Metro Trains Comeng EMU. Photo: Zed Fitzhume / Creative Commons

Tech upgrades for Comeng fleet

Passengers on Melbourne’s Comeng train fleet will get clearer and simpler journey information thanks to the progressive rollout of new information systems planned by the state government.

A Comeng test train fitted with upgraded communications equipment is in revenue service on the Metro Trains network in the Victorian capital, ahead of the planned rollout of the technology on 29 trains over the next 12 months.

Upgrades include real-time high definition information, colour passenger information displays with dynamic route maps and clearer destination screens on the outside of trains. There’s also high definition CCTV cameras being installed, along with better speakers and improved hearing aid links for audio announcements.

The upgrades are part of the third stage of the state’s $75 million investment to modernise the Comeng fleet, which was first commissioned in 1982.

The third stage also includes upgrading air compression systems powering the brakes, doors, pantographs and traction systems across the fleet.

The first and second stages of the program included safety upgrades for the Comengs’ doors, upgrades to interiors and exteriors, and enclosing the walkways between carriages.

“We’ve invested a record amount into new rollingstock and we’re modernising our current fleet to give passengers a better ride,” public transport minister Melissa Horne said.

“By upgrading critical systems, passengers will have clearer, simpler information and more reliable services so they can get home sooner.”

Metro Trains is also retrofitting thousands of wireless data recorders to the X’Trapolis and Siemens fleets for real-time condition monitoring.

“Monitoring trains in real-time will lead to a safer and better performing railway – that’s great news for passengers,” Metro CEO Raymond O’Flaherty said. “Using real-time data means a smarter approach to train maintenance and fewer faults impacting passengers.”

Surviving a Digital Tsunami: the Rail Manufacturing CRC’s legacy

A digital revolution is underway in the rail manufacturing industry, says Stuart Thomson, CEO of the Rail Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (CRC).


With the growth of emerging technologies which will disrupt the way industry conducts its business, “the changes are going to be rapid and the rail industry needs to be ready,” Rail Manufacturing CRC CEO, Stuart Thomson, tells Rail Express.

In response, the Rail Manufacturing CRC has spent the last five years working with the rail industry to start tackling these challenges. Launched in 2014, the Rail Manufacturing CRC’s focus has been to increase the capability of Australia’s rail manufacturing industry. Industry participants include Downer, CRRC, Knorr-Bremse, Bombardier Transportation Australia, HEC Group, Airlinx and Sydney Trains, who collaborate on research and development programs with institutes such as University of Technology Sydney, CSIRO, Deakin University, University of Queensland, Monash University, CQUniversity, Swinburne, RMIT and CSIRO.

“By sharing the risk involved in the development of technology while building networks across the supply chains, this increases the Australian rail sector’s competitive global position and creates a depth of industry capability.”

Since commencing, though, there have been some changes in the centre’s focus. Initially focused on heavy-haul rail, the subsequent plateauing of the mining boom, coupled with massive growth in passenger rail thanks to state and federal investment in rail infrastructure, resulted in a shift in the centre’s focus.

While its projects have contributed to a more innovative rail manufacturing industry, the most important contribution of the Rail Manufacturing CRC is the newfound strong engagement between universities and participating rail organisations. Australia’s universities have highly skilled and worldclass levels of research capabilities, and the challenge lies in the capacity for the rail sector to use that knowledge.

“With less than half of one per cent of scientists and researchers working in rail, it is key to attract and train the next generation of employees, while recognising the new skills that research graduates can bring to Australia’s future rail industry,” Thomson shared.

Planning for the future has, so far, consisted of 32 industry projects, 48 PhD scholarships and the involvement of 35 organisations over the entire six-year life of the Rail Manufacturing CRC, with the centre now working towards a closing date of June 2020.

“Over our full six-year lifetime, we will have achieved a wide range of leading research and commercialisation activities across the centre’s program areas of Power and Propulsion; Materials and Manufacturing; and Design, Modelling and Simulation,” says Thomson.

In its Power and Propulsion stream of projects, the centre has focused on energy solutions for better rail efficiencies, looking at battery and supercapacitor development and manufacture, new composite braking materials and rail-wheel-interface projects. Some of these projects involve the testing of lithium storage technologies.

With Australia’s great lithium reserves, this has wide reaching benefit across the resources sector as well as for rail, and according to Thomson, there is a boom in the use of lithium in energy storage devices. In regard to battery technology, Thomson says the centre is looking at fundamental studies to create better and more efficient lithium batteries, supercapacitors and energy storage systems.

“The ultimate goal of our energy storage projects is to develop technologies that will make overhead rail catenary systems obsolete, resulting in reduced infrastructure and maintenance costs. We’re working with companies such as Downer, Knorr-Bremse, CRRC, and the HEC Group, all of whom have different applications in a very active field of endeavour.

“We’re also using energy storage devices for emergency applications in rail as backup batteries. We’re looking at using lithium and new battery technologies to decrease the cost and also increase the life cycle of those devices. Obviously, the less servicing needed means significant cost savings in terms of maintenance.”

Meanwhile, the Materials and Manufacturing stream of work focusses on component durability, maintenance optimisation, composite material design and assembly automation. The projects in this stream intend to create replacement materials that are much more light weight, yet still with similar or better structural properties and the safety properties required.

“The challenge in rail at the moment is that we’re creating more energy consuming rail rolling stock, so it’s ideal to reduce energy consumption by light-weighting light rail and heavy rail.”

Within this, the centre is investigating with Swinburne University, metallic cellular materials, such as recycled aluminium honeycombs and foams for rail sandwich panels. One project is researching the manufacturing methods to best make these materials, while another is looking at experimental works and simulations to investigate the mechanical properties of the sandwich panels.

