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.



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.