Digital technologies transforming conservative rail sector

Siemens Mobility’s Vice President of Data Services Gerhard Kress will discuss the challenges faced by rail during its digital transformation, as part of a cross-industry panel at a Brisbane event in July.

Kress has been added to a cross-industry panel of experts who will discuss the potential of artificial intelligence, data analytics and insights at the Siemens’ Digatilize 2019 conference in Brisbane on July 2.

“Digital technologies, especially the smart use of data, is transforming what has so far been a conservative rail industry,” Kress said ahead of the event.

“For rail and other industries, digitalization is not an option. There is no alternative to implementing such technologies and embracing the changes.

“However, there are challenges to this transition. From finding people with the right digital skills to changing the way a rail operator does business by leveraging the digital technologies and data analytics to offer better services to customers and passengers.

“I’m looking forward to visiting Brisbane for Digitalize 2019 where I can share my experience implementing digital technologies globally and discuss how we can together overcome the challenges ahead.”

A prolific global speaker on Internet of Things (IoT), Kress was responsible for starting Siemens’ data services team in 2014 in Germany and growing it into a world-renowned new business model of MindSphere Application Centres that collect and analyse big data in over 60 countries, including Australia.

While his current focus is on machine learning and artificial intelligence concepts in rail and rail infrastructure, Kress has extensive background in other industrial process sectors and data-centric IT strategies.

Kress started his professional career in McKinsey & Company, where he focused on growth initiatives and high-tech industries. He holds a German diploma in Theoretical Physics and a Master of Arts in International Relations and European Studies.

Before his time in data services, he worked in Siemens Corporate Technology as well as Siemens Corporate Strategy and was responsible for the corporate big data initiative “Smart Data to Business”.

Kress is added to a list of key speakers also including Michelle Price, CEO of AustCyber, Kevin Kehl from Powerlink, Grant Statton from FKG, Will Shrapnel, CEO of Helimods, and Martin Powell, Head of Urban Development at Siemens – formerly the Deputy Mayor of London for Energy & Environment.

Themed ‘Unlock the Potential’, the full-day conference will feature a line-up of global and local industry experts engaging in keynote sessions and panel discussions around how Australian businesses across various sectors can unlock their potential with the use of digitalization. The discussions will centre around four sub-themes of Industry 4.0, Intelligent Infrastructure, Australia’s Energy Transition and Workforce of the Future.

More information is available here.

WA submits ATC business case for federal funding

West Australian transport minister Rita Saffioti says a newly-submitted business case for Automatic Train Control (ATC) will pave the way for federal funding to improve signalling on Perth’s rail network.

The state government said on June 22 it had sent a business case for ATC to Infrastructure Australia. Approval from the independent advisory body would potentially facilitate funding support from the federal government.

The ATC program would gradually replace Perth’s ageing signalling network with a modern state-of-the-art digital version, Saffioti said.

“The McGowan Government continues to press the case for more federal funding for WA infrastructure projects, and putting our plans to Infrastructure Australia is a key part of that,” the minister said.

In September 2017 the McGowan Government committed $7.4 million over two years to plan its new signalling project, which will come under its Metronet urban rail program.

“Metronet is about thinking beyond the immediate future and anticipating what Perth’s future transport needs will be,” Saffioti said.

“Part of this will be making sure our existing network is modernised and continues to deliver what commuters need. Automatic Train Control is an exciting project that allows for future capacity growth and will give passengers more frequent, reliable, safe and punctual train operations.”

Chair appointed to Qld’s smart ticketing panel

A lead transport partner from KPMG has been appointed to help direct the Queensland Government’s development of a smart ticketing system for public transport.

KPMG’s national lead partner for infrastructure, government and healthcare Paul Low has been appointed as the chair of the Palaszczuk Government’s new Public Transport Fares Advisory Panel, which is to provide expert advice on transport fares, products and ticketing.

“The Palaszczuk Government’s Fairer Fares Policy has slashed how much it costs to take public transport, saving Queenslanders more than $153 million and leading to a record 182 million trips last year,” transport and main roads minister Mark Bailey said on June 14.

“As we head for another record in patronage and invest more than $370 million for Australia’s first smart ticketing system, Paul Low and the panel will provide valuable and specialised knowledge to look at additional ways we can make the public transport experience even better.”

