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.

ATSB releases preliminary report into Wallan train derailment

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has released the preliminary report into the Wallan train derailment.

Although the report does not contain findings, the report does note that signals at Wallan were reversed, causing the XPT train to enter a passing loop at a speed of more than 100km/h when the speed limit for entering the loop was 15km/h, and exiting the loop was 35km/h.

“Earlier that afternoon, the points at either end of the Wallan loop had been changed from their ‘Normal’ position to their ‘Reverse’ position, which meant that rail traffic, in both directions, would be diverted from the Main Line into the loop track,” said ATSB chief commissioner, Greg Hood.

“A Train Notice reflected this change and also specified a 15 km/h speed limit for entry into the loop.”

Prior to the derailment, the XPT service had travelled through a section from Kilmore East that was being managed using an alternative safeworking system. During this section, an accompanying qualified worker (AQW) boarded the lead power car and joined the driver at the head of the train. Before proceeding, the driver and the network control officer communicated via radio about the train authority for the section to Donnybrook.

After passing Kilmore East, the train sped up to 130km/h, the line speed for this section. Then, the train travelled to Wallan and was diverted onto the Wallan Loop, the points for which had earlier been changed from Normal to Reverse.

The emergency brake was applied a short distance before the points, which slowed the train a small amount, however the train entered the turnout travelling at above 100km/h, leading the train to derail.

The alternative safeworking system was implemented on the section of track from Kilmore East to Donnybrook due to damage to the signalling infrastructure, caused by a fire on February 3, 2020.

Investigations into the incident are ongoing, and are being led by Victoria’s Chief Investigator, Transport Safety (CTIS), along with the New South Wales Office of Transport Safety Investigations (OTSI). The Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator is also continuing to investigate.

CEO of the ARTC, John Fullerton, said that the ARTC would learn from the incident.

“Accidents of this nature are complex and can hardly ever be attributed to just one cause, and this investigation is one important way of ensuring lessons are learned, and systems and processes are put in place to avoid something similar from happening again.”

The derailment killed the driver, John Kennedy, and the AQW, Sam Meintanis.

“ARTC joins with all in the rail industry in again extending our sincere condolences to the families, friends and colleagues of John and Sam,” said Fullerton.

“The main focus of all in the rail industry – whether it is rail network operators like ARTC, the passenger and freight rail customers who use it, or the many rail contractors – is to operate safely.”

A Transport for NSW spokesperson noted the report.

“We continue to engage with the investigators on what is a complex set of circumstances that led to the loss of a NSW TrainLink employee and a contracted ARTC staff member,” said the spokesperson.

“Our thoughts are with the families and friends of those who lost their lives in this accident and we await the final report by the ATSB due in 2021.”

Hood noted that the full investigation could take over 18 months to complete.

“However, should any safety critical information be discovered at any time during the investigation, we will immediately notify operators and regulators, and make that publicly known.”

Further investigation by the ATSB will inquire into the derailment sequence, track condition, rollingstock condition, crew and passenger survivability, train operation, and management of train operations. So far, the investigation has not found a fault with the rollingstock or the track itself that directly contributed to the derailment.

PTA Radio Systems Replacement project falls victim to US-China trade war

The consortium delivering the digital radio systems project in Perth has fallen apart.

An alliance of Huawei Australia and UGL (HUGL) won the contract to upgrade radio communications for Western Australia’s Public Transport Authority (PTA) in 2018, however on March 27, 2020 WA Minister for Transport Rita Saffioti announced that the current contract will no longer proceed.

The HUGL consortium fell victim to increasing trade restrictions placed on Chinese exports by the US government, with restrictions imposed in August 2019 cited by the WA government as the tipping point.

In 2017, the WA government announced the $120 million project, which would involve installing new towers and poles with digital-friendly infrastructure, to enable the replacement of the current analogue radio system with a digital one. This involved all radio devices in trains, security vehicles, and handheld radios. Moving to a digital system would allow for data as well as audio to be transmitted by radio. Future Automatic Train Control systems, which PTA has aimed to install as part of the Metronet project, would utilise the digital radio systems.

