The use of data in digital rail

Nuno Guerra, who is leading Thales Australia’s Metro agenda, explains how the implementation of digital rail systems can benefit a network operator.

Australia’s major cities are growing at an exponential rate, and pressure is being placed on infrastructure and transportation services to improve operational efficiencies and the passenger experience. A digital revolution in smart-mobility is already occurring, allowing town planners to manage and capitalise on these pressures. Rail infrastructure will play a central role in this revolution, with disruptive technology enablers such as artificial intelligence (AI), big data analytics, the industrial internet of things (IIoT), and cloud computing driving its transformation.

In Australia, both Sydney and Melbourne are at the forefront of the rail revolution: Sydney announced the North West Metro in 2008 and the new CBD and South East sections of its Light Rail in 2014. Both projects are now complete and open to the public. Similarly, Melbourne has announced its Melbourne Airport Rail Link – a critical connection between Tullamarine Airport, the metro, and regional networks – and the Suburban Rail Loop, both scheduled to begin construction in 2022.

Rail networks are awash with data and, with projects like those we are seeing in Sydney and Melbourne, the potential for utilisation is immense. Though there are many assets that incorporate and utilise digital technologies, only a fraction of this data is captured and analysed to generate actionable insights and improvements for customers and efficiencies for operators. There is potential for operators to boost revenue by as much as 30 per cent by implementing data-driven decision-making capability into their networks.

COMPETITION
When comparing the rail sector to the likes of road transportation, there has been an explosive growth of ride sharing apps and online booking platforms. The roads sector has successfully leveraged data and used technology to connect directly with the customer and as a result built a competitive edge. The rail sector, by comparison, has not capitalised on data at the same pace. However, the rail industry is at the threshold of a major transformation in this data revolution. The benefits of rail travel to the community are hard to dispute, with each passenger journey made by rail rather than road generating benefits for society of between $3.88 and $10.64 by reducing congestion, accidents, and carbon costs, according to the Value of Rail report produced by Deloitte Access Economics for the Australasian Railway Association.

WHAT ARE THE MAIN DIGITISATION AND SMART-MOBILITY PRIORITIES?
The keys to success when it comes to digital revolution and smart-mobility, which are at the forefront of Thales’s development roadmap are safety and security, efficiency, and reliability. These shape our thinking in terms of what we aim to achieve in a smart network and address the five key digitisation priorities that are outlined below.

First and foremost, improvements in safety and security are paramount – Thales’s safety and mission critical systems such as signalling and supervision & control systems are digital and cyber secured by design by default, providing real-time data on congestion, occupancy, and security.

In relation to cyber-security, the digital railway presents a special challenge to traditional security measures due the deployed nature of the assets and their susceptibility to hackers. Thales has tackled these issues using a two-technology approach – traditional IT network security and ‘edge’ security (referring to devices deployed in the field). Thales Cybersecure by Design services focus on early threat detection and segmented networks to limit the access of direct connections outside the network. The ‘edge’ devices that make up the IIoT are manufactured under stringent security guidelines to ensure access points are not exploited, and reduce the risk of counterfeits and clones. Through limiting and securing access to these geographically scattered devices, organisations are also able to maintain tighter control and lower device maintenance and update costs. These technologies give operators confidence that their data and operations are safely expandable and secure.

The second priority is reducing maintenance and operational expenditure. Unplanned shutdowns are a major problem for operators, accounting for hundreds of millions of lost revenue per year. Research has shown that the top cause of unreliability is external problems, followed by signalling and train issues. To counter this challenge, we can tap into existing data sources such as Communications-Based Train Control (CBTC) systems, axle counters and point machines and use big data analytics algorithms to detect abnormal behaviour and predict maintenance requirements. This is the primary function of Thales’ digital TIRIS solution – processing hundreds of terabytes of data to monitor, in real-time, equipment installed on-board trains and along thousands of kilometres of track. The aim is a zero unplanned maintenance approach and customers have seen maintenance costs reduced by 30 per cent, site visits down by 50 per cent and overall downtime reduced by 40 per cent.

Thirdly, digital systems must help increase capacity. Data on passenger journeys, train occupancy, and platform crowding has enormous potential when taken in isolation, however, when combined and processed using big data analytics and AI, greater potential can be unlocked. The Thales NAIA solution processes passenger data in near- real time, allowing operators to discover and predict passenger behaviours, detect friction points in traffic flow and adapt staff and train services according to passenger demand. The flow-on benefits to train occupancy and capacity will have a distinct improvement on operational efficiency and customer satisfaction.

Asset availability presents the fourth priority. The ability to manage mobility across an entire city, and ensure availably and reliability of assets to meet passenger and freight demands is a critical challenge. Network visibility and real-time asset management enables more effective tools to manage this challenge. Multimodal Operation Control Centres (OCCs) provide these tools by tapping into multiple data sources and the industrial internet of things to create an ‘intelligent infrastructure’. Creating a dynamic visualisation of digitised assets across the network, enhancements to traditional systems such as signalling and interlocking systems will feed into this framework, exceeding current capabilities to increase frequency of operations and reduce delays.