Bailey said the remaining expert panel members would be appointed in the weeks ahead, and their first meeting would be held in July.

“Our smart ticketing project will mean all Queenslanders will have access to innovative public transport technology, unlike the traditional GoCard, which is currently restricted in where it can be used,” Bailey added.

Rio Tinto AutoHaul trains establish WA as ‘global leader’ for rail technology

Mining major Rio Tinto has joined the Western Australia Government and technology partner Hitachi Rail STS to celebrate the successful rollout of its AutoHaul autonomous freight rail network.

The project, which has been in the making for over 10 years since the launch of Rio Tinto’s Mine of the Future initiative in 2008, is formally considered the world’s first automated heavy-haul long distance rail network, and delivering its first iron ore in July 2018. The driverless train system has also been informally referred to by Rio Tinto itself as the “world’s largest robot”.

The 2.4 kilometre-long trains, which are monitored and controlled from Rio Tinto’s Remote Operations Centre (ROC) in Perth, deliver iron ore from 16 mines to ports in Dampier and Cape Lambert across a 1,700-kilometre network. In total, the trains have now travelled over 4.5 million kilometres collectively since their first deployment last year.

Rio Tinto Iron Ore managing director Ivan Vella said that the project had attracted worldwide interest and cemented Western Australia as a heavy-haul rail leader.

“The success of AutoHaul would not have been possible without the expertise, collaboration and dedication of teams within Rio Tinto and our numerous partners,” said Vella.

WA Minister for Mines and Petroleum Bill Johnston also congratulated Rio Tinto, Hitachi and other partners on the project (which includes companies such as New York Air Brake and Wabtec) for their dedication to delivering AutoHaul.

“AutoHaul has brought the rail freight industry in this country into the 21st century and is rightfully the subject of global interest,” Johnston said. “I’d also like to mention that the development of the world’s biggest robot is such a success because of the contribution from Western Australia’s skilled engineers and innovative workers.”

Recycled polymeric sleepers a green, long-lasting alternative

The wooden sleeper is one of the longest-standing components of railway construction, but recycled polymerics can now offer a green alternative.

Phoenix Aust (AG) is the Australian distributor of both STRAIL level crossing systems, and STRAILway polymeric sleepers.

Phoenix Director and Civil Engineer Andrew Roseman says the STRAILway plastic sleepers have a lot of potential in the Australian market.

“We can use the STRAILway polymeric sleepers in most metropolitan and light rail applications in Australia, as well as lower freight tonnage applications,” Roseman tells Rail Express.

Beyond the immediate opportunities for the product in the Australian market, Roseman believes the STRAILway sleeper could achieve a higher rating making it suited to heavy-haul rail corridors.

“The product at the moment is rated to 22.5 tonne axle loads, but we’re looking to do some additional testing at Monash University’s Institute of Railway Technology to achieve our ultimate goal of getting that rating up to 30 tonnes,” Roseman says.

“STRAIL has only so far done testing to 22.5 tonnes because that’s the German standard, but in a heavy haul environment like we have in Australia, we’d like to enter into that market as well.”

Roseman says a major selling point for the STRAILway sleeper is that, while many other plastic sleepers are formed via a mould, STRAILway sleepers are extruded in a single line, and can thus be delivered at any desired length, depending on the application.

The base material used in the STRAILway plastic sleepers is extruded post-industrial plastic recyclate, reinforced with fibres. Using materials from rejected/off-dimensional select products, ensures that the sleeper is free from contaminants that can be found when using post-consumer non-classified waste, that gives the benefit of being as close to a homogenous material as possible. Special additives are included with the aim of ensuring excellent mechanical properties.

During production an endless, homogenous sleeper leaves the machine to later be cut, creating multiple sleepers of the length required. From this moment on, the product can be treated almost exactly like a wooden sleeper: there is no artificial resin, and no complex pultrusion technique or specific parts are required during installation.

KRAIBURG STRAIL, the German manufacturer of the STRAILway full recyclate polymeric sleeper, says it is a superior alternative to wood free from dangerous fine glass fibres that can cause exposure risks to workers.

