Catenary and pantograph monitoring catching snags before they bite

Australian Rail Technology tells Rail Express about a pair of solutions helping reduce operators’ overheads by protecting their overhead.


When a pantograph atop an electric train, tram or locomotive snags overhead wiring, a large amount of damage can result to both the fixed infrastructure and the train itself. A train travelling at line speed can tear down a significant length of overhead wiring, costing the operator in many ways.

“Tear downs of overhead wiring are a major issue to transport operators,” Australian Rail Technology (ART) National Sales Manager Darren Will says. “They can create a dangerous situation for people inside and outside the rollingstock, greatly disrupt the operation of the network. and require emergency call out of repair resources. Additionally, there can be operational penalties as well as the cost of employing buses to ferry passengers around the impacted part of the network.”

ART provides a range of rollingstock, engineering, infrastructure and condition monitoring products and services. Among them are a pair of solutions to reduce tear downs.

Pantograph monitoring

The Pantograph Condition Monitoring System (PCMS) is installed above the railway to automatically scan the condition of pantographs as they pass underneath. The process occurs without any contact between the system and the rollingstock itself: as the vehicle passes through the scan location, the system assesses wear on the pantograph head, and scans for any chips or damaged areas.


The Pantograph Condition Monitoring System.

The system can measure carbon thickness, carbon damage (e.g. missing carbon, edge chips, abnormal wear and cracks), pantograph head yaw angle, missing horns, horn alignment, uplift force and train speed, with real time analysis reported back to the asset owner. Exception reports can then be viewed in client software, and also sent via email. By regularly monitoring the condition
of pantographs throughout its fl eet, an operator can perform predictive maintenance of that equipment, saving it from unexpected downtime,
and potentially preventing a heavily worn or damaged pantograph from damaging overhead infrastructure.

The PCMS is supplied and installed in Australia by ART, in partnership with Dutch technology group, ImageHouse.

Will says ART has worked with operators who have reported a return on investment (ROI) timeframe of just three to six months for the system. “The obvious saving is in the form of faster and accurate identification of damage or excessive wear to the carbon strips on the pantograph head.

This allows the carbon to be worn to condemning limits accurately to gain maximum useable life out of the carbon,” he says. “Additionally, it removes the need for manual inspection of the pantograph, which is typically done in the maintenance yard or workshop by accessing the roof or using an elevated gantry. This can require isolation of the traction power, working at heights permits, and more factors that have an impact on overall productivity. Intervals between traditional inspections can also vary based on the time available.”

ART says the PCMS can operate with train speeds of up to 180km/h in all weather conditions, and can be installed on the main line, meaning there is no need for a custom shed or slow zone.

Collision detection

While automated inspection of pantographs can go a long way to reducing tear down incidents on an electrifi ed railway, another of ART’s solutions aims to cut down on another key culprit: faults in the overhead infrastructure itself.

When a pantograph shows up damaged, two key questions must be answered. First: how did the damage occur? Second, and more important: where did it occur? The Pantograph Collision Detection System (PCDS) – developed in Australia by ART – is mounted on top of rollingstock, and is designed to continuously monitor the interface between the overhead catenary and the pantograph, providing real time warnings for unusual contacts or strikes.


The Pantograph Collision Detection System is solar-powered.

When the system’s high-performance 3-axis linear accelerometer detects an unusual impact, it reports GPS details and other relevant data to the asset manager. This information is further supported by a camera which monitors the overhead in real time, and captures and transmits video footage of the area immediately before and after the collision.

From there, the asset manager could trigger a work crew to attend the exact site to perform repairs, and potentially have other rollingstock avoid the area until work is complete. Without the location information provided by the PCDS, pantograph damage can appear with with no indication of where it has occurred.

Loose or defective catenary can damage a pantograph without causing a major incident – knowing where the incident has occurred can save serious man hours, and prevent a tear down before it occurs.

PCDS is powered by two in-built solar panels, with high-performance batteries, meaning it doesn’t need to be connected to the rollingstock’s systems in any way. Data is collected and delivered to the cloud, allowing the user to receive direct alarms and access data via a web dashboard. The system can also deliver an API for integration of that data into a third party management platform.

System data contained and reported by the device includes vehicle ID, speed, location, time and date, status and impact levels. Adjustable parameters to help fi ne-tune the device include impact thresholds, sleep/wake parameters, and Admin and Status User phone numbers.