Finally, digitisation must improve the passenger experience. As evidenced above, these modular digital solutions will combine to benefit the passenger in many ways. Ready access to comprehensive data will enable operators to make informed decisions on operations and maintenance to better manage passenger flow, train occupancy and wait times. Similarly, the passenger will benefit directly by more accurate and real-time information on congestion and delays. The Thales Central Control System (CCS), recently delivered on the Sydney Metro North West, is already providing this real-time information.

These disruptive technology enablers mean big change for the rail sector in Australia, and a leap forward for the smart-city architecture that is revolutionising our cities. Thales is at the forefront of this digital revolution, combining our global expertise in ground transformation with our data-driven digital service solutions to provide end-to- end solutions for our customers.

digital rail

The digital rail revolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perth signalling upgrade added to Infrastructure Priority List

Infrastructure Australia has listed the High Capacity Signalling Project, part of the Metronet program, as a priority project.

Now added to Infrastructure Australia’s Infrastructure Priority List, the move acknowledges the benefits which could come from upgrading signalling on the Perth network.

In addition to extensions to lines and new stations, Metronet is proposing to replace the existing signalling and train control system with new infrastructure. This would lead to improvements across the network, said Romilly Madew, chief executive of Infrastructure Australia.

“Modern Automatic Train Control systems can facilitate a range of service improvements, such as schedule and headway optimisation, turn-up-and-go service frequencies, real-time passenger information, faster recovery from operational disruptions, and better regulation of train traffic at network pinch points.”

The system will use a Communications Based Train Control System (CBTC), and the project’s wider scope covers implementing automation train operation, supervision, and regulation, as well as the construction of a Rail Operations Centre, a back-up signalling equipment room, and upgrades to the current Alternate Train Control facility. Current signalling and control systems are reaching the end of their operational life.

“The High Capacity Signalling project will make better, more efficient use of the existing rail network. The existing signalling and control systems are nearing the end of their asset lives. Upgrading them to an integrated high-capacity signalling system will give Perth’s rail network the capacity to grow while also creating more reliable, safe and punctual train operations. Coupling this project with Metronet new lines and stations will create a more attractive public transport network for Perth residents,” said PTA spokesman, David Hynes.

Madew said the project aligns with the priorities of Infrastructure Australia.

“It’s important to note that the High Capacity Signalling Project strongly aligns with Infrastructure Australia’s own recommendations to improve the performance of urban rail networks in our capital cities by making better use of existing networks and technology.”

Implementing the signalling project would enable capacity increases of up to 150 per cent on the rail network and the business case submitted by the WA Public Transport Authority found a cost benefit ratio of 2.6.

The business case stated that a single contractor will design, build, and maintain the Automatic Train Control system, and that the first roll out would be either on the North-South line group by 2026 or the South-East line group also by 2026.

Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure Alan Tudge said that the signalling upgrades will fit alongside other improvements to the network also designated significant by Infrastructure Australia.

“For people in the north of Perth the Morley-Ellenbrook Line will be 21 kms of rail line improving connectivity and productivity for locals,” said Tudge.

“At the same time the Capacity Signalling System project will improve the performance of the current rail network by allowing trains to run more often, reliably and safely.

“Metronet will get cars off the road, bust congestion, connect communities to jobs and services and unlock opportunities for business growth in the region.”

Digitalisation an enabler for network change

Warwick Talbot, acting executive director, future network delivery at Sydney Trains explains how Sydney Trains is rolling out its Digital Systems Program and the key principles driving the project.

As a 40-year plan for NSW’s future, no one could accuse the Future Transport 2056 plan of not being ambitious. As part of a suite of plans, the strategy sets out the vision for how the people of greater Sydney and NSW will get around in the mid 21st century. At the core is the Sydney network, which will be the veins pumping people through the metropolis of three connected cities.

Riding the trains, metros, and light rail services of Sydney in 2056 will be forecasted 12 million residents of NSW, and the roughly 8 million Sydneysiders will be making greater use of the heavy rail network than they do now, with fewer trips made by private car. By 2056, the transport network will need to handle 28 million trips a day. In outlining his vision for the state, NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance wrote that a key element of the plan is its use of technology.

“It is the first transport plan in Australia to harness technology to improve customer and network outcomes, and it starts with a long-term vision for our communities,” wrote Constance.

Already, the technological building blocks of this new network are being put in place, and while 2056 may seem far away, Sydney Trains has begun implementing the first stages of the Digital Systems Program to enable the city’s over 150 year old train network to meet the demands of the city as it continues to grow. The focus of the Digital Systems project is to enable this existing network to meet future demand, described Warwick Talbot, acting executive director, Future Network Delivery at Sydney Trains.

