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Australia has the opportunity to harness the current project pipeline to improve rail manufacturing productivity, a new report has found.
The report, Finding the fast track for innovation in the Australasian rail industry, authored by L.E.K. Consulting on behalf of the Australasian Railway Association (ARA), highlights that rail innovation needs to be a national priority, and not fragmented between different state-based policies.
Caroline Wilkie, CEO of the ARA, said that the current investment in rail plus the renewed federal focus on manufacturing meant that the conditions were right for a rail manufacturing resurgence.
“The rail industry is expected to invest $155 billion in the next 15 years and we have to make that investment count,” Wilkie said.
“The world-first introduction of autonomous trains in the Pilbara region is just one example that shows Australia has the capability to lead the way on rail innovation.
“But the policy settings must be right to support innovation and technology adoption across the industry at a whole.”
Wilkie said that despite Australia having a large market for rail and the required network size, differing policies on local content in various states meant that the local manufacturing industry would struggle to compete.
“The international experience has shown that where governments lead a focus on rail innovation, private investment follows,” she said.
“We have the projects in the pipeline and we have the network scale to make rail innovation a real success.
“All we need now is for a true national focus to bring government and industry together to make the most of this opportunity.”
With the closure of the Rail Manufacturing CRC earlier in 2020, the Australian rail industry has lacked government funding for innovation specific to rail. The report found that Australia was also falling behind in comparison to other countries, with only one per cent of the world’s rail patents in 2019 coming from Australia.
In a report released at the beginning of this week, the Rail Manufacturing CRC reviewed projects that it had completed and highlighted the potential for further innovation.
“Australia’s research sector is world class and there exist many opportunities for the rail sector to utilise Australia’s R&D capabilities. With the closure of the Rail Manufacturing CRC, there will be a need for both government and industry to consider new models to support ongoing innovation,” said Stuart Thomson, CEO of the Rail Manufacturing CRC.
The report highlights four ongoing challenges for the rail industry. These include the need for national harmonisation, industry co-investment in R&D, the support for a culture of innovation, and the need to secure future funding for rail R&D.
“There exist significant opportunities for the sector to increase local manufacturing, develop supply chains and to train and educate a highly skilled workforce, however Government intervention and support will be required,” the report highlights.
Wilkie said that the industry was at a critical juncture.
“We run the real risk of being saddled with an inefficient, outdated rail network if we don’t support greater innovation and technology adoption to deliver the best possible outcomes for Australian rail users.”
Two contracts have been awarded for the delivery of works for Auckland’s City Rail Link.
Known as C5 and C7, the contracts have been awarded to delivery consortium Link Alliance and are within the existing project budget.
C5 primarily involves the connection between the new line from Britomart, via Aotea and Karangahape, to the existing line at Mt Eden. Where the CRL meets the North Auckland Line at Mt Eden, the twin track split into two branches, eastbound and westbound, said Francois Dudouit, project director for the Link Alliance.
“This requires changing the vertical alignment of the NAL tracks and partially the horizontal alignment, meaning replacement of tracks and overhead line equipment (OHLE) on more than 1km of the North Auckland line,” he said.
“It also requires retaining walls to transition from the existing NAL track level to the CRL line – a 3.5 per cent slope. More than 1,000 piles, diaphragm and sheet pile walls will be needed to build these retaining structures and the two cross-over structures to connect to the NAL upmain.”
Road and pedestrian bridges at a number of level crossings will also be built, including at Normanby Road, Fenton Street, and Porters Avenue, to improve cyclist and pedestrian safety.
The C7 contract covers the Systems Integration, Testing and Commissioning components of the CRL project. These include trackslab, track, overhead line, signalling, control systems, communications systems, control room fit-out and building work, and trackside auxiliaries. Work also includes integrating the new line and systems with the legacy systems on the Auckland rail network.
Dudouit said that work to connect the various components of the project is already occurring.
“Integration of the C5 and C7 teams into the Link Alliance is well underway across multiple workstreams including civils, programme and cost control. Early works such as utility relocations and establishing single-line running are already taking place as part of an integrated programme to deliver the City Rail Link to Aucklanders in 2024.”
As these elements of the project require involvement from various stakeholder from the current network, such as the transport authority, Auckland Transport, close working relationships have been established.
“KiwiRail and Auckland Transport, and their supply partners, are formally engaged for the City Rail Link project through stakeholder partnership agreements. On a day-to-day basis, staff from both Auckland Transport and KiwiRail work in the Link Alliance offices to maximise collaboration opportunities, as part of an established interface and relationship management programme,” said Dudoit.
