Digitisation in track maintenance

Rail Express speaks with track maintenance and construction machines OEM Plasser Australia about applying digital and condition monitoring principles to enhance its offering.


Plasser is already a market leader in the field for the supply of track construction and maintenance machines. Looking forward, a spokesperson tells Rail Express the company sees two of several new applications of condition monitoring principles as the next step for the Australian market.

Plasser is using condition monitoring to help operators better maintain their machines – through the PlasserDatamatic platform – and to help operators better manage their fixed infrastructure – through the PlasserSmartMaintenance solution.

Monitoring the machine

“For operators using Plasser machines, smart maintenance gives them a better opportunity to increase their return on investment, in the form of sweating the asset. This can now be performed with a level of comfort based on the data gleaned,” the Plasser Australia spokesperson says.

“By monitoring conditions and quality of components, we can actually get a better idea of when the machine may need to be serviced.”

PlasserDatamatic combines a number of systems to automate notifications based on the operator’s parameters and the known lifetimes of components on Plasser’s machines. When the time is approaching for a machine service or part to be maintained or replaced, the operator is notified ahead of time and can arrange the best time for work to take place.

Various aspects of the system can be enhanced with active condition monitoring. As an example: “You can monitor the condition of the oil. There are certain Australian Standards for engine oil and hydraulic oil condition, and if those standards are exceeded you’ll get an alert email, and you’ll know it’s time to schedule the machine for maintenance and address the issue.”

PlasserDatamatic incorporates an edge device on the machine, called the MachineDataConnector, which reports key information about the machine back to a central database, which is stored in the Cloud.

The operator can examine the information and coordinate actions through a web interface, called the MachineConditionObserver, and a mobile app, called the MachineMaintenanceGuide. The web interface can be customised, and the platform itself is designed to be scalable, providing key data for multiple machines to all members of staff involved in the operation and maintenance of those machines, whether they are in the office, the depot, or in the field.

“Over time, the platform increases the efficiency of the machine, increasing the return on investment, because the machine is spending more time out there working, and then being maintained when required and according to the real time data,” the spokesperson says.

Monitoring the track

Plasser is also applying digital methods to help operators respond to increasing pressures to reduce maintenance costs and time windows, with its PlasserSmartMaintenance solution, which aims to digitise track maintenance.

The solution uses modern sensors to study the rail corridor – primarily the track and overhead infrastructure – and create a digital twin of the asset.

Plasser’s concept to best use this digital technology is to seek opportunities for better cooperation between the fixed infrastructure and the maintenance machine, by incorporating data on infrastructure, geometry and operational parameters into the maintenance program.

“Nearly every network operator would benefit from this system,” according to the spokesperson. “The digital twin gives us the benefit of recording the fixed infrastructure and creating a virtual track. Through managing that data, we can put the required geometry movements into the track.”

Contact: Plasser.com.au

Prevention to prediction: The future of maintenance

Alstom’s Services Director for Australia Nicolas Thiebot says the company is working with operators and asset owners to demonstrate that it is safe to move to predictive maintenance across their networks.

For generations, rail operators and owners have relied on fixed schedules to maintain their fixed and rolling assets. General maintenance and component replacement was scheduled based on the distance travelled by a piece of rollingstock, or the amount of use endured by a section of track.

While this “preventative maintenance” gets the job done, it is far from the most efficient method. What if a replaced component is still in good condition? What if a component is faulty and degrades faster than it should? What if you’re performing general maintenance too often? Not often enough?

The basic theory behind the development of condition monitoring systems was to address these concerns. Devices installed in trains and around railways record and report data, so assets can be maintained and replaced when needed; not before or after.

Despite the rapid development of proven technologies in this space, however, Alstom’s Nicolas Thiebot says many operators are still hesitant to complete the shift from the old preventative maintenance model, to the new predictive maintenance model.

“The industry has a range of tools and initiatives around condition monitoring, but it’s often bolted onto a systematic maintenance plan,” Thiebot, Alstom’s Services Director in Australia, tells Rail Express.