Another centre project collaboration with the University of Queensland and Bombardier worked to predict the wear rates of axle bearings used in suburban passenger trains. Through the development of a software model, bearing life is predicted using algorithms that aim to optimise the bearing selection, lubrication and overhaul maintenance schedule with significant economic benefits.

Within the Design, Modelling and Simulation stream, the centre is focussing on passenger information systems and dwell time management, cabin airflow monitoring, data transfer and analytics, and virtual and augmented reality rail training.

One of the more visible of the centre’s projects is the Dwell Track technology created in collaboration with Downer and the University of Technology Sydney. The technology enables operators to anonymously monitor passenger numbers and movement using 3D cameras to extract the relevant spatial and temporal information in real-time.

“We are able to monitor passenger flow and pathways. The information collected is used to better understand how platform infrastructure can be designed and operated in a more efficient way to limit congestion at certain points and times. By understanding where the congestion points are on platforms, operators are able to redesign or tailor solutions based on the information collected, so it’s really data driven.”

Thomson credits rail operators for providing the facilities to keep improving the Dwell Track technology.

“Queensland Rail, Sydney Trains and PTA Western Australia have all participated in testing and trialling the technology over a number of years. This has enabled the project team to tweak the technology to make it better as we’ve gone along. It is a real example of how operators have come to the fore to assist the development of new innovations,” he said.

While at the moment this technology enables decisions to be made or exceptions to be identified efficiently, Thomson believes this technology will eventually have an artificial intelligence component. “If we could automate some of those functions, such as if gates can be closed or opened based on computers rather than having staff on the platforms doing that work, we’d be able to free up staff time to concentrate on other critical issues.”

Ultimately, however, the goal is to take the data captured by the technology, analyse it and understand what responses can be taken to alleviate congestions at stations.

When asked about his predictions for the future of innovation in the rail manufacturing space, Thomson says data analytics is the key.

“I think we’re going to see a lot more use of data for modelling and prediction. We’re seeing a huge focus on condition-based monitoring applications and being able to monitor and understand all components to provide the operators and customers with information relating to the rollingstock’s use and performance in real-time.”

One of the critical uses for this is also to provide maintenance when its needed, rather than in the aftermath of issues. “Being able to predict when something’s going to happen before it does and fixing it prior to breaking down will have huge benefits for operators and manufacturers.”

One example of research being undertaken in this area is a Rail Manufacturing CRC, Deakin University and Downer collaboration to provide data specialists for Downer’s TrainDNA project. Aimed at improving data collection, analysis and interpretation, the team are developing algorithms and system platforms to provide real time information to customers, maintenance staff and engineering specialists.

The implementation of TrainDNA is likely to have significant benefits for those who operate and maintain rolling stock. The growth of new digital systems and data analytics in rail will require an ongoing adaption of the rail workforce.

“That’s where we see some of the challenges and the opportunities for rail companies in the future. Building new skill sets into the rail workforce is going to be key to unlocking these digital benefits that can flow into the sector.”

Where previously the skilled workforce in rail was confined to a few specific domains of engineering expertise, a new breed of skilled workforce is now needed.

“We no longer primarily need mechanical and electrical engineers, we also need people who can code, we need AI specialists, data scientists, virtual reality specialists, and more.” As such, the rail sector must be able to attract a whole new digital workforce.

“We’re not only competing with other transport providers for specialised blue and white collar workers, we’re also competing with other industry sectors such as finance, mining and tech giants like Google and Amazon,” Thomson said. “Too often, we focus on the technology, but a lot of the future solutions within the digital field will be expertise driven, they’ll be people-driven. The focus should be on a culture within the industry to build research and innovation capacity, but also to bring the right skill sets and expertise to utilise these new technologies most effectively.

“The biggest thing we have seen [during the CRC’s six-year term] has been a change in innovation culture. There are very talented young people who need to join the rail industry to propel it forwards, so the focus should be on the next generation of rail workers. I think that we’ve partly contributed to the industry realising that.

“We’ve got young researchers working on very exciting areas. At Monash University, we have multiple PhD students working on automating systems that can send drones onto tracks, into tunnels and even into the Pilbara region to automatically assess and monitor railway lines and the integrity of those systems.”

The main benefits to this are to get people out of danger, off the tracks and out of harsh environments, not only for safety reasons, but also to free them up to do other skilled jobs.

“It’s one thing to collect data, that’s the easy part, but it’s another thing to be able to automate, transmit and analyse it instantaneously, in real-time,” Thomson said.

The innovations that the Rail Manufacturing CRC has seen with the rise of the Internet of Things and other such emerging technologies has enabled a whole range of critical information to be captured, such as the integrity of rail infrastructure, the performance of equipment above and below rail, and the capacity to plan for future growth and safe operations of the networks.

Upon the completion of its term in June next year, Thomson tells Rail Express that a large part of the Rail Manufacturing CRC’s legacy lies in its initial commitment to collaboration.

“I think we’ve contributed to a realisation that collaboration between researchers and industry is a very good thing,” Thomson said. “The legacy that we’ve created is that collaboration between research organisations and the rail industry is assured.”

How can companies in the rail manufacturing space be more innovative?

“It’s simple,” Thomson concludes. “Hire, support and trust smart young people.”

Enhancing delivery in the age of the mega-project

Australia’s $100 billion infrastructure spending spree is seeing more companies tackling rail projects collaboratively. Rail Express spoke with project management software developer InEight about the benefits of effective collaboration.


The rise of billion-dollar rail infrastructure projects means that companies need to form joint ventures to undertake the wider scope of work in this space.

However, multiple companies and scores of team members can form tangled webs of people across several locations, often resulting in communication failures, schedule delays and increased costs. To address these challenges, forward-thinking companies are accelerating their uptake of technology.