“In most countries, wood has to be treated with chemicals, which is done by soaking it in creosote, the tar oil waste product,” the company says. “That is why wooden sleepers will present a problem later on: firstly, they release up to two litres of the environmentally harmful creosote into nature; secondly, it will be difficult to dispose of them.”

In Australia, the quality and access to red gum forests for sleepers is also becoming more and more limited and therefore the need to find an alternative source of sleepers will become increasingly important.

STRAILway sleepers have been approved by Germany’s Federal Railway Authority for use in railway switches, with axle loads of up to 225kN and speeds of up to 160km/h. An extensive yearlong testing programme at the Technical University of Munich saw excellent performances in all rail relevant tests.

Fast workability and hard-wearing

On one project in Hungary, the STRAILway sleepers were installed at a rail turnout which meets a highly frequented level crossing near Hódmezövásárhely station, in the nation’s southeast.

While it is standard to use wooden sleepers in turnouts in Hungary, it was found that wooden sleepers used at the turnout in question were abrading too quickly as a result of the level crossing activity.

After demonstrating to Hungarian state railways the advantages of the STRAILway sleeper in a test installation in March 2016, the sleepers were installed at the turnout in July 2017. A total of 52 sleepers of different lengths – between 2,220mm and 2,240mm – were installed.

Crews found a substantial advantage of the STRAILway sleepers was their simple and fast workability, allowing plating to be done directly on site. Once the turnout and STRAILway sleepers were installed, tamping work was carried out, before STRAIL level crossing material was installed.

Applying the lessons of Gotthard to the local market

Passenger rail owners and operators in Australia and New Zealand are keen to embrace the digital revolution to enhance the efficiency and capacity of their systems. What lessons can be learned from the European market, and one of its biggest ever projects?

Chris Glaettli is the Technical Solutions Manager for Rail Signalling within Thales’ Ground Transportation Systems business in Australia. Prior to a recent move Down Under, he worked with Thales to deliver signalling solutions for a pair of massive Alpine tunnels: the 35-kilometre Lötschberg Base Tunnel, and the world record, 57-kilometre Gotthard Base Tunnel.

The Gotthard Base Tunnel is the longest railway tunnel on the planet. At a maximum depth of 2,450 metres, it is also the world’s deepest traffic tunnel. Excavation began in 2004, 12 years before the tunnel was finished and opened to passenger and freight services, in June 2016.

As a member of the rail delivery consortium for the project, Thales integrated its ETCS Level 2 technology into the Gotthard Base Tunnel, facilitating the circulation of more than 300 trains per day at operational speeds of 200km/hr in both directions. After designing and testing in its Zurich laboratory, Thales managed the production, installation, integration and homologation of rail signalling for the tunnel, within the overall system.

Glaettli speaks fondly of his eight years working on the delivery team for Gotthard, and is keenly aware of the lessons learned along the way.

“The biggest lesson from the Gotthard experience was the importance of collaboration,” he tells Rail Express, “starting with a collaboration with the railway operator, to determine what the real need was.

“It’s really about understanding each other. More collaboration in the early phases of the project is a big reason we were able to deliver an optimal solution over a year early, despite the scale of the project.

“Collaboration is one of our key strengths at Thales. We’re close to the customer, we’re open to learn what the particular needs are, and we’re also open to share some knowledge about our product and the processes to apply our product. It’s a win-win.

“It’s really important that the operator understands the products of the suppliers, and the suppliers understand the needs of the railway, so when it comes down to tendering there is a much more informed set of requirements to fulfil which leads to a more efficient and targeted tender process.”

Glaettli believes Australian operators could benefit from this same level of collaboration during the early phases of major projects. “Australia has a different way to contract railway suppliers [to Europe],” he notes.

Collaboration and mutual understanding are especially important in the current market in Australia and New Zealand, where operators are keen to embrace the global trend towards the digitalisation of rail systems, to enhance their efficiency, capacity and reliability. Glaettli says he sees a number of opportunities in the region where digitalisation can impact passenger operations from the ground up, helping busy operators get more efficient, and boost their capacity.

“When we look at Australian cities, we see an increasing need for more trains, to move more passengers per corridor, across the whole rail network,” he says. “Just about everywhere we look, key railways are reaching their peak capacity, so they need to find ways to operate more efficiently.”

Glaettli says Thales is ready to work with operators early in the process to understand their needs.