“Over time, any trend or increase in the severity or quantity of detected impacts are displayed and allow the asset owners to identify an impending issue on the overhead network,” Will explains. “Similarly, the detection of a severe impact and communication of it to the network operations group, allows them to determine if services should be stopped until the fault can be rectified, thereby removing the potential of a teardown and associated penalty of this happening.”

Next steps

Will says ART has chosen to employ a flexible architecture for the PCDS, and to provide for independent data collection and transmission, in order to facilitate a wide range of current and future applications in addition to just collision detection.

“Our key technologies in the predictive maintenance and condition monitoring space are focused on the interfaces between electric or passenger rollingstock and the infrastructure and environment in which they operate,” Will says.

In the future, PCDS could be enhanced with capabilities like recording of climatic conditions, odometer validation, live vehicle/asset location tracking, and monitoring and reporting of other onboard systems. In addition, it could record overhead line stagger, pantograph height, arcing and current draw. In regional areas, the system is also suitable for monitoring other fixed assets, like switch points and signalling systems, monitoring the track for seismic shifts, and monitoring the condition of additional trackside infrastructure like power and compressed air lines.

Will says ART’s strong partnerships with overseas suppliers, and a demonstrated ability to develop custom condition monitoring systems in-house, will drive future condition monitoring innovations and enhancements.


‘Smart dryer’ pushing the boundaries of efficiency

IMI Precision Engineering is using condition monitoring to improve the efficiency of its drying system for compressed air on rollingstock.

A drying system extracts moisture from air before it enters a train’s onboard systems – braking, doors, suspension and so on. In a typical rail dryer, a pair of parallel “towers” take turns performing this task: while one is absorbing moisture and feeding air to the train, the other is using a small amount of ‘purge air’ to dry itself out.

The frequency at which the system switches between towers is a key factor in the longevity and efficiency of the rail dryer. The amount of purge air required to dry the inactive tower is another key efficiency factor.

IMI Precision Engineering, which already has hundreds of its dryers installed on varied rollingstock in Australia and New Zealand, is tweaking the performance of its rail dryer through
condition monitoring.

“We’re now making it a smart dryer,” IMI’s Peter Raemers tells Rail Express. “By putting condition monitoring on it, we can regulate the amount of dry air needed to regenerate the second tower.

“By only using as much purge air as you need, the compressor feeding that purge air doesn’t need
to be used as often. Additionally, by properly monitoring the condition of each tower, you can also minimise the frequency of cycles required.”

Raemers says this efficiency multiplies the benefits of IMI’s cutting-edge AMT drying technology.

While traditional systems feature towers filled with small desiccant beads wrapped in clay as a binder, IMI extrudes the desiccant into narrow tubes which are impervious to water.

“The problem with clay is, as it gets wet, it starts to break down,” Raemers explains. “That can be quite destructive and inefficient. If you don’t dry the air properly, systems can become water laden, leading to rust and other issues, and if the clay binder breaks down that can enter the water as well, which can bung up those systems with sludge or sand.”

Raemers says side-by-side testing has shown the AMT (Adsorbent Media Tube) solution as more effective and efficient than a clay-based system. The technology also means the system can be equipped horizontally or vertically, allowing for more flexibility for rollingstock owners and manufacturers.

“It really is a fit and forget solution,” Raemers says. “And the improvements in air quality are also passed down to components around the train for more lifetime improvements and further lengthening of maintenance cycles.”

Safer ped gate a success

“One thing we do as a company is work with the rail sector and investigate what they see as issues, what we can do to help them, and how we can make ourselves more proactive in dealing with the customer,” Raemers explains.

One product of this is IMI’s pneumatic gate for at-grade pedestrian crossings. The gate, designed by IMI’s Sydney team, has so far performed almost 30,000 operations without trouble over a trial in the Sydney metropolitan area.

The pneumatic gate looks to address a key flaw in typical electric gates: if power is lost, they can jam in an open position – an understandably dangerous possibility.

IMI’s system relies instead on more efficient pneumatic power, with a failsafe spring to shut the gate in case power is lost.

The low-maintenance system is contained within a compact, robust unit and relies on a single moving part. Pneumatic control is dictated by a pair of solenoids, which are directed by electrical signals, typically from the operator’s control system.

