One-stop-shop for LRV operations

Tehnika’s Matt Burey explains the benefits of a single supervisory interface for light rail vehicle operations.

Brisbane-based software firm Tehnika will be showing off its t-visor RAIL platform at the Australasian Railway Association’s Light Rail 2020 conference in Canberra in March.

Already used extensively on the Canberra Light Rail and Gold Coast Light Rail systems, t-visor aims to provide a single platform for a range of different systems, including Automatic Vehicle Location, traffic light and priority management, signalling, timetable and performance monitoring and automatic vehicle location, and interface with external software applications, traction power SCADA, infrastructure SCADA, passenger information, public address, CCTV, and platform information displays. Feature rich, t-visor also has comprehensive performance monitoring to assist operators manage KPIs, network monitoring and stray current monitoring.

Modern and highly scalable, the t-visor RAIL software platform is described by Tehnika chief technology officer, Matt Burey, as “the most advanced supervisory platform designed for light rail currently available on the market”.

“Having a single user interface means operators don’t need to log into multiple different systems,” Burey said. “This saves time and ensures operators can be focused on the task at hand and not get distracted or interrupted by having to switch systems.”

Furthermore: “Front line operators only need to be trained on one system and not each individual sub-system – there’s no need to remember different passwords and the unique way each disparate sub-system functions.”

This single-platform approach also means the LRV operator is not bombarded with unnecessary information.

“Only relevant and system critical information needs to be displayed or made visible to operators which results in them being better focused on their operational role.”

Tehnika’s in-house team to build and develop its systems, and Burey believes this is a key differentiator and a major advantage working within the local rail sector.

“Having local resources means we have the flexibility and the agility to respond immediately to changes in client demands or project scope,” he said. “Our significant investment in research and development means Tehnika is able to develop, test, and deploy proven and fit-for-purpose solutions that are unique to the Australian market.”

Burey told Rail Express the supervisory platform was designed specifically to provide light rail operators with a single, seamlessly integrated solution for a full range of control and monitoring systems.

Interfacing with passenger information, t-visor allows for fully programmable messages with both automatically recurring and custom, one off messages, images, and videos, Burey explained.

“By integrating public address systems, operators are able to record and play specific messages on demand as well as record one off messages for special events,” he said.

Along with PA systems, t-visor can also incorporate situationally aware CCTV feeds which automatically start when the emergency help or information button is pressed or other alarms are raised.

The platform’s Automatic Vehicle Location function uses a combination of GPS, vehicle odometers, and trackside equipment to display the exact location of a light rail vehicle. The AVLS also presents a real time view of rail signalling, point positions and track occupancy.

“Each LRV trip is tracked against the planned timetable providing the operator with an interactive display that clearly shows service punctuality and/or headway,” he said. “t-visor’s traffic signalling priority system (TSPS) is fully integrated with SCATS and STREAMs. The TSPS function provides detailed intersection status and request priority when an LRV approaches an intersection. It also allows operators to request a manual White T from the OCC.”

Additionally, light rail vehicles and any other equipment such as radio handsets can be tracked using a geolocation map, Burey added.

The system’s traction power SCADA feature allows operators and users of the system to remotely monitor electrical traction supply and perform isolation/energisation. The system also provides power quality and stray current monitoring and energisation status including DC overhead lines and AC feeder lines.

Tehnika’s team is exhibiting at the ARA Light Rail 2020 event in Canberra on March 2-3.

Building human and customer focused digital rail systems

As rail organisations around Australia move towards their digital future, ways of working and approaches to implementation will vary, as has been the case of Australia’s distinct rail network since its foundation.

During the second day of the Train Control and Management Systems summit, these divergent paths towards digitalisation were laid out.

Showcasing what this means in New South Wales was Andrew Constantinou, deputy executive director of Digital Systems Business Integration at Sydney Trains.

Constantinou outlined how the newly opened Rail Operations Centre (ROC) near Green Square in Alexandria, Sydney is one element of digitalisation in rail. The ROC is designed to organise the complex Sydney Trains network which condenses 15 train lines running 120 trains per hour into six CBD tracks.

The purpose built control centre being outside of the traditional location of alongside the rail corridor introduced a new concept of operations, which, according to Constantinou, “Starts with bringing all your people together”.