“We have to deliver value for money, so first we need to carefully understand what is the best approach to an optimal outcome for the customer,” he explains. “Often the pressure on the operator comes from legacy systems which are end-of-life, and we will replace them or interface to them, depending on the specific need and operational requirements. Thales assesses the operational procedures of these legacy systems and will configure our systems to help improve them.

“The customer can choose what components they want to focus on, and we can configure for them the needed parts; all the way from the axle counter up to the interlocking, and up to the traffic management system.”

These components are what Glaettli refers to as the ‘building blocks’ of rail digitalisation. Whether the focus is on traffic control, scheduling, planning, routing, signalling or monitoring, there are advantages to be gained from a digital approach.

Digitalising a TMS

Glaettli says his team has developed a specific process when it comes to the digitalisation of a rail operator’s Traffic Management System (TMS). Thales has broken down the process of transitioning from a legacy TMS to a fully digital TMS, in three stages.

“The first stage is just for the TMS to assess the timetable, isolating its different routes and services,” Glaettli explains. “The second stage, interfacing, is where the TMS is allowed to ‘read’ off the network, but not ‘write’ into the system – instead it simply suggests changes when conflicts arise.

“The final stage is a fully integrated TMS, which can not only read the network, but make decisions based on its knowledge of the network, and directly set routes accordingly. We call this automatic conflict resolution.”

Thales’ TMS can be coupled with train control systems at varying levels of automation, looping in with driver advisory systems where applicable.

“That’s where it gets really interesting,” Glaettli says. “We can really make use of the Big Data we gather from the network, and we can go into flow control of the network, meaning every train journey is optimised for energy use and time.”

ETCS vs. CBTC

One discussion during a recent RISSB conference in Melbourne focused on the merits of both ETCS (European Train Control Standard) and CBTC (Communications Based Train Control) as contrasting options for operators seeking a modern signalling solution.

Speaking with Rail Express, Glaettli weighed in, concurring with the general sentiment that neither solution is universally better than the other. Thales offers both in its signalling portfolio, and Glaettli says finding the right option comes down to the precise needs of the customer.

“What we’ve seen is there are really two kinds of networks,” he says. “The first is a metro style network, more suited to CBTC, which is a linewide approach, benefitting from its isolation.”

CBTC is the technology being installed on new standalone metro lines being built in Sydney and Melbourne.

“Then there is mainline, or regional, where ETCS is more appropriate,” Glaettli continues. “Under ETCS there is a standard interface between the unit on the train and the track, so you can have different vendors at both stages.

“ETCS allows for multiple rollingstock types running through the same network, and for mainline use this is a basic need. ETCS is an open standard and is interoperable, because this is a basic requirement in Europe, where we have many countries and operators.”

Mobile myki service approaches 100,000 user milestone

The Mobile myki system launched by the Victorian Government has been used by nearly 100,000 users since its public implementation just over two months ago.

The system allows passengers to pay for rides with their smartphones using Mobile myki in place of their physical myki cards, the contactless travel card system that has been in place for most public transport in Victoria since 2012.

The mobile version of myki is compatible with existing physical transfer points such as gates and readers on buses, trams and at train stations.

Launched on March 28, the Mobile myki app was used by nearly 11,000 people in its first 24 hours, and has been used by around 1,000 users a day since launch.

The majority of Mobile myki users are Melbourne train travellers, who represent 57.8 per cent of all smartphone transactions according to statistics released today by the Victorian Government. In addition, users between 25 and 34 years old represented the largest user group by age overall at over 30 per cent of total users (users between the ages of 35 and 44 were in second place).

Currently, Mobile myki is available for Android smartphones via the Google Pay app, but the Victorian Budget for 2019-20 includes $1 million to improve Mobile myki’s compatibility with other platforms, particularly Apple’s iPhone.

$350,000 has also been set aside to implement 160 free mobile charging ports at the Richmond, North Melbourne, South Yarra and City Loop stations.

“We’ve seen an incredible response to Mobile myki in just over two months and we’re getting on with the development and technical testing needed to make this technology available for people with other smartphones,” said Victorian Minister for Public Transport Melissa Horne.

“Our work doesn’t stop here- we look forward to continuing to make travelling on Victoria’s public transport network easier and more passenger-friendly.”