Since the contract was awarded, the parties have had to grapple with restrictions placed trade between the US and China. Tariffs imposed on Chinese exports would increase the uncertainty around the cost of the project, timelines, and effectiveness of the final solution.

“It is extremely unfortunate that the State Government’s project – which is limited to a radio network for train drivers and transit guards – has been caught up in the ongoing trade dispute between the US and China,” said Saffioti.

The WA government has indicated in a statement that it will continue with the project, although it will be delayed.

“Given the trade dispute, and the current economic and health crisis facing the world, the PTA has recommended a fresh approach for the radio replacement project,” said Saffioti.

“The PTA will continue its plans to deliver a new digital radio system for our expanding public transport system.”

Potential options include the withdrawal of Huawei Australia from the contract, or the termination of the contract as a whole. The PTA will look to preserve current subcontract arrangements.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority has extended the deadline for the PTA to vacate the analogue radio spectrum to beyond 2021.

The effect of extreme weather on rail and track infrastructure

As severe weather events become more intense and frequent, rail infrastructure owners and mangers are responding to this new reality.

Documenting the risks that climate change poses to the Australian rail sector, the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) listed six types of impacts. These were: track failures due to extreme temperature days, increased risk of flood and storm damage to track infrastructure, sea level rise flooding coastal tracks, yards and other infrastructure, wind damage to overhead lines, track failure due to decreased soil stability and increased erosion, and increased bushfire damage risk.

During the summer of 2019-2020 the rail industry experienced almost all of these impacts.

In New South Wales, bushfires closed multiple major train lines, including the Main Western Line through the Blue Mountains, the Southern Highlands Line between Goulburn and Macarthur and the Unanderra Line between Moss Vale and Unanderra.

Rail infrastructure owners around the country felt a number of these impacts, and Arc Infrastructure, the manager of the WA rail freight network, was no exception.

“This summer we have seen bushfires in the South West, Mid West (Mogumber) and Kalgoorlie/Esperance cause interruptions to rail traffic, heavy rainfall impacting track infrastructure, and an electrical storm in the Mid West affect signalling and communications infrastructure on the Eastern Goldfields Railway,” said an Arc Infrastructure spokesperson.

Sydney Trains also acknowledged how the weather can impact infrastructure.

“Extreme weather events, such as high temperatures, strong winds, lightning, bushfires, high rainfall, and flooding, can have a significant effect on the performance, efficiency and operation of Sydney Trains’ infrastructure,” said a Sydney Trains spokesperson.

With these increasingly severe and frequent weather events recognised as constituting a new normal, rail network managers and infrastructure owners are having to grapple with what this means for their assets.

BUILDING RESILIENCE

In Infrastructure Australia’s Australian Infrastructure Audit 2019, resilience was a key theme. The report acknowledged that although Australia’s extremes have been well known – floods, drought, fires, and cyclones being an almost yearly occurrence – resilience, the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, was not reflected in planning processes.

Resilience takes a different kind of thinking than had been previously reflected in planning documents. Although methods and protocols to repair damaged infrastructure were established, the data to be able to predict future events was not always available.

“Timely access to evidence that aids the evaluation of likelihood and consequence can help the planning of construction, maintenance and resilience. However, evidence about the scale of risks, their impacts and the costs of addressing them is often weak or not accessible,” write the authors of the report.

In this context, climate change becomes a compounding factor. The modelling of risks is based upon events that have happened in the past. When events start becoming more frequent and outside the historical range of severity, these models have to be re-evaluated.

“In a rapidly changing environment, risks shift in nature and severity, complicating assessment. This can lead to reactive, rather than proactive, responses to both short- and long-term risks to networks,” write Infrastructure Australia.

The report notes that there is much to be done.