Beginning from a human factor driven design principles, the team utilises a systems engineering approach to organising the new centre. Constantiou acknowledged the human element of shifting operations control.

“One of the biggest challenges was simply bringing everyone on board for the concept of operations,” he said.

This challenge was in part resolved through technology, and in part through understanding how people would respond to their new environment.

The concept design was driven by simulated scenarios which could demonstrate how a new operational layout would affect performance. Current operations staff used a VR walkthrough to determine what their future workspace would look like. This approach would overcome the issue of distinct rail operations control centres effectively competing with one another.

At the other end of the scale, Gary Evans, operational readiness manager of ARTC’s Advanced Train Management System (ATMS) showcased how the new system would allow Australia’s vast freight network to increase frequency, throughput, reliability, service reliability, while reducing operational and maintenance costs.

The new system, which is currently being trialled, enables virtual block authority management. However, rather than being an end in itself, the system can allow ARTC’s customers to find efficiencies.

“ARTC wants to be an enabler for its customers,” said Evans.

Digitalisation key to future of rail

As Transport for NSW (TfNSW) begins work on its new digital systems facility in Chullora, delegates at the Train Control Management Systems conference heard how the installation of digital systems can lead to a rail system fit for the future.

The conference, held on February 20 was opened with a presentation from Joern Schlichting, head of the ETCS programme at Deutsche Bahn, who described how through digitalisation, Germany was building a “fundamentally new rail system”.

In implementing the ETCS programme, Deutsche Bahn will respond to two major challenges the industry is facing, and which are shared by operators in Australia. These are the need to enable the rail network to carry larger volumes of people on existing tracks and overcome the issue of high numbers of staff reaching retirement age. Rather than an end outcome, said Schlichting, “ETCS is a tool in order to think about completely new redesign of the railway system”.

As part of the ETCS migration strategy in Germany, a wholescale digitalisation of the rail network will be undertaken. These include digital interlockings and railway vehicles, and will ultimately provide a platform for the future integration of other technologies, such as automatic operations, and the ability for trains to recognise obstacles and the environment on their own.

“ETCS is not a technology, it is a language,” said Schlichting.

While these technological changes will allow for more frequent and efficient services, the migration to digital platforms is also thought to attract a new generation of rail workers, as many involved in train control reach retirement age.

These are concerns shared by the Australian rail industry, as it adopts ETCS. In NSW, TfNSW is upgrading its infrastructure to ETCS level 2 as part of its Digital Systems project. In Queensland, ETCS will be integrated into the Cross River Rail project.

Year in Infrastructure

International infrastructure awards open for nominations

Nominations are now open for the Year in Infrastructure 2020 Awards.

Hosted by Bentley Systems, a software provider for design, construction, and infrastructure operations, the awards are independently judged and recognise projects that have committed to digital innovation to improve project delivery and asset performance.

Projects that are at any stage can be nominated, the only requirement being that the projects have used Bentley Systems software.

The awards will be presented at Bentley’s Year in Infrastructure Conference, held in Vancouver from October 12 to 15. Finalists in each of the categories will be flown to the conference to present their projects before the judges, thought leaders, and media.

The categories are:

  • 4d digital construction;
  • Bridges;
  • Buildings and campuses;
  • Digital cities;
  • Geotechnical engineering;
  • Land and site development;
  • Manufacturing;
  • Mining and offshore engineering;
  • Power generation;
  • Project delivery;
  • Rail and transit;
  • Reality modelling;
  • Roads and highways;
  • Road and rail asset performance;
  • Structural engineering;
  • Utilities and communications;
  • Utilities and industrial asset performance;
  • Water and wastewater treatment plants; and
  • Water, wastewater and stormwater networks.

In addition, there are three broader categories which go beyond the sector categories. These are; advancements in digital twins for project delivery, advancements in digital twins for asset performance, and advancements in sustainability and resilience.

Seven surefire tricks for estimating with confidence

Estimators, are you ready to work smarter and not harder? For too long you have been consumed with manual repetitive tasks instead of using that precious time to analyse bid proposals. Learn to tackle that issue and many others when you read Seven Surefire Tricks for Estimating with Confidence.