Rob Bryant is executive vice president – Asia Pacific of capital project management software developer InEight. He says InEight, which offers solutions across a range of industries, sees a particular opportunity for rail projects, which are often among the most complicated, and involve the most stakeholders.

“From our experience, rail projects and rail infrastructure projects are fairly complex,” Bryant says. “There are a lot of different factors that come into play from a regulatory and safety point of view, as well as just the general engineering challenges you face when you’re laying down rail and integrating it with roads. Adding further complication, with the shift to move away from level crossings, you’ve got more sophisticated interchanges and points of integration with other infrastructure to contend with.

“The other thing is that these projects are bigger than we’ve ever seen before – those underway right now are anywhere between 5- and 12-billion-dollar undertakings. Over the course of time, they might take 3 to even 10 years to reach full completion.”

Bryant says storing millions of documents and then sharing them between collaborating parties can bet quite challenging.

“And making sure they’re all referencing the same, correct, most up-todate version of every document is of the utmost importance.”

So too is providing a common ground for that information. Even though companies embark on joint ventures, and form teams with agreements in place as to the terms of their collaboration, it’s important to remember they are all different organisations at the end of the day, he says. “Having that information shared in a neutral and secure environment that can remain confidential where it needs to is crucial.”

Accountability is another benefit of InEight’s document management and control solution: once entered into the system and sent, correspondence cannot be deleted or altered.

“This means you have a very good audit trail, which, in a multi-billion-dollar project, is very important because there’s a lot at stake, both financially and in terms of execution,” Bryant explains. He says the solution has saved project teams a lot of time in putting together progress reports, enabling significant productivity gains.

One project team on a level crossing project saved weeks of time each month, he recalls. “They used to compile a 40-page end-of-month report, that would take up to two weeks to prepare. Now they use our analytical tools to capture that information live, and can present it at any given time through the month, creating enormous savings in productivity, both in reporting as well as in the actual gathering of information.”

When it comes to managing on-site challenges, the ability to capture an engineering problem in the field, by taking a photo of it, uploading it through an app, and sharing it with the engineers and consultants back in the office, allows for issue resolution within a matter of hours rather than over the course of days.

End to end, InEight’s solutions streamline the project management process throughout the project life cycle. The company boasts a modular, interoperable platform that begins with estimating and scheduling tools, takes in document management and field execution, and follows through to operations and maintenance, with solutions to help in handover and long-term asset management.

How early in the project you realise gains in efficiency and cost controls depends on when you implement the technology, Bryant says. When it comes to scheduling, for example, where project teams previously needed to cobble together vast sums of information to create a plan from scratch, InEight’s planning, scheduling and risk tool allows them to benchmark current plans against previous work, for greater accuracy and efficiency than through traditional planning methods.

Addressing potential challenges proactively rather than reacting later on results in better outcomes and fewer missteps throughout a given project.

“All large engineering projects require significant investment from a bidding team,” Bryant explains, “and we’re often talking about millions of dollars being spent on a bid before they even win the work. So, being able to realise some efficiency and productivity gains in that stage, as they’re estimating for work, putting together proposed schedules and reviewing plans, is of enormous value to construction firms as they evaluate their role in these large rail projects.”

InEight’s planning, scheduling and risk tool is bolstered by artificial intelligence, enabling the benchmark of past project data and helping generate more accurate plans and forecasts faster.

“Basically our planning, scheduling and risk tool draws from a knowledge library of all past projects, which includes how long it took to build them, how long various stages took, and what resources and materials were used. From that data, the tool generates suggestions regarding the schedule for the current project you’re planning.

“Our scheduling and estimating tools help projects start off on the right foot by generating more accurate schedules you can actually stand by, rather than ones resulting in missed deadlines,” Bryant says. “It can actually effectively pull in a template of past schedules from other projects and see what is most appropriate as planners put together the new schedule. There’s a real intelligence being applied to it, so it’s no longer just a series of processes bolted together and guesses being made about the duration. Now people are able to make more informed decisions.”

Even at the end of the construction phase, which may itself take up to 10 years to complete, InEight’s solutions deliver benefits.

“The billion-dollar projects that are currently underway are complex structures, woven together with multi-use stations that include residential and commercial space,” Bryant says. “As such, these assets are going to be managed and utilised within communities in different ways for decades which has a lot of implications for gathering and managing data through the life cycle. InEight solutions enable long-term asset management.”



Smarter all the time: Local firm enhancing remote condition monitoring technologies

As the rail industry trends towards more efficient operating practices, MRD Rail Technologies managing director, Rob Gersbach, sees no limit to the application of predictive asset maintenance technology throughout the rail corridor.


“In the future, we believe all major rail assets will be remotely monitored by condition monitoring systems,” MRD managing director Rob Gersbach tells Rail Express. “These will be either built in by the manufacturers (smart) or implemented by third party integrations such as TrackSense. MRD are also working with points machine manufacturers to include TrackSense in their products.”

TrackSense is MRD’s predictive asset condition monitoring system. Relying on Australian-manufactured plug and play loggers designed to be robust, compact and affordable, TrackSense’s primary goal is to give meaning to data to allow the customer to make data driven maintenance decisions.

MRD has 30 years’ experience designing and manufacturing electronic equipment for the rail industry. Three years ago, it launched TrackSense to capitalise on this with a push into the growing space of predictive maintenance and condition monitoring. Now, Gersbach explains, MRD is moving to ensure it can help customers apply predictive asset condition monitoring to improve each of its core maintenance tasks.

