling everything together to get a commissioning over the line, safely and on-time.”
To establish a name as one of the industry’s most trustworthy providers, quality and reliability are vital.
“We have built a reputation for quality services and on-time project deliveries, which has been a major factor in allowing us to meet new clients, develop stronger relationships with our existing clients, and form industry partnerships,” said Hadfield.
Utilising their industry contacts, Omada’s directors have formed strong working relationships with rail construction companies around Australia, adding to their growing list of capabilities.
It is clear from the growth that Omada has shown recently, that there is a strong focus from the directors on business development. By increasing capabilities and capacity for work, Omada’s directors also set out to diversify their workforce. In March this year, Omada began a graduate program and welcomed two young graduate engineers into the company. Since then, these graduates have been able to work under mentorship on designs and work on site as test assistants, gaining valuable experience for future projects.
Despite increasing their team’s size and working on a greater number of projects, the quality of service that the team provides has not decreased. Omada’s directors have made this possible by ensuring that new team members are committed to adopting Omada’s values, methodologies and processes, backed up by a highly effective mentorship system.
For more information on Omada Rail Systems’ capabilities and project work head to their website: omadarail.com
In a pre-budget infrastructure announcement, the federal government has committed funding to rail projects in NSW, Victoria and Western Australia, but only provided funding for roads in other states, with Queensland’s only rail project a level crossing removal.
As part of a $7.5 billion spend on infrastructure, new federal funding alongside state contributions has been committed for further regional rail upgrades in Victoria, high capacity signalling in Western Australia, and planning for faster rail between Sydney and Newcastle. The funding announcement covers those projects put forward by state governments and not projects solely funded by the federal government.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said that local businesses would benefit.
“We will draw on local businesses to stimulate local economies through these projects,” he said.
In Victoria, rail projects received the bulk of the funding allocated to that state, with funding for new projects including stage three of the Shepparton Line upgrade and stage two of the Warrnambool line upgrade. Further planning for the Western Rail Plan, improving passenger rail services from northern Victoria, and a business case for improving connectivity to the Port of Melbourne also scored funding.
In NSW, rail projects to receive funding included $15 million for planning for Sydney to Newcastle Faster Rail. A faster rail business case has already been completed for the line and is being reviewed by the National Faster Rail Agency.
$150 million has been allocated for grade separating road interfaces with Inland Rail, along with a number of intermodal hubs, including at Ettamogah, near Albury, and the Northern NSW Inland Port at Narrabri. Commuter carparks in Sydney also received additional funding.
In Western Australia, federal funding of $102.3 million has been allocated for the High Capacity Signalling element of the Metronet project. Infrastructure Australia has added the project to its Infrastructure Priority List as a Priority Project, signalling its national significance.
The funding for WA also includes the first investigation into faster rail in the state, with $4m for an investigation of the Perth to Bunbury corridor.
$5m has also been allocated to the Kenwick Intermodal Terminal. WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti said the funding would grow the amount of work in the state.
“We already have a pipeline of $6.5 billion of major road and rail works underway across Western Australia over the next two years – this will extend the pipeline of work and will continue to help the State economy through and past COVID-19.”
Besides the $50m in funding for the Beams Road overpass, the $1.3bn allocated to Queensland will be spent on roads. No funding will be spent on rail in South Australia, Tasmania, the ACT, and the Northern Territory.
Administrator of Queensland-based rail group Rail Back on Track Robert Dow listed 11 rail projects needing funding in the state, including improvements to the Sunshine Coast line, Ipswich rail extensions, and Salisbury to Beaudesert commuter rail.
“This is simply not sustainable,” said Dow. “We need a proper balance between rail and roads.”
Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Catherine King said that funding must follow through on the announcement.
“It is essential that these latest funding promises are delivered now, not years down the line.”
Thales’s Communications Based Train Control (CBTC) technology, SelTrac, will be deployed on the Millennium Line extension in Vancouver.
The signalling contract is part of the Vancouver Broadway Subway Project, which extends the SkyTrain Millennium line along the Broadway corridor.