Estimators spend far too much time trying to figure out complex specifications and crunching numbers only to be left with two possible outcomes. Either they don’t win the job, or they do, but “leave some money on the table” relative to the next-lowest bidders. With the growing complexity of capital projects, estimators must find ways to invest their time more wisely and harness the growing amounts of project data to form quality bid proposals. Fortunately, there are several best practices that can enhance their work efforts, ensuring they are working smarter, not harder.

To read more, fill out the form below:

Using digital systems to cut project cost

If you thought that the Australian cities of Sydney and Melbourne were congested, spare a thought for the commuters of Kuala Lumpur. Ranked by the Asian Development Bank as the second most congested city in Asia, after Manilia, the region of Greater Kuala Lumpur is home to 7.25 million people, and is in the process of opening a three-line rapid mass transit system.

The first line, the Sungai Buloh-Kajang Line, opened in 2017 and the project team at MRT Corp wanted to take what they found in the process of constructing this line and apply it to the next two lines.

First is the Sungai Buloh-Serdang-Putrajaya Line, which is forecast to begin operating in July 2021.

One angle of improvement was time and cost certainty. Similar to other projects around the world, construction management was a key area, as the team identified the use of building information management (BIM) workflows as a way to improve this aspect of the project.

MRT Corp chose to adopt digital twins using Bentley solutions. This software enabled the project team to create and visualise its digital assets. From there, information on the status of elements of the construction process can be found, and the team can perform analysis and leverage insights through the system.

The BIM system from Bentley adopted by MRT Corp was able to leverage the projects Asset Information Management (AIM) system. This integrated documents, asset tags, equipment, maintenance class and frewquency, manufacturer’s name, and contact details, with the asset visualisation program.

This system will not only be of use during the construction phase of the project, but by having a Master Asset Register (MAR), operations and maintenance teams can easily access information on assets and equipment throughout the operational life of the railway.

“Going digital with Bentley, including our use of a digital twins approach, is helping MRT Corp to implement the business processes and systems it needs to spearhead the digital future of construction in Malaysia,” said Aswadi Yusof, BIM champion with MRT Corp.

During the construction phase of the project as asset data is introduced to the digital twin, assets can be visualised and located within the 3D model. This enables the project team to understand how this asset and equipment fits with other elements of the project. Bentley estimates that this will reduce the whole life cost of the railway.

Australian group awarded funding for tram batteries

A consortium of Australian businesses and research institutions will investigate the production of fast charging batteries for trams.

The group, comprised of the University of Queensland, CSIRO, battery manufacturer Soluna Australia, and nanotechnology company VSPC, will leverage a $1,641,000 grant from the federal CRC-P program to invest $5million in batteries which could remove the need for overhead powerlines to power trams.

The batteries developed will be fast-charge lithium-ion batteries. VSPC will develop advanced cathode materials, while CSIRO brings expertise and intellectual property for the application of fast-charge batteries in trams and other vehicles such as buses, ferries, and military vehicles.

The team from the University of Queensland Faculty of Engineering, Architecture and Information Technology will contribute to the characterisation and optimisation of the battery materials. Soluna will then advise on manufacturing and lead commercialisation of the product.

Mike Vaisey, VSPC executive director, said the project could tap into the popularity of light rail.

“This project is a tremendous opportunity to bring together Australia’s technological capabilities – including VSPC’s advanced cathode materials, CSIRO’s battery expertise and UQ’s analytical abilities – to develop new battery systems using VSPC cathode material. Light rail is experiencing a resurgence worldwide as cities modernise, and fastcharge batteries are critical to avoiding the poles and wires of the past.”

Once successful, Lithium Australia managing director Adrian Griffin said that the Australian-developed technology could be other in other transport forms.

“The aim is to deliver an Australian product that puts this country at the forefront of battery development … and there’s more to it than trams; successful application of what is currently at our fingertips will lead to myriad other fast-charge applications, many of them not yet thought of.”

Stellar third year for Future Leaders program

A modern approach to safety during the first and last mile and navigating public transport through the language barrier were just two of the difficult problems tackled by teams during the ARA’s third annual Future Leaders program.