“We see all trackside location cabinets (LOCs) being transformed into ‘Smart LOCs’ containing remote condition monitoring systems capable of monitoring all assets within the LOC using one Remote Condition Monitoring (RCM) Logger,” he said. “Price has been a major barrier to achieving this in the past but this has rapidly changed due to competition and technology such as cloud hosting. MRD has adopted this technology and is at the forefront of the movement towards affordable open platform RCM solutions.”

Gersbach says one of the key benefits of TrackSense for his customers is that it is open protocol.

“Open protocol solutions will become the standard in RCM solutions as this gives the customer security, independence and the flexibility to shop around for the most competitive hosting solution and analytics package of their choice,” he said. “It also allows for easy integration with the customer’s Asset Maintenance System.”

This preference towards open protocol is also being driven by specialisation of analytics platforms from major computing vendors.

“We are also seeing the emergence of sophisticated big data analytics packages by vendors such as IBM, Microsoft, and Amazon to name a few,” Gersbach explained. “TrackSense provides API integration with these systems as standard which allows the customer to tap into the power of these systems including advanced machine learning and AI systems as they emerge.”

Since it was launched three years ago, TrackSense has grown to now collect data and measure various parameters of condition in thousands of railway assets across Australia and in international markets.

Product manager Yvie Hough says through a continued focus on listening to and communicating with customers, the TrackSense team hopes to refine its state-of-the-art approach, and help new and existing customers best take advantage of what it has to offer.

“The MRD team has been working closely with our customers to refine and improve our solution to provide a robust, easy to install system that is user friendly and provides valuable information to users,” Hough said.

Despite operational savings being a core benefit of condition monitoring and predictive maintenance systems, one major obstacle MRD has seen operators struggle to overcome is simply the cost of installing and maintaining a condition monitoring system, and the inflexibility of many common solutions available in the market.

“Some vendors charge exorbitant amounts for hardware and lock customers into fixed contracts,” Gersbach said. “The obvious downside to this is that should you decide to break ties with the vendor or they go out of business, you’re basically left with an expensive paperweight.”

Taking a different approach, the MRD loggers used in the TrackSense solution are not bound to that system.

“Yes, we offer a local or cloud server option for accessing the data, but this is optional as our loggers are capable of stand-alone operation,” Gersbach explained. “Our loggers log, process and alarm directly from the device without the need for external servers or software.

“This gives the customer total ownership and control of their hardware and data.”

MRD has recently expanded monitoring capabilities of TrackSense through the addition of new sensors and communication protocols for its range of loggers.

“This sets our customers up for future expansion,” Gersbach said. “They can start off monitoring points machines, then expand to monitoring track circuits, batteries, boom gates, earth leakage and more just by adding additional sensors.”

Another recent addition to the TrackSense offering is a mobile App, which literally puts key data in the operator’s hands, providing a convenient way to view asset performance both on and off site.


One misconception Gersbach says he always aims to address is that a condition monitoring solution will provide maximum results from day one.

“When implementing a condition monitoring solution it’s important to understand it’s not a set and forget solution. It requires operator training, tuning and data input from the user,” he said.

To address this, MRD has developed tried and tested workflows to help operators get started with condition monitoring. The TrackSense team will also work with the customer to refine that workflow to their individual needs.

“Our auto-tuning feature will get you up and running fast and our teach feature will keep the system performing optimally,” Gersbach added. “We use shape recognition to identify anomalies, and KPIs are extracted from logged parameters and used to gauge an assets health and identify trends. All positive alerts and alarms are sent to the system’s fault library and fed back into the system to improve the systems performance. This library is also available for reference and training purposes.”

Critical to this is the use of machine learning to refine how data is analysed.

“The primary output of any condition monitoring system is data. Performing complex analysis of data collected from hundreds or thousands of sensors is a tedious and time-consuming activity, beyond the capabilities of human operators.”

By putting machine learning to work, Gersbach says TrackSense can help operators maximise the value of predictive maintenance while keeping costs down. MRD designs and builds hardware, and develops its software and applications locally in Australia. Along with TrackSense, the company also provides EarthSense, a solution for detecting earth leakage; and RelaySense, a solution to test the condition of relays.



AusRAIL: Guiding rail’s digital transformation

Siemens Mobility’s Chris Whiteside talks about the potential savings new digital methods can provide a rail project from the design phase right through to operation.


Siemens Mobility has the goal to help customers achieve what seems impossible: zero unscheduled railway outages. The flagship tool it has developed to provide the underlying processes to support this goal is Railigent.

Siemens says Railigent is designed to make the best use of data to guide rail operators towards 100 per cent availability. Powered by the company’s open Internet of Things (IoT) operating system, MindSphere, Railigent applies artificial intelligence and sophisticated analytics to large volumes of rail data collected by IoT devices in the field.

Rather than just showing individual pieces of technology, Siemens Mobility is connecting all of the technology on display at its AusRAIL stand through Railigent, using cloud computing to provide real-time analysis.

Siemens’ head of digital services in the region, Chris Whiteside, tells Rail Express the exhibition and conference will be an opportunity for him and his team at the company’s Australian MindSphere Analytics Centre to demonstrate the benefits of rail digitalisation and the kind of analytics that can be done to provide an ultra-efficient rail operation.

“I’m really keen to understand where the industry wants to go with analytics, and working how we can make things more efficient and sustainable,” he says. “We’re very focused at the moment on infrastructure build, and there’s very little focus on efficiency.”

To that end, as part of AusRAIL’s IRSE technical conference stream, Whiteside will discuss how Building Information Modelling (BIM) and System Information Modelling (SIM) can enhance metro rail operations, and reduce risk, and both capital and operational expenditure.