“People are still a bit reluctant to move away from this systematic, preventative maintenance approach, to a more predictive model. At the moment, it’s a bit of a belt and braces approach, and we really need to move to an optimised version.

“I think the future lives in an understanding that it’s safe and more cost effective, to move on from the preventative to the predictive model.”

Since 2014, Alstom has used its platform, HealthHub, to facilitate a more wholehearted shift towards predictive methods for rail passenger rail operators. HealthHub looks to include as much of the data being collected from around the network, and incorporate it into a central hub to drive maintenance. It takes prioritisation into consideration before making recommendations for work to take place.

“Some of HealthHub’s tools are very mature such as the train to ground remote condition monitoring systems and have been a part of the maintenance industry for a long time,” he says. “The value of HealthHub is to bring them together into a shared platform, and to take the data and convert it into recommended actions to help keep assets in the best possible condition.

“When all the different initiatives around maintenance and asset management are put into one package, you can optimise your operation through dynamic maintenance planning.

“Some of those initiatives are based around asset planning, workload optimisation and work execution, some are to do with remote condition monitoring; they are all important factors in a smart maintenance program.”


Thiebot says Alstom has developed – and continues to develop – HealthHub primarily to aid its own maintenance operations.

Alstom is delivering ongoing rail maintenance for the fi rst stage of Sydney Metro, which opened in May 2019. On that project it is using HealthHub to integrate tools like Catenary Tracer, Track Tracer, Train Tracer, broken rail detection and point machine detection.

Throughout the world, the platform is also available to customers who want to do their own maintenance, however.

“We are developing HealthHub primarily for ourselves, because we believe in the technology and the benefi ts it adds to us,” Thiebot says. “But on operations where we don’t do the maintenance, we can package HealthHub as a product that a customer can use themselves, or as a service that we can perform for them: we produce the reports, do the data mining and so on, to make recommendations to their maintenance operation.”

HealthHub has included onboard rollingstock monitoring and track and catenary monitoring for some time. Thiebot says points machine monitoring is a more recent addition, and the company is looking to add signalling monitoring to the suite as it develops, as well as tools to rationalise the high volumes of data generated by power monitoring and infrastructure monitoring SCADA systems around the rail network.

“The end goal for HealthHub is to help an operator have the smallest downtime possible due to maintenance,” he concludes.

Contact: Alstom.com/Alstom-Australia

Thales successfully delivers CCS for Sydney Metro

Technology firm Thales has announced the successful rollout of its Central Control and Communication System for the Sydney Metro North West rail system.

The company detailed its work on the project, which commenced operations in May, on August 21.

The Central Control System ensures seamless rail operations, including real-time control mechanisms and data for various diverse systems, while providing a ‘big picture’ holistic view of the entire network.

Meanwhile the Communications System links up the public address and passenger information systems, CCTV and digital information boards, into a centralised system allowing a fully integrated operation.

“We’re proud to have delivered technology that will contribute to fast, safe and reliable journeys for Sydney commuters,” Thales Ground Transportation Australia Vice President Peter Bull said.

“The Sydney Metro project will define our great city for many years to come, encouraging growth and building continued prosperity.”

Thales was selected by the Northwest Rapid Transit consortium to deliver the technology in 2015. NRT was the lead consortium selected by the state government to deliver work for the $7.3 billion Sydney Metro North West project.

Rail Movement Planner brings Brazilian know-how Down Under

Brazil-based CFlex is now Rail Movement Planner. Rail Express finds out what prompted the change as the company continues its international growth.


Brazilian technology company Rail Movement Planner (RMP) has been in the rail game for a while now, but not as you’d know it. The company was founded as CFlex MPC in Campinas, Brazil (around an hour’s drive north of Sāo Paulo) in 2015, where it quickly made a name for itself for its CFlex Movement Planner product.

The company has now changed its name to Rail Movement Planner, having rewritten and evolved the CFlex Movement Planner consistently since 2015.

“The name ‘CFlex’ was too generic,” explains RMP president Elesbao Oliveira. “If you Google it you can find many companies that are not related to the railroad world.

“So, to improve our presence in the market and increase our visibility, the Rail Movement Planner company was born on June 3, 2019.”

