ARA Smart Rail Route Map report released

The Australasian Rail Association (ARA) has released a report on long-term priorities and actions for the development of digital and telecommunication technologies within the rail industry.

Produced in collaboration with industry, and supported by the Rail Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) and Deakin University, the Smart Rail Route Map provides a 30-year guide for helping the rail industry plan for the rapidly changing technology landscape.

The Smart Rail interim report identifies ten programs, actions and initiatives identified by industry members as high-level priorities for development:

  • Disruption management for passenger rail
  • Customised information services for passenger rail
  • Predictive journey planning techniques for passenger rail
  • Real-time information for freight customers
  • Data sharing across the supply-chain
  • Identify key data requirements for T&MN
  • AI and automation for system management
  • Management for technology legacy systems
  • Up skill the industry
  • Improve safety through advanced technology

Twelve longer-term initiatives have also been mapped out in the report.

ARA CEO Danny Broad said the map provided an overarching framework that will help prepare the rail industry for the surging “technological revolution” in the sector.

“Inherent in this is an understanding of the risks and obstacles that are likely to emerge. In a changing technological paradigm, Smart Rail provides a framework in relation to standardisation, integration and harmonisation,” Broad said.

“Smart Rail was developed by industry, for industry, with over 250 industry representatives involved in its creation. It has been fantastic to witness the high level of industry engagement.”

The Map has been developed using Deakin University’s systems-modelling approach, while the Rail Manufacturing CRC is providing funding under the federal government’s Business Cooperative Research Centres Program.

Rail Manufacturing CRC CEO Stuart Thomson said that the leading role of the industry in developing the Map would help its aims be realised going forward.

“Collaboration of this kind is the first step to ensure the outcomes of Smart Rail are implemented and will add value to Australasia’s rail industry,” Thomson said.

The ARA will be establishing an executive management committee to drive the implementation of the Smart Rail Route Map initiatives.

Implementation of Project i-TRACE under two months away

The Project i-TRACE team is ramping up industry engagement in the final weeks of the year, ahead of the implementation of GS1 standards in 2019.

Project i-TRACE is a joint campaign by the Australasian Railway Association and not-for-profit multinational GS1, to standardise the capture of data across the rail industry, with the view to
improve efficiency, lower costs, and deliver better customer service.

Since it was founded to administer the barcode in 1974, GS1 has developed and maintained a range of symbols and systems aimed at improving the efficiency, safety and visibility of supply chains across both physical and digital channels.

The GS1 Australia rail team will be in Canberra at AusRAIL 2018 to talk about Project i-TRACE and how the implementation of GS1 standards in 2019 will improve asset management in the rail sector.

GS1 has been working closely with the ARA and its board members to communicate to the industry the importance of Project i-TRACE.

AusRAIL delegates will hear from GS1 Australia’s Senior Manager – Freight Logistics and Industrial Sectors, Bonnie Ryan. Ryan will take part in a panel on smart rail on day two of the event, to discuss technologies of the future alongside rail operation and research experts.

As the program move towards implementation in 2019 GS1 expects a pick up in pace.

“Engagement is strong,” Ryan told Rail Express ahead of AusRAIL. “Key suppliers like Siemens, Vossloh, Pandrol, OneSteel and Thermit have started their implementation journeys.”

At a recent Project i-TRACE supplier workshop in Melbourne, Infrastructure Procurement and Inventory Manager from Metro Trains Melbourne, Adam Morley, said “MTM sees these standards and the project as a great benefit for the industry. It will allow us to have a greater control around the quality of the materials that we are using in our network, ensure safety through tracebility of materials based on the barcoding and build stronger partnerships with our industry suppliers.”

At the same workshop, V/Line Inventory Manager Ramesh Reddy said: “In the last two years, we started to look at the types of standards to bring across. GS1 labelling and barcoding is now used to scan and see what sort of product it is.

“We are looking for standardised information from our suppliers so we can trace products from inventory through the network.”

