Graffiti costs slashed with new technologies

Graffiti costs rail operators and local governments tens of millions of dollars each year, not only in clean-up costs, but also through thousands of man hours spent on policing and security which rarely yields material results.

David Black, GM and deployment specialist for technology firm Rapid Apprehension Systems (RAS), insists there is a better way forward for cities and infrastructure stuck in the rut of simply removing graffiti and hoping to catch offenders with security and police patrols.

The active life cycle for a typical graffiti offender is four years. On average, the actions of that individual will cost a city or operator $12,000 every year. RAS estimates just 3 per cent of average ‘top 20’ offenders in a given jurisdiction will be stopped without an excessive waste of police resources.

These factors are amplified in the transport space. Speaking from more than 15 years of experience taking on graffiti vandals, Black says vandals who target the transit network are typically hardened, malicious, and well established.

“Cutting their teeth within their local city for many years, they tend to gravitate to rail and road assets, as they look for bigger targets that deliver a ‘rush’ that other targets no longer give them,” Black explains.

“For many offenders, attacking long stretches of sound barriers across road and rail networks is a favoured pastime, as they realise in many cases their work will remain for many months, or even years.”

Black explains that RAS has grown over time in its role as an expert advisor on graffiti, working with cities to build a database of more than 800,000 pieces of graffiti, and developing a strategy of social media tracking on offenders, which has resulted in dozens of live apprehensions.

“About ten years ago we started to have the idea of developing a range of portable equipment which we could actually deploy live-to-site to detect offenders as they off end. The first unit started off the size of a bread box, and over the year’s they’ve shrunk and become faster with extended abilities in zero light scenarios.”

So far RAS’s technology of sensors, cameras and other devices has helped catch more than 300 offenders in the act.

“It’s simply a matter of shifting thinking of how to approach such an issue where existing methods are failing to deliver solid cost-effective results,” Black says. “It’s all about taking the fight to the offenders. Our tools slash the need for thousands of wasted man hours patrolling, sitting off a site, or laying in wait. The equipment does the leg work saving thousands and delivering results.”

A city or operator’s typical network surveillance regime will rely on CCTV.

“The problem with CCTV is you need to have an offender doing what he’s doing, practically 10 feet from the camera, so you can get a good shot for identification – if you know him – or to circulate and hopefully catch him down the track. The success rate is pretty small.

“Our angle is to get teams on site when the offenders are still there.

RAS has worked with dozens of clients, performing more than 80 whole-of-city, rail network field audits, harvesting data and providing analysis to enable the deployment of its smart technology. Once a database has been built and RAS has helped established a top 50 wanted offender list, the company can best determine prime locations for each to be apprehended live on site.

“Whether a client has their own law enforcement analysts, our field work delivers a solid base line to know exactly who the worst offenders are and where we can trigger multiple live apprehensions.”

Micro thermal systems

RAS says its patented range of micro thermal systems has evolved over the past decade to a point where end users are able to deploy them to tackle a range of issues and trigger live attendance arrests of their worst serial offenders or crews.

The technology has been developed with a focus on size, cost, return on investment, range and successful apprehensions.

“Whether it’s a remote section of noise wall, a rail siding or other asset location, the new micro thermal set is unbeatable for what it delivers,” he says.

“We use our equipment in the field every day for all crime types including arson, graffiti, illegal dumping, drug cropping and a host of other issues,” Black says.

Unlike traditional portable cameras, RAS’s micro thermal system needs no ambient or infrared light source. Once triggered, the deployed units have the ability to highlight an unquestionable human figure clearly at 150 metres, and provide live images and video grabs in under 30 seconds to a handset or a traditional control room.

The camera can be triggered by a number of different devices which can be surreptitiously positioned alongside the targeted site.

RAS’s new Cyclops sensors are designed to be small and covert, and allow a linear trigger for the camera with a range of up to 200 metres with one set, or up to 800 metres using pairing sensors. This allows a temporary or semi-permanent deployment at a rail siding as an example where access land or fence lines are breached. A literal forcefield can be set up surrounding a stabled train set to allow for activation of the Micro thermal units.

“All of our new systems are even smaller than previous models, are subterranean for easy burial and disguise and can be deployed rapidly.

“Our sensor options triggering the Micro thermal can be 170 metres from the camera allowing valuable minutes for local law enforcement or others to be aware even before offenders have reached their target. This design allows the portable equipment to be 50 or 100 metres from the offenders ensuring the gear is undiscovered while doing its job successfully.”

A more practical solution for operators and cities

The nature of RAS’s methodology means network operators can engage determinedly with their graffiti challenge – but can also welcome adjacent local law enforcement into the fold.

“Adjacent cities are commonly affected by the same shared offenders to the network operators leading to expanded prosecutions,” Black explains. “We have witnessed many successful arrests and prosecutions for hundreds of incidents across multiple victim groups where cohesive collaborations are in play.”

Whether a client wishes to work on a self deployment model or if they wish to utilise RAS’s expansive tracking and deployment services, Black says the outcomes are clear.

“Being designers and makers of the systems we can offer tailoring for specific sites or needs,” he says. “Training is also possible on the technology and operation through to field deployment types, hide designs and monitoring.”

When considering the annual clean-up bill of graffiti and the on-costs for any network operator, outstanding results are often found by thinking outside traditional methods and technologies, Black says.

“Complementing existing technologies in place, our systems will deliver results at the next level in the most remote and darkest locations, facilitating live apprehensions of your worst offenders.”

For a no obligation discussion, contact the team at

Saffioti orders review of Huawei deal: Report

WA will reportedly review a $136 million rail communications deal awarded to a Huawei joint venture in 2018, after the United States accused Huawei of stealing American technology in charges levelled this week.

According to a report from The West Australian on Wednesday, state transport minister Rita Saffioti told the paper a review was needed to ensure Huawei is capable of delivering its end of the contract. “The Public Transport Authority is currently seeking advice from the contractor regarding any potential impacts of these risks on the delivery of the project,” Saffioti was quoted.

A joint venture of Huawei and UGL was awarded the $136 million contract to build and maintain digital radio systems for voice and data across Perth’s rail network in July 2018. The project is due for completion in 2021.

On Monday the US Department of Justice unsealed a 13-count indictment alleging a pair of Huawei entities stole American technology, engaged in wire fraud and obstructed justice. The indictment followed the arrest of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou in Canada, at the request of the United States, on December 1, 2018.

“The charges unsealed today clearly allege that Huawei intentionally conspired to steal the intellectual property of an American company in an attempt to undermine the free and fair global marketplace,” FBI director Christopher Wray said. “This indictment shines a bright light on Huawei’s flagrant abuse of the law – especially its efforts to steal valuable intellectual property from T-Mobile to gain unfair advantage in the global marketplace.”

The charges allege Huawei of stealing a phone-testing robot known as ‘Tappy’ from US telecommunications giant T-Mobile. The indictment alleges Huawei engineers violated confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements by taking photos and measurements of ‘Tappy’ and, in one alleged instance, stealing a piece of the robot so it could be replicated.

In an official statement, Huawei Australia said it was disappointed to learn of the charges. “The Company denies that it or its subsidiary or affiliate have committed any of the asserted violations of US law set forth in each of the indictments, is not aware of any wrongdoing by Ms. Meng, and believes the US courts will ultimately reach the same conclusion.”

Huawei’s local chairman John Lord also expressed disappointment and “frustration” to the Australian Financial Review this week, saying Huawei had been swept up in anti-China sentiment in the US.

When Huawei won the Perth rail communications deal in July last year, Lord said it reinforced the company’s long-term investment focus in the Australian market. “We thank the PTA for the trust they have placed in Huawei,” Lord said in July 2018. “We are modernising the Australian transportation sector through digital technologies developed for the global market.”

Melbourne Tram. Photo:

Victorians to test myki ticketing on smart phones

Roughly 4,000 commuters are being sought to test Melbourne’s myki ticketing system on their smart phones.

Victorian public transport minister Melissa Horne on Sunday said a first phase trial with a limited, industry-based test group of users had been successful, and now the technology could be rolled out to a larger group of testers.

The rollout will allow commuters to use their smartphone as their contactless payment device, rather than a standard contactless myki card.

“It’s so exciting to see this cutting-edge technology make the next step – with thousands of passengers getting a chance to trial mobile myki,” Horne said.

“This is a great opportunity for passengers to help us shape the next generation of transport ticketing. We’re building a smarter, more reliable public transport network for Victoria.”

The myki ticketing system facilitates more than 700 million transactions each year.

Interested commuters can register their interest at Public Transport Victoria’s website.

Musk estimates $1bn for Blue Mountains tunnel

Technology entrepreneur Elon Musk says his Boring Company transport loop system could deliver a 50-kilometre underground transit system beneath the Blue Mountains west of Sydney for roughly US$1 billion.

Asked by Independent NSW MP Jeremy Buckingham on Wednesday, the Tesla founder tweeted his back-of-the-envelope costings for a tunnel Buckingham said would “open up the west of our state” and help a city which is “choking with traffic”.

“About $15M/km for a two way high speed transit, so probably around $750M plus maybe $50M/station,” Musk said on Wednesday night.

Buckingham, an Independent since quitting the Greens in December 2018, sits in the NSW Upper House and resides on the state’s Mid North Coast.

“Sounds like a bargain,” Buckingham said of Musk’s figures. “Could be a game changer to go under the Blue Mountains with a modern link between Sydney and the west. I’ll raise it with the Premier @GladysB other colleagues, the community, and get back to you.”

Buckingham subsequently tweeted a potential route for the tunnel, running from Penrith to just south of Lithgow.


Graphic: Twitter / Jeremy Buckingham MP


The Boring Company, founded by Musk in 2016, recently debuted its 1.8-kilometre Boring Test Tunnel, featuring retractable wheels Musk says turn a car “into a rail-guided train and back again”.


Photo: The Boring Company


The test tunnel is capable of moving vehicles at roughly 120km/h, according to Musk’s statements to the media, but he has said he wants to see speeds of up to 250km/h, at a rate of 4,000 vehicles per hour.

“A variety of vehicles, like normal roads, from a small car to a densely seated bus,” Musk detailed on December 20. “If all vehicles were densely seated buses, throughput in excess of 100,000 people per hour per lane is possible, but better to offer a range of vehicles and let people decide what makes them happy.”

Musk made headlines in 2017 when he offered to help solve South Australia’s energy woes by building a 100MW energy storage facility within 100 days, or it would be free. Tesla subsequently delivered the battery at a reported cost of $90 million.

Millionth contactless bank card trip taken in Sydney

More than one million trips have already been made using contactless credit or debit card payment in New South Wales, 49 days after the service was rolled out to heavy rail services in November 2018.

The latest progression of the Opal ticketing system in Sydney and the wider Transport for NSW network, contactless credit and debit card payments were first trialled on ferry services last year.

In November the capability was enabled across the Sydney Trains and NSW TrainLink networks.

Just 49 days after that, the millionth contactless bank card trip was taken – by a commuter travelling between the domestic and international airports on Monday, January 14.

Transport and infrastructure minister Andrew Constance said there had been a significant uptake in contactless payments since the capability was expanded to heavy rail.

“Fares purchased through contactless payments have grown strongly payments have grown strongly since the trial expanded to our city and regional train services in November,” Constance said.

“Over the Christmas and New Year period contactless payments jumped by about 20 per cent a week. This convenient option is proving to be a real hit with tourists and visitors, with uptake at the airport stations twice that of other parts of the rail network.”

Tourism and Transport Forum chief executive Margy Osmond said compatibility of contactless bank card payments across the transport network was “an absolute winner” from the tourism industry’s point of view.

“The modern traveller expects great public transport which is easy to use and convenient,” Osmond said.

“Contactless is a fantastic option for foreign and domestic visitors to Sydney and encourages them to use our great public transport network and stay off the roads.”

Constance said there were no plans to eliminate Opal cards.

“Opal won’t be going anywhere and is still the most affordable way to pay fares,” he said. “This trial is about our Government providing greater flexibility and convenience.”

Digitisation adds new dimension to track maintenance

Specialty machine supplier Plasser Australia outlines its contribution to a “new era” in track construction and maintenance.

Plasser is using the latest in sensor and communications technology to give its customers direct access to machine data.

Through the company’s PlasserDatamatic 2.0 module, operators can monitor their machine through a desktop, smartphone or tablet, with live information covering the location and condition of the machine, the operations it is performing, and the condition of the track below it.

“The industry is moving towards data collection, and PlasserDatamatic fills this purpose,” Plasser Australia tells Rail Express. “For us, the next step was to connect a modem to the machine, and over the GSM network, analyse this data from afar.

“You can have engineers sitting in offices, rather than on machines, collecting data. This is ideally suited to perform preventative maintenance – predictive maintenance. The system also helps minimise downtime: If you have a fault, you can get online and pinpoint what the issue is.”

Plasser’s technology allows a wide range of factors to be measured, and reported back to base constantly.

The PlasserDatamatic program provides, in a single point of access:

  • Geo fence: a machine’s area of application can be defined, and when the it reaches or leaves this boundary, a message can be triggered. This system can be used to tell schedulers whether a project is on schedule or not.
  • Last events: A machine’s log entries are accessible and retraceable for one week.
  • Integrated user help: All data on the machine is available via one access point. Operating instructions are stored in PlasserDatamatic.
  • Event Wiki: Comments function for self-help. Recurring entries can be documented. Comments provide comprehensive help, independent of a single operator.
  • Dashboards for personalised configuration: Every user selects the machine parameters in the dashboard and creates a customised display.
  • Servicing: Reports of the MachineMaintenanceGuide (MMG) can be accessed centrally, including photos, check lists, notes and even audio files.

Plasser says the system can keep operators abreast of “anything from engine oil pressure, to battery voltage, right through to the condition of your hydraulic oil”.

From a production perspective, measuring systems can be fitted as means of increasing productivity.

“Operators are under increasing pressure to reduce maintenance costs and increase utilisation of the track occupation windows, as this increased track availability makes the railway competitive with other modes of transportation.”

Plasser says its machine-enabled measuring and monitoring can generate smart data, and a virtual track, which allows maintenance to be more efficient. There are many benefits to be gained from such systems.

“The quality of the works performed can be immediately inspected by the customer,” the company says. “The number of people in the danger zone is reduced. Works can be inspected from an office environment.

“The combination of trends and intelligent assessment methods makes it possible to analyse and recommend predictive maintenance actions for the track infrastructure.”

The wide reach of Plasser machines and data collected around the globe means the company is constantly able to improve its off ering to customers.

“If we receive information from a number of operators and see that there is a trend forming in one particular piece of equipment or system, then we can start looking at the potential cause of that, and get to a root analysis,” the company explains.

This information is also helping Plasser in developing new and improved products. As an analogy, “when you take a modern car to be serviced, the OEM can connect to the vehicle with a laptop, analyse the data if something has failed, see when it failed, and diagnose the probable causes as to why it failed”.

“This is an industry-wide movement, and what we’re off ering our customers is right at the forefront of this progress.”


Rio deems AutoHaul deployed on Pilbara network

Mining giant Rio Tinto says its AutoHaul autonomous train project is now fully deployed in WA’s Pilbara region.

The company has for some time been working on making its mine-to-port iron ore railway fully autonomous, and made great strides in 2018 with the first loaded journey made in July.

Rio Tinto Iron Ore managing director of rail, port and core services Ivan Vella said with more than 1 million kilometres now travelled autonomously, AutoHaul had demonstrated it could move product in a controlled and safe manner.

“The safe and successful deployment of AutoHaul across our network is a strong reflection of the pioneering spirit inside Rio Tinto,” Vella said. “It’s been a challenging journey to automate a rail network fo this size and scale in a remote location like the Pilbara.”

Rio says it will continue to refine AutoHaul operations in coming months.

KiwiRail providing live data for GDP tracking platform

New Zealand operator KiwiRail says real-time reporting on freight volumes and movements will inform a live economic growth tracker being launched by Massey University.

KiwiRail says it will be providing the data to GDPLive, a tracking system launched on December 17 by the university.

KiwiRail Group general manager for sales and commercial, Alan Piper, said the operator moves 18 million tonnes of freight each year, representing roughly 16 per cent of the country’s freight task.

“As a critical part of New Zealand’s freight transport network, KiwiRail is able to provide data that helps provide a picture of how our economy is performing,” Piper said.

“We transport around 25% of New Zealand’s exports so we’re a vital part of the bigger picture being presented by this initiative, which is thought to be the first of its kind in the world.”

The GDPLive system is designed to use machine-learning algorithms and live data sources, to give the user an estimate of how the economy is performing on a daily basis.

Users can view historic data, current national and regional GDP figures and forecasts, as well as getting an overview of the performance of a large range of industry sectors.

Along with KiwiRail, the platform is being informed by payment transaction data, container movements through Ports of Auckland and Ports of Tauranga, traffic flows, immigration and import/export data.

Sydney Trains digital integration deal signed

Transport for NSW has announced the signing of a $16 million contract to help define and delivery Sydney Trains’ Digital Systems program.

Network Rail Consulting has been awarded the System Integrator contract, and will bring experience from delivering similar systems on Thameslink and on the Madrid suburban network, Transport said on Monday.

The program will replace trackside signalling equipment with the latest European Train Control System (ETCS) Level 2 technology, implement Automatic Train Operation to assist drivers in providing faster and more consistent journeys, and introduce a Traffic Management System for more effective incident management and service regulation across the network.

As the program’s System Integrator, Network Rail will lead collaboration with key partners in the Digital Systems Program, part of the NSW Government’s $880 million investment in technology improvements to modernise the Sydney Trains network.

Digital Systems will be delivered in stages with services coming online progressively from the early 2020s, Transport for NSW said.

Aussie-developed rapid deployment trolley already on Melbourne Metro

Rail equipment manufacturer and distributor Melvelle Equipment has developed a cutting-edge rapid deployment rail trolley, manufactured in Australia and already in use on the busy Melbourne Metro network.

The self-propelled trolley can travel up to 100 kilometres with a full payload of 700 kilograms. At its maximum speed, it can travel up to 80 kilometres.

Despite this impressive range, the machine is just 160 kilograms including batteries, and can be assembled by two people in just three minutes, with no tools required. Four people can assemble the machine in just two minutes.

The machine can be removed from the track in three minutes by two people, or as little as 90 seconds by four people. Its heaviest component weighs just 40 kilograms.

The Melvelle team of five engineers worked for 18 months on the design. Melvelle Equipment CEO Andrew Melvelle tells Rail Express the trolley, patent pending, is designed to be sophisticated yet uncomplicated.

“The original brief was from Sydney Trains, who wanted a lightweight trolley that could be folded up and put in the back of a ute, with a total range of 20 kilometres at 10km/hr, with fast assembly and disassembly,” he says.

With final approvals still underway for Sydney Trains, the first units of the trolley were actually delivered to Melbourne Metro in March 2018.

“The Level Crossing Removal Authority approached us regarding the need to have emergency response vehicles at every train station for the overhead [skyrail] system, because you can’t drive a truck up there,” Melvelle explains.

“The machine is stored at the stations, and if there’s an emergency the responders can wheel it out of the storage area, set it up on track, and travel down the track to the emergency, bringing all their service gear – for example a stretcher – and their people.”



The machine’s chassis is designed for multi-gauge applications, and platforms are designed specifically for the gauge the machine is being operated on. Safety efficiency is at the forefront of the design.

Hand throttle via joystick including horn, traction control, regenerative braking, dead-man pedal, emergency brakes, and full interlocking of all parts of the assembly, meaning if a wheel or a handrail is not correctly installed, the trolley will not move and a light panel will display the location of the error. There are two sets of controls on the trolley, but only one joystick, which must be moved by the operator in order to change direction, up or down the railway.

Melvelle says his company plans to export the product, with interest already registered as far away as UAE and England for the system.

“The trolley is designed manufactured in our factory in Newcastle and I it is the lightest and safest trolley on the market,” he says.

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