When the gate is shut, it is held shut with a significantly higher force than when it is in the open position, and an in-built hydraulic damper regulates opening and closing at a reasonable force.

With no cranks or gearing, IMI says it can guarantee up to four million operations, maintenance free, and a ten-year life before a service is required for major parts.

The company is looking to market the system to networks around the rest of Australia and in New Zealand. It is designed to work as part of an existing pneumatic system, or can be set up with its own pneumatic system, powered through mainline power or solar power, with the latter solution optimising it for regional applications.

“Pedestrians everywhere are often looking at their phones with their headphones in,” Raemers says. “Even then, improvements onboard trains themselves mean the noise and vibrations through the ground are disappearing. If you lose all those indicators, it’s very easy for an accident to happen.”

The gate is part of an ongoing trial.

Digitising our future: Improving passenger experience through innovation

Downer’s Tim Young takes Rail Express through the company’s latest innovations in rail, and how modern data collection and analysis can drive passenger growth.


With governments at local, state and federal levels gradually approaching a consensus on the importance of growing public transport, Australia is on the cusp of an urban rail construction, operations and maintenance boom.

While rail patronage will undoubtedly rise when new connections are opened to growing areas, the addition of new services to already busy networks can compound challenges already faced getting stubborn road users to shift to public transport. Unplanned rail delays and congestion at busy stations are common excuses for commuters to continue driving to and from work, even if it is the more expensive, more stressful and – on the average day – more time-consuming option.

For Tim Young, Executive General Manager Rollingstock Services at Downer, answering these challenges will require modern, digital solutions.

“80 per cent of the world’s data has been created in the last five years,” Young tells Rail Express. “If you look at where we’ll be in 10 to 20 years, there will be a huge focus on ecosystem integration – integration between assets and people, and a huge focus on customer experience.”

Young wouldn’t always have been so optimistic about that rate of change. Over more than 20 years in the rail, aviation, safety, mining and manufacturing sectors, Young has witnessed, and taken part in rail’s digital journey, and says the sector has gotten better in its approach to change.

“My experience in the rail game has gone from staff and ticket operations and block limit boards to fully automated signals and points that are being set by Advanced Train Control Management Systems,” he says.

“Over that history the rail industry has, at times, been very slow to move and evolve. Its culture has at times been slow to adapt to the introduction of new technologies and new processes.”

Young recognises that part of the sector’s trepidation over the years has been well-founded. Rail operators bear a high level of safety responsibility, and all change must be with safety kept paramount.

“We need to understand how we play in this sphere that we don’t actually have 100 per cent control of. Because we’re dealing with commuters and their lives, we don’t take these decisions lightly – so more often than not this is also a precursor to why technology deployment in our industry is so slow,” he says.

With safety in mind, Young says change has become more rapid in the rail sector. But there are still barriers that could be lifted.

“The pace of change has certainly picked up, particularly when you look at the introduction of new technology in the rail industry in Australia. In the last decade we’ve seen advancements in signalling technology, we’ve seen advancements in onboard train technology, train control management systems. I think the evolution of digitalisation in the last decade has certainly been enhanced – the degree of introduction has increased,” he says.

“However, there are a number of constraints, particularly around the sense of urgency for those changes. Regulations and policies are things that constrain technology elasticity, and digitalisation in the rail industry more broadly.”

Another key hurdle for innovators is simple: capital cost.

“There’s a degree of risk associated with unknown applications, unknown technologies, and whether they’re actually going to deliver a tangible return, so capital is always going to be a question mark,” Young explains.

To ameliorate some of these concerns, Downer been looking to partner with more of its suppliers, and to collaborate with other technology firms and research bodies, with the aim of increasing the rate of development, and the success of project delivery.

In one example, Downer is working with the CSIRO and the Rail Manufacturing CRC to improve control battery technology, addressing issues like thermal runaway, and the potential of better battery solutions for improved life expectancy on Downer’s trainsets.

Collaboration is also taking place internally within Downer. Video analytics developments being made by Downer’s Defence business could have an application in public transport.

“This is leading-edge technology at the moment,” Young explains. “Technology that is able to detect either an incident that has occurred, or is about to occur, based on certain algorithms that are put into a database … We’re looking at whether that technology has applications, particularly from a safety perspective, within our industry, because there’s plenty of opportunities there as well.

