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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.

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