“The key driver is the demand that we forecast on our network and we need to increase capacity.”

Talbot noted that two key components of the network currently limit capacity; the signalling system and train dwell times.

Announced in 2018, the Digital Systems Program links these two components of the network together, along with a host of other improvements that come from moving from an analogue to digital train control system. The system will upgrade the Sydney Trains suburban network to European Train Control System (ETCS) Level 2, and the regional network to ETCS Level 1. These measures will enable more trains to run more frequently throughout the Sydney network.

“When you digitise and go to a digital signalling system you then allow yourself to be able to regulate trains, so you can speed them up or slow them down as the demand changes throughout the course of the day,” said Talbot.

The Digital Systems Program has three main elements. The first involves the replacement of trackside signalling equipment with in-cab train control technology. The second is implementing Automatic Train Operation (ATO), which enables faster and more consistent journey times. The third is a digital Traffic Management System for the entire network that can more effectively manage the network.

The ETCS technology is the digital signalling element of the project. Moving from the traditional coloured light signalling system will enable trains to move through the network at more frequent intervals. However, more frequent train services mean that each train must spend less time on the platform.

“If you get a higher throughput of trains, you then need to manage your dwell times at the stations,” said Talbot. “Particularly at the busy ones, you have to look at how to get people on and off the train quickly to shorten the time that the train is actually stationary on the platform.”

With three minutes in-between trains, dwell times will have to be reduced to less than a minute at busy points in the network. Here, the digital systems encounter the human element of rail services, said Talbot.

“There’s a number of different ways that we’ve been exploring the management of dwell time, by having additional people on the platform guiding the customers in the right places to allow people to get on and off faster, announcements, wayfinding, barriers to allow people to depart the platform easily, blocking off platforms when they get overcrowded to allow people to get off the platform. We’re experimenting with all forms to try and optimise our ability to manage dwell at busy stations.”

Another factor driving the adoption of digital systems at Sydney Trains is the impetus to make the system safer. Digitalising elements of train control, signalling, and traffic management will allow for the system to respond faster to incidents, and remove some risks of human error.

“The second key driver for the project is the ability to make the system safer,” said Talbot. “We can have a regulatory system whereby if for any reason a driver is incapacitated or cannot control the train then the train is automatically controlled. That provides a high level of safety for the driver and the passenger as it avoids a collision.”

While implementing a safe, efficient system is the priority, the adoption of digital systems is part of the wider technology-driven modernisation of the Sydney transport network and implementing a digital train control system is one step in that direction.

“Getting us to a digital railway allows us to then start to automate a lot of our previously manual functions,” said Talbot.

While Sydney Trains will not be going the way of Sydney Metro by having a fully driverless, centrally controlled system, the Digital Systems project can become an enabler for a wider variety of digital technologies.

Photography by RailGallery.com.au.

THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE DIGITAL SYSTEMS PROGRAM
In adopting the Digital Systems strategy, Sydney Trains has taken a staged approach. With procurement now underway, the project began by consulting widely and learning from other projects around the world that have adopted digital train control systems.

Although the organisation has significant expertise in traditional signalling and train control, Sydney Trains knew that adopting a digital approach to train control would require significant outside knowledge.

“We acknowledged some time ago that we are not experts in this new digital railway and so we went and sought a great lot of expertise from railways that are already deploying or are in the process of deploying ETCS and we learnt a lot about the fact that we needed to take baby steps,” said Talbot.

This learning was applied in Sydney by undertaking a limited roll out. The first segments to have the technology rolled out will be two sections of the Illawarra line, one from Redfern to Bondi Junction, and another from Sutherland to Cronulla. The ETCS technology for each segment will be provided by a separate provider, for a particular reason, said Talbot.

“We looked at the roll out across the whole network and we wanted to try and reduce the time of that so therefore you needed more than one supplier, so if you’re looking at simplicity to gain the knowledge for implementation with two different suppliers then you need to find two discrete areas which they could try.”

There is also a commercial benefit for Sydney Trains by having two suppliers for the ETCS technology, however there will be only one supplier of the traffic management system.

“It gives you the commercial ability to ensure that you get the quality and timely delivery of project because you’ve got competition in there. We chose those two areas because we could make it discrete and we could get two suppliers in there to do the implementation of the ETCS system,” said Talbot.

By having two separate sections of the same line as test sites, the system can also simulate a staggered roll-out of the technology across the wider network.

“As we roll out you’ll always be going from a fitted area to a non-fitted area and vice-versa, so we needed that non fitted area partially because we needed to test our movement of how drivers behave between fitted and non- fitted areas without going into the middle of the city to do that,” said Talbot.

The tiered approach was also driven by the realities of ETCS implementation around the world. As the system is being adopted by multiple train systems at once, this places restrictions on what is possible at one time.