“Australia’s infrastructure sector lacks clear, publicly available guidance on how to manage risk and plan for greater resilience in the future.”

Image credit: Sydney Trains.

THE RAIL INFRASTRUCTURE OF 2100, BUILT NOW
While Infrastructure Australia’s assessment was made for Australia’s infrastructure as a whole, rail itself has some key challenges. Rail networks are expected to last for up to 100 years, with some track in use today laid in the early 20th century.

The longevity of rail infrastructure presents a critical issue, as the cost of relocating infrastructure has been so high as to be prohibitive. However, as noted in Building resilient infrastructure prepared by Deloitte Access Economics for the Australian Business Roundtable for Disaster Resilience & Safer Communities, the increased cost of natural disasters will lead to the replacement of damaged assets becoming equivalent to the entire cost of large infrastructure programs, suggesting that resilience building is a nationally significant infrastructure project on its own.

Within this context, the rail infrastructure being built now has to account for changes expected to occur in the next 100 years. In the best-case scenario of global temperature rise being kept to between 1.5 and 2O°C, sea level rises of up to a metre are predicted. The knock on effects of this on rail track infrastructure have been catalogued by the ARA.

Sea level rise will directly impact low lying sections of track, particularly those freight lines that carry bulk cargo for export. Increases in extreme rainfall, leading to flooding, can cause assets to be inundated and landslides. With sea level rising, coastal and inland areas will be vulnerable to inundation, and increased frequency and severity of heat waves will cause track buckling and brownouts and blackouts.

With these risks in mind, the ARA calls for the industry to look at mitigating risks via a long-term program of activities. Whether collaborative or led by individual organisations, the ARA notes that successful planning will require the embedding of adaptation and continuity into planning, development, maintenance and improvement programs of all major rail infrastructure owners.

Some infrastructure owners are already planning of how to respond to this changed environment.

Sydney Trains, whose network was significantly affected during the summer of 2019-2020, is building resilience into the physical nature of the network.

“In recent years, Sydney Trains has undertaken a number of initiatives to protect the network from weather events. These include replacing timber sleepers with concrete to reduce the likelihood of significant rail head movement, tension- regulated overheard wiring, improved lightning and surge protection at assets like control centres and substations and improving advanced weather warning systems,” said a Sydney Trains spokesperson.

These works are part of a $1.5 billion annual program of routine and periodic maintenance across the network.

In Western Australia, Arc Infrastructure is currently looking into how to build in resilience to its network, as Arc Infrastructure CEO Murray Cook, told Rail Express.

“We have an innovative research project underway across our network to prevent the risk of derailment through the use of research, data and technology, supported by the deep knowledge and experience of our people.”

Arc Infrastructure is currently in the process of building a system to predict, detect, and prevent derailments that occur as a result of track section washaways, said an Arc spokesperson.

“In order to predict washaways, we are using various sources of information (including historical track washaway data, historical rainfall data and topographical data) to understand and quantify the potential damage caused by various intensities of extreme weather across our network. This data is then being correlated with realtime rainfall data to generate alarms for probable washaways on specific sections of track.”

So far, the project is being tested on historical events, with results showing that of the washaway events that occurred in February 2017, 47 per cent of the locations were predictable, based on the analysis.

Across Australia, a combination of planning, technological innovation, and consistent maintenance will be required to ensure that the rail netowrks laid down today can be used safely and efficiently in 2100.

Bumper year for ARA

Danny Broad shared some parting thoughts to the rail industry about the importance of smart rail technology and the need for young blood.

Outgoing Australasian Railway Association CEO Danny Broad hosted his last AusRAIL as CEO before handing over the reins to incoming CEO Caroline Wilkie.

Broad was elected ARA chair at the 2019 ARA Annual General Meeting (AGM), taking over from Bob Herbert – who will continue his contribution to the rail industry as Chairman of the ARA’s harm prevention charity, TrackSAFE Foundation.