“The model approach helps from the tendering and concept phase all the way through to the maintenance phase. It has benefits all the way through the life cycle. It’s the concept of taking the 2D drawings relied upon by the signalling and technology providers for these projects, and putting that information into a simulated model, and dealing with it from that perspective. Rather than a room full of drawings and lengthy manual/paper-based approval processes, you have a single digital model with all the necessary information, which can be referenced throughout the project,” Whiteside says.

“We know there is a lot of infrastructure build going on at the moment, and we know skilled resources are like gold – there’s a huge demand and a scarce supply – and that’s driving the costs of projects up. So we’re looking at digital methods traditionally used in the building space or in mining, oil and gas, to see if they can be applicable in the rail space.

“It can be quite a provocative subject, because there are the traditionalists who believe drawings are the only way to go. But the savings in time, effort, cost, and simply the reductions to wasted time and re-working, are significant.”

Whiteside and his team will deliver a pair of presentations on day one of AusRAIL – one at morning tea and one at lunch, which will be livestreamed over Facebook.

“We’ll have some of our data scientists from our analytics centre on hand,” Whiteside says. “They’ll be able to talk about the projects we’ve worked on so far, for example where we worked with Auckland Transport to reduce the amount of time it takes to look for faults on ETCS equipment, through the power of Railigent, and the data analytics that’s been done to create algorithms locally.”

Elsewhere, Siemens Mobility’s head of business development and strategy Charles Page will be chairing a session in the Rail Suppliers conference stream, and head of product innovation Stephen Baker will take part in the closing industry panel during the AusRAIL conference.


Visit Siemens at AusRAIL PLUS at Stand 217.

AusRAIL: Rail tech delivering consistent productivity gains for Roy Hill

Rail Express spoke with GE Transportation, a division of Wabtec Corporation, about its work with Roy Hill in the Pilbara.


When you set up a $10 billion mining operation complete with 344-kilometre railroad and bespoke port facility, that investment needs to start paying back in quick order.

Indeed, every efficiency, every saving and productivity boost counts at Roy Hill’s operations in the Pilbara, chaired by Gina Rinehart. What a difference a consistently, evenly loaded, remotecontrolled train makes.

The Roy Hill Remote Operations Centre in Perth runs a model railway. Completed in 2015, the railroad with its state-of-the-art rolling stock carries millions of tonnes of iron ore – blasted across eight pits, crushed, graded and blended at Roy Hill – from the mine to Port Hedland, where it is shipped to international markets.

In 2018, Roy Hill hit its nameplate goal – 55 million tonnes shipped. The strategies and technologies that enabled Roy Hill to ramp up to this run rate, and continue to increase production to a 60 million tonnes per annum run rate, are complex.

But senior executives agree that a collaborative relationship with Wabtec Corporation’s GE Transportation division – the manufacturers of Roy Hill’s ES44ACi locomotives and the integrated LOCOTROL remotely operated tower control system that goes with them – has helped drive greater value from the Roy Hill railroad.

“Back in the early days we aimed for five trains a day,” Roy Hill chief operating officer, Gerhard Veldsman said. Each train is almost two kilometres in length, consisting of two rakes comprising 116 cars each, with two locomotives at the front and another two locomotives between the rakes. At first, the average load of the cars was 138 tonnes.

Ore-carrying railways have until recently required an engineer driver to inch the ore cars painstakingly under the loading chutes, at a pace of around 0.2 to 0.5 kilometres an hour, but Roy Hill commenced its operations with the LOCOTROL tower control system. This extension of the LOCOTROL Distributed Power system allows the driver to leave the locomotive at the load-out point, and the LOCOTROL tower control system automatically carries out the loading, which on Roy Hill-length trains can take up to three hours.

“The train comes in, the system logs the loco numbers and it goes into remote control mode. Positioning sensors on either side of the chute spot the gaps in the ore cars, and the system automatically opens and closes the chute to fill each ore car,” Veldsman explained.

From the start, the LOCOTROL tower control system has allowed Roy Hill to utilise crews more efficiently rather than locally manage the load-out process. The greatest benefit has been the ability to smooth the variability in tonnes loaded per car due to the automation of the process.

Roy Hill and Wabtec have collaborated to hone the system such that, “When you look at a fully loaded train out in the yard the tops of the wagons look like they’ve been planned flat,” Veldsman said. “It’s a good indication of how steady the loading process is. When you get a lumpy ore car, you know there’s been a problem.”

Having the load spread evenly throughout each car also allows the train to be driven more consistently. Veldsman explained, “A smooth load across the bogie sets enhances a train’s ability to efficiently brake and handle curves when travelling.”

Consistent loading enabled by the LOCOTROL Remote Operator Control system has helped Roy Hill’s railway team to increase the number of cars per rake to 118 (236 cars per train), loaded to 142 tonnes each. Train frequency has gradually increased from the initial 5 trains every 24 hours, to 5.5 or 6 trains on average.

Another significant benefit that Roy Hill has attained by using the LOCOTROL tower control system is the ability to remotely drive the train at the mine that is some 1600 km away from Roy Hill’s Remote Operations Center in Perth.

In resource ventures that pre-date Roy Hill, operators sat in towers at each mine site. At Roy Hill, the crews that run 24-hour remote train load out operations sit in the comfort of the Perth Remote Operations Centre, and return to their homes at the end of their shifts. This allows Roy Hill employees to spend more time with their families and enables Roy Hill to attract and retain the best people in the industry.

As a result of improved working conditions, said Veldsman, “We haven’t had any turnover in the train-control system in three years.”

The executive team at Roy Hill is contemplating other applications of the LOCOTROL tower control system: to potentially assist load-out efficiency at the Port end of the track; or to control the “train in waiting” for loading. “We’re happy to collaborate with Wabtec regarding the technicalities and see if further efficiencies can be realised,” Veldsman says. He confirms the strong, collaborative working relationship Roy Hill has with Wabtec, and says Roy Hill’s role as a test bed for the research and development of the LOCOTROL tower control system has benefited the industry as a whole.