“While there might be eight companies around the world that supply and deliver these systems, they are being installed all over the world. In Europe it’s going gangbusters in installing, New Zealand, Africa, and the UK, around the world it’s being implemented and therefore you have to mindful there’s a limitation on skilled competent resources.”

PRINCIPLES OF THE PROJECT
With this local and global contexts, Sydney Trains established a number of principles to drive the Digital Systems Program. One is ‘configure, not customise’.

“Everybody has learnt that overseas and once a system becomes specific, you’re then beholden and it’s a lot more costly to change in the future as technology and knowledge changes.”

The next principle was to ensure that the benefits of the system are apparent to customers as soon as possible. Instead of waiting to do one full and comprehensive roll out, segments of the project will come online earlier, enabling benefits to be felt earlier. This principle also drove the implementation of the traffic management system.

“We feel that our existing control system is not fully adaptable as a traffic management system in managing all facets of a railway, such as crewing, PA, communications, signalling, you name it, so having a traffic management system means you can handle incidents and do decision support functions to try and get back into operations from an incident as quickly as possible,” said Talbot.

Finally, from the perspective of Sydney Trains internally, the implementation of digital systems was as much a change to the business as a change to the technology, as Talbot highlighted.

“Because your business is run on the basis of a manual task business with humans carrying out the functions, now you’re moving to a more automated function, and therefore your business needs to throw out its whole rules and start with a new set of rules to be able to manage incidents, operations and maintenance.

“Everybody that we talked to overseas said ‘Pay as much attention to your change to your business as you would do to the implementation of the technologies’. So, we came to this model where to get things to be in harmony you need to make sure you have equal focus on people, technology, and processes.”

WAYS OF WORKING
Such an understanding of the way that the Digital Systems Program would upend the nature of the Sydney Trains organisation led to Talbot coming to a realisation.

“We’re not changing the technology to suit the business; we’re changing the business to suit the technology.”

This meant that Sydney Trains went through an extensive identification and impact assessment of the Digital Systems Program on current programs, from asset maintenance to the skills and competencies of staff. During the adoption phase, which could take up to 10 years, analogue and digital systems will have to operate side by side. This means that the systems and processes that come with digital technology will have to be in sync with current processes.

The work to conduct this change within Sydney Trains has been implemented collaboratively, with Sydney Trains and its implementation partners, including systems integrator Network Rail Consulting and partner organisations Acmena, The Go-Ahead Group, and Ineco. Talbot describes the resulting project team as an “integrated team environment”.

“It’s easier to get around to talk to people and also the working groups are easier to form when we need to have discussions on various topics and on top of that our governance structure that we’ve chosen is collaborative.”

Currently, the team are working towards finalising the procurement phase with the technology suppliers for the first two segments of the roll out.

“We went through a whole range of early contractor involvement and a collaborative tendering process with the shortlisted suppliers and now we’re towards the end of that,” said Talbot. “Final negotiations and contracts will be awarded shortly and then we’ll move into what we’re calling the integrated program design period (IPDP).”

Having the project team and suppliers working together aims to minimise detailed design reworking that needs to be done.

Once the suppliers are chosen, implementation of the system with the first deployments of in-cab signalling and a network-wide traffic management system is scheduled to complete in 2023.

Repairs to Blue Mountains line opens up regional services

Work to repair the Blue Mountains line following fires and heavy rains earlier this year has taken a major step forward.

A full timetable of regional trains can now run to and from Sydney, with a temporary signalling system installed, said a Sydney Trains spokesperson.

“The temporary signalling system uses axle counters to enable diesel freight and regional trains to operate between Mount Victoria and Lithgow,” the spokesperson said.

The line is a vital link between famers in the rest of the country and resources exporters, and the Sydney basin and Port Botany. The line also provides important connectivity for inland communities.

“Freight operators can now run more trains along the vital corridor with greater track access times. NSW TrainLink is able to run a full timetable for diesel passenger trains, including the second Bathurst Bullet,” said the Sydney Trains spokesperson.

The Blue Mountains line was hit hard in the bushfires of late 2019 and early 2020 with kilometres of track knocked out of commission. Buses have been replacing trains since then, with limited freight and passenger services resuming in late January.

The Sydney Trains spokesperson said Intercity trains, which rely on overhead electrical power, will return to the line once works are complete.

“Works to repair the existing signalling system and overhead electric supply to run Intercity trains to Lithgow continue.”

Ventia’s acquisition of Broadspectrum given green light

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has stated that it will not oppose Ventia’s acquisition of Broadspectrum.

The acquisition was first announced in late 2019. Ventia is a 50/50 partnership of CIMIC Group, which also owns CPB Contractors and UGL Limited, and funds management firm Apollo Global Management. Although operating largely in other sectors, Ventia has provided work on the Parramatta Light Rail. Ventia’s subsidiary, Visionstream, provides telecommunication services to the rail industry.