The complexity of the Melbourne Metro Tunnel project requires a new approach when it comes to the delivery of materials and equipment. KH1 solved that with the Zagro Unimog.
In mid-July 2018, then-Victorian Minister for Public Transport Jacinta Allan announced the successful consortium that would build the critical link between the underground sections of Melbourne’s new Metro Tunnel and the existing rail network.
This announcement kicked off a package of works that would include both tunnel entrances at South Yarra and Kensington, as well as improvements to the adjoining Sunbury lines. Working within and beside the operating rail corridor in the inner suburbs of Melbourne meant that the project had an extra layer of complexity, meaning that every effort had to be made to ensure the project ran smoothly and efficiently.
The successful consortium, Rail Infrastructure Alliance (RIA), which comprised John Holland, CPB Contractors, and AECOM, looked to local rail suppliers who were innovating in the delivery of similarly complex projects. They found one in the case of Campbellfield- based KH1.
Daniel Mociak, managing director of KH1, could see that the project required smart thinking when it came to getting materials in and out of the worksites.
“RIA had a lot of restraints around getting materials, plant, people, and equipment in and out of their locations. This is really inner-city Melbourne and once they get into the shutdown, they have a lot of workgroups that can’t get out until the shutdown is over. They can’t constantly move equipment in and out so they have to get a lot of equipment in one lot and then be very flexible about how they can move around.”
Mociak and KH1 were brought in by RIA to look at how the project team could move a variety of pieces of machinery into the worksite. The solution that they came up with was the Zagro Unimog.
“The main benefit is the shunting capacity,” said Mociak.“That machine itself can pull up to 600 tonnes and other Unimogs that we could deliver are able to pull up to 1,000 tonnes with an increased wagon brake system.”
The Zagro Unimog road-rail vehicle can provide shunting and project logistics tasks. The relatively compact vehicle has the capacity to tow rail trailers weighing up to 125 tonnes at speeds of up to 30km/h. The removeable wagon brake system enables the Unimog to shunt up to 600 tonnes. Since being delivered in 2020, the system has already been put to good use.
“RIA needed to bring in plant, equipment, and excavators,” said Mociak. “They have a series of trailers that they were going to attach to the back of the Unimog to bring in all sorts of construction equipment and materials.”
The Unimog could then return to the access points, taking with it unneeded materials, spoil and other rubbish. RIA rail systems delivery manager Rimmy Chahal, pointed out the benefits of using the Unimog as it has reduced the number of single plant movements.
“The Unimog has largely been used to transport plant, equipment and materials in access-constrained rail corridors. This is in contrast to conventional transport methods of rubber tyred plant on railway tracks or a series of rail-bound plant to undertake this task. With the Unimog, we are able to transport large volumes in a single move from the access point to the work location along the corridor in a safe and controlled manner.”
The Unimog is used along with a five trailer consist to transport concrete, steel gantry structures, pits, conduits, quarry material, spoil disposal bins, cable, rail, sleepers and turnout components, among other materials. Being able to tow a lengthy consist also has benefits when it comes to safety.
“The 5-trailer combination also provides an additional benefit of safely and securely transporting long and bulky items such as turnout switch blade assemblies, which would normally overhang on conventional transport trolleys. Other uses have also included the deployment of site amenities and lighting towers to constrained areas improving safety and work environment conditions for our workforce,” said Chahal.
Another challenging requirement was the need to transport concrete along the rail corridor where access was restricted. Traditional methods of carrying in concrete on rail-bound excavators would require numerous movements to complete a single gantry foundation and had a greater risk of quality and safety issues. With RIA needing to deliver over 550 foundations for overhead and signal structures, a different solution was required.
“RIA and KH1 worked together to configure a skid-based concrete transport solution that can be mounted on rail bound plant. For example – on a trailer towed by Unimog to transport large volumes of concrete from access point to work location. This solution enables the complete pouring of a gantry foundation in one movement rather than numerous movements as required using conventional means,” said Chahal.
This solution involved the BlendMX8, a mobile concrete agitator first designed for the Monte Ceneri base tunnel in Switzerland.
“The BlendMX8 connects on to rail trailers and rail wagons via container lock and is then able to transport concrete in and out of the rail corridor without having to drive concrete trucks on top of wagons,” said Mociak. “It gives RIA flexibility in having the concrete on demand whenever they want it and then able to deliver the concrete via a conveyor belt and chute which can place the concrete up to five metres away from the rail.”
With the equipment expected to be used soon, Chahal is looking forward to seeing it in action.