“It’s great that we’ve come up with several changes in software that Wabtec has recognised as good ideas and rolled out universally. As well as being good from a Roy Hill operational point of view, it’s helped improve the product for all industry users.”

“Wabtec sincerely values the collaborative relationship we have with Roy Hill and are thrilled to be a part of their ongoing success,” GE Transportation executive leader in Australia Claire Pierce adds.


Visit Wabtec at AusRAIL PLUS at Stand 232.

Shadow transport minister calls for workforce research body

Federal shadow transport minister, Catherine King, reiterated her party’s promise to create a body to conduct research on the future of the industry workforce, in her address to the Rail, Tram and Bus union on Wednesday.

King described the party’s vision of a workforce forecasting and research body called Jobs and Skills Australia, under a similar model to Infrastructure Australia. The intention to create Jobs and Skills Australia was announced last month by Labour party leader, Anthony Albanese.

The body would be would assess the skills requirements for services where “government is the major funder and where demand is expected to change”, such as transport.

“This will include the manufacture, operation and maintenance of our public transport network,” said King.

The body will undertake workforce and skills analysis, and conduct capacity studies. It will be expected to review the adequacy of the training and vocational system, as well as deliver plans for targets groups such as the regions, workers over-55, and youth.

King said that she believes introducing new technology can create different job opportunities.

“I spoke yesterday with a major freight rail operator who is using real time condition monitoring to better forecast maintenance to reduce breakdowns. While that has replaced the task of physically walking the line inspecting trains in sidings. It has seen new jobs created in big data analytics, as well as increases in the maintenance schedule and maintenance jobs.”

However, transitioning jobs in industries like transport must be planned, she explained.

“People must always be at the heart of our transport system.”

AusRAIL: Enhancing train performance with Artificial Intelligence

4Tel CEO Joanne Wust tells Rail Express about how the company is employing AI to develop its advanced driver advisory system, to help train drivers be safer and more efficient.


Ensuring safety within the rail corridor is essential to the effective delivery of train services. Various hazards, such as animals and people wandering into the rail corridor, or vehicles standing stationary across level crossings, can cause serious injury and death and lead to serious service disruptions on a network.

Safe and efficient operations require a train’s primary and secondary drivers to be aware of the precise location of the locomotive and the presence of potentially hazardous situations and objects along the route. In a high-consequence environment, train operators must keep an eye out for potential safety risks at all times, all while watching for safety-critical signals, and operating the train in as efficient a manner as possible.

This is no easy feat, and while train drivers in Australia and New Zealand consistently demonstrate a high level of competency, they are not infallible to human error. Fatigue, distraction and loss of concentration can affect anyone during a long journey. Complacency is a human trait that can set in for drivers operating the same route on a repeated basis, and a newer driver may not be as familiar with the route and its complexities.

Newcastle-based digital rail specialist 4Tel is working towards a solution which helps drivers perform their jobs in a safer and more efficient way.

In late September this year, 4Tel carried out a test run of its latest solution, HORUS. HORUS is an Artificial Intelligence (AI) Machine Learning system for an Advanced Driver Advisory System (ADAS) – ultimately a machine-human interface that assists train drivers in the safe operation of locomotives.

The company has been working on the AI system since 2016. With progress speeding up, the project is now moving into the final stages of development of an initial version for operational use.

“HORUS is the next technological enhancement for improving the safety and efficiency of train operations,” 4Tel CEO Joanne Wust tells Rail Express. “With this system, the onboard computers are able to sense a train’s surroundings and detect abnormal objects within the corridor and even beyond the corridor.

“Digital technology can do things that humans cannot do. For instance, we can use cameras that have superb visibility at night or in fog – humans often struggle to see much in these conditions. Also, different kinds of advanced sensors can be used to feed information into the train’s computers. Just as we humans use our different senses to detect whether or not we are in danger, sensor technology enables the same thing for AI computers, but more effectively.”

The HORUS system integrates the sensor data gathered from cameras, sensors and GPS in real-time. Using neural network processing in an on-board computer, the system carries out an ongoing and continuous comparison with previous data records of a given section of track. Advanced algorithms within the software then carry out processes for detection, localisation, awareness, dynamics and route monitoring.

“HORUS can detect the approaching signal and classify the illuminated signal aspect. It can also incorporate signalling telemetry data from the control system, where available, utilise AI and GPS for locational assurance (currently set to 50cm accuracy), and identify temporary and permanent speed boards to ensure the train going at the right speed,” Wust explains.

“The system can also carry out real-time calculations of the braking profile of the train. So if the train is approaching a signal at stop, HORUS can warn the driver and provide a braking profile to assist the driver in stoppint the train before the signal.”

HORUS features a central data centre that collects as-run video that is used to update the system’s track reference record, or the route “master sequence”. This process involves machine learning techniques, which assesses changes to the route on the basis of data collection, assimilating alterations and updating the master sequence. HORUS can therefore use AI to detect both normal and abnormal train operations at a given location.

“A route master sequence is the sum knowledge of what the AI system has learnt based on all the trains that have operated on that route. The more trains that operate a route, the more things are seen and processed, the more weather conditions are experienced, and the more intelligent the AI system will become in assessing hazards from normal route operations, it has been, the more things it has seen, the more situations it has been in, the more intelligent the AI will become,” Wust explains.

The process of developing the algorithms enabling the machine learning techniques took 4Tel three years with the research assistance of the University of Newcastle Robotics Laboratory.