“Obviously with surveillance-based technology there are privacy concerns to address, but that is something we’re working through with our Defence colleagues; working with that type of legislation.”

Ultimately, Young says the end customer is likely to be the biggest beneficiary of rail’s digital growth.

“We’re trying to deal to hyper global issues, with hyper local content experience,” he says. “Everybody carries a mobile device, and through it they’re connected globally. Well, we’re trying to take a local experience, like an urban rail service, and provide consumers with a global solution. We’re trying to solve today’s problems with some of today’s technology, but also trying to develop tomorrow’s technology today.”

How Downer is taking rail digital

Talking again about how the industry is set to become even more focused on the customer, Young says one example for Downer has been reducing delays and improving uptime for passenger rollingstock, through a reliability-centred approach to maintenance.

At the forefront of this is TrainDNA, which puts large volumes of data through an array of algorithms to highlight issues for maintenance before they cause delays.

Built on Downer’s Neuroverse platform, and based on the Microsoft Azure software stack, TrainDNA was developed over 18 months using in-house expertise and a strategic partnership with Deakin University and the Rail Manufacturing CRC.

The platform is now deployed on Sydney’s fleet of Downer-built Waratah trains, and will be rolled out across the rest of the fleet maintained by Downer by April next year.

“This is a data analytics platform on steroids,” Young says. “Analysing such volumes of data will allow our team to establish trends in relative real time, enabling us to proactively predict failures and calculate the remaining life of an asset more effectively.

“The advantage to our customers is that all of this takes place whilst the train is in service without interrupting the operation. At the same time, it enhances worker safety through the potential of removing high-risk inspections.”

Young expects TrainDNA to boost Downer’s ability to predict failure rates, and reduce unscheduled train downtime.

“TrainDNA demonstrates our capability as a world-class maintainer and asset management partner of choice. While we are still in the early stages of the solution, TrainDNA is a step in the right direction in our journey towards predictive maintenance.”

Mirroring this is TrackDNA, the equivalent platform for monitoring track for predictive maintenance purposes. “It will hang off some of the Waratah trains so we can extract information from the track,” Young explains.

“We can then put that data through a raft of algorithms, with the intent to understand not only track conditions for preventative maintenance activities, but also for further insight into the wheel-rail interface, something that no operator has at this time.

“It’s bringing the data from the train and the data from the track together, so you can understand the broader ecosystem health as it relates to the vehicle.”

Customers the focus of Wynyard trial

Another digital innovation Young says can improve the appeal of public transport comes in the form of a trial underway at Wynyard station in the heart of Sydney’s CBD, where Downer has installed its Dwell Track system to analyse and help manage movement through the busy station.

Developed by Downer and the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), and supported by the Rail Manufacturing CRC, the trial involves the installation of 16 infra-red and digital devices which sense customer movement, without identifying individuals.

“It allows station staff to understand the movements of consumers on and off the train, so they can try to position those consumers well on the platform,” Young explains.

“The passenger information display systems on the platform can also show passengers where seats are available onboard the approaching train coming to Wynyard station, through the airbag sensors. That culminates in allowing Sydney Trains to better manage the ease and speed of their consumers, through Wynyard train station, which has a direct consequence in managing dwell time more effectively, allowing for a better customer experience, and an improved ability to maintain their timetable.”

Dwell Track is undergoing a planned eight-week trial. Based on its performance, Sydney Trains will decide whether it will deploy it elsewhere on the

Latest-generation CBTC driving urban rail modernisation

Rail Express speaks with Thales’ Arnaud Besse about the company’s seventh-generation SelTrac CBTC system.

Over three decades since commercialisation, Thales’ SelTrac Communications Based Train Control (CBTC) system has been installed on more than 100 metro lines, in over 40 major cities around the world, and moves more than three billion passengers every year.

Thales launched the future-focused seventh generation of the SelTrac train control system, SelTrac G7, at Innotrans 2018, and will demonstrate the system again at AusRAIL PLUS 2019 in Sydney later this year.

Arnaud Besse, Marketing and Communications Director for Urban Rail Signalling at Thales, tells Rail Express the new generation of SelTrac is aimed at helping passenger operators achieve 100 per cent availability of service.

“Every operator wants to reach 100 per cent availability of service, and so do we,” Besse says.

Changes in SelTrac G7

With the share of global population living in cities expected to rise from 50 to 70 per cent by 2050, governments around the world must not only build new rail lines, but must maximise the capacity of existing infrastructure.