AusRAIL PLUS 2019 helped bring to a close the latest iteration of the Australasian Railway Association’s Future Leaders program, which graduated a cohort of 33 young professionals from seven different Australian states and territories and New Zealand in 2019.

Future Leaders is one of the ARA’s key initiatives in response to the ongoing skills crisis threatening the rail sector’s potential. “Within the rail industry there is such a demand for resources and skills due to the major investment by governments right across Australia and New Zealand in new rail infrastructure,” ARA chief executive officer Danny Broad said when discussing the program in its third year.

To address this, the program aims to build a network of future leaders and provide a two-way exchange between future and current leaders in the rail industry. This higher level of engagement with the next generation of leaders is aimed at retaining them within the sector as they progress through their careers.

The program is delivered in part by Dr Polly McGee, an author and professional training expert who has worked with the ARA since the inception of Future Leaders in 2017.

“We’ve heard a lot throughout AusRAIL about people, and people being the centre of everything we do as a sector. Leading them, inspiring them, and understanding them is key,” McGee told the AusRAIL 2019 audience.

McGee explained the process of the Future Leaders program, which is split into three parts.

“In the first part, we really want the participants to look at themselves,” McGee explained. “Who are they in the mix? What do they bring to their leadership? And what do they need to have as part of their own development to be able to really effectively lead other people, and lead them from any part of the operation.”

This first stage was delivered during a three-day workshop in July. Starting with a Myers-Briggs test, participants learned more about themselves and their personality traits. After an open discussion of some of the wicked challenges facing rail, and drawing on the Myers-Briggs results, six diverse project groups were established to get to work solving them.

“The first phase of the program really helped us look within and see where our strengths were, and maybe where they were not – and how we as leaders can adjust to better manage and work with others based on that knowledge,” participant Shakira Rawat told Rail Express.

“They specifically put us together into groups because we were very different personalities,” fellow participant Tahni Littlejohn added. “Different minds working together with different strengths – you get the best of everything.”

The Future Leaders got together again in September for their second workshop, which kicked off with alumni from past Future Leaders program during a speed networking breakfast.

“One thing that’s really beautiful to see, now that we have these three cohorts graduated, is that the alumni group has become really strong,” McGee said. “Now they’re starting to reach out and support each other, it’s becoming an ecosystem of leadership.”

Following the alumni networking was a tour of Yarra Trams’ Tram Hub and Metro Trains Melbourne’s Metrol facility, a Port of Melbourne boat tour, and a series of major project briefings.

The second workshop also included a certified Dare to Lead training program, developed by bestselling author Dr Brené Brown.

“This program is so essential in the current environment we’re in,” McGee, a certified Dare to Lead facilitator, explained. “What it does
is ask leaders, ‘How do we train you to lead from courage and vulnerability?’ Courage and vulnerability are the two things that are going to be able to take us forward as a sector.

“I’ve never met anyone in rail who said they were in the sector for the brand-new Tesla and the giant house. They’re here because of rail’s legacy, and they come because it’s important to them, so they need to be able to express themselves and be who they are in their roles. The Dare to Lead program gives them those tools, and it puts them in a place of deep discomfort from which they can really learn.”

“The key takeaway for me from Dare to Lead was understanding yourself and having a belief in yourself,” Shez Islam, a senior project manager at VicTrack, told Rail Express. “During the project our group had a number of times where we doubted ourselves, and what we could do. But the self-belief that we had kept us going towards a great result. It was a lifelong lesson that we’ll take with us throughout our careers and in our everyday life.”

“The program is actually quite challenging,” Kelly Iverach, an associate director for workforce planning, train crewing and support at Sydney Trains added. “It asks you to dig quite deep and consider why you are responding to certain situations in a particular way; digging down to find what’s at the core of why we find things challenging, and that’s a different journey for everyone.”

The third workshop occurred the day before AusRAIL PLUS on December 2. The six project teams, having worked together throughout the year, pitched solutions to their chosen wicked problems to a panel of ARA Board members.

“We ask the teams to look at some of the wicked problems of rail, and come up with some really innovative, able-to-be-commercialised ideas, that they can pitch to our panel of experts on the final day of the program, before they graduate,” McGee explained. “We ask them to do something meaningful and real – and the six projects that we had this year were nothing short of extraordinary.”