“This unit is currently undergoing commissioning and RIA is very excited to put it into use over the coming months.”
A NEW APPROACH
The approach required for a project as complex as the Melbourne Metro Tunnel has driven innovation in the delivery of plant and equipment. Mociak noted that previous approaches of using wagons and locomotives would not only be prohibitive from a cost basis but limit any flexibility. The ability of machines such as the Unimog to move between road and rail while providing the required shunting capacity is one example of this new thinking.
“In the last couple of years, KH1 has put a lot of emphasis in developing technology and innovation for project logistics,” said Mociak.
The constrained environment of the Melbourne Metro Tunnel project meant that new ideas had to be sought out, said Chahal.
“With urbanisation of the areas around railway lines, the ease of access to rail corridors to conduct maintenance, upgrades, renewals and project works is becoming increasingly restricted and challenging. We can no longer rely on driving along the rail corridor to get to the work location. Accordingly, we now undertake careful and detailed planning to manage the site logistics and work sequence to overcome access constraints and challenges,” he said.
With complex tunnelling projects underway around Australia and New Zealand, the planning and logistics behind the project needs to be increasingly sophisticated.
“The major metropolitan based projects that have come to the front in the last couple of years is a big change in the rail industry, so to support these megaprojects, we’re looking at how we can add value of benefit to the project through innovative movement of materials, plant, equipment, and people,” said Mociak.
In these cases, the solution is not so much about the individual pieces of equipment that are involved, but the careful planning and logistics that supports their operation. With targets being set ever higher, new methods are being implemented, said Chahal.
“Construction contractors are being set ambitious KPIs to minimise the impact of construction on community, stakeholders and rail services. These performance targets drive a strong industry focus on continuous improvement and innovation in how we deliver our works whilst minimising associated disruption. RIA’s use of the Unimog is a perfect example of innovation in action.”
Knowing how the machinery, whether it be the Unimog or concrete agitator, can be best utilised can make a world of difference.
“Because they’re highly complex projects with large numbers of work groups, the logistics of getting materials in and out is one of the hardest parts of the project and they’re also the thing that can really hurt the project if you get it wrong. Getting it right can have some significant benefits,” said Mociak.
For groups working in rain on underground tunnelling projects, all materials have to be brought in at the beginning of a shift, if anything is forgotten it stays at the surface. With each work group depending on the one in front of it, any issues can be passed down, limiting productivity and efficiencies
Back in Melbourne, it has been the partnership approach between KH1, its partner suppliers and John Holland that is making the project successful.
“The equipment was delivered over a 10-month period and representatives from John Holland travelled to Germany to be there for the factory acceptance testing,” said Mociak. “We had a lot of input from all parties during the design period and a lot of collaboration from KH1, John Holland and Zagro.”
To prepare the Unimog for use by the RIA consortium, KH1 ensured that it was provided to specification and the requirements of the project. Documentation ran to hundreds of pages in length to enable the machine to be used in the most productive manner.
“We bring knowledge of the local Australian requirements, standards, compliance, certification, and commissioning process to the table while understanding the product that we have available to us and then being able to adapt it to those requirements,” said Mociak.
Putting in 15 years of experience in the Australian rail industry into the delivery of the machinery for RIA has enabled the Unimog to be used for a wide range of purposes, perhaps more than what was even envisaged before the machine arrived on site.
KH1 is also bringing this approach to the maintenance of railway networks. The company is working with German rail equipment manufacturer Robel to deliver new ways of working to the Australian rail maintenance market. Machines such as the Mobile Maintenance Train can provide a significant step change in the way we work in the rail corridor with full coverage for workers on the rail track in addition to all equipment needed for the job. Ultimately, said Mociak, this is about delivering three core outcomes.
“It’s about innovation, safety, and efficiency.”
As a local specialist manufacturer of rail tools, Melvelle Equipment leverages in-house ingenuity to meet emerging demands.
Two years ago, Andrew Melvelle travelled to New York to demonstrate his Newcastle- based company’s latest equipment for rail maintenance and renewal. There, speaking with representatives from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Melvelle understood that there had to be another way to run small tools besides diesel- and petrol- powered engines.
“What they would like to have was battery powered equipment doing the traditional jobs that were done by diesel- or petrol-powered small tools and that led us into coming up with the design to replace our diesel and petrol powerpacks with battery-style unit.”
In New York the reason behind the switch was clear. Confined environments made the fumes from diesel-powered equipment a hazard and being close to residents on elevated sections of track also posed an issue.
