Rail technology provider Thales talks rail digitalisation, and its plans to showcase its digital rail solutions portfolio at AusRAIL PLUS 2019 in Sydney.
Rail experts like Mark Smalley all around the region are excited about what’s going on in the Australasian rail sector, and even more excited about what’s to come. Smalley, business development manager for Ground Transportation Systems at Thales, says the range of major capital works underway and the shift towards transforming existing operational systems as part of the “digital rail revolution” are key areas for the business.
“Thales is excited by the unprecedented levels of investment, particularly in NSW, with such a significant backlog of transport infrastructure programs and the ambitious Future Transport 2056 strategy,” Smalley tells Rail Express. “With a strong local presence in Sydney, a credible portfolio of references and a pool of global expertise, we are well positioned to support this vision and are committed to ensuring our customers realise maximum return from this once in a generation investment program.”
One of the key success factors to achieving this vision, he says, is internationally proven, next generation digital technologies.
“This is key to modernising the underlying operational infrastructure to deliver much needed capacity improvements, and significant operational performance, cost and safety benefits for passengers, operators and freight services. These benefits are realised by everyone: commuters, transport operators, businesses; the whole economy. New technologies mean adopting and adapting to new ways of working, however.
“It’s important not to forget the people and process elements of technology programs,” Smalley says. “Understanding how the end user will interact with the new system is essential to ensuring long-term success and acceptance of the technology. Recognising this, we aim to ensure these Human Factors elements are captured and addressed throughout the design, development and implementation phases.”
Digitalisation at AusRAIL
Thales presence at AusRAIL PLUS 2019 in Sydney will focus on the theme of rail digitalisation. Attendees will include key members of the Sydney-based Ground Transportation Systems business, with technical specialists on-hand to support demonstrations and showcase Thales’ urban and mainline digital rail solutions.
These include Thales’ SelTrac Communications Based Train Control (CBTC) solution, which helps move over three billion people annually across 40 major cities, including London, New York, Singapore and Hong Kong. Thales launched the future-focused seventh generation of SelTrac, SelTrac G7, at Innotrans 2018, and will demonstrate it again at AusRAIL. “This is something I’m particularly looking forward to,” Smalley explains. “Having worked in London for several years on CBTC projects on the Underground network, I’m excited to apply this knowledge and experience here.”
Thales’ internationally proven rail Traffic Management System, ARAMIS, in operation in 18 different countries including Germany, Austria, Portugal, Denmark and the UK, will also be on display along with its complementary digital services platform solutions, TIRIS and Naia. “Our innovative Digital Services platform supports applications which specifically respond to the needs of rail operators today,” Smalley says.
“Naia uses big data analytics to understand passenger behaviour and journey patterns to improve passenger experience and boost operator revenues. TIRIS provides predictive maintenance capability for the assets deployed on the physical rail network, reducing maintenance costs and improving asset reliability.”
Finally, Thales will show off its innovative smart sensing solution, Lite4ce, which Smalley says will “fundamentally transform the way we obtain, gather and analyse data from the trackside to the operational control room”. “Lite4ce is a passive fibre optic axle counter device, meaning no need for outdoor electronics, power supply or copper cable,” he explains. “It is a balance between a disruptive technology with its new capabilities and staying compatible with signalling and operational rules applied by our customers today. It also meets our primary need for reliable train detection with low life-cycle costs. We are really excited to bring these technologies to the Australian market”.
Four-pillar transport strategy
Thales has prioritised four target sectors for rail in the region: Metro, Light Rail, Mainline Signalling and Control Systems, and Through Life Support Services. In Australia, Smalley and director of strategy, marketing and communications Sita Brown explain, the company aims to serve each with a good balance of local and global expertise, drawing upon a pool of 3,600 people in Australia, 8,200 global rail specialists, and a workforce of 80,000 worldwide.
“Within Metro, we’re delivering the mission-critical Communications and Central Control System for Sydney Metro, one of the most high-profi le transport infrastructure programs I think in the world, but certainly in the Southern Hemisphere and one which will fundamentally improve mobility options for millions of Sydneysiders,” Smalley says.
“Then there’s Parramatta Light Rail, where we’re working with our customer CAF to deliver the integrated rail systems package. This is Thales’ first foray into the light rail space within Australia, which is a huge and exciting opportunity for us.
“In terms of Mainline Signalling and Control Systems, Thales is also targeting Transport for NSW’s Digital Systems program, which will bring ETCS Level 2, Automatic Train Operation, and a modern Traffic Management System to the Sydney Trains network. Along with Sydney Metro, this is the most exciting rail systems program to land in Australia and is something that we’re very much hopeful we can play a part in.”
The fourth pillar of Thales’ rail business in Australia is the most recently added – Through Life Support Services. Smalley explains: “One of our global strengths is that we prefer to form long-term collaborative partnerships with our customers, where we not only deliver the technology to meet a specific project outcome, but where we also support and enhance the systems over time in line with our customer’s evolving operational needs. From our perspective this is the best way to do business.”
Local skills investment key
A substantial skills and capacity challenge stands as a major obstacle to the success for all this transport investment, and Smalley believes a focus on developing local skills and competency is an absolute necessity, not just for Thales in the Australasian market, but for the industry as a whole.
“This is a fundamental issue for the successful delivery and long-term return on investment for these programs and for sustainability of skills, capacity and capability in the region,” he says.
Recognising the need for a sustainable answer, Thales established a transport competence centre in Sydney. Including a dedicated transport graduate program to develop the next generation of rail specialists, the centre supports skills and workforce development in the region. Complete with a digital rail integration and test lab as well as technology and system demonstrators, Smalley says it is allowing Thales to address some of the key challenges associated with deploying technologies from overseas into the local ecosystem.
Emphasis has also been placed to ensure work at the competence centre engages local rail specialists, as well as Thales’ global network of experts to leverage best practices and lessons learned.
Smalley is keen to see Thales’ customers and partners embrace skills development in a similar way.
“For example, the proposed Rail Technology Campus in Sydney is a concept we’ve been particularly supportive of,” he says. “Both in terms of establishing facilities for off-site testing and integration, and a dedicated training centre to support ongoing skills development and competency management. This approach provides access to new technologies whilst also supporting both training and familiarisation without disturbing rail operations.”
An invaluable component of Thales’ skills-building strategy has also been its successful integration with its major project portfolio. “Across the business, we’ve been able to benefit from that on each of our major projects that we’re undertaking, we now have a pool of talented and ambitious graduates coming through with fresh ideas and new ways of working, which in turn is helping to challenge the status quo and drive innovation in what we’re doing. As a result, we’ve seen a lot of positive outcomes,” Smalley says. “Furthermore, it’s been really impressive and rewarding to see how the next generation of talent and graduates have risen to the challenge and embraced the opportunities presented within the rail sector.”
Visit Thales at AusRAIL PLUS at Stand 107.