The CA$2.83 billion ($3bn) project takes Vancouver’s iconic, fully automated SkyTrain underground beneath Broadway, as part of the redevelopment of the corridor through central Vancouver. The project is being carried out by the Broadway Subway Constructors General Partnership, a consortium led by Acciona and Ghella.
The project includes six stations and an interchange with the Canada Line at Arbutus Street and bus services to the University of British Columbia.
Dominique Gaiardo, vice president and managing director for Thales’ Urban Rail Signalling business, said the project would improve accessibility along the corridor.
“This exciting project will improve the livability and access across the vital economic and employment hub of the Broadway Corridor. Thales will continue to build local expertise and provide strong support to the city and is proud to contribute to the mass transit capacity expansion in Vancouver with the innovative SelTrac CBTC system.”
Thales and Vancouver have a significant history together, as the city was the first location for the deployment of the SelTrac system. The SelTrac signalling infrastructure supported the world’s first driverless CBTC system on the Vancouver SkyTrain Expo line. Thales has also provided signalling to the Millennium and Canada lines.
Drawing on the expertise developed in these projects and elsewhere, Thales has an urban rail signalling competence centre located in Burnaby, B.C, which will provide specialised rail signalling experts and local experience to the Broadway project.
A project to install fibre optic cables along nearly 5,000km of rail easements has taken a major step forward to construction.
The project, called WA SuperNet is now seeking private sector funding and engagement with Infrastructure WA and Infrastructure Australia to cover the project’s $160 million cost.
Once completed, fibre optic cables will run alongside 4,700km of Arc Infrastructure’s rail track throughout WA’s grain belt.
In addition to providing connectivity for rural businesses and communities, the fibre optic cables will future proof the freight rail network, allowing for communications and the future installation of in-cab signalling, when required. Further developments such as real-time video feeds could also be supported with the fibre optic network.
Fibre optic connections are already in use on the South West main line to support rail communication between Perth and Bunbury.
Arc Infrastructure have supported the project so far with $10m in capital contributions. CEO Murray Cook is a board member of WA SuperNet and said the company was getting behind improving regional connectivity.
“Arc Infrastructure has submitted the WA SuperNet Grainbelt Digital Enhancement Project as part of Infrastructure WA’s Discussion Paper consultation process. We are fully supportive of the focus on regional digital connectivity in IWA’s Discussion Paper and look forward to supporting the development of the 20-year State Infrastructure Strategy,” said Cook.
WA SuperNet will now begin discussions with telecommunication operators to establish partnerships to develop the infrastructure.
WA SuperNet Chairman Tim Shanahan said the installation of the technology would improve the rollout of connected technologies.
“We believe that fibre optic cable is the solution and is a proven technology that will future proof the Grainbelt of Western Australia and WA SuperNet has gathered significant support for this solution,” he said.
The installation of European Train Control Systems (ETCS) signalling equipment on Brisbane’s Shorncliffe line has begun.
The Shorncliffe line is being used as a testing environment ahead of the rollout of ETCS on Brisbane’s network as part of the Cross River Rail project.
Simon Cook, director program delivery at the Cross River Rail Deliver Authority said the Shorncliffe line was chosen as a test case due to its place within the network.
“Signalling assets on the Shorncliffe line are due for replacement in the next few years, making it a good fit with our rollout schedule for ETCS. The line is also away from the main line and the freight corridor, which means testing on this line will minimise impact on customers, and the overall network,” said Cook.
When rolled out across the rest of the network, ETCS signalling will allow for more trains to run through the future core of the Brisbane network. ETCS will be installed in the new tunnel constructed as part of the Cross River Rail project, as well as on the inner-city network between Northgate and Milton stations.
Safety is also another reason for the installation of ETCS, as the continuous monitoring of a train’s position, direction and speed enables safer operations.
Existing rollingstock are being fitted with the in-cab equipment at a new workshop in Redbank and trialling the equipment on a variety of rollingstock is part of the testing process, said Cook.
“Over the next two years, the project will move through several stages, from initial testing with first-of-class train fitment, through to full service delivery using a mix of rollingstock, so we will develop and prove installation, operations, reliability and maintenance on the Shorncliffe line.”