The technology is now at a stage where the data gathered from a sensor array on a moving train can be integrated and analysed onboard to provide real-time information to a driver. “It took us some time to develop the mathematics and optimise them because the AI industry has specific requirements,” Wust says.

“The AI has to be able to interpret the different datasets coming from the various sensors and provide an integrated analysis of this information in real time. It is not to be understated how complex it is to do something like this.”

HORUS is designed to support a variety of sensors, which would be selected in consultation with the train operator to achieve their stated operational outcomes. HORUS collects as-run data that is subsequently processed by the data centre to update the system’s track reference record, or the route ‘master sequence’.

This process involves machine learning techniques, which assess changes to the route on the basis of data collection, assimilating alterations and updating the master sequence. HORUS can therefore use AI to detect both normal and abnormal train operations at a given location.

The updated master sequence is then shared with all other HORUS equipped locomotives to enable continuous learning of all HORUS equipped locomotives. Following the recent successful test run on a route through the Hunter Valley, 4Tel is planning to carry out additional train tests in the coming months. “We’re really happy with the data output that has been achieved. It is now just a case of ensuring the algorithms are not presenting false positives, and that we are processing the information in an efficient way,” Wust says.

According to Wust, early adopters of AI technology will reap the most rewards: they will get to shape the outcome of the DAS system and use the safety and efficiency benefits of HORUS to grow their market share of rail haul contracts.

HORUS also offers the opportunity to improve the competitiveness of intermodal rail freight against road freight.

“Long distance trucks are continuing to increase their capacity and efficiency with B-Triple combinations now appearing on main interstate roads, and vehicle manufacturers are competing to develop the first autonomous and driverless trucks. A truck driver also has few limitations on where they can drive their truck in Australia.

“By comparison, a train has two drivers and they are limited to operating in the territory of their route qualification,” Wust says.

“We see this as an opportunity to assist train drivers with better informed technology, to allow the drivers to focus on the tasks a computer can’t perform.

“Our HORUS technology is designed to work seamlessly across the various rail networks and contain the route master sequence data for all networks in one onboard database, which is continuously improved each time a HORUS equipped train runs on the network,” Wust explains. “Australia has some unique challenges – we have vast distances and the overall complexity of operating trains is quite high. So we have many reasons to adopt innovative technology to improve the safety and efficiency of rail transport.

“We’re excited about the technology we’ve been developing. It offers a lot of potential to the industry.”


Visit 4Tel at AusRAIL PLUS at Stand 180.

AusRAIL: The big Reveal – Hitachi harnessing rail data

Tom Ross from Hitachi Information Control Systems tells Rail Express about the latest addition to the technology firm’s rail software suite.

The ongoing digital technology revolution has driven significant change across every aspect of modern-day life. It’s created new go-to-market models and enabled a new generation of disruptors to challenge traditional approaches. Data application, the key to digitalisation, is creating novel ways of solving issues and delivering new services that promise further change.

Rail has been at the forefront of data generation and capture with trains, assets and infrastructure, and control centres generating vast quantities as part of the day to day operations.

With each asset change, signal renewal, electrification and maintenance program huge volumes of data are generated.

The challenge presented by this, however, is that much of this data is independently owned and can be managed by multiple stakeholders across any given operation. As a result, it is not fully accessible to add value to any one business. Sometimes, this sheer volume of data is actually a problem which leads to data being used purely to highlight major problems for a reactive fix.

“The effect this has on the industry as a whole is significant as data collection and management is duplicated multiple times which is both inefficient and expensive,” Hitachi Information Control Systems’ Tom Ross tells Rail Express. “Often there are multiple iterations of the ‘same’ data with no single source of the truth.”

The challenge, therefore, is to find a way to enable industry partners to work together as a collaborative community by integrating data into a collective, accessible environment. The result of this would be to create information led processes and systems which enable companies to work and operate independently while also focusing on collaboration and data sharing. In this way we ensure the way rail utilises its data is transformed to become a strategic business asset.

That’s the line of thinking behind dessan Reveal, the latest addition to Hitachi’s dessan rail software suite. dessan Reveal is an analytics engine designed to digitally capture complex data from a live railway, and provide intelligent analysis to deliver valuable insight into what’s happening across the network.

“A key component and differentiator is the ability to integrate, enrich and activate large complex data sets from multiple sources,” Ross says. “This can include data from train timetables, track possessions, supply chain operations, traffic management systems, digital signalling and asset conditioning monitoring to name just a few.”

dessan Reveal takes feeds from data generation sources and becomes the single data pool for the railway business. The data can then be validated and managed within the analytics core, which creates efficiency for IT resources, networks and hardware.

“The data is now in a state where it is valuable and trusted information for key stakeholders across the railway. This information is also now available to be used by tools to carry out specific tasks around the real-time delivery and enhancement in the operation of the railway,” Ross says.

Open architecture

Ross says the dessan Reveal system has been designed to facilitate third party utilisation of data once it’s in this trusted, central hub.

“Our philosophy is that the data belongs to the customer,” he says. “dessan Reveal is the enabling technology to create management information from your data. In this way data is transformed into a catalyst for focussed, specific and targeted business change.

“Experience shows that an ecosystem of suppliers will spring up offering services and apps to both rail professionals and customers.

“We strongly believe that dessan Reveal offers value in ways we have not yet envisaged. At a macro-economic level we now have the ability to bring projects through Strategic and Outline Business Cases more quickly and with data led decision support we can bring benefits beyond our organisations to our larger community.”

Some examples of tools and services Hitachi already recognises as being enabled by dessan Reveal are:

  • Possession Conflict Manager, to remove potential issues in the timetable in advance of any delays on the live railway.
  • Digital Design, linking core railway data to 2D and 3D BIM tools.
  • Delay Manager, enabling a real-time analysis of delays, heatmap outputs to highlight problem areas, and machine learning to reduce future delays.
  • Strategic Outline Business Case, which is utilised to quickly model and test proposed changes to the infrastructure, rolling stock or timetable to maximise the value of every dollar spent.