Helping teams throughout their project were mentors – senior leaders selected from around the rail sector. One such mentor, Robert Angus, technical director for Infrastructure Projects at Aurecon, said the Future Leaders program was helping make the rail industry a better one.

“My focus was helping the team channel and focus some of their ideas and provide helpful guidance and an independent view where I could,” he said. “But ultimately it’s great to see young future leaders across the industry collaborate together towards a common cause.”

SAFEMILE
The winning pitch, voted for by attendees and announced at the AusRAIL Gala Dinner, was SafeMILE, an app concept developed by Matt Green, Tahni Littlejohn, Thomas Pulsford, Shakira Rawat and James Shaw.

The basic premise behind SafeMILE is to use a peer-to-peer ride sharing model to help individuals find companions or groups to travel with.

“Our project matters because we are aiming to transform the first and last mile into the SafeMILE,” Littlejohn said during the team’s presentation. “As a lot of work is being done to make transport journeys safer, the first and last mile remains a wicked problem – one our group has tried to address.”

While relevant to all users of public transport, the SafeMILE team opted to target university students, given they are often financially restricted, and travelling late at night. One study reviewed by the group showed 79 per cent of surveyed female students had experienced harassment, groping or stalking on public transport in the last three years. Another found 90 per cent of female students surveyed in Sydney were not comfortable walking home at night.

The SafeMILE team’s own survey found 80 per cent of respondents had felt unsafe on public transport, and more than 50 per cent said they felt unsafe specifically during the first or last mile of their journey.

Their solution is a peer-to-peer ride sharing application for smartphone users. Using Google Maps data and public transport operational data, the app aims to plan journeys and connect users, providing key in-journey safety features.

When a user selects a journey, they are informed whether there are any other app users taking that same journey. They can then request to join that person – or group, if one is already established – on that journey.

Users can opt for varying levels of anonymity, but are assigned a rating, and can view each other’s level of verification: bronze is a simple email verification, silver is an account connected with a university email address or at least two social media platforms, and gold is an account which has provided police clearance.

Along with its basic purpose, the app also features journey sharing, GPS location, a duress alarm, and an incident reporting service.

The journey sharing feature allows the user to notify people within their ‘circle of trust’ (e.g. family, close friends) the details of their journey, and GPS then keeps those people up to date with the user’s location throughout their journey. The SafeMILE team has also suggested this feature could be linked up with university security, if applicable.

“In cases of duress, there’s a button within the app and on your smart watch, if you have one. Or you can also click your power or volume up button four times, and this will send an alert to your circle of trust, as well as campus security, or to public transport security, depending on your location,” Shaw, a senior systems engineer with Calibre, explained during the pitch.

“Separately the incident reporting feature allows users to report areas or sections of their trip where they witnessed threatening behaviour or felt unsafe, and this information can then be shared with other users of the app so they can make informed decisions about their journeys home that night.”

Littlejohn added: “That data can also then be used by public transport users or universities to target unsafe hotspots, and focus their resources most appropriately to address them.”

The SafeMILE team was at AusRAIL pitching for a $250,000 investment, which they believed would help them deliver a user-ready app, and invest in targeted advertising to help develop a starting user base. Revenue would come from in-app advertising.

TRANSPORT ASSIST AUSTRALIA
The second-placed pitch, also presented to the wider AusRAIL audience, targeted improved customer satisfaction, reliability, and levels of engagement on public transport for non- English speaking residents and tourists. It was presented by Transport Assist Australia, a team of Daniel Adams, Aaron Hargraves, Shez Islam, Kelly Iverach, Tristan Smith and Luke Stevenson.

Using Bluetooth beacon technology, an app would help users navigate stations and concourses in their native tongue. Beacons would be set up around a station and used to trigger alerts via the app on the user’s phone.

One example would be a welcoming beacon, which would provide key information and options as the user approached the station itself. Another would be a safety beacon, which would ensure users are alerted that they are in or near an unsafe location, e.g. beyond the yellow line while waiting on the platform.

“We spoke with both transport operators and effective users, and 96 per cent of those users said they would use an application like this while on transport here in Australia. 88 per cent of operators agreed this would improve ticketing and 100 per cent agreed it would improve wayfinding,” Hargraves, an infrastructure response team leader at Metro Trains, outlined.