Queensland Rail staff will also be trained on the new technology from later this year, with structured training for train crew and other roles to kick off in 2021.
Ultimately, installation on the Shorncliffe line is hoped to enable a smooth deployment as the technology is deployed elsewhere.
“Using the lessons learned from our Shorncliffe line trial will provide efficiencies in the design, installation and testing of subsequent areas,” said Cook. “We will use our System Integration Lab as well as the pilot line to integrate and test a range of the systems that are planned for the CRR tunnel.”
Siemens explains to Rail Express how digitalisation in rail requires a focus on cyber security.
On June 19, Prime Minister Scott Morrison warned Australian businesses and agencies that they were under a sustained cyber- attack from a sophisticated state-based actor. Rather than describing the nature of a singular attack, Morrison outlined the constant and ongoing threat that Australia’s critical infrastructure was facing.
This reminder of the cyber threat that Australia was facing aligned with what Serge Maillet, head of industrial cyber security, Siemens Australia and New Zealand, has observed.
“Over the past 12-18 months there’s been a significant increase in terms of cyber-attacks that Australia is seeing across all industries. This is happening world-wide but unfortunately Australia is among the top 10 countries being targeted.”
Based on data from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a US think tank, Australia is the sixth most targeted country for cyber-attacks, with 16 significant attacks between May 2006 and June 2020. The nature of these attacks is not leaving the rail industry unscathed.
“Any entity attempting cyber threats, also known as threat actors, are increasingly targeting a lot of our critical infrastructure. Rail is certainly part of that critical infrastructure,” said Maillet.
The types of attacks that are occurring are the intrusion of malware due to failed security controls, in many cases, due to human error.
“The reality is that the majority of organisations in Australia are going to be attacked at some stage. The only variables are the type of attack vector, the size of impacts and if the attack is going to be successful or not,” said Maillet. “If it is a successful attack, you want to make sure that you’ve got measures in place to be able to recover from those attacks and bring the critical systems back online as quickly as possible, while minimising any negative impacts on public safety or production.”
THE CONVERGENCE OF IT AND OT
What has made the rail sector and critical infrastructure particularly susceptible to cyber-attacks, and why governments are concerned is the convergence of what were previously two separate systems, information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT).
“While cyber-attacks have been able to target data in an IT environment, the interconnection of IT with OT opens the potential for threat actors to penetrate machines and processes, causing significant harm,” said Maillet.
“If we look at OT in the context of rail, it’s really about machines and process control. This could be rail signalling, rail control, automation, telemetry and more.”
Previously, these systems were insulated from cyber-attacks due to their lack of connection to external or untrusted networks. While IT systems were constantly being patched with new software, OT systems ran on their own proprietary technology, and did not require regular updates.
“Because of that there’s been a lack of focus from organisations on their own OT systems from a security perspective,” said Maillet. “Now that we’re seeing a lot of convergence and hyper convergence happening between IT and OT it’s creating a lot of new challenges, especially for industrial applications, and it’s increasing the risk profile of our critical infrastructure.”
In addition, while enterprise IT is expected to have a lifecycle of three to five years, OT devices are often expected to run for 20 years, if not longer. As these older systems are beginning to be integrated with the wider rail IT network through the process of digitalisation, safety critical technology is becoming increasingly vulnerable to cyber-attacks, said Maillet.
“The challenge from that perspective is that a lot of the legacy OT devices that are still in operation today for a lot of critical infrastructure were never designed with security in mind, because they were never intended to be converged with IT.”
While digitalisation promises and has delivered many benefits to rail networks, the issue of cyber vulnerability and exposure are sometimes overlooked, and the cost of digitalisation is only accounted for in financial terms, not in terms of cyber security, cautioned Maillet.
THE CONSEQUENCES OF DIGITALISATION
To some, the solution may look simple. Why not just update the software that runs these safety critical systems, or install the latest security patch? This is easier said than done, Maillet points out.
“In OT infrastructure the priority is always going to be to maintain the safety, reliability, availability, and integrity of those platforms. So, when you look at putting in a new patch or making a configuration change, that will always introduce potential risk to jeopardise the availability or performance of that system. Often, these elements will take priority over the actual integrity of the system.”