Hitachi’s IoT approach

Hitachi was founded in 1910. Combining 109 years of operational technology experience with 59 years in IT has positioned it perfectly to embrace digitalisation and the Internet of Things (IoT), and it is the world leader in terms of patent applications in big data analysis foundation technology.

Ross says the development of dessan Reveal is supported by the deep data and IoT expertise of Hitachi Vantara, the group company focused on the management and analysis of big data.

“dessan Reveal has the ability to seamlessly integrate huge amounts of operational data and is able to produce advanced outcomes and provide validation in areas such as railway infrastructure enhancement, possession management and strategic business case development,” Ross says. “The Hitachi approach to IoT is focused on the outcomes not the ‘how to’. We use technology as the tool to drive results into your business. Collaboration has always been a strength of Hitachi and we will continue to build on our successes in this area.”

Another of Hitachi’s major subsidiaries, Hitachi Consulting, provides another element of the company’s approach. “We understand the need for targeted and controlled business change to maintain the integrity of the data. To support our customers through this process we have built on our experiences working on complex projects both within our own organisations and those of our clients to develop our own engagement methodology that provides for consistent, complete and repeatable results for our clients.”

With that said, Ross outlines four key concepts behind Hitachi’s methodology:

“Start with the end in mind”: This means that all the deliverables are completed with the project goals in mind, including focusing on strategic and business needs vs. system needs, focusing early on defining the desired end result and building knowledge and team for eventual support.

“Go slow to go fast”: Up front planning is not only efficient but helps to manage costs and works as an accelerator in the long term for projects in which great emphasis is spent on the definition and design phases in order to efficiently and effectively move through the development phase.

Recognise Hitachi must be flexible: This means that tailoring its methods to meet the client’s business and IT needs to develop solutions that are right for the organisation, rather than attempting to force-fit pre-developed solutions.

Work in a manner that is people-oriented and facilitative: This involves working collaboratively, blending internal and external resources across project roles, focusing on change management, and being sensitive to client culture.

“The methodology is flexible enough to be tailored to any project’s needs, while at the same time robust enough to encompass all aspects of a project,” Ross explains. “By breaking down project aspects into deliverable phases and workstreams while managing compliance with the project management discipline, our project teams implement successful solutions which consistently leads us to the desired outcome.”

Rail knowledge

While Hitachi has become a digitalisation leader across multiple sectors, Ross reiterates the company’s mature understanding and deep knowledge of the rail sector.

“Our experience in building and maintaining trains, controlling the network, simulation and modelling is central to dessan Reveal,” he says. “In order for the rail industry to achieve its long-term future goals there is a need to reduce the capacity crunch and become a more reliable service. This exciting new development from Hitachi will help to reduce the number of acceptable risks, cut maintenance costs and enable accurate, targeted deployment of resources and assets within general infrastructure planning and maintenance, ultimately improving user experience and ensuring passenger demands are met.”

The same qualities demonstrated across multiple sectors for the validation and management of data, can similarly offer railway companies a way to improve the passenger experience, improve safety and improve reliability.

“The world’s largest and most profitable businesses are data driven,” Ross concludes. “However, data has true value only when turned into management information to enable more validated, more timely, more measured decision making. Data into information is a step change for any business – we believe dessan Reveal is the enabler for the rail industry.”


Visit Hitachi at AusRAIL PLUS at Stand 214.

AusRAIL: PID Screen Systems on show

Sydney-headquartered technology company tm stagetec systems will show off its range of Passenger Information Display Screens at AusRAIL PLUS 2019.


In an era when passenger operators are focused on maximising the capacity of their networks, more and more commuters are moving through already busy stations, to find their way onto already busy platforms.

Key to ensuring the safe and efficient movement of passengers is proper communication. Australian technology company tm stagetec systems specialises in public address, professional audio, network and equipment management and information systems on a large scale, and provides fully integrated audio and visual passenger information systems with a focus on the transport industry.

tm stagetec systems will show off its new Passenger Information Display Screens (PID Screen) System at AusRAIL PLUS 2019, the threeday conference and exhibition in Sydney from December 3-5.

The PID Screen System is designed with flexible topology, allowing for the system to be installed in smaller environments where necessary, and expanded as needed to support more displays or to be integrated into other services. Multiple types of displays can be managed through the use of templates, which configure to suit size and purpose. This allows content management system (CMS) administrators to select the display type which can then automatically render the information for the PID Client in the correct format.

There are three core components of the PID Screen System. At the heart of the design are the CMS servers, the location of all global administration controls. The solution’s CMS is designed to be fully redundant via load balancing. It is recommended that any APIs are built to connect into both the primary and secondary systems.

The second component of the solution is its use of node servers. This means for a smaller system, CMS and node functionality can be shared by a single server, or a pair of servers, but then the system can be expanded for larger situations.

The nodes use the centralised Galara database cluster to store and access all information and host webpages for each display template.

The third component is the PID Client, a web-based system used by the operator to dictate the content of displays around the installation.

The PID Screen System is designed to support GTFS/SIRI and custom protocols, and to be fully integrated into NMS/DVA and Help/Information Points. Embedded hardware means a PC is not required for each screen to operate.

tm stagetec systems experts will also be on hand at the exhibition to discuss the company’s experience with digital PA systems, tailored to the transport and infrastructure industries. The systems are designed to offer the latest digital audio for operators – particularly in public address, hearing loops and help points.


Find tm stagetec systems at AusRAIL PLUS at Stand No. 46.