Thales says it has developed its SelTrac system with this in mind: SelTrac G7 is designed to be as flexible as possible, to help different operators, on new and existing lines, using varied rollingstock.

“SelTrac is both valid for greenfield and brownfield projects,” Besse explains, “and we are rollingstock provider agnostic. We have installed our system in trains from 14 different rollingstock manufacturers, which is pretty much every major rollingstock manufacturer on Earth.”

Besse says after safety, the top priority in the development of SelTrac G7 has been working with customers to assess their needs.

The result is a forward compatible system designed to ensure long and extendable design life, without the need for disruptive, system-wide re-signalling every time a new line is added or a new fleet enters service.

Thales says SelTrac G7 features a set of advanced functions designed to better help public transport operators manage network growth, extensions and fleet expansions, and prepare for the future of control operations.

Thales has improved the user interface for the centralised command-and-control system, which uses web technologies to allow users to work on their own workstations. The equipment installed on trains is also 20 per cent more compact for SelTrac G7, than for previous generations.

The seventh-generation system is also designed to operate with any kind of telecommunication system, including new-generation LTE, which is notably favoured in China over WiFi for CBTC communications.

Besse says one key innovation in SelTrac G7 is a bidirectional line management capability. This means if there is an issue at any given time, anywhere on the network, the operator can reconfigure the entire network to reduce or eliminate downtime.

“When you have an incident on your line, SelTrac G7 can very quickly and safely put in place any provisional services that require trains to do something they’re not usually supposed to do,” Besse explains.

“This means when a potentially disruptive incident occurs, the overall impact on the passenger and the operator is minimised.”

This added flexibility ties in with SelTrac’s decision support system, or DSS. “When an alarm occurs on the line, the DSS will propose to the operator a few scenarios,” Bess explains. “If there is a train broken down at a station, for example, the system could propose one option to run a provisional service, another for trains to skip the station, or turn around, and present the information needed for the operator to decide.”

Another customer-driven improvement made to SelTrac G7 relates to the first ‘C’ in CBTC – communication. When a train loses communication, SelTrac G7 allows it to continue until it reaches the limit of its movement authority. This means temporary, brief communications outages don’t impact operations.

“Our customers told us that losing communication on one train should not necessarily mean they don’t have room to manoeuvre, i.e. that the train cannot at least proceed with a few monitors. After all, in CBTC you are providing a limit of movement authority – basically how far the train can go given its position.”

In the case where a train does not re-establish communication before reaching the edge of its movement boundary, it will stop. But, as in most cases, if it has re-established its connection to the system, it will be able to continue.

“It’s all about minimising the cost of operations,” Besse explains. “Any disruption on the network costs the operator money, and costs satisfaction for the passenger. Nobody likes to be stuck on the network for additional time.”

With major research and development always going on in sectors like mission critical defence, security, and avionics, Thales has also applied its developments in cybersecurity to the new generation of SelTrac.

“The technology behind encryption analytics and hardware that we are supplying to banks, for example, is the same that supports SelTrac G7,” Besse says. “We have the best cybersecurity experts looking at our system, trying to break into it, and advising how it can be made even more secure. This relationship also means we have kept cybersecurity as one of the design constraints throughout development – so SelTrac G7 is what we call ‘cybersecure by design’.”

Always moving block

Besse credits the level of innovation Thales is able to achieve with SelTrac to the history of the system itself.

First developed by Standard Elektrik Lorenz (hence SEL in the name) in the 1970s, the technology now known as SelTrac began as the first fully automatic moving-block signalling system. It has never been a fixed block system, and is not based on fixed block technology. Besse notes this means Thales is not attempting to move innovation over from a fixed block mindset, into moving block; instead that innovation is always being made with moving block as the status quo.

Part of this alternative approach means SelTrac has been designed to not require a secondary train detection system, which can cost millions of dollars to install and maintain. Typically, such systems are installed as fixed “backup” systems, using things like axle counters to detect when a train enters a section of the network.

“This would be a fixed block system, added to a moving block solution,” Besse reasons. “Because our competitors are coming from a fixed block background and moving to a moving block, this secondary train detection is embedded into their system. But we started from the other end, so we don’t need it.”

Besse notes SelTrac has been used in Vancouver for more than 30 years without secondary train detection.