That’s not to say that the patches are not available. Many OT systems run on operating systems such as Microsoft Windows, which have has regular security patch updates to account for vulnerabilities identified in the system. Trying to find a time when the system that controls a rail network can be taken offline for an upgrade is tricky.
Another limit on the possibility of upgrading these systems is the potential for human error. Stephen Baker, head of product innovation and through-life support at Siemens Mobility says that this leads to a bunker-like mentality.
“The problem is that you end up with an infrastructure that is safe and reliable, but you can’t do anything with it, you can’t run analytics, you can’t do downstream processing. The convergence of OT and IT can’t be put on hold.
“Let’s face it,” said Baker. “You can imagine what would happen if all of a sudden you stopped running trains in Melbourne or Sydney because the operation of a vital network has been compromised.”
DEALING WITH AN EVOLVING THREAT
To mitigate the threat of a cyber-attack while still reaping the benefits of digitalisation Siemens have developed a full cycle of expertise that is focused on the people, processes, and technologies that can keep a rail system functioning.
“Industrial security, which includes rail security, is really a dynamic topic. Because the risks are constantly evolving and changing in nature, it’s creating a lot of challenges. So, our job at Siemens is to help our customers better understand where those vulnerabilities are and what types of solutions are best to maximise the security posture of a system,” said Maillet.
When working in the rail industry in particular, Siemens have developed solutions designed for rail.
“When we look at mainline train systems or metro systems, we know that they are deploying a lot of Industry 4.0 technologies, a lot of digitalisation, which is increasing the operational efficiency and reliability of those systems,” said Maillet. “We also have to ensure that we implement technologies that enhance cyber security for the network that the trains systems operate on, as well as the control systems that manage the rail infrastructure.”
With 90 per cent of successful cyber- attacks due to human error, the solution must begin with people.
“We know that even if you have all the right technology put in place, if your people do the wrong thing due to lack of awareness or not having the right level of training in cyber security, then that’s likely to expose a vulnerability,” said Maillet.
“Sometimes it’s as simple as plugging a USB into a computer. If it’s a computer asset in an OT environment, that USB could easily introduce a vulnerability. Another common breakdown is when someone clicks on an email that they shouldn’t which can create a virtual doorway for a threat actor to bypass the security measures that have been put into place to protect critical assets.”
The next step is the processes. In a rail organisation these processes could include how staff fix issues, how assets are managed and what procedures are in place to ensure that assets are maintained securely.
The final piece is the technology, and here Siemens is working on solutions that can enhance the secure digitalisation of rail. Andrew Chan, development engineer at Siemens Mobility’s Centre of Excellence, describes how the company is looking at extracting information from a digital rail asset without the potential risk of exposing it to external attacks.
“A data diode basically allows data to flow in one direction and in that way, we can safely get safety critical information from our axle counters and interlockings out into the IT environment. That’s where we can do amazing things with data.”
Other technologies that Siemens are deploying include edge processing for intrusion detection, and cloud services to mine data for cyber security analytics.
Servicing all areas is an example of Siemens’s distinct approach, said Baker.
“We’re probably one of the few total solution providers – we design the interlocking hardware, we design the control systems, all the network requirements and defences are part of the safety case, we design the networks and even the analytics, so every layer is internal. We’re one of the few organisations that can give you everything from broad level design of the signals and the railways, right through to the cloud analytics which tells the asset owner how the infrastructure is performing.”
While Siemens has a number of areas of the business which deal with rail cyber security, its industrial security services provide the hardware and software services, as well as professional services to rail customers.
These industrial cyber security solutions are provided across three key pillars, security assessments, security optimisation, and security management, all underpinned by holistic approach to industrial security, known as the Defence in Depth security framework.
“Defence in Depth is having as many security measures and layers in the infrastructure as possible based on well-known security best-practices and frameworks. It provides us the ability to have a depth of staggered defences in infrastructure,” said Maillet.
As Australia grapples with the increasing cyber threat, increasing resilience will be a key factor in the success of the digitalisation of rail.
Bringing together representatives from all facets of the rail industry, the National Rail Action Plan (NRAP) is setting a template for rail’s future.