Rail Movement Planner (RMP) is a state-ofthe-art solution for real-time circulation planning and train dispatching that can provide fully integrated timetabling, conflict detection and problem-solving services for rail operators.

This helps to improve the visibility of planned train circulation, allowing train controllers to increase the average speed of trains, which can lead to several productivity benefits.

It’s also possible to create and configure a regularity operational scenario where the RMP engine will prioritise the regularity of the train circulation.

“RMP optimises train circulation automatically or at the train controller’s request, delivering optimised and feasible train circulation plans in just a few seconds,” Oliveira says. “These plans take into consideration all constraints imposed by the dynamics of any complex train operation and fully comply with customer quality standards and safety rules.”

The system is already in place at several railroad operating centres worldwide, including Australia, where the solution is used by mining powerhouse Rio Tinto to provide effective planning of the company’s freight trains.

In the railroad’s operation centre, train controllers use our solution to plan the train circulation and have a great visibility of what’s coming in the next hours or days,” Oliveira says. “It’s also possible to apply restrictions to the plan — track blocks, speed restrictions, mandatory movements, high priority trains, trains’ dependencies — to simulate and validate the planned circulation.”

The company also operates internationally in territories such as Argentina, Chile and Canada, and has received significant government support in the domestic Brazilian market from the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP, Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa de Estad de São Paulo) and Studies and Projects Financing Agency (FINEP, Financiadora de Estudos e Projetos).

The collaboration took place over three phases: concept, development and marketing, resulting in the successful rollout of the RMP product.

“Our partnerships with FAPESP and FINEP have served to successfully evolve and commercialise Rail Movement Planner,” says Carlos Carneiro, RMP vice president. “We also have another important partnership with the State University of Campinas, one of the best Brazilian universities. This partnership allows RMP access to brilliant human resources and cutting-edge researchers.”

RMP uses three levels of optimisation that are suited to different levels of train planning.

The first level of optimisation is the Basic Engine, which is built to address around 95 per cent of railroad planning issues, according to RMP, taking factors such as network topology, train specifics and basic operating rules into account.

“Basic Engine uses a meta-heuristic algorithm that is very effective and fast, with a typical response time of around five to 10 seconds” Daniel Oshiro, RMP project manager explains.

Adaptive Engine, the second optimisation level, is purely heuristicbased design capable of accommodating algorithms written in Java or Drools. It is intended to solve issues that cannot be properly solved by Basic Engine. Examples of this can include issues introduced through the specific idiosyncrasies and preferences of train controllers, or other special operational rules not otherwise covered by Basic Engine implementation.

The third level of optimisation refers to RMP’s Meta Planning Engine (MPE). Indeed, MPE is a powerful software optimisation architecture that allows RMP to run in parallel to several instances of the Basic Engine to address complex network issues. MPE also encompasses an Artificial Intelligence (AI) evaluator to select the optimal plan for users.

“The RMP integration layer encompasses mechanisms to provide and consume services, message mediation, service orchestration, service governance, business process management and service monitoring across all three optimisation levels,” Oshiro says. “RMP is scalable, expandable and was designed to fit any size of railroad operation.”

It also includes support for exploratory data analysis (EDA), model-driven architecture (MDA), and other enterprise integration patterns. It also provides support for industry standards such as WS-*, representational state transfer (REST), and other binary and nonbinary protocols. Quality of Service (QoS) capabilities such as security, reliable messaging and throttling are also built into RMP.

To ensure RMP runs as effectively as possible, round-the-clock services support and comprehensive user training are also available. Training is provided for managerial groups, train control groups, IT and other key users.

The managerial training is attended by managers and operation coordinators and focuses on introducing system support philosophies, basic architecture and functionalities to management.

Training for train control groups discusses system usability and how to generate effective train circulation plans. IT and key user training is an advanced course that focuses on high-level system functionalities, database maintenance and troubleshooting techniques for end users.

Overall, RMP is confident that it will continue to make a name for itself in the industry, even if the name itself has changed.

Cutting out the noise for PA systems

Chatswood railway station in Sydney has implemented a new Digital PA system that promises to cut out the interruptions.