“We can equip a secondary train detection system if our customer wants one, but SelTrac does not need one by definition. And from our perspective, this secondary train detection infrastructure becomes another thing that can eventually impact the availability of the network.”

Flushing line conversion

Thales recently helped MTA New York City Transit convert one of its busiest subway lines, the Flushing line, to full CBTC, and launched Automatic Train Operation (ATO) capabilities on the line in May.

The Flushing line, which serve 400,000 daily passengers, went into revenue service using SelTrac CBTC in December 2018. A Certificate of Substantial Completion was finalised for the project in March 2019. Two months later, in May 2019, Thales ATO capabilities were enabled.

Thales says the project was the first irreversible re-signalling cutover project in North America. Modernising 17 kilometres of track connecting 22 stations with a fleet of 46 trains, the result of the project is a more efficient operation.

On-time performance since revenue service began has increased by more than 16 percentage points to 91 per cent. For riders, the average amount of time they now spend onboard a train beyond their scheduled travel time has been slashed by over a minute, to just 39 seconds.

The ATO also means train operators can put more focus on platform procedures and emergency breaking, while the train runs automatically.

“We are committed to supporting the future of New York City with its Fast Forward plan and contribute to increased public transit capacity for New Yorkers,” Thales Urban Rail Signalling Managing Director Dominique Gaiardo said in July.

“By re-signalling one of the busiest lines in New York, Thales has once again proven its outstanding capabilities in urban rail modernisation.”

Thales to bring SelTrac G7 to Australian Market

Thales is actively engaging with local industry to bring it’s SelTrac G7 solution to the Australian Market – starting in Sydney and then expanding to other neighbouring geographic regions.

“Thales is excited to bring this world class CBTC solution to the Australian market in order to help our local customers achieve their project objectives – it is already in operation in a number of major cities around the world – reducing congestion in our customer’s cities and improving the safety of their networks, reducing travel times for their commuters and providing major economic and social benefits to their countries,” General Manager of the Ground Transportation Systems business for Thales Australia Elias Barakat said.


Siemens striving for 100 per cent availability

Siemens Mobility Head of Data Services, Gerhard Kress, tells Rail Express about the transport technology firm’s push for a world with zero unscheduled railway outages.


If you’ve regularly caught the train in a major Australian city, the prospect of a passenger rail service with zero unscheduled downtime seems too good to be true. Read more

Advancing the conversation: Putting mountains of condition monitoring data to work

Rail Express speaks with Strukton Rail Australia Managing Director Paul McIlveen about the role condition monitoring plays in a smart maintenance solution.


Struckton Rail has been involved in the development of condition monitoring technology for over a decade and will continue to do so. But the company also wants to broaden the conversation around condition monitoring, and help others understand the role it can play in an overarching smart maintenance solution.

“Condition monitoring alone isn’t a solution,” McIlveen, Managing Director of Strukton Rail Australia says. “Condition monitoring forms part of a broader smart maintenance solution, and the benefits are fully derived when you’ve got all the elements of a smart maintenance solution working together.”

While the devices used to collect data are an important element, McIlveen says systems to ensure the relevance of what those devices are measuring and monitoring are equally vital to a good smart maintenance system. So too are methods of properly managing the data so it can be interpreted, using that data to organise and plan work, and delivering that work efficiently.

“That’s really where the benefits of condition monitoring are retained,” McIlveen says. “For example, we developed a system about 15 years ago for points monitoring, but if you’re just looking for points faults and responding to them as and when they occur, you’re effectively not making any savings.

“However, if you’re able to develop insights from the data you’re collecting, and you’re able to build smart algorithms – based on machine learning or just good engineering – then there are significant savings to be had.”

These savings aren’t only limited to a reduced volume of points faults. Once an operator starts to apply these smarts to how it structures its workforce and delivers maintenance, even more significant savings can be achieved.

“For us, condition monitoring is just the element that gives you access to a lot of data,” McIlveen explains. “The ability to analyse and interpret that data is what becomes really valuable.”

Of course the real upside of an improved maintenance regime is increased reliability on the network. “We’re aspirational in helping achieve a network which is 100 per cent available to rail operations, meaning no unscheduled loss,” McIlveen says. “We do that today: in the Netherlands we have contracts for which we provide a 99.8 per cent availability guarantee.”