On a chilly Adelaide day in August 2019, federal and state transport and infrastructure ministers assembled in Adelaide for the 11th meeting of the Transport and Infrastructure Council.
At the meeting, Danny Broad, then CEO of the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) gave a heated speech outlining that without coordinated state and federal action, rail’s massive investment boom would be squandered, citing the dual challenges of a workforce shortage and the lack of common standards.
In comments made after the meeting closed, Broad castigated the laissez-faire approach to training.
“Governments can’t leave it to a nebulous training ‘market’ to resolve, because it’s just not working,” he said.
“These are national issues requiring a national approach, which reinforces the need for jurisdictions to work together to ensure consistency and alignment between jurisdictions.”
Also listening to Broad’s speech was the then-CEO of the Australian Airports Association Caroline Wilkie. Recalling the presentation, Wilkie was struck by the unanimity of the response.
“Over the last few years, ministers have been very keen to understand whether there’s any barriers, or indeed any opportunities, that we should be looking for on the back of this enormous infrastructure spend, particularly in transport. From that discussion, there emerged three key areas of focus.”
The three priority areas that would come out of the August meeting were skills and labour, common standards, and interoperability. The Transport and Infrastructure Council tasked the National Transport Commission to develop a National Rail Action Plan (NRAP), which, chair of the NTC Carolyn Walsh highlighted, built upon the current investment in the rail industry.
“The Rail Action Plan isn’t starting from scratch and saying nothing has happened before; it is drawing together the threads of a lot of things that have been happening over recent years like the development of Inland Rail, the ARTC’s investment in ATMS, Sydney Trains investment in Digital Systems, the Cross River Rail in Queensland.”
These investments were driven by the recognition at a political level that rail had to play a greater role in moving people and goods if Australia was going to improve productivity and reduce emissions.
“There’s been acknowledgement across governments for a number of years now about the freight task. There’s a strong sense that we’ve got a freight task that cannot be dealt with without investment in both roads and rail, but particularly rail for long-haul freight,” said Walsh.
“The growth of our metropolitan cities has been huge so we’ve seen much greater investment in public transport over the last 10-15 years which is terrific. Coupled with that is the recognition of the impact of climate change, and the importance of getting better environmental outcomes through our transport networks, both in terms of freight and passenger.”
What Broad and others had realised, and impressed upon ministers, was that the rail industry in Australia had an enormous opportunity, with all major capitals investing in significant modernisations of their rail network and interstate projects such as Inland Rail. However, this also represented the chance of a pitfall, and one that the Australian rail industry has been learning from for the past century and a half.
“The industry had collectively with government recognised the extent of that we’ve got to get all of those things right to make sure that we don’t create the break of gauge in the future,” said Walsh. “For those investments that are going to take the next 10 years to put in place and enable in-cab signalling for instance, how do we ensure we don’t get the future break of gauge, as those investments come together.”
Walsh noted that with a national pipeline of investment, individual rail infrastructure managers in each state were thinking about how to think about each network as a part of a national set of railways.
To make this happen, working groups for each focus area under the NRAP were formed, with Wilkie co-chairing the skills and labour group, Walsh co-chairing the interoperability group, and Deborah Spring, CEO of the Rail Industry Safety and Standards Board (RISSB), co-chairing the harmonisation group. Each group will also have a representative from industry as the other co-chair, including the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC), the Victorian Department of Transport and the South Australian Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure. In addition, members of each working group will comprise representatives from each state as well as industry representatives from RISSB and the ARA.
With buy-in from the Commonwealth, states, and industry, Walsh noted that the tone of the conversations was energising.
“People are very keen to take advantage of the fact that we do have significant investment,” she said. “Often, we’re all talking about how to cut back, how to find efficiencies, and we are looking to find efficiencies, but this is an opportunity on the back of money and investment going into rail. I think we’ve hit a time where those three planks of industry, the standards setters, and the policy makers are all seeing this as an opportunity.”