Broadspectrum, owned by Spanish multinational Ferrovial, provides rail services on the Sydney rail network, to Bluescope at Pork Kembla, on the Brisbane Airport rail Link, and provides maintenance services in South Australia. Broadspectrum will also install the Automatic Train Protection project on the Sydney Trains network.

The ACCC said that strong competition would remain in the sector if the purchase goes ahead.

“We looked at this proposed acquisition closely to ensure strong competition remains in the supply of infrastructure services to industries with a direct impact on consumer prices,” said ACCC commissioner Stephen Ridgeway.

“We contacted many customers of infrastructure services, and received consistent feedback that there is sufficient competition from alternative suppliers and that companies will continue to have a variety of options when contracting for infrastructure services.”

Rail maintenance, upgrades getting ahead of schedule

Major rail projects are completing extra works while Australia and New Zealand are under lockdown measures.

In Sydney, a number of projects are taking advantage of lower commuter numbers and relaxed regulations around work hours to progress ahead of schedule.

In Parramatta, work on the light rail project is running seven days a week after the NSW government introduced changes to legislation to expand standard construction hours on weekends and public holidays. Works are being conducted from 7am to 7pm Monday to Friday, 7am to 6pm on Church St, and from 7am to 6pm on Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays.

According to a Transport for NSW (TfNSW) spokesperson, all works are being done to minimise the impact on the local community.

“All reasonable measures to reduce noise impacts will continue to be implemented, including using the quietest equipment possible, placing machinery and vehicles as far away from properties as possible, conducting high noise generating activities during weekdays where possible, and implementing respite periods as required.”

In Parramatta, disruption is being minimised by scheduling utility works in non-peak periods, using sound blankets, directing lighting towers, and turning off equipment when not in use.

With the Sydney CBD experiencing extremely low traffic volumes during the lockdown period, work on the Sydney Metro City & Southwest has been able to increase. Lane closures previously only possible on weekends have been implemented on weekdays and extended work hours are in place at Central Station.

In Chullora, the construction of the new Digital Systems facility has extended hours over one weekend and will use extra hours where necessary.

Elsewhere in NSW work hours on the New Intercity Fleet maintenance facility have been extended to 7am to 6pm, seven days a week. Extended working hours are also being looked at for station accessibility upgrades at Fairy Meadow, Mittagong, Hawkesbury River, Wyee, and Waratah.

“All community members and stakeholders are thanked for their patience as work continues on important transport infrastructure across NSW,” said the TfNSW spokesperson.

Across the Tasman, KiwiRail has been conducting a significant maintenance program on the Auckland network. Lower commuter numbers during lockdown have allowed KiwiRail to lay over four kilometres of new rail on the Eastern line, said KiwiRail chief operating officer, Todd Moyle.

“We are able to use this time to carry out a great deal of work in a short timeframe. Normally this work would need to be completed during weekends across several months.”

Works will continue until Monday, April 27 and include replacement of worn rail between Glen Innes and Sylvia Park. The Eastern line not only serves commuters but freight rail services from the Port of Auckland.

“We’ve worked closely with Auckland Transport to arrange for this work to be done now so there will be a more reliable network for commuters once COVID-19 levels fall and businesses reopen,” said Moyle.

The slowdown in traffic on the commuter network allows a rare opportunity for continuous track work that would normally be done at weekends or overnight to minimise disruption.

“We’re doing this work now, while we have the opportunity, to avoid future disruptions to commuters and to ensure they get a great service once they return to work,” said Moyle.

Physical distancing measures are in place at all work sites.

Daytime freight services are being rerouted via Newmarket while commuter services are replaced by buses.

Thales ensuring capability and safety

Thales is committed to the continued delivery of capability to our customers while minimising any risk to the safety of our employees and the broader community.

In early March, Thales implemented social distancing and enhanced hygiene measures across all of our sites. At production facilities a number of measures were implemented including: staggered shifts, staggered breaks, closure of canteen facilities, expanded break rooms, increased hand washing and the cleaning of rooms between use. Concurrently all non-production staff moved to ‘work from home’. All sites have also identified and secured a bio-cleaning company for deep cleaning as necessary.

We are closely monitoring impacts on our supply chain, actively seeking advice from key suppliers to ensure we have the ability to mitigate any potential impacts. Thales takes seriously our responsibility to maintain employment and supply chains through the current crisis and have taken a number of steps to assist our partners as the situation has evolved.

Celebrating 20 years

Founded in March 2000 by Derel and Sue Wust, 4Tel is a family owned business that has grown exponentially in the past 20 years.

Originally starting out as a telecommunication consultancy, 4Tel has evolved to be a multifunctional software and hardware business, with multiple engagements in Australia and internationally. With over 20 years in the military, Derel has grown his vision into a business that employees over 50 staff.