In several cases this goal is being made achievable through clever application of artificial intelligence.

One example is a fault prediction system for insulated rail joints based on image recognition, which Strukton has developed in partnership with Siemens.

Strukton has also teamed up with Australian software developer Willow Inc. to develop an enhanced tool for managing and creating insights to existing rail data. The technology solution is described as a Digital Twin for Rail, combining operational data and asset management information into a simple and intuitive software platform.

Strukton Rail Business Development Manager Ben van Schijndel wrote last year the strengthened partnership with Siemens “goes a step further, because we are increasingly interweaving our business processes”.

Of both partnerships, he added: “We realise that the products and services we both supply are a perfect match. Each party has its own skills and together you provide more value than each party independently … The result of a partnership is better work.”

Strukton in Australia

Strukton provides engineering, asset management services, network optimisation, and condition monitoring hardware and software tools to Australian customers. This aligns to its history as a traditional rail maintenance contractor in the European market.

But with its recent pushes into new markets like the United States and Australia, it is also looking to leverage its experience to serve emerging needs. In Australia there is a growing awareness of the need to improve data utilisation from existing systems.

Strukton has already provided support to some heavy haul operators in Australia in this context.

McIlveen says this is a credit to Strukton Rail’s unique position in the Australian market. With a relatively small footprint compared to its European presence, but with the support of its global network, Strukton Rail Australia can focus on addressing a common issue limiting
in the region.

“There’s a lot of data already gathered on rail networks around the country, but there’s a real gap in the analysis and interpretation of that data,” he explains. “That’s an area we’ve focused on, and as part of that we offer the ability to improve the way condition monitoring is done, and the insights that come from that.”

For a lot of network owners and operators, collected data sits in silos, and that data sits isolated from data from elsewhere around the network.

Drawing on its experience in Europe, Strukton has encouraged its Australian partners to work to break down the barriers around those data silos, allowing the data to work together in a sophisticated way, using modern computing power to create important insights.

“I think we’re still at the stage in Australia where people are still wary of owning and being responsible for their own data,” McIlveen opines. “Part of the challenge is addressing those concerns of data ownership and security, because ultimately the data is worthless unless you’re doing something with it.”

It makes sense, then, that part of Strukton’s work so far in Australia has been helping rail companies transform their approach to data.

McIlveen stops short of describing Strukton as a consultant in this space, instead saying the company is comfortable helping bridge the gap between operations on the rail network and the maintenance of that network, by using internal teams as well as external contractors when they are involved in the solution.

“We operate in a niche part of this space, because we bring a very practical working knowledge of how to maintain and operate rail networks, and a very deep understanding, from an engineering point of view, of how a rail network should work and what maintenance requirements are important,” he concludes.

Contactless payments fully rolled out across Opal network

New South Wales’ entire Opal ticketing system is now capable of handling contactless bank card payments, after the popular Bondi Link was bus service was added to the scheme last week.

The Bondi Link, which has become the country’s busiest bus route since its launch 12 months ago – handling more than 8.7 million journeys – was the final service enhanced with contactless bank payment capabilities on September 23.

It means the entire Opal ticketing network, which covers train, light rail, bus and ferry services, can now handle contactless bank card and other payment device functions.

“The great news is those customers now have the ease of tapping on with a whole range of options, including debit and credit cards,” transport minister Andrew Constance said of the Bondi Link addition.

“This achievement marks the final piece of the contactless payments puzzle.”

Understanding the challenges of condition monitoring

Electronic equipment manufacturer MRD Rail Technologies says the primary goal of its predictive asset condition monitoring system, TrackSense, is to give meaning to data to allow the customer to make data driven maintenance decisions.


MRD Rail Technologies has 30 years’ experience designing and manufacturing electronic equipment for the rail industry. Three years ago, it looked to capitalise on this with a push into the growing space of predictive maintenance and condition monitoring.

TrackSense, the system designed by MRD to carry out this task, has grown to now collect data and measure various parameters of condition in thousands of railway assets across Australia and in international markets.

In just three years, several operators throughout Australia and New Zealand are already using TrackSense, and it’s not slowing down: after attracting international attention exhibiting at Innotrans in Berlin last year, the Queenslandand-based company will exhibit at Railway Interchange USA in September.

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 says.

Cost of ownership

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,” MRD Managing Director Rob Gersbach tells Rail Express.