Hargraves explained when you combine the 800,000 Australian residents who speak little to no English, with the 13 per cent of the average eight million annual tourists visiting Australia who are in the same boat, there is certainly a substantial target audience for this product.

Under the team’s business model, $176,000 would be spent in year one to develop Southern Cross station as a pilot site for the program. $155,000 would be spent in each of years 2-5 to expand the program to the full City Circle – 30 stations – and develop interstate opportunities. $72,000 would then be spent in years 6-10 to maintain the City Circle systems and expand into other sectors and outside of Australia.

HEADING INTO 2020
The ARA has announced plans for the 2020 edition of Future Leaders. Nominations will open in mid-March, ahead of a trio of planned workshops:

  • Workshop 1: Tuesday 30 June – Thursday 2 July in Melbourne;
  • Workshop 2: Tuesday 1 – Thursday 3 Sept in Sydney; and
  • Workshop 3: Monday 30 Nov (AusRAIL 1 and 2 Dec) in Adelaide.

2019 ARA FUTURE LEADERS GROUP PROJECTS:

WINNER: SafeMILE:
Transforming the first and last mile into the SafeMILE – Allowing commuters to connect and engage within their level of comfort to travel the first and last mile to help them feel safer.

RUNNER UP: Transport Assist Australia:
A multi-lingual application to make navigating Australian railways simple and efficient for everyone.

  • Re-Rail Your Career: A social media campaign targeted at people who believed that their skills and experience cannot be easily transferred to the rail industry.
  • TIES – Tertiary Institution Engagement Strategy: Connecting students to the industry through rail course content.
  • oneTrack: Across the Australian rail market there is a distinct opportunity for the introduction of a centralised rail safe-working tool. oneTrack would act as a “one-stop-shop” for location based safe-working and operational information regardless of network owner/operator.
  • Momentum Materials Management: A tool to provide inter-organisational visibility of stock levels of key railway materials and share/purchase stock of standard items in order to keep the rail industry moving.

Find out more on the ARA’s website: ara.net.au/ future-leaders-program

The importance of intuitive light rail

Engineering firm Columbus Group is known as an industry innovator. CEO Donald Yates spoke to Rail Express about the innovation light rail can offer.

Light rail’s flexibility, according to Columbus Group’s CEO Donald Yates, allows for consistent innovation.

“The boundaries of light rail no longer stop at the edge of the world’s CBD,” Yates said. “It is utilised almost everywhere because it calls for practical inventiveness.”

Yates explains how light rail does this. “With or without guidance rail tracks, light rail needs to be able to adapt.”

“It needs to move sideways, to pick up passengers, and to get out of the way of other road users, including during pause duration cycles when recharging might be needed, be it via rapid battery swaps, zapping super capacitors or refilling with hydrogen for the fuel cell vehicle propulsion power.”

Further, capital costs for fixed platforms are no longer needed because drop-down or pop-up ramps provide better accessibility, contributing to ever leaner operation.

“For some, the air-conditioned waiting areas add to the whole experience, but this is innovative in that air can be exchanged with the light rail units during a short stop cycle. There is no longer the need to carry the physical weight and provide power to the rail car air conditioning.”

Fully pivoting, sequential steered, driven wheel mechanisms make flexibility possible, allowing the vehicle to move sideways.

“This can work with the normal vehicles as well as driverless ones, which can learn on the move. For example, when encountering potholes, they can automatically direct the following wheel sets to avoid the hurdle. The light rail set can then instruct the next approaching service to avoid the same potential interruption, so the whole system works together for better outcomes.”

The technology which allows light rail to interact with its operating environment can also be applied to heavy rail operations, according to Yates.

“Long loaded trains can be subject to gradient changes and side wind loadings, that impact adversely and lead to rapid track wear, and lowered efficiency. By examining IoT data from the sleeper loadings, an optimal train speed can be transmitted to the train control system, leading to minimal track damage, optimal safety and efficiency. Learning from light rail engineering has bottom line gains for heavy rail operations.”

Committed to innovation, Columbus Group has won three Australian Mining Prospect Awards since 2014. The engineering firm’s initial win was for an Innovative Mining Solution featured a flexible additive 3D printer. According to Yates, 3D printing can be applied to all aspects of light rail.