Throughout the years, Derel, alongside the management team of Tony Crosby, Mark Wood, Graham Hjort, and with the recent addition of Joanne Wust as CEO, has expanded 4Tel into sectors such as heavy rail (above and below rail operators), light rail, ports, ferries, mines, coaches/buses, and government transport agencies. With the expansion into different sectors, 4Tel’s suite of software has expanded immensely.

With the commissioning of 4Trak in 2008, 4Tel’s began a goal of creating software that would reinvent the way companies track and receive live transport information. This software has enhanced productivity for major organisations across Australia and created a market need for a software that the industry now relies on. The network-wide situational awareness provided by 4Trak gives teams the ability to optimise operational decisions faster, with greater accuracy and simplified communication paths to remotely located assets and personnel. Knowing the real-time location of trains, vehicles, and staff in the rail corridor allows operations staff to monitor delays and issues for better management and customer service delivery. Using data collected from 4Trak, the business has continued to create and expand their software suite.

4Tel’s overall goal is to protect people and assets, and this has led to a suite of innovative software solutions. This includes, 4PTW (ETW and eTap), a trackwork safety application that improves the safety, efficiency, and effectiveness of track maintenance activities. 4Port, a software application that enables operators to monitor and record large sets of data regarding truck movements and container lifts for stevedoring operations. 4PIDS, which is 4Tel’s implementation of passenger information displays. 4Site, an application that monitors the status of remote field equipment. 4ASW, a positive train control system that uses GPS location-based precision, suited to areas with vital field infrastructure. 4WPS a worksite protection solution using real-time location data of trains, Protection Officers, and track machines to create a virtual geo-worksite boundary to alert workers of approaching trains. 4Trip, a comprehensive train planning software solution for managing the development and release of service timetables, including the planning of work on track activities. 4ABS which utilises a MySQL or SQL database and webpages to display access and billing history data for better management of rail network access over an intranet or the internet. 4ASSETS which is used to manage the static information about devices and their maintenance history for better asset control. 4LRMS is a system that is equipped to manage and streamline key components of a modern metropolitan light rail network.

With John Holland Rail successfully obtaining the CRN tender in 2012, 4Tel have played a substantial role in implementing several control systems to further help maintain the 5,800km of track. Significantly, 4Tel has implemented Electronic Authorities into the CRN, which is the digitisation of the paper- based train order authorities. This simplified the system immensely and automated work so the train driver and controller could focus more on keeping people safe. Moving to safety, 4Tel’s proximity reminder system, that utilises the onboard ICE radio, warns a driver of a train or hi-rails of the approaching authority limit to prevent an out of authority event. This safety has been further tightened with the addition of the application ETW.

While these systems have been implemented, 4Tel have designed, constructed and commissioned the operations centre and technologies, all while providing 24/7 onsite technical support.

The next step for 4Tel will be delving into artificial intelligence. 4Tel’s Horus system is an Advanced Driver Advisory System (ADAS) using real-time sensors and software to assist a driver in the safe operation of a locomotive. Horus proves the functionality to apply software processes to conduct the computationally intensive algorithms for object detection, localisation, awareness, dynamics, and route monitoring. 4Tel’s Horus can be used by above rail operators to assist in safely moving their people and assets across the multiple open networks of Australia.

The system can uniquely incorporate all the train running information (run ID, braking profile, authority limits, speed, location, signal info, etc.), with the day of operational information from the network (speed limits, Conditions Affecting Network, work-on-track activities, etc.). In addition, the Horus machine vision and sensor technology detects abnormal items within the corridor, to alert the driver to an un-safe situation in real-time.

Digital innovation with a customer focus

Rather than seeing digitialisation as an end in itself, rail projects are using signalling technology to answer pressing questions.

Driving the digital transformation of industry are four levers – digital data, connectivity, automation, and digital customer access – according to global consultancy Roland Berger.

In the rail industry, these levers are being pulled, however instead of being an end in itself, the move towards digital rail is an enabler of a host of other improvements to services.

These outcomes were on display at the Train Control and Management Systems summit, held in Sydney from February 19 to 21. While each individual project used its own combination of data, connectivity, automation, and digital customer access, the end outcome was driven by the industry need.

One of these projects is the Australian Rail Track Corporation’s (ARTC) Advanced Train Management System (ATMS). Although begun over a decade ago in 2008 with a proof of concept trial, as ARTC operation readiness manager – ATMS, Gary Evans described, the technology has been driven by its outcome and is nearing its first deployment in 2020.

“ATMS will bring improvements in our network rail capacity, operational flexibility, train service availability, transit times, and rail safety, and it will replace trackside signalling by providing precise locations of trains.”

While adopting virtual block authority management similar to other advanced train control systems, ATMS retains the trackside infrastructure.

“Trackside infrastructure is something ARTC does very well and the project monitors the environment, the occupancy of the points, so our system has track circuits over the switches,” said Evans.

Across the ARTC network of 8,500km of track, interlocking between sections of signalling and track will be centralised.

“It’s a high-fidelity track database, it’s rated to Safety Integrity Level (SIL) 3 and it enables virtual block authority management. The blocks within which the trains operate are usually a physical block and they are separated by signals, what we do with this system is that we can break it down into virtual, electronic blocks and currently, for the proof of concept we ran about 200m electronic blocks, the ones that we are using at the moment are 500m in length,” said Evans.

The new virtual block system will allow a granularity of control not previously possible.

“In terms of train operation, a train will go through a physical block today every 20 minutes. A train that will go through this same infrastructure will probably consume in the order of eight of these electronic blocks but as it is moving through it will report back at 15 second intervals,” said Evans.

“ATMS is rated for four minute headways for 1,800m trains travelling at 115 km/h.”

While the technology in itself is a step forward for the control and management of train systems, the implementation of the ATMS and the use of the four levels of digital transformation is ultimately about delivering a service for the customer, in this case, freight operators across Australia. This has led to ATMS’s unique features. Having to serve a number of freight operators at various points throughout the freight network that stretches from Kalgoorlie to Newcastle, has led to interoperability being a key facet of ATMS. Retaining trackside infrastructure allows for unequipped train traffic to use the system, and the trainborne interface was developed in consultation with operators.

“We did a lot of work with the operators on the driver interface unit. The first one that was put in front of them was a European-style one, which was a dial type set up and we almost had a walkout of the operators because it didn’t give them a lot of information and it required them to be fixated with that dashboard whereas they wanted something that didn’t require that. We worked together collaborative to come up with the current system.”

The resulting interface gives drivers a 10km look ahead, and relays information on train speed and speed limits in real time. Using location determination systems onboard the train, the system can alert a driver, operator, and controller if the train is exceeding limits.

Evans summarised the benefits of the ATMS system.

“Improved safety authority and speed level enforcement, improved trackside safety for trackside workers, increased rail capacity, improved service reliability, improving the structure of maintenance costs, more flexibility in the network, and safer management of trains.”

While Australia’s rail industry has been plagued by different technologies and standards in each state, the ARTC regards ATMS as a technology to synchronise rail control and management, for the benefit of the end user.

“ARTC’s customers traverse three states so it’s very important for us to take the lead and ATMS provides us a once in a lifetime opportunity to actually have a harmonised rule set,” said Evans.

Having this in place will allow for further innovations driven by the digitalisation of rail control.

“Future enhancements that we will work through is a path to semi automation or automation of operational systems, and integration with fuel and energy management systems.”

Having data on how a train is travelling will allow operators to more efficiently plan routes while identifying driving behaviours that increase fuel costs.

For example, rather than running at full speed through a section of track before coming to a complete stop at a signal, freight drivers can be told the optimum speed to travel to reach that signal as it turns green. Looking further afield, ATMS could lead to driver-only operation. In these cases, digital rail is not so much about the technology itself, but the enhancements that can come from its implementation.

“ARTC wants to be an enabler for its customers and not a disabler,” said Evans.

DIGITALISATION AS A SOLUTION TO DEMOGRAPHIC, ENVIRONMENTAL CHALLENGES
As Australian rail infrastructure managers and operators adopt their local digital systems, international examples provide guidance on the motivations and outcomes of digitalisation programs. Perhaps none are more comprehensive than the digital rail system being rolled out across all of Germany’s 33,000km of rail. Beginning with the trans-European corridor, the Stuttgart S-Bahn and specified high speed lines, Joern Schlichting, head of the ETCS program at Deutsche Bahn (DB), outlined the significance of the project.

“In terms of automatic train operation (ATO) and ETCS, this is the future. That means fundamentally, a new rail system.”

According to Schlichting, Germany’s existing rail control system was performing sufficiently, and not reaching obsolescence. This made the attractiveness of the business case for adopting ETCS, however penalties within the agreement with other EU member states overcame that.

“The projected penalties would have been at least €1 billion if we didn’t equip these corridors. So, the German government said if we have to spend €1bn on penalties or equipment, let’s spend it on equipment.”

This presented an opportunity for DB and its rail infrastructure arm, DB Netz to rethink how the adoption of ETCS could be a further enabler for other issues the rail network was facing.

“Why not stop to think about how could we make the best out of it?”

This approach enabled DB to utilise the digital rail technology to confront two critical issues facing the sector – a demographic exodus and a modal shift from road to rail to reduce carbon emissions.

“What we found that is as long as we talked about ETCS as a technology issue in terms of replacing one thing by another thing there was no business case. As soon as we started to think about what the real business drivers are – what are our threats – then we found out our demographic issue is one of the worst,” said Schlichting.

In 2011, DB estimated that in the next 10-15 years, 50 per cent of mission-critical staff will retire. Replacing this staff cohort with a younger generation would require a rethink of the type of work train operators would be doing, particularly in regards to legacy systems such as interlockings.

“With these old interlockings, we have one maintenance area where we have 18 generations of interlockings, so you can imagine it’s a nightmare for people working there to be able to maintain them.”

Moving to digital systems would overcome this legacy issue and enable a younger, digital-native generation to easily fit into the systems and ways of working.

“Actually ETCS is more of an enabler. ETCS is a tool in order to bring about a completely new redesign of the rail system,” said Schlichting.

The other element that digitalisation could go towards is the relative carbon footprint of transport in Germany. Although Germany has committed to a 95 per cent carbon reduction by 2050, transport has been a sector that has been stubborn in reducing its emissions, falling by only 0.6 per cent between 1990 and 2018, compared to energy which dropped by 33 per cent. The magnitude of the task is not lost on Schlichting.

“We have to move transport from road to rail, so that means we need to create the capacity, but in the past our network has been shrinking.”

Driven by cost cutting directives, DB has reduced its workforce from 120,000 to 40,000 in the past 15 years and has also torn up tracks and points. However, now the system is required to double passenger traffic by 2030, and cargo traffic by 30 per cent. Digitalisation and the improvement of signalling thus becomes a way to increase the shrinking system’s capacity.

“How can we do this with an existing network that has been shrinking in the past and without having any money at the time for loads of new lines?” asked Schlichting.“Digitising it is the chance to create more traffic.”

At the core of this digitalisation push is the adoption of ETCS technology, common across Europe, which with a focus on outcomes, Schlichting describes as a “language”. Once the system and vehicles are talking to each other in this language, then further technology improvements can be introduced when the users demand it, just like new vocabulary.

An artist’s impression of Sydney Trains’ Rail Operations Centre.

DESIGNING A CUSTOMER FOCUS INTO RAIL OPERATIONS
In some ways, Sydney Trains is experiencing a similar issue to DB, albeit on a smaller scale, as population pressures and urban development cause more Sydneysiders to use the network. As the acting executive director, Digital Systems Business Integration (DSBI) at Sydney Trains, Andrew Constantinou sees these impacts in the operations of the network.

“Increased patronage effectively translates into our ability to create more services and our ability to create reliable services and that’s where the ROC plays into.”

The Rail Operations Centre (ROC) is a new, purpose-built building in Alexandria, Sydney which has brought together the rail management centre, the infrastructure control centre, security monitoring facility and two signal boxes, covering most of the geography of Sydney Rail. A customer and operator demand for precise, accurate information has led to the streamlining of operations into one centre and finding a way to simplify communications.

“Part of the scope is to develop a new concept of operations,” said Constantinou. “We have introduced a new incident management system that took away a lot of those phone calls, and developed a dashboard so that all areas in the ROC can understand what is the mission for that particular incident and who is dealing with what priorities.”

In this case, the digital systems that were built into the ROC had to be designed with the end user in mind, the rail operator, and to minimise disruptions on the network.

“It really starts with bringing all your people together. We started with seven design principles and I focus on the top two – collaboration and communication – because if you can build a high-performing control room floor that fosters good communication and good collaboration, you start ticking the other boxes which are underneath it,” said Constantinou.

While individual controllers’ roles were driven by the train systems they were operating, the human demands of communication were paramount.

“We looked at what communication happened. So what communication happened face to face, on the control room floor, over the telephone, and through various subsystems?

“We did that two-fold. We did that in normal mode and we did that in degraded mode. That gave us an idea around who spoke to whom and when did they speak to whom,” said Constantinou.

Ahead of designing the space, Constantinou’s team conducted a role matrix to see where the patterns in operations were, particularly in degraded mode.

With the Sydney Trains network compressing from 15 lines across the suburban network into six in the CBD, getting those critical staff together would be key for functional communication.

“We were able to say 50 roles in network operations were similar and should be sitting next to each other,” said Constantinou. “We quickly worked out which ones were the more critical to operations, which of those roles needed more supervision, which should be configured in a way that they have more supervision around them, and that led to a functional link analysis to understand if there were any functional commonality in the roles.”

With these findings, operations staff were then given a VR headset so that they could inspect the draft design and see how it fitted with their behaviour.

“We set up outside every control centre with a basic fit out where people would come in and put on the masks. They would walk around the desks and the control room floor and we would take every comment down to see how we could respond to it,” said Constantinou.

Following this was trial runs in defined scenarios, such as a tree falling over a rail corridor and a train colliding with the tree.

“You can see the phone calls that go in from the driver to the area controller and the different colours are typically people who would’ve been located in different control centres,” said Constantinou.

“They would’ve, through situational awareness, overheard the conversation because they’re sitting at the right proximity, or they would’ve been able to swing around and talk to these people.

“If you start doing the maths, it’s all the way from a two minute to a 10-minute saving threading through that scenario, so it’s good to know we can save time,” said Constantinou.

At the newly designed ROC, which opened in mid 2019, data, connectivity, and customer access came together, however with the outcome determined by the end user, not the technology itself.