Deciding on the right drive system for your next RRV

One of the many considerations to be made by track builders and maintainers deciding on their next road rail vehicle (RRV) for hire, lease, or purchase, is which drive system is most preferable for the application. Rail Express speaks with Manco Engineering Group’s Craig Munro about the options.

Three types of drive systems are defined in the Australian Standard for RRVs: Type 1 – self powered rail wheels, Type 2 – friction drive, and type 3 – direct drive.

Craig Munro is Manco Engineering Group’s Chief Engineer for Rail. He tells Rail Express each drive system has a set of pros and cons which must be considered before leasing or purchasing an RRV.

Self-powered rail wheels

Self-powered rail wheels provide both traction and braking through the rail wheels. During rail operations road wheels or crawler tracks are lifted above the rails; there is no contact between the road and rail wheels.

“Although a higher capital investment is required for a Type 1 RRV, the benefit is its adaptability,” Munro explains. “Rail modules can be manufactured to handle one, two, or all three common rail gauges (narrow, standard and broad) as there is no dependence on road wheels to provide traction.”

The extra stability provided by a full rail base means Type 1 RRVs don’t require stabiliser legs to support an elevated work platform (EWP).

“Tractive effort is generally provided via hydrostatic closed loop pumps and motors, either utilising direct wheel mount hydraulic motors, or a chain drive system,” Munro continues.

“With today’s advanced hydraulic systems, this drive system can provide electrically controlled, infinitely variable speed with high torque and excellent traction. A Type 1 RRV equipped with an EWP can be easily driven on rail from the workman’s basket via interfaced electronics, something not readily achieved with Type 2 or Type 3 drive systems.”

Braking can be controlled either manually by the operators, or it can be safely interfaced with the drive system, automatically applying and releasing based on the drive circuit pressure readings, Munro adds.

Friction drive

Type 2 friction drive systems indirectly derive braking and traction from the road wheels to the rail wheels; this is achieved via contact from the road wheel directly onto the rail wheel, through contact from the road wheel onto a rail wheel extension hub, or via a layshaft transferring the tractive effort to the rail wheels through the use of a gearbox or chain drive.

“Issues with braking, and predominately concerns with roll away when transitioning to or from rail mode have seen this style of drive method fall out of favour in recent years,” Munro says. “While all-wheel braking can be employed to mitigate some of these issues, friction drive rail gear is now seen as old technology.”

Additionally, to be driven ‘cab first’ on the railway, a Type 2 RRV’s engine must be driven in reverse gears, which can over time lead to drive issues with the carrier vehicle, as standard gearing is not designed for extended use in reverse.

“Additionally, small contact patches on vehicle tyres can lead to premature wear and even failure of the contact tyres,” Munro says. “Additional service and maintenance procedures must be in place to monitor this, and if not, could lead to tyre blow outs.”

Direct drive

Type 3 direct drive RRVs rely on at least one pair of road wheels to remain in direct contact with the rail tracks to provide tractive effort and braking.

The steer axle on the vehicle is generally lifted clear of the rail track on larger vehicles, although all road wheels may remain in contact with the rail on smaller RRVs (e.g. an RRV based on a Toyota Landcruiser).

“Type 3 systems can have economic benefits over Type 1 systems through lower hydraulic and structural requirements,” Munro says. “However, direct drive systems have inherently lower traction due to the rubber-steel contact, especially in wet conditions where grip can drop to below a quarter of what can be achieved in steel-steel contact under the same conditions.

“Where significant grades are encountered, a self-powered rail wheel drive system may be the better choice.”

Operators considering a Type 3 RRV also have to understand how the load is shared between the carrier vehicle tyred axles and rail axles, Munro says. “If too little load is transferred to the rail axle, derailment can occur, especially with vehicles that have tandem rear drive bogies. Manufacturers are taking steps to address load share with active suspension systems coming to market. Manco Rail commissioned several RRV in early 2017 with airsuspension and continues to evolve these systems.”

Theoretically, direct drive systems would be capable of attaining top speeds similar to those attainable on the road, but safety at higher speeds must be carefully considered.

Similar to Type 2 friction drive systems, another setback of direct drive is tyre wear.

“Only a small contact patch is made with the rail track, and with a higher loading than seen with friction drive systems,” Munro explains. “This can ultimately lead to localised wear and/or tyre failure.”