“Starting with the light rail core rail cars, the new generation of 3D printers can produce an integrated package with a mix of materials, including various metals with fibre-rich panels for lightness and structural frameworks for strength. Previously, such complex assemblies would result in substantial build costs that could incur considerable time penalties,” Yates said.

“With 3D printers, innovative design is possible for a range of assemblies, from regenerative brakes to comfortable seats. Access facilities are also possible, as are smarter batteries for a compact physical size and extended range as needed.

“The world of 3D printing has already trialled puncture-free tires, that provide variable ride smoothness using stored memory alloy components to change the ride characteristics and traction grip in real time.

“3D printers can produce the permanent ballast structure that works with the one- piece track for rapid installation of both long operating life and short-term access rail services, particularly where mining operations are the core activity.”

Yates uses the old Tier 3 rail networks of Western Australia as an example. Prior to World War II, the track did not have the level of maintenance to safely allow heavy diesel engines and their concentrated considerable axle loadings.

He points out that light rail practices were taken up to replace the diesel
engine at the front of a string of grain wagons with distributed drive lightweight assemblies along the whole length of the trains, possibly supporting load carrying containers. The resulting axle loadings were considerably less heavy, so that adding the appropriate suspension systems to such distributed drive units made it feasible to utilise the Tier 3 networks without necessitating major corrective repairs to the infrastructure.

“Taking the same approach as the Tier 3 solution for grain movement, it is possible to transport products like iron ore, keeping within the feasible axle load limits. Mining companies and track owners get improved utilisation just by viewing the situation through ‘light rail’ glasses.

“The light rail approach includes changing the input energy sources to match the power demands of a lower weight train system, be it in the country, on a coal mine or even the city. In CBDs and suburbs, the take up of renewables, now complemented with battery systems, is making what are distributed power systems more popular.

“It has been considered that even the simple storm water pit found in most streets to reduce localised flooding, can be retrofitted with solid state 24/7 geothermal energy extraction that does not depend on the wind blowing or the sun shining to produce reliable power for adjoining microgrids and passing light rail infrastructure.”

Yates concludes that light rail can operate like a “battery on wheels”.

“It could operate by moving energy from a recharge point to an area in need of battery boosting on a demand basis, generating automated cost offsetting revenues without even being noticed.”

Q&A: Thales contributing to light rail revival

In this exclusive interview, Andrea Bastianelli and Massimo Poli discuss the innovative, digital solutions Thales is bringing to light rail transit, including the future Parramatta Light Rail project.

Andrea Bastianelli, is Thales’s product line manager for Light Rail Transit (LRT) Management and Control Systems and is based in Florence, Italy.

Massimo Poli has spent his recent life as project manager of many of Thales LRT projects, and is currently in Australia as global project manager of Thales’ Parramatta LRT.

Rail Express (REX): What’s your perspective on the revival of light rail transit in Australia and around the world?

Massimo Poli: Transport needs and challenges vary from city to city and the flexibility of light rail provides each city with the means to adapt LRT solutions to best serve their transportation needs and solve their challenges.

For example, it is in used as the main public transport mode in medium sized cities like Florence, Palermo and Manchester, and in larger cities it is used to complement the likes of metros and/or buses, to guarantee a multimodal and efficient public transport journey.

It is often used to connect emerging neighbourhoods to the main transport ring in larger cities like Taipei, where the new districts of Danhai and Ankeng are connected to the metropolitan transport network via the LRT line, or in Shanghai where the new district of Songjiang is connected to the urban mass transport system through an LRT network. The same goes for the Brazilian city of Santos and, of course, Parramatta in Western Sydney.

In other cases, LRT lines are also used to connect two cities together, as is the case in Cosenza-Rende, Italy.

With flexibility and sustainability at its core, it is a pleasure to be directly contributing to the rebirth of this transport system all around the world. In recent years, Thales has been actively involved in the implementation of LRT projects in Europe, the Americas, Asia and Australia.

Andrea Bastianelli: The introduction of new generation LRT vehicles, with a low floor guaranteeing greater comfort and performance, has also contributed to the rebirth of this sector.