FINDING THE NEXT GENERATION OF RAIL WORKERS
The issue that Broad had honed in on in his presentation in 2019 was that without a fundamental change to the way that rail skills and qualifications were taught, the rail industry would have a skills crisis. This assertion was supported by a report commissioned by the ARA and published in 2018, which assessed the skills pipeline for the rail sector. As Wilkie noted, the findings were clear.
“We don’t have the incoming workforce to meet the requirements of rail projects. ARA members right now don’t have enough people coming through in terms of apprentices, younger people, people with experience, or people moving into the sector.”
In addition to the lack of people, the 2018 ARA report found that qualifications in one state were not always recognised in another.
“The report identified a number of areas of improvement and action that were required and a lot of that was activity that really required a national approach,” said Wilkie. Walsh also noted that rail is not the only infrastructure sector experiencing a boom.
“There’s two elements of it, the first is whether we have the skills base in Australia generally to be able to deliver on this broad range of infrastructure projects – roads, rail, hospitals, and schools are all competing with each other for the best engineers, leading the cost of infrastructure to go up unless we manage the supply of skills. There’s also how to make rail attractive as an industry in a modern world? It can have a reputation as quite a 19th century technology, when actually with all these investments we’re moving to a 21st century technology, which is very attractive to people developing engineering, IT, and other skills.”
Currently, the lack of skilled workers coming into the rail sector has led to reports of companies poaching staff, or having to hire overseas, increasing costs.
“What we really need to be looking at is how do we get more people into the mix, how do we develop more people and bring more people in, because it is getting difficult to take people from one project to the other,” said Wilkie.
Already, as the working group has had early meetings, Wilkie can see a need for the clear definition of pathways for school students and graduates who want to work in the rail industry. In addition, the working group will be looking at how to enable ongoing training, whether delivered by TAFEs or private registered training organisations.
“Talking to members across the country, every state has shortages in a variety of areas,” said Wilkie. “I was speaking to someone the other day about driver shortages in Western Australia, I’ve spoken to other people about signallers. We’re talking about issues of how you train people on the job, how do you get school children interested in the career. It’s really starting from the beginning to end, and what COVID also throws into the mix is how do you get people that might have been in other sectors with transferrable skills into the rail sector as well.”
Wilkie also highlighted that as rail is identified as a sustainable mobility technology, encouraging investment, this can also be a way for the sector to promote rail to younger workers.
“The ARA and the industry need to do more to talk about the environmental credentials of rail. For the younger generation, a sector like ours that is so good in the sustainability arena and makes such a big difference in terms of environmental footprint is something that we need to promote.
“It’s also promoting diversity. It’s about talking to women about why rail would work for them in their life. The perception of the railway sector if you talk to most younger people it would be of an older sector, which just from going to AusRAIL we know that’s not true. It’s a dynamic industry with lots of diversity from younger and older people who have a lot to add and a lot to bring and I think it’s an exciting sector to be part of.”
SCALING UP THE AUSTRALIAN RAIL INDUSTRY
Australia’s rail industry has long been hampered by the legacies of federation, with each state having their own standards and regulations for railways, and this has led to the proliferation of standards for the component parts of railways and infrastructure.
Currently, it is estimated that there are more than 10 different standards for the thickness of glass required for a passenger train carriage. Not only does this limit the ability of rail suppliers from competing in different states and increases the cost of procurement, it prevents the Australian rail supply industry from competing for international contracts.
“Harmonisation is about how do we actually get common standards of the component parts of railways, so that we’re actually building scale in the capacity of the Australian industry to be able to tender for those projects,” said Walsh.
In addition, distinct standards mean staff are largely tied to one state or rail network, said Wilkie.
“We’re talking about the ability of different operators to be able to move from state to state, and that links back with the ability of staff to move between state.”
What the working group aims to do, is also reduce the cost of operating when freight trains, for example, have to traverse across state borders.
“Another example that I’m given is you’ll have an operator who is working in the freight area and they have a number of different folders in their cab that’s relevant to the rules and regulations on the network in Victoria and they go across to NSW and there’s a different set of rules,” said Wilkie. “It’s about making that consistent, so it makes for a better safety outcome but also a more efficient outcome as well.”