“I thank Bob for his strategic leadership and achievements as chairman of the ARA, specifically the development of a new constitution, leading to improved governance and democracy within the ARA,” Broad said.

As part of his outgoing address, Herbert addressed some of the issues he considered significant to the rail industry.

“Rail is a victim of our federation. There is no one sovereign government calling all the shots for rail like there is for industries like defence or shipbuilding. Make no mistake, this holds rail back, with nine governments to deal with on key national issues,” Herbert said.

“It has stopped rail throughout its history, from the time the first rail tracks were carried. The cause lies in the way our political imperatives play out, it brings a natural cautiousness in decision making. Governments are always in different stages of the election process and rail is disadvantaged as a consequence.”

As an example, Herbert cites the operation of the Transport and Infrastructure Council (TIC).

“This is the forum where transport ministers across the jurisdictions come together twice a year and are supported by a body of senior bureaucrats. Unfortunately, outcomes from this process can only be described as last common denominator.”

As such, he explained how trying to achieve a National Rail Plan is “still illusory”.

“The bureaucrats so often have differing priorities to industry, and they become entrenched within government departments. In some cases, meeting with industry seems to be anathema to them, so progress is at a snail’s pace and this is extremely frustrating for industry.”

In August 2018, members of the ARA met with the council so that companies could present their challenges to the council.

“These were telling representations from our members on challenges relating to skills, resources, and standards,” Herbert said. As a result, the council decided to develop the Rail Action Plan through the National Transport Commission.

“We’ve seen the first cut of this plan and so far, I regret to say, it falls a short of what we would like. So, there’s a lot more argy bargy to be doing with the National Transport Commission.”

However, he warned industry against relying on government to deliver “what we can deliver ourselves”.

As part of his own AusRAIL address, Broad recapped some of the ARA’s activities in what he called “an exciting and demanding year in all sectors of rail”.

The ARA, Broad said, spent 2019 advocating to governments about some of the biggest issues facing the industry.

“We have focused on advocating to governments on how best to address the skills shortage, resulting in the development in the National Rail Action Plan, by the National Transport Commission.”

The ARA has been calling on state, territory and federal governments to commit to a unified pipeline for major rail projects, to allow the private sector to better prepare itself with adequate skills and equipment to ensure contracts are executed as efficiently as possible.

As part of this, the organisation recommended the federal government resource the Australia & New Zealand Infrastructure Pipeline in its 2019-20 Budget Submission.

The ARA lodged seventeen submissions to parliamentary and government inquiries on behalf of the sector over the last year.

One of the key issues for a number of its submissions to government in 2019 included advocating for fairer rules for freight rail operators.

“As far as possible, domestic rail freight markets should operate on an even footing with other modal choices. This requires an environment with equitable regulatory settings to enable competitive neutrality between competing modes of transport,” says the ARA’s annual report 2019.

The ARA also called for an extension of the Inland Rail line, the largest freight rail project in Australia.

“The current project has the Inland Rail line ceasing at Acacia Ridge. The ARA calls for a commensurate project to ensure a freight rail line continues all the way to the Port of Brisbane. Research undertaken by Deloitte shows that building a dedicated freight rail connection to the Port of Brisbane could achieve a 30 per cent rail modal share, which would remove 2.4 million truck movements from the local road network,” according to the annual report.

Among other issues, the ARA also calls for a “pragmatic approach to fast rail that recognises the need to plan for an invest in elements such as modernised signalling systems, passing loops, track duplication, and other critical requirements to increase infrastructure capacity and speed of passenger services”.

“We have been progressing the smart rail and technology agendas, working with industry and governments on improving accessibility, advocating for rail and supporting rail careers through programs such as the women in rail pilot mentoring program and the formation of the young leaders advisory board, a potential attraction and retention campaign and the future leaders program to name just a few,” Broad said.

“I’m very proud of where the ARA is now, and feel it is the right time to pass on the reigns to our new CEO,” Broad concluded.