Newer project designs are increasingly providing lanes reserved for public transport. This has also ensured a more regular and punctual service.

If we also consider the characteristics of cost effectiveness, attractiveness and sustainability, it is easy to imagine why LRT networks become part of the cultural identity of the cities they serve – symbols of civic pride.

REX: So improved vehicles and corridors have been the key?

Poli: In part, yes. However, over the years every single LRT has been improved in order to provide a better value for money solution.

Thales has always provided control systems for public transport systems, including LRT. In particular, over the last 10 years or so, Thales has redeveloped
its solution designed specifically for this type of market, so that we can continue to deliver the highest levels of satisfaction – both for passengers and customers alike. Our solutions innovatively address the needs of passengers: Having a regular service, being informed accurately during normal operation or special events, security, and above all command and control systems that guarantee the movement of vehicles in a safe way.

REX: How does Thales help achieve that?

Poli: Our LRT solution provides the operator with an innovative command and control tool that performs functions in an integrated way; for example:

• Planning, automatic vehicle localisation, tram regulation, innovative priority management at road intersections, and signalling;

• Passenger information and comfort, and passenger security; and

• Remote control and communication.

Our new generation LRT solution was installed for the first time in the city of Palermo, in Italy. The architecture of the system and the technologies used give the system a high degree of flexibility, modularity and upgradability.

REX: And you’re always working to improve that offering?

Poli: Yes. Since the first commissioning of the first version of the new generation system, Thales has continued to regularly develop and improve its LRT solution based on experience and feedback from our customers.

One example is the development of a highly integrated control system that allows the optimisation (reduction) of hardware and software components on board, on the trackside and in the control centre, which in turn reduces equipment dimensions, installation complexity, maintenance requirements, simplifies configuration, and provides significant energy savings.

Another example is the development of an innovative architecture for the Automatic Vehicle Localisation (AVLS) function and priority request at road crossing and tram regulation, which provide the ability to automatically manage even special operating scenarios.

We’ve also worked to provide operators with a selection of technologies, so they can choose what’s appropriate to the operational scenario in question. An example would be the option of a passive RFID tag rather than inductive loops for vehicle detection.

Thales also provides additional tools such as configuration, simulation, playback functions including analysis tools and quality of service tools which are all focused on improving the LRT solution. This results in increased efficiency, reduced capital and operational costs, and a better customer experience.

REX: As we enter a new decade we can expect the further digitisation of systems
all throughout rail – what’s the roadmap for light rail?

Bastianelli: As Massimo described, Thales is continually updating and improving its LRT solution, to provide public transport operators and other customers with an increasingly efficient solution. The digitisation process of the LRT solution has been underway for several years.

Of particular note, some of the packages we are developing are focused on increasing the level of autonomy for light rail systems, some of which are already under test in Europe:

• Smart Positioning will allow the vehicle to geo-locate itself safely and autonomously using different sensors and information including Global Navigation Satellite Systems.

• Obstacle Avoidance to avoid collisions with possible obstacles on the LRV route.

• Broadband connectivity including the future operating scenario which will lead to autonomous driving for transport systems of this type implies. This required the ability of the vehicle to be always connected with the ground and control centre devices with large data exchanges between these devices.

• Of course for Thales, cybersecurity is integrated into our systems across all sectors, so such countermeasures have already been integrated into the solution and will also be configured in the next system that we are implementing for one of our customers.

These macro functions, combined with autonomous studies Thales is currently carrying out, will constitute the autonomous driving system for LRT-type transport, the implementation of which will follow the timeframes and recommendations that the national and international regulatory authorities are discussing.

During this transition period, macro functions will be added progressively to the standard solution in order to contribute with increasingly advanced systems in the implementation of efficient and sustainable LRT systems.

REX: Thales is sponsoring and taking part in the ARA’s Light Rail 2020 event in Canberra in March. What are you hoping to see discussed at the event?

Bastianelli: The message I would like to share is for customers to ensure they select delivery partners who have developed specific solutions for this market, with a high degree of innovation and additional functions in order to provide a regular and high quality service which is able to seamlessly manage normal operations as well as special events.

The selected partners should also have a clear vision on the future of digitalisation, without forgetting the knowledge of the specificities of the destination country.