Deborah Spring, RISSB’s executive chair and CEO, is co-chairing the harmonisation working group with Ben Phyland, head of rollingstock development, network integration at the Victorian Department of Transport. Already, a number of standards have been harmonised across states through RISSB’s Priority Planning Process (PPP).
“Six standards in the harmonisation section were raised through the PPP forum so we were able to put them on our plan and in fact four of them started to progress while the NRAP was being finalised, which I think shows the importance of the plan and also how RISSB is a conduit for industry,” said Spring.
Three standards identified in the NRAP, common standards for glazing, bogies, and interior crashworthiness have already been completed, with standards for egress, energy storage, HVAC and emissions now being worked on. As Spring describes, the harmonisation process under the NRAP is an extension of RISSB’s current work program.
“When we’re looking at a standard, we look across the industry’s existing standards, both domestically and internationally, and use that as a starting point for the development of our standards,” said Spring. “We also call for development groups and then we have our five existing standing committees right now, who then have a governance layer on top of that. So, these standards are developed in collaboration with industry, drawing upon industry’s expertise, and looking internationally as well.”
Beyond individual standards for components, the NRAP also calls for common rules for safe work. These will be developed out of the National Rules Project that RISSB is finalising.
“The next step of that project is that we have taken the Australian Network Rules and Procedures (ANRP) and gone out to industry with a survey asking, ‘With the 62 rules here, which ones would add the most value to be nationally harmonised and which ones would be easy to harmonise?’ We came up with a matrix to try and identify those rules which will be high value and initially easy to implement. We then set up a national industry reference group of all the senior safety leaders and executives throughout the rail industry to oversee the progression of work,” said Spring.
What this process has developed is a template for the standardisation and harmonisation of rules across the Australian rail industry. While certain rules are identified in the NRAP, their harmonisation will be the first of a pipeline of rules, where RISSB will focus on harmonising those rules that bring value to the rail industry.
“A lot of people talk about harmonising and standardising, but our approach is it should be done when it’s adding value and not just for the sake of it,” said Spring.
A NEW NATIONAL NETWORK
Being able to move people and goods via rail from one side of Australia to the other has been a relatively recent phenomenon. While the Indian Pacific first ran from Sydney to Perth in 1970, making the journey smooth for freight has also been a major challenge, Spring points out.
“I started in National Rail when we took over the assets from the five states and at that point, to get a container from Brisbane to Perth, nothing talked to each other. Not only did we not have one gauge, we didn’t have standard procedures, we couldn’t track anything, we couldn’t book anything, even the tariff system, nothing worked,” said Spring. “We made that seamless and we’ve got to be able to make it seamless now where you can go across the country and it doesn’t make a difference which system you’re using – the critical information getting to the driver is right, timely, and accurate.”
Having this history in mind, current projects are aware of the need to ensure interoperability, said Walsh.
“We’re looking at new type of railways that have got interconnecting points. The ARTC railway joins with the Sydney Trains railway and they’re both investing in technologies for in-cab signalling, but they are different systems. That’s ok, because you’ve got a different rationale for those systems in different operating environments, but they’ve got to be able to talk to each other so that you’ve got a seamless operation and you’re getting the maximum efficiency and safety out of the system.”
To enable the various systems that rail infrastructure managers and operators are investing in to work with each other, the NRAP working group on interoperability will be identifying how to develop standard operating rules that enable control and communication systems to interact. Walsh, who is co-chairing the group with Simon Ormsby, group executive strategy at the ARTC, highlights that the solution will not be one size fits all.
“The goal does not need to be for all of the networks to have the same technology because there is a rationale for why you would have a different signalling system for long-haul freight across deserts compared to what you need in the city where you want to get every inch out of the headway.”
For example, with digital train control systems being rolled out simultaneously on the nation freight network and on the Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, and Brisbane networks, Walsh noted that there needs to be a national conversation about how these systems will work together.
“I don’t think that we’re looking at for ARTC to convince Sydney Trains that they should both use the ATMS system or Sydney Trains has to convince ARTC to use ETCS, but I do think we need to have those early conversations about how they talk to each other and what is the investment we need to make sure that all rollingstock has the capacity to operate over both of those systems.”