Announcements are an important component of train station organisation, but lots can get lost in the noise and bustle of a busy station. PA systems can sometimes overlap due to the sheer frequency of announcements that have to be made at any one time.

Chatswood railway station on Sydney’s North Shore Line was one such station facing the consequences of this. So many trains were passing through the station – which serves roughly 60,000 passengers a day and sees a train pass through every three minutes on average – that it was not a practical solution to have one announcement playing on each platform at a time.

Given the station’s popularity and configuration of four tracks split into two islands, it was making announcements hard to prioritise for Sydney Trains and Sydney Metro, both of which used the station for their North Shore Line and Northwest services respectively.

Since there is only one audio system at the station and both operators needed to play announcements at the same time, Sydney Trains and Sydney Metro worked together with audio specialist supplier tm stagetec systems to find a more practical solution.

Both Sydney Trains and Sydney Metro stated that they wanted their operators to be able to broadcast simultaneous announcements on adjacent platforms so that waiting passengers would be able to hear and understand the announcements on their platform, without being disrupted by similar and simultaneous announcements emanating from the other platform a few metres away.

The project team came up with three proposed solutions in how to deal with the increasingly troublesome occurrence.

The first proposed option was to prioritise the announcements between operators. However, it was decided by the team that due to the frequency of announcements to be played, it was nearly impossible to prioritise the announcements without compromising to other types of announcements such as safety or track works.

The second proposed idea was to install a physical barrier in the middle of the island platform to block the sound spilling over to the other platform. However, since there was a lot of devices already installed along the platforms, and Chatswood is categorised as an Emergency Warning & Intercommunication System (EWIS) station requiring a full fi re assessment before adding new materials or devices to the platforms, the idea was dropped.

The third option, involving sophisticated sound isolating technology, was the one that eventually won out, says Charles Chan, an audio services manager at Sydney Trains who led design and project management on the project alongside colleague Nixon Edward.

“Chatswood Station consists of two island platforms: Platform 1 & 2 and Platform 3 & 4,” Chan says. “Platform 1 and Platform 4 are operated by Sydney Trains where Platform 2 and 3 are operated by Sydney Metro. Both operators are required to play the announcements in accordance to their individual schedule.

“Acoustic modelling and demonstration were conducted with a positive outcome. Therefore, it was decided to proceed with a new Digital Array Speaker solution to meet the business and operational needs for both operators.”

tm stagetec systems settled on Plane Array CS-90 speakers from subsidiary EDC Acoustics, which led distribution and system design integration on the project. EDC had to program the PA systems to a very narrow radiation pattern in the horizontal plane so that they could be steered to the desired target area and maintain that focus over a wide bandwidth. The CS-90 speakers, being tall, narrow column-style speakers, were especially well suited to this task.

The CS-90s could utilise computer-controlled wavefront control in 3D, allowing users to direct and shape wave fronts to meet the needs of the task at hand, in this case to isolate the sound output to a particular island without the risk of overlap from an announcement on a different platform. This not only provided a benefit for the commuters but would help to avoid noise leaking to other areas outside of the station as well.

It was a challenging project for EDC, according to David Connor, the audio and electroacoustic designer charged with leading the acoustic modelling side of the project.

“This was a psychoacoustic challenge as well as a technical challenge because the other platform announcements have meaning and further disrupt the brain when compared to incoherent noise,” he says.

“Delivering this level of isolation in such a short distance is a difficult task that was further compounded by secondary sound arrivals in the form of reflections, echoes and reverberation. In order to achieve the objectives, the loudspeakers had to be focussed very specifically.”

The setup was designed so that the difference in total sound level between the two PA system announcements would be more than 15 decibels (dB) in a range between 250 hertz and 8 kilohertz.

These figures were chosen as they were generally considered to deliver the minimum headroom required to deliver significant intelligibility in the presence of noise, according to Connor.

Acoustic echo cancellation and ambient noise systems were also installed to allow automatic, real-time level adjustment at each individual platform to ensure that passengers could still hear announcements while waiting for either train or metro services.