ARA Chief Executive Danny Broad said improvements on how the rail industry traces and tracks assets through their lifecycles is critical to unlocking efficiency and safety improvement, saying: “This is why the Australasian Railway Association is working closely with GS1 Australia to standardise how materials are identified in the value chain through Project i-TRACE.”

For more information about Project i-TRACE, contact Bonnie Ryan, Senior Manager – Trade, Transport & Heavy Industry, GS1 Australia at bonnie.ryan (at) gs1au.org, or Duncan Sheppard, General Manager – Freight & Industry Programs, Australasian Railway Association (ARA) at dsheppard (at) ara.net.au.

Applying tried and tested industrial automation technology to railway systems

Automation technology firm Pilz says control systems from industry are possible options for the modernisation of infrastructure on the network.

Existing signalling and control technology in the rail transport industry, particularly on regional lines, is largely based on classic signal box technology. But Pilz says automation systems like its PSS 4000-R can help to significantly reduce the cost pools that have so far dominated in purchasing, engineering, operation and servicing.

Signal and control solutions in rail transport have so far been largely proprietary: the technologies have been designed, developed and manufactured specifically for use in rail transport.

Normative requirements, project specific features and a limited number of options for standardisation are cost-related factors in today’s applications. Even today, classic relay technology with positive-guided contacts is still widely used in railway and signal engineering.

As part of modernisation measures, however, Pilz says the trend is now towards replacing wearing, cable-intensive hardware with powerful software.

Safety and economy complement each other: given their widespread availability in the industrial environment and the use of standardised and hence proven industrial components, programmable logic controllers (PLCs) such as those used in industry, e.g. for mechanical engineering, are characterised by lower acquisition costs. Software tools simplify and reduce the configuration work, improve diagnostic options and facilitate maintenance and repair.

SIL 4 capability: the automation system

PSS 4000-R Pilz developed the automation system PSS 4000 in accordance with EN 61508 for industrial automation applications. To meet the specific requirements of rail transport, Pilz developed special modules with an –R (Railway) in the type description.

The PSS 4000-R systems are designed to be robust enough to withstand the electromagnetic interference, extreme temperatures and mechanical load that typically occur in a railway environment.

The PSS 4000-R has railway-specific safety approvals as a product feature, making the automation system SIL 4-capable across the whole application.

The rail solution PSS 4000-R comprises a number of function modules: Safe PLCs, I/O devices and various I/O modules for safety and automation functions are available as hardware components.

Devices communicate with each other via the real-time Ethernet communication system SafetyNET p, based on 10/100 BASE-T. TCP/IP, Modbus/TCP and UDP raw data, among others, can be exchanged with other devices parallel to the safety protocol. SafetyNET p can be used on standardised network components such as Ethernet switches or DSL modems, thus offering a high degree of freedom in terms of extension and topology. The latest expansion stage also allows the flexible RaSTA protocol to be used.

User-friendly programming

Pilz says its software platform PAS4000 can help operators create, configure and set the parameters for a safety-related application, and download that to the control system.

The software is responsible for creating and processing an application program, which includes reading in the digital and analogue process signals, logical and chronological processing of these signals in the logic unit, outputting digital and analogue process signals to control the process and transferring safety-relevant data via SafetyNET p.

Flexibility allows for variety of applications

Pilz says the openness and flexibility of this system has seen the PSS 4000 automation system used not only in classic mechanical engineering, but in car production, the chemical industry, on cable cars, dockside cranes and sluice systems.

For railways, the certified -R modules can be used in a variety of applications with different safety integrity levels. These include control or monitoring functions in signalling systems, such as monitoring signals at level crossings, control and safety technology or signal box connection, control functions of rolling stock and track laying machinery.

Modernisation during ongoing operation

Pilz says the PSS 4000-R automation can facilitate the staggered modernisation of railway control: measures can be implemented step by step and selectively.

The entire electronic periphery, comprising signalling, control and communication technology as well as the cabling between the control cabinets, remains untouched when the modules are installed, meaning the automation system also fulfils the role of an interface between the old control boxes.

The automation system PSS 4000-R is used in Europe to protect barriered and unbarriered level crossings, handling control and safety functions along the Golden Pass line in Switzerland, for instance, and neuralgic station nodes of the metro system in the Belgian city of Antwerp.

Together with DB Netz and Pilz partner Thales, Pilz has already realised projects for SPZA (memory-programmable central block adaptation) geared towards developing a safe platform for control tasks. The PSS 4000-R is capable of efficiently replacing obsolete relay-based signal box technology.

Contact: R.Stevenson (at) pilz.com.au

Remote control failed prior to Devonport derailment

The remote being used to control a TasRail train stopped working, and its operator was unable to force an emergency stop, before it ran away uncontrolled and was eventually derailed, injuring two bystanders in September.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau on Friday published its preliminary report into the incident, where a TasRail bulk cement service ran away from its loading facility at Railton just prior to 9am on September 21, 2018.

The train, weighing 1,132 tonnes and 220 metres long, travelled roughly 21 kilometres in 23 minutes and was then routed into a dead-end siding in Devonport, where it derailed.

Two bystanders sustained minor injuries from fence debris. The train travelled in a derailed state for roughly 60 metres in a public area beyond the dead-end siding.

 

 

According to the preliminary report into the incident, the train was being controlled at the cement loading facility by its driver from within the facility, via a remote control.

The train consisted of a TR class locomotive, 16 THFY class bulk cement wagons, and a trailing driver’s van.

It operated between the loading facility in Railton and the unloading facility at Devonport in a push-pull configuration, with motive power provided by one locomotive, at either the back or the front of the train, depending on the direction of travel.

The portable remote control operation allows the driver to be situated at the front of the train – be it the locomotive or the driver’s van – regardless of direction. It also allows the driver to control the train from outside, during loading and unloading.

Just prior to the runaway incident, the driver was progressively aligning wagons beneath the cement loading chutes.

“While the last pair of wagons were being aligned, the train came to a stop past the intended stop location,” the Bureau’s preliminary report states.

“The driver recalled that … he selected reverse to re-align the final two wagons with the loading chutes. However, after selecting reverse, the train became unresponsive to his remote commands.”

According to the report, the driver says he tried multiple times to reset the remote equipment, before deciding to walk towards the lead locomotive to attempt a cold restart of the remote control receiver.

“Before he started to walk … the train slowly began rolling away towards Devonport,” the report states. “The driver recalled trying to activate the emergency stop features of the remote system by removing power to the portable remote control system’s transmitter. However, the train did not respond to these commands and gradually gained speed as it rolled away from the loading facility.”

TasRail says it has suspended use of the locomotive remote control system – which was only used on the Devonport cement service – until the investigation is concluded.

With the preliminary report now complete, the ATSB says its investigation will move on to consider:

  • serviceability of the locomotive, wagons, remote control system, and the interface between them at time of the accident
  • remote control system and locomotive braking operational inspection and testing arrangements
  • design and compatibility of the locomotive, remote control system, and the interface between them
  • implementation management and on-going monitoring of remote control system and locomotive
  • driver qualifications, experience and medical information
  • recovery controls:
    • runaway protection at Railton
    • detection of unauthorised train access to main line from yard
    • effectiveness of emergency response systems.

Sydney’s new Rail Operations Centre on track to open this year

NSW transport minister Andrew Constance has confirmed Sydney’s new Rail Operation Centre (ROC) at Green Square is on track to be fully operational by the end of the year.

Constance visited the site on October 29, the same day the first of 720 staff moved into the new facility, which will soon manage the Sydney Trains network.

“The control centre will bring together all the critical operations teams under one roof,” Constance said.

“This will improve coordination, lead to quicker response times to critical issues on the train network, and help us better recover and keep trains moving for our customers.

“We will be able to provide customers with almost real time information and keep them updated throughout.”

The ROC includes a digital screen which, at 33 metres long and four metres high, is said to be the largest in the Southern Hemisphere.

The screen will be used by controllers to monitor the network, pull up CCTV and multi-channel live-streamed images to better understand incidents.

“The control centre will be able to track every train moving on the network,” Constance said.

“The ROC will revolutionise rail operations in Australia. It’s a concept that has been operating successfully in cities like London and Tokyo, and now NSW will be the first state to roll it out.”

The CSIRO model shaping future supply chain strategies

Rail Express spoke with the CSIRO about the model aiming to quantify and map out constraints across Australia’s vast supply chains.


Agricultural production in northern NSW and southern Queensland comprises a diverse array of commodity types, including sheep, pigs, grains, cotton, dairy, and horticulture.

Road and rail networks, and the processing and storage facilities along them, form the lifeline of these regional industries, linking farms to foreign markets via the Port of Newcastle and the Port of Brisbane, and various domestic markets across Australia.

Distances of over 1,000 kilometres between production, processing and the marketplace are a regular feature of Australian supply chains, with transport costs often making up approximately 40 per cent of the market price.

For producers trying to get their goods to processing and storage facilities, or directly to market, this complex of transportation networks, and their varying constraints and advantages in different locations, can make logistical decisions difficult.

The Transport Network Strategic Investment Tool, or TraNSIT, was first developed by the CSIRO in 2012 and 2013 under commission from federal and state governments to identify bottlenecks in livestock supply-chains across northern NSW and southern Queensland.

Today, it now covers 98 per cent of all agricultural and horticultural supply chains.

The TraNSIT model serves to map out and quantify the various constraints affecting supply chains. Since 2012, the CSIRO has collaborated with more than a hundred different industry associations and government agencies to gain access to datasets from industry and government.

“In relation to rail transport, TraNSIT has mostly been applied to grain supply chains so far,” said Dr Andrew Higgins, the CSIRO’s lead researcher working with the tool.

“It looks at the potential benefits of upgrading loading facilities and improving load times, and the impacts of future train configurations – how longer trains with more locomotives and higher axle-load limits can improve supply chain efficiency.”

In the rail sector, the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) has used the tool to support its work on the Hunter Valley rail network, where it has been focussed on leveraging the significant expenditure within its heavy haul network to benefit wider regional supply chains.

Over the past three years, the ARTC has introduced a number of initiatives to encourage modal shift to rail, including the lifting of axles loads and train lengths across the Intrastate network corridors between Dubbo-Gulgong and Narrabri-Moree.

In carrying out these initiatives, the ARTC has worked close with rail operators at the agricultural sector to determine the impediments to the utilisation of rail.  And, using the TraNSIT tool, the ARTC has been able to quantify the total transport costs for these agricultural commodities over their whole journeys, based not only on individual trip costs but across total production and likely end market destination, demonstrating the benefits of these upgrade projects and pointing towards further solutions.

“The tool itself can not only indicate which infrastructure is the limiting factor but will give a transport cost (road or rail) according the route taken and the maximum payload and time taken for a for a specific route,” ARTC’s business development manager Michael Clancy said.

“Individual infrastructure owners can then apply different parameters to test if a particular infrastructure change will provide an economic benefit great enough to proceed with further investigation or project initiation.”

According to Clancy, the key advantage of TraNSIT is its ability to easily test scenarios across transport mode and commodity-type, providing a visual demonstration of cost impacts and outcomes.

“All supply chains will eventually follow the least cost path to market, and while it may not currently include handling costs incurred during modal transfer, the tool can definitely provide insight into how lower payloads or increased transit time impacts on the cost of moving products,” Clancy said.

“For ARTC, it assists on not only what we can directly change on our asset but how we can work with our supply chain partners and governments to provide solutions.  Some of these solutions are not necessarily purely infrastructure related, some are operational and supply chain coordination related that impact time or reliability.”

Overall, TraNSIT is in its early stages regarding its possible applications within the rail industry. Nonetheless there are expectations that further opportunities would arise with the continued accumulation of commodity data.

“I think historically we’ve been limited in our ability to rapidly test scenarios and seek a coordinated response to supply chain issues,” Clancy said.

“The relatively long life of rolling stock, and the intergenerational permanency of rail infrastructure projects mean that we can use the tool to make better informed design and purchase decisions.”

Among the benefits of the tool is its ability to definitely demonstrate the benefits of improving road access to modal transfer locations, including the unit cost for stopping multi-combinational vehicles from transiting through built up areas to rail heads.

“We have situations across the country where truck drivers are required to un-hitch trailers on the outskirts of town and make two trips to a transfer goods,” Clancy explained.

“TraNSIT can not only identify unit costs, but the total cost for all product transported through the area, providing valuable information to both industry and councils as to the additional costs being incurred.”

Indeed, recently the TraNSIT has begun to be used by shire councils in northern NSW and southern Queensland to quantify how transport regulatory change and upgrades to roads, rail and other supply-chain infrastructure can boost the efficiency of the transportation of goods.

“Councils often have particular locations that have been earmarked for potential freight hubs,” Higgins said. “For example, the tool can tell us – with given inputs such as location, particular loading facilities and road linkages – what can be benefits of using a potential freight intermodal hub over a road-only system for supply chains of cotton or gains or other commodities,” Higgins said.

The impacts of possible future improvements to rail networks were among the aspects explored by a TraNSIT study conducted by the CSIRO in collaboration with ARTC. It found that some facilities in the southern Queensland and northern NSW regions are limited by train and wagon size.

The study points to improvements that could be made in the future with longer, faster trains with higher capacity and with upgrades to roads that supply grain to these sites, pointing towards better integration between roads and rail. Savings of up to $10 per tonne could be made, it found, by moving from 42-wagon to 76-wagon bulk freight trains with a faster loading time of five hours.

“The TraNSIT tool is being used to look at the areas in which Inland Rail can be beneficial in terms of the overall supply chain versus purely using road,” Higgins said. “We can use it to find out where the biggest benefits will be for industry and supply chains to use the rail corridor.”

Inland Rail

With construction soon to begin on the 1,700-kilometre Inland Rail freight rail line between Brisbane and Melbourne, collaborative work is now underway between the Department of Infrastructure Regional Development and Cities and the CSIRO to explore the use of the TraNSIT model in building an understanding of regional supply chains, helping industry make the most of the project’s opportunities.

Called the Inland Rail Supply Chain Mapping Pilot Project, it will build on previous TraNSIT studies while expanding its application to the future Parkes to Narromine section of the Inland Rail project.

“The Australian government is committed to working with industry and the regions to realise the benefits from the delivery of Inland Rail as it moves towards construction in 2018. This is another step toward delivering this significant investment in Australia’s freight future,” federal transport minister Michael McCormack said.

“The Inland Rail Supply Chain Mapping Pilot Project will be informed by local community leaders and supply chain participants. The Australian government will work closely with state governments and local councils to ensure the project informs planning and freight network strategies.”

The hope is that this application of TraNSIT will further demonstrate how Inland Rail will reduce transportation costs and become a catalyst for further business investment and a subsequent revival in regional rail transport, not only between Melbourne to Brisbane but throughout regional Australia.

“The project will involve taking information about supply chains as they are and mapping them using the future planned Inland Rail corridor,” the CSIRO’s Andrew Higgins said. “It will focus on movements that will use particular parts of the corridor, and it will also look at what the potential is for different types of commodities that currently are transported via road to be put on the rail corridor.”

It will also test the potentials of surrounding, complementary upgrades – such as road improvements – in heightening the benefits of Inland Rail.

A CSIRO/ARTC study into northern NSW’s cotton industry using TraNSIT indicated the enhanced competitiveness of Inland Rail.

The baseline cost of rail transport was calculated at $8.65 million per year or $234/tonne. With the introduction of Inland rail, the rail transport cost reduces to $5.77 million per year or $156/tonne or a potential 33% transport cost reduction.

The ARTC’s Michael Clancy said that TraNSIT could help illuminate the benefits of Inland Rail and the problems it might be able to address via the development of supply chain strategies, especially in a context of continuing difficult climatic conditions throughout regional NSW and Queensland.

“We are currently experiencing one of the worst droughts in history within NSW and Queensland and seeing grain transported from South Australia to Northern NSW in 3000t payloads,” Clancy said.

“Inland Rail will enable +6000t payloads on 1:100 grades. In a normal season where will feed grain be sourced from? Will high grade, high protein, high value wheat still be trucked from the Golden Triangle between Northstar & Weemalah or will it be railed from Victoria direct to feedlots or distribution hubs?

“These are some of the questions that TraNSIT can assist in providing key understandings and with cooperation across industry drive solutions.”

Shipping containers. Photo: Shutterstock

Common data set could save Australian supply chain $1bn a year

A new discussion paper from the Australian Logistics Council calls for a common data set for Australia’s supply chains.

The paper, released on October 23, examines how the power of technology and data can best be harnessed to enhance supply chain efficiency for businesses and consumers.

It cites an industry pilot study which estimated the overall economic benefit to Australia through the widespread adoption of Global Data Standards (GDS) at a billion dollars per annum.

“Plainly, technology and data will play a pivotal role in in the future operation of Australia’s supply chains, allowing Australia to meet its rapidly growing freight task more safely and efficiently,” ALC interim chief Lachlan Benson said.

“However, to make certain that happens, there is a significant amount of work to be done to improve the quality and availability of data available to policy makers and industry participants regarding the operation and performance of our supply chains.”

The ALC developed the discussion paper with input from its Technology Committee.

Benson said the paper sets out a practical pathway to achieve a common data set, via a series of recommendations to address crucial issues.

“Actions include improving supply chain visibility, developing a common data standard for Australia’s logistics industry, enhancing confidence regarding the privacy and ownership of data, and aligning international data standards to boost efficiency in global trade,” Benson said.

“There are substantial economic benefits to be realised by focussing on these issues, as was clearly recognised by the ALC Board when it endorsed the adoption of GDS by logistics industry participants earlier this year.”

PTA keen to move on from data leak

WA’s Public Transport Authority has accepted the recommendations of the Corruption and Crime Commission after an employee allegedly leaked the personal details of 1,750 staff to the Rail Tram and Bus Union.

A man who worked as a senior catenary maintainer for PTA between May 2012 and December 2017 is accused in a new CCC report of intentionally transferring files containing the annual leave details, rates of pay and dates of birth of fellow staff.

According to the CCC report the man allegedly gave this information to the RTBU during negotiations towards an industrial agreement for the Network and Infrastructure Division, which would include catenary maintainers.

The CCC report classifies the incident as “serious misconduct”.

“The information provided to the RTBU was subsequently used by the union organiser at a negotiation meeting between RTBU and PTA,” the Commission said in a short statement.

“The information was used as leverage by the union organiser to highlight the differences between the ways annual leave was being dealt with amongst PTA employees.”

The Commission has recommended the PTA tightens access controls over confidential information, and that it reinforces the seriousness of accessing confidential information to all of its staff.

“Public sector agencies collect, hold and disseminate a range of confidential and sensitive information which should only be used for legitimate purposes,” the Commission said.

“[This case] serves as a reminder to all public sector agencies of the importance of IT security measures, particularly when it comes to accessing confidential information; and to the public officers accessing this information the need to ensure it is managed appropriately.

In a short response to the Commission’s report, the PTA said it reported the matter to the CCC in 2017.

The PTA has also carried out its own investigation, and says its findings and recommendations “mirror” those of the Commission’s report.

“Dealing with confidential information is a normal part of the operations of virtually all businesses, and it is the responsibility of all employees to respect that confidentiality. This is even more so for government employees, who are bound by the Public Sector Act,” the PTA said.

“The PTA is already implementing a series of enhancements to security protocols, and will continue to look at ways we can educate staff about their obligations under our code of conduct.”

AutoHaul moving almost half of Rio’s iron ore

Rio Tinto is averaging 34 autonomous trains every day on its Pilbara network, and AutoHaul trains now make up 45 percent of daily rail kilometres for the miner’s iron ore operations.

Rio revealed the figures in its September quarterly report, released on October 16.

“