“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 explains. “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.”

Tuning for perfection

One misconception MRD 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,” Gersbach says.

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 adds.

“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.

Local presence

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.

Its range of smart sensors collect data from fixed rail infrastructure, including points machines, batteries, track circuits and relays, as well as environmental, mechanical and portable assets. Measurements taken by MRD’s sensors includes current, voltage, pressure, temperature, vibration, and so on.


Innovative train detection solutions

The Australian railway market has a growing demand for innovative solutions that support them in dealing with increasing requirements. These range from challenging environmental conditions and rising train density on track to the implementation of new technologies and possibilities. At this year’s AusRail, Frauscher Sensor Technology will present a selection of its products and latest innovations that enable the development of appropriate solutions.

Covering global requirements at one place

Travelling throughout Australia as a passenger gives you the possibility to experience tropical climate or deserts – as well as snowstorms and heavy rain falls. As inductive wheel sensors mark the state of the art in terms of reliable train detection, they have to maintain maximum availability under all of these conditions. Frauscher has installed a global base of approximately 200,000 wheel sensors – which have proven their appropriate capabilities on all continents. Based on their robust design, their functionality is not affected by extreme temperatures, moisture or even floods, mechanical impacts or electromagnetic interference. Additionally, the possibility of mounting these sensors using a rail claw allows for quick installation without drilling – and weakening – the rail.

Frauscher Wheel Sensors work highly reliably under various environmental conditions.

Flexible evaluation for individual requirements

The establishment of inductive wheel sensors in different regions and railway segments around the globe means that new areas of use are constantly being discovered. Due to its open, analogue interface, the Frauscher Wheel Sensor RSR110 can be easily and quickly integrated into any infrastructure. Evaluation of the sensor signal can be realised by the system integrator or operator themselves. “This allows for the economic realisation of wheel detection-based applications, such as weighing, lubrication, imaging and others in different areas, for example depots or yards. To provide support if required, Frauscher has developed a Wheel Signal Converter WSC, which converts the analogue signal into a digital signal and creates the corresponding interface”, says Lee Walker, Technical Support Manager at Frauscher Australia.

The Frauscher Wheel Sensor RSR110 can be integrated into individual applications simply and quickly.

Proven axle counter

Other Frauscher wheel sensors, such as the RSR180, come in combination with evaluation boards, forming full SIL4 wheel detection systems and axle counters. The Frauscher Advanced Counter FAdC provides flexible interfaces and high modularity. It allows for individual solutions to be developed in close collaboration with the customer according to project specific requirements. Additionally, innovative functionalities, such as Supervisor Track Sections STS and Counting Head Control CHC can increase the system’s availability even when unavoidable external influences occur.

The Frauscher Advanced Counter FAdC has proven its high reliability all over the globe.

“Connection to a high-performance electronic interlocking is possible both via a customer-specific interface and the freely available Frauscher Safe Ethernet FSE protocol. On that base, centralised architectures and decentralised architectures can be realised, as can a mixture of both. The Frauscher Diagnostic System FDS provides diagnostic data via remote access – which is extremely beneficial for wide spread systems. We have realised several projects using the FAdC throughout Australia. We look forward to seizing the opportunity at this year’s AusRail to meet known customers and new interested experts to discuss their experiences and requirements – and how we can support them in meeting them in future”, says Mr Walker.

Using the FAdC, mixed architectures can be realised to guarantee maximum flexibility in terms of individual requirements.

New intelligent sensors

As a highlight, Frauscher will present their new SENSiS system. “We presented SENSiS for the first time at InnoTrans 2018 and were overwhelmed by the great interest and positive feedback. With a newly developed sensor, which works as an intelligent device on the track, this system sets new standards. The evaluation of the sensor signal takes place in the sensor – i.e. directly on the rail. Using a dedicated bus system, digitised data is transferred directly from the SENSiS Detection Point SDP to the SENSiS Processing Unit SPU in the indoor location. The possibility of building ring architectures enables immense savings by reducing the cabling required. In addition, the sensor is able to collect information on temperature and vibration. In the overall package, this system opens up completely new possibilities and represents the latest generation of track vacancy detection against the backdrop of an increasing digitalisation of the railway industry”, Mr Walker summarises this highlight.

The Frauscher SENSiS Detection Point SDP was presented at InnoTrans 2018, along with the SENSiS system.