This convergence of technological and financial change, while one of a successive number of national waves of reform, is in part unique due to the collaboration of government and industry in Australia’s contemporary rail industry.
‘Back in the ‘50s and ‘60s it was all about investing in a standard gauge so that people didn’t have to get out of the train and change the train at Albury to continue on down to Melbourne,” said Walsh. “Then in the 90s it was all about competition policy and there was a lot of attention in government about separating above and below rail and getting competition into the freight industry. Then in the ‘00s it was all about getting a single national regulator and this next wave, as we get this investment, is about how do we make sure, in partnership with RISSB as the standards setter and the railways that adopt those standards and adapt them, that we’re now not going to get the future break of gauge.”
MAKING A LONG-TERM IMPACT
None of the NRAP co-chairs that spoke with Rail Express suggested that once the items listed on the plan were complete would the job of growing the workforce, harmonising standards or improving interoperability be finished. In fact, the NRAP hopes to set the groundwork for ongoing collaborative reform in the rail sector.
“The action plan is focusing on these three issues to begin with, but I think it’s legacy over time will be a way of thinking about the national rail system as a system that we need to make sure works collectively together,” said Walsh.
“In the past it’s happened bilaterally, you’ll get ARTC talking to Sydney Trains about the interface of trains into Sydney, but actually at the other end of the country you’ve got Arc as the infrastructure manager from Kalgoorlie to Perth so now we’re actually saying this has to be a national conversation and a multi-lateral conversation around some of these issues.”
For Wilkie, the reform’s significance is having the decision-makers working together.
“In each of those three working groups there’s a representative from each state government, so it means everyone is in the room, everyone is part of the conversation. That’s why I’m so positive about this whole process. It’s shown that the ministers take it seriously, we have all of the right people in the room and now it’s up to us to use this opportunity to really make effective change.”
As Spring highlights, the reform process is a model of what the co-regulatory environment of the rail industry can achieve and avoids the need for top-down mandating of standards or rules.
“My approach is if a standard is good and it adds value and it’s had wide consultation, then in a way industry should be wanting to adopt it. These self-mandated standards then really support the coregulatory environment.”
All-in-all, the work on the NRAP signals that rail’s time has come, said Walsh.
“I grew up in Yass in the 70s watching the Hume Highway be duplicated, and at the same time we weren’t seeing a railway having that same level of investment.
“Partly that was because there didn’t appear to be the drivers – economically, environmentally – to have that investment. I think that’s really shifted in the last 20 years. There is pressure on the infrastructure in terms of the demand, as well as responding to the environmental and safety concerns of the community.”
Alstom’s acquisition of Bombardier can go ahead in Australia, with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) announcing that it will not oppose the sale.
After Alstom formally announced it intended to acquire Bombardier, the ACCC launched an investigation, considering the effects of the acquisition on the market for light rail rollingstock, mainline rolling stock, and the supply of communications-based train control (CBTC) signalling systems.
After four months, the ACCC concluded that there was enough competition in the rail market, said chair Rod Sims.
“We decided not to oppose this acquisition as we found bids from other current and potential suppliers with strong global presence will continue to provide competitive tension for tenders for future rail projects. Sophisticated customers, including state governments, control these tender processes, and can structure tenders to foster competition,” said Sims.
A similar investigation occurred in Europe, with the European Commission also clearing the deal, subject to conditions offered by Alstom. These included the sale of Alstom’s Coradia Polyvalent range and production facilities, Bombardier’s Talent 3 trains and stake in the Zefiro V300 high-speed rail joint venture with Hitachi.
In its investigation, the ACCC considered local content policies in Victoria and Western Australia. Both Bombardier and Alstom manufacture rollingstock in Victoria, while Alstom was awarded the contract to manufacture and service WA’s new fleet of rollingstock. The ACCC specifically looked at how the acquisition would effect upcoming projects including Victoria’s Next Generation Trams program.
“Where customers have requirements or preferences for local industry involvement, suppliers without an existing presence have options to satisfy these criteria, including by partnering with local businesses,” said Sims.
Alstom confirmed that acquisition is expected to be finalised in the first half of 2021.