Furthermore, as Type 3 RRVs do not lift road wheels inside the relevant structure gauge, additional measures must be undertaken to avoid causing damage to trackside componentry during operation. When using an EWP, chocking of the vehicle suspension systems and/or stabiliser legs may be required, and control of the RRV’s movement from the workman’s basket is not readily achieved, and an in-cab operator will need to drive the RRV along the rail tracks while the EWP is in use, which can lead to communication errors, lower productivity, and the increased chance of hazards for operators.

“Generally, direct drive systems are confined to use only on standard and broad-gauge rail tracks due to the need for direct road wheel to rail contact,” Munro summarises. “Smaller vehicles, such as the Toyota Landcruiser, can operate on narrow-gauge tracks with direct drive, however these smaller vehicles are generally not able to meet the needs of operators requiring EWP access to overhead wires or to transport large loads to worksites.

“Direct drive systems are a serious limitation for operators wanting a versatile machine capable of operating on all three track gauges using multi-gauge hi-rail gear.”

Contact: craig (at) manco.co.nz

ARA seeking next CEO; Broad endorsed to replace Herbert as chair

Danny Broad will finish up as CEO of the Australasian Railway Association, and has been endorsed to succeed Bob Herbert as Chairman at the end of 2019.

The ARA announced on Thursday evening both Broad and Herbert would conclude their terms as CEO and Chairman, respectively, at the end of the calendar year.

Herbert, appointed as Independent Chairman in 2015, said he was happy to leave the ARA in a strong position.

“The new constitution that was ratified by members in July 2016 has strengthened the governance arrangements of the organisation whilst providing an agreed structure that allows members to better direct the affairs of the ARA,” he said.

“Recognising the substantial contribution Danny Broad has made as CEO of the ARA and the importance of maintaining leadership continuity, the Board has unanimously endorsed Danny assuming the Chairman’s role at the end of 2019.”

Broad paid tribute to Herbert’s work helping transform the ARA.

“Bob is a hands-on Chairman, who played a leading role in setting up the new structure, and positioned the ARA to be advocating not just for increasing rail investment, but as a strong voice on key strategic issues, such as the need for a National Rail Plan and action on skills shortages.”

As for his news, Broad said after more than four years as ARA CEO, he feels the time is right to pass the reigns on to a new leader.

“Since taking on the role in October 2015, ARA membership has grown significantly, our engagement with member companies has strengthened, and the ARA has maintained its position as a respected industry body,” Broad said.

“The ARA is now well placed to work with the Australian and State and Territory governments as they implement substantial passenger and freight rail projects, and deal with significant infrastructure policy issues.”

The ARA Board has established an Appointments Committee, convened by Sydney Trains boss Howard Collins, to oversee the recruitment of a new ARA CEO over the next few months.

Herbert will maintain his role as Chairman of the TrackSAFE Foundation, the ARA-endorsed harm prevention charity for the rail sector.

Sydney’s new rail nerve centre officially opens

The new $296 million Sydney Trains Rail Operations Centre has been formally opened, and the State Government says that will mean safer and more reliable services for the more than 1.4 million passenger trips taken each day in the city.

The Rail Operations Centre (ROC) has been developed to modernise the Sydney Trains network, by incorporating dozens of different systems into a single location at Alexandria.

The new four-level building will be in use 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and will host more than 660 employees, according to Sydney Trains chief executive Howard Collins.

“We have dedicated teams of engineers, train controllers, rail technicians, communication teams and security personnel all working together to keep our customers moving,” Collins said.

State premier Gladys Berejiklian and transport minister Andrew Constance attended the formal opening of the site on May 30.

“The ROC begins a new era of rail in Sydney and will set new standards across the country,” Berejiklian said. “Sydney has one of the most complex rail networks in the world, and the NSW Liberals & Nationals Government has delivered a new ROC to ensure the best possible service for commuters.”

Constance noted the facility’s 33 metre display board was larger than that of NASA’s Mission Control Centre.

“[The display board] can track where every train is running at any given time across the Sydney Trains network,” Constance said. “At similar facilities in Hong Kong and Tokyo, all critical operation teams are positioned in one location, which means better coordination and response to critical incidents on the network.”