“In the underground networks in particular you’ve got an asphyxiation hazard but also when you’re on the elevated track, they do a lot of their maintenance at night, so if you can take away the engine noise you’re pretty much halving the noise output from the work heads. Therefore the environmental impact just in noise is a massive improvement to operator comfort as well as the residents that are near these elevated tracks,” said Melvelle.
Bringing these ideas back home, Melvelle and his team at Melvelle Equipment designed an early version of what would become the company’s battery-powered Track Packs. Demonstrating the tool to a local operator, the safety benefits of the new technology became even more apparent.
“I did a demonstration with one of our work heads in a viaduct and it was amazing the impact of not having the engine noise has on the environment. You can hear the safety officer above all else because he’s the loudest person there, as he’s not competing with an engine. Hearing protection, depending on the operation, is not necessary anymore.”
With traditional diesel engines producing roughly 100 decibels of noise, roughly equivalent to the volume of a noisy motorcycle engine, cutting this out of maintenance tasks can make a dramatic improvement in safety, particularly in a live rail environment.
“You can hear the whistles and you can hear the workers around you calling out, so it’s very much an improvement to the environmental working conditions for the operator,” said Melvelle.
In addition to these operational benefits, moving from diesel or petrol to electric power can contribute to the broader shift towards sustainability in rail.
“It’s the future of technology to try and help the environment and become a little bit more sustainable.”
A COMMITMENT TO INNOVATION IN RAIL
Having seen the benefits that electrically powered track equipment can have, Melvelle Equipment took the design prototypes and turned them into a manufacturable unit. During this process, conducted by Melvelle Equipment’s in-house industrial design and engineering team, further efficiencies were found.
“We have made it modular which brings most modules down into a one-man lift. This is a massive advantage compared to what we have to do with a petrol-powered or a diesel-powered power pack, because once you’ve got it bolted together that’s it, and it’s a significant lift.”
Melvelle designed the Power Pack to be adaptable to the equipment that Melvelle has supplied for decades to the Australian and international rail industry. The system can drive a number of different hydraulic workheads and is built to power each in the most efficient manner.
“There are very few battery powered hydraulic units in the marketplace so what we’ve developed is very bespoke to the operation of small tools. The system will identify which work-head is being used and therefore change the program internally to suit the application,” said Melvelle.
“It was a matter really of looking at what we’ve got and the output or the final performance needed to be and then sizing everything or matching everything to those parameters.”
Having multiple decades of experience in designing and manufacturing hydraulic workheads for the rail industry, Melvelle could calibrate the electric power to be more efficient than a diesel option.
“We know the flows and pressures that are needed and when the flow of pressure is required to be at its peak performance to do the job. Then we matched the performance curves of the electric motors to match the peak performance of the hydraulics we needed. That’s done through staging of pumps and flows and different pressures to make sure that we don’t overcook the batteries or the motor.”
With the design work that went into the Power Packs, the hydraulic heads could also be improved.
“In doing that design it’s allowed us to redesign the boom connections, all of the different workheads, as well as making the hydraulics smarter so that we draw less power from the batteries,” said Melvelle.
As a designer and fabricator of rail maintenance equipment and machinery based in Newcastle with just over two dozen staff, Melvelle Equipment can use its size to its advantage.
In addition to its work designing electrically powered hydraulic tools, Melvelle has also manufactured battery powered inspection and emergency response trolleys, as a direct response to the requirements of rail operators and construction authorities.
“Quite often, innovation is driven by customer need,” said Melvelle. “The electric inspection trolley and the emergency response trolley was driven through inquiries from two customers. Both agencies had a similar need or requirement but with different twists. Sydney Trains was looking for a track inspection trolley so that track workers don’t have to walk along the track, they simply put the trolley on track, and they drive.”
In addition to the base requirement, the trolley had to have a 20-kilometre range, be set up by a minimum of two people in three minutes or less and be able to get on and off track in three minutes.
For the other customer, Melbourne Metro, the trolley was needed to be a safety vehicle that would allow workers to easily access elevated sections of track. Overseas buyers have also expressed interest in the technology, and once Melvelle can get on a plane again the technology will be showcased to rail operators around the globe.
Being a small company has enabled Melvelle Equipment to be nimble in response to these and other customer inquiries.
“Most of our competitors are very large companies that are very reluctant to change from a core product, whereas there’s only 26 of us with a dedicated design team and a depth of knowledge of the rail industry,” said Melvelle.
“If a customer is looking for something special, we’re quite open to developing that for them within the realms of our ability. We’re able to modify something specifically for a customer at the drop of a hat because we do the designs and then manufacture in- house, we’re not reliant on other people.”