“The design solution performance was predicted with the goal of more than 15 decibels only being realisable from 630 hertz to 4 kilohertz,” Connor explains. “Less than 10 decibels could be achieved from 400 Hz to 8 kHz.

After much analysis, this was deemed to be the best practical result possible, and the installation proceeded. Since the speaker systems were implemented at Chatswood earlier this year, tm stagetec systems, Sydney Trains, and Sydney Metro have all received significant positive feedback.

“After the system was commissioned the realworld performance was measured by creating a graph comparing the design predictions with the real-world measurements that found they were very similar,” Connor explains. “Hats off to science.”

Digital Rail experts to talk emerging tech, key trends

With the increasing demand for faster, reliable and state-of-the-art rail services, it’s no wonder major railway organisations and authorities across the country are harnessing technology innovation that will transform rail experiences for the future.

Some of rail’s key digital systems, data and analytics experts will gather to discuss key trends and new technologies in the digital rail sector, in Sydney from August 26 to 28 at the Digital Rail 2019 conference.

A full agenda and brochure have been released for the event, which is being run by IQPC Australia.

Speakers include:

  • Gerald Schinagl, Digital Innovation Manager, OBB (Austrian Federal Railways)
  • Chris Bennetts, Executive Director, Digital Products & Services, Customer Services, Transport for NSW
  • Sarah Capstick, Executive Director (Transition) NGTS Project, Department of Transport and Main Roads QLD
  • Warwick Talbot, Deputy Executive Director, Engineering & System Integrity, Sydney Trains
  • Paul Davies, Communication & Sustainability Manager, Northwest Rapid Transit
  • Ryan Townsendd, Manager, Digital Engineering, Sydney Metro
  • Simon Sinnott, Systems Engineering Manager, Metro Trains Melbourne
  • Stephen Lemon, Digital Systems Program Director, Transport for NSW
  • Helen Williams, Director, Rail Systems Development, Transport for NSW
  • Yvie Hough, Product and User Experience Manager, TrackSense
  • Tiago Pinto, WW Transport Solution Architect, Huawei Transport Solutions Group
  • Anthony Loui, Senior Transportation Planning Manager Metro Operations Liaison & Planning, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro)
  • Sudath Amaratunga, Technical Manager – Precincts & Infrastructure, Infrastructure & Services, Transport for NSW
  • Simon Vaux, Director Digital Engineering, Infrastructure & Services, Transport for NSW
  • Laura Stewart, Design to Innovate Partner, Aurecon
  • Jeroen Weimar, Chief Executive Officer, Public Transport Victoria
  • Professor Graham Currie, Director of Monash Infrastructure, Chair of Public Transport, Professor in Transport Engineering, Monash University

For tickets and more information, click here.

Rolling railway maintenance to a digital destination

In the rail industry time is valuable currency. SKF’s latest digital innovation is proven to extend maintenance levels and keep rolling stock rolling as much as possible.

Condition-based maintenance (CBM), which involves measuring and monitoring parameters such as vibration and temperature to spot anomalies at an early stage, has been applied for a long time in many industries. The monitoring aspect is commonly known as conditioning monitoring.

Historically, the rail industry’s maintenance regime is to service trains on a time or mileage basis. Though this approach has been used successfully for many years, it does not take account of whether parts actually need replacing.

Inspection can only take place when trains aren’t running, and maintenance actions require rollingstock to be taken out of service, or lines to be closed for extended periods.

As such, maintenance costs remain one of the biggest concerns for the industry, due to aging train fleets and the increasing need for train availability.

Adoption of CBM is steadily growing thanks to significant innovations and the availability of technology. Digitalisation is making a major difference towards how maintenance is executed and can enable the customer to extend
maintenance intervals. This can have beneficial effects on, for example, train availability.

The less time rollingstock spends in maintenance, the more time it can spend carrying passengers or cargo – this is important at a time when the sector is seeing increased pressures on demand. It can also help with reducing lifecycle costs and inventory management of spare parts, due to the early warnings provided by condition monitoring of any risks and possibilities of incidents.

SKF combined CBM with its knowledge in bearings and other components and developed an entirely rail-focused version of its highly successful Multilog IMx platform. This latest innovation combines rolling stock and track condition monitoring in a single, easily customised solution.

The next step in train digitalisation

Multilog IMx-Rail is a multi-channel, on-line condition monitoring system based on new rail approved components. It is the next step in train digitalisation, allowing operators to implement condition-based maintenance that can help achieve goals such as TCO reduction, higher availability, the avoidance of unplanned stoppages and longer maintenance intervals.

Available for OEM installation and as a retrofit solution, the Multilog IMx-Rail offers advance warning of rolling stock rotating part issues on wheel bearings, gearboxes and motors, as well as data collection from many other components. The system can also provide a track health map with line faults located, identified and recorded with market-leading accuracy.

The Multilog IMx-Rail system can also be integrated easily with SKF’s Cloud services for data storage, data sharing and for SKF Remote Diagnostic Services. Its versatility, combined with SKF’s expertise at monitoring rotating components across many industries, enables the quick analysis and prioritisation of any planned rolling stock maintenance.

Proven on the tracks

Multilog IMx-Rail is already demonstrating its capabilities in the field. To provide a sense of how the system typically works, on a standard commercial train, for example, the self-contained package of sensors and electronics is mounted onto one of the train’s bogies, under a carriage.

In everyday operation, the unit measures and records acceleration and vibration signals, it then processes this data and transmits all the information wirelessly to a back-office collection point, where reported information can trigger required actions.

Next, a dedicated software system, also provided by SKF, uses smart algorithms to analyse the sensor’s data, along with information on the train’s location and operating conditions. The software system, called “@ptitude Observer”, identifies, locates and accurately records rail track abnormalities that might generate wear or damage to the train’s wheels, passenger discomfort, or noise on particular parts of the track. Maintenance staff can then use that information to trigger a more detailed inspection of the area of track identified.

Multilog IMx-Rail doesn’t only help operators understand the condition of wheels and track. The system is also designed to identify vibrations caused by other problems on the train, such as faulty bearings. Operators around the world are already using this approach to avoid breakdowns and optimise their rolling stock maintenance schedules.

As rail traffic increases, the role of digitalisation and condition monitoring solutions, such as the Multilog IMx-Rail, will become increasingly more important in boosting rolling stock efficiency and keeping trains on track.

Uber app to add Sydney public transport

Sydney will become the first city in the southern hemisphere to have its public transport integrated into popular ridesharing app Uber.

NSW transport minister Andrew Constance on July 30 said Transport for NSW would collaborate with the ridesharing company to encourage more people out of their cars and onto the public transport network.

“We welcome the decision by Uber to choose Sydney as the first city in the southern hemisphere to benefit from up to date public transport information within its ride sharing app,” Constance said.

“This collaboration will help people make better decisions on how to get around the city and reduce congestion on our roads.

“When customers enter their destination in the Uber app they’ll see ‘public transport’ as an option. Nearby transport hubs, timetable and pricing information will be displayed on the screen of their smart phone, making them even more aware of the alternative options to using a car.”

The app will include real time departure and arrival times for public transport, and walking directions to and from the stops involved.

Uber Australia and New Zealand’s head of cities Kate Stannett said the company was looking beyond ridesharing with the view of becoming a true transport platform.

“We want to help people replace their private car with their phone,” Stannett said.

“To do this people need an alternative that is faster, easier and cheaper than owning your own car.

“An integrated platform of different transport options aims to reduce congestion on our roads. This is good for everyone, including rideshare drivers and riders using the Uber app.”

Transport for NSW said it is also working with Uber to provide ticketing and payment functionality within the Uber app.

A dessan for life

Drawing on many years of systems integration experience within signalling technology, Hitachi Information Control Systems Europe (HICSE) has added a new feather to the cap of its dessan Rail product suite. HICSE’s dessan Rail products, developed to improve efficiency, safety and performance, now includes a new integration, dessan Design.

Early scheme plan drawings can be edited and created by clicking and dropping objects from a pre-existing library of signalling components. This allows users to design and edit in real time, significantly speeding up decision making related to stakeholder engagement and design optimisation.

dessan Design has been developed with the principles of intelligent design in mind to make things easier for track designers in the earliest stages of signalling design.

The program can monitor the validity of a track diagram while it is being drawn, while warning icons are able to pop up and alert the user with an error description on the diagram in case there are any issues in the design.

The ability to automatically check for basic errors in this way greatly reduces potential reworking during later design stages. dessan Design also provides several advanced scalability options that allow ongoing development without the need for specialist third-party technology.

“Creating the right environment was essential to ensure easy adoption,” says Denise Watkins, sales manager at HICSE. “The objective was to use the latest technology to design a highly intuitive, userfriendly tool with a modern interface that was simple to deploy globally.”

User experience (UX) was another central tenet of dessan Design’s creation. To understand what was important to users when using the software, Hitachi utilised performance research from UK-based client Network Rail. dessan Design can be used on platforms that use valid Standard Data Exchange Format (SDEF) files, with other data export formats also being available. This allows for deployment across a wide range of users in both the UK and international rail signalling supply chain, helping both rail companies and passengers.

dessan Design has so far received positive feedback from a soft launch at the Railtex exposition in the UK, though it is still too early to provide a full assessment of the potential scope of the product’s integrational impact on the dessan Rail suite as a whole.

HICSE also specialises in high-fidelity simulation which can replicate the signalling infrastructure and operations of any part of the rail network.

“Design decisions and/or errors can be difficult and costly to amend on a live railway. So before committing to or investing in new or altered infrastructure it makes sense to use this type of technology to fully test the integrity of a design in a virtual environment, especially when engineering and operational options are being considered,” says Watkins.

A good example of the effectiveness of dessan Rail software was its use on the major £200 million ($362 million) re-signalling project to improve the railway in and around Derby station, UK. HICSE was engaged by Network Rail to produce a detailed micro simulation model for the planned rail infrastructure using dessan Model.

“Although the station itself was modernised in 2013, the track layout had not been improved for nearly 50 years and the signalling had not been comprehensively upgraded since the 1960s,” Watkins says. “During this time, the number of passengers travelling through Derby has more than doubled.” “It was the biggest investment and improvement program at Derby for decades and now provides better journeys for thousands of passengers every year.”

The project involved the creation of five design options that could be demonstrated to companies in real time (including perturbed operations).

According to Steve Taylor, Network Rail Senior Project Engineer for the remodelling project, this on-the-fly flexibility has proven essential for stakeholder meetings.

“I believe without this simulation tool the Derby remodelling would be fully reliant on simpler and retrospective modelling much later in the design process,” he says. “Therefore, the tool enabled the project to demonstrate to the sponsor value for money much earlier.”

Overall, HICSE has high hopes that dessan Design will bring overall improvements to the efficiency and accuracy of signalling project design, with future scope for automated design and testing. “As rail transport demand continues to expand worldwide, it is increasingly important to boost performance levels,” concludes Watkins.

A better bet for balise

Pandrol (Vortok) has developed a balise mount system that could change the game for on-track install times. Rail Express speaks with Pandrol’s Craig Mulvay.

Balise are an important component of modern rail signalling technology and a familiar sight on the rail track.

Craig Mulvay, a technical and commercial development manager at rail track systems specialist Pandrol (Vortok) explains that balise serve primarily as a beacon on European train control systems (ETCS) that can accurately provide a train’s location (along with other data) through communication with trainborne receivers.

It is important that balise be correctly and securely fitted to rail tracks due to the need for accurate positioning and the safety critical data balise transmit. The Pandrol (Vortok) Balise Mount Systems (BMS) are commonly installed as mechanical fasteners for ECTS balise but can also be used to mount Communications-based Train Control (CBTC) transponders as well (along with the capability to be adapted to any signalling technology).

Traditionally, balise-fitting installations have been considered a rather laborious process, requiring either the removal of ballast from around sleepers or sleeper drilling and anchoring, processes that can risk damage to sleepers and cost more money down the line.

The Pandrol (Vortok) BMS is set to aid this with a duo of products designed to facilitate easier balise installations in a fraction of the time.

The BMS On Sleeper beam and BMS Clamp Beam hold several benefits for both installers and end users. For one, the integrity of the sleepers is maintained since the beams do not require any drilling with power tools to be fit balise into position. Instead, installation can be facilitated cleanly using commercially available hand tools. This reduces installation and removal periods significantly, with Pandrol (Vortok) estimating ontrack times of less than two minutes per beam for the On Sleeper type beams. This in turn improves project management flexibility for operators as well.


Pandrol’s new Double Clamp Balise Mount System (BMS). Top photo is the On Sleeper BMS with Fastclip fastening system.


The installation is so quick that it can also help to reduce (or even entirely eliminate) the need for track possession in brown field sites.

Balise positioning being set by design rather than the competence level of the installer significantly reducing the risk of read errors between balise and receiver.

“Normally the procedure would require track position as you would not be able to do the job within traffic,” Mulvay explains. “In addition, getting power tools on site adds time and equipment liability.”

The products are suitable for fitting balise from several different manufacturers, including Bombardier, Siemens, Hitachi and Alstom.

The On Sleeper Beams use the existing rail fastening as an attachment point and are capable of interfacing with all major fastening systems, such as Pandrol’s own e-clip, Fastclip and Nabla, as well as Schwihag, Vossloh, K-Plates, Delkor and directly to timber sleepers. This helps to avoid the requirement for installation of additional components that could require training or added time for installs.

For example on the E-Clip system; “Very simple hand tools can be used to extract the e-clip and equally put it back in – we use the heel load (the reactionary load) of the e-clip to hold down our beam,” says Mulvay. “We take the clip out with the hand tool, get the beam in position and reinstall the clips.”

The biggest advantage of positioning the balise over the sleeper is that the bed between the sleepers can remain unoccupied, which is handy for allowing automatic railway maintenance applications such as ballast consolidation machines to maintain access to the space between the sleepers.

Clamp beams, by contrast, are placed between sleepers and are secured to track via mechanical clamping to the underside of the running rail foot and are available in single or double clamp beam formations.

Mulvay explains that the development of the double clamp beam variant came about as a response to the needs of high-speed rail lines in Germany.

“The development of double clamp beams originated in Germany from a phenomenon known as ‘ice bombs’ or ‘ice shedding’”, Mulvay says.

“Ice shedding can become a more common as trains travel through tunnels where the environment is a bit warmer, chunks of ice that have built up on the trains can melt,” he explains. “When they are exposed to the sudden pressure change on exiting a tunnel, those big chunks of ice can shed from the train, so in Germany (among other countries) they have a requirement that all equipment mounted on track be required to withstand the impact of these ice strikes. It proved quite the challenge in terms of engineering.”

The Pandrol (Vortok) team tested the strength of the single clamp beam by hitting it with a 4kg billet of ice at 176km/h, which was suitable for slow- and standard-speed tracks, but insufficient for high-speed rail, which led to the development of a double clamp system capable of withstanding greater punishment of up to 330km/h strikes.

The BMS products build on Pandrol’s 20 years of equipment mounting experience dating back to the launch of the original Vortok Train Protection and Warning System (TPWS) in the year 2000.

The company’s innovations on the TPWS, which served as something of a progenitor of Pandrol (Vortok) modern BMS systems, included the use of track fasteners as a fixing point and pultruded fibreglass as a structural material to support the signalling asset.

TPWS innovated in its the use of pultruded fibreglass, which was considered an excellent material for use on the railway in terms of its strength-to-weight ratio, and its ability to withstand the often harsh environments of the railway. The natural electrical isolation properties of the material also ensure existing track circuit signalling technology is unimpeded.


The Vortok Train Protection and Warning System (TPWS).


The company then followed up its initial success on the TPWS with its first official BMS, the H-Frame, followed by the heavy-duty Automatic Warning System (AWS) Rapid Fit Frame, capable of carrying up to three AWS magnets of over 70kg each. Pandrol (Vortok)’s experience with the development of mounting systems has helped to inform the design decisions on the on sleeper and clamp beam.


The Automatic Warning System (AWS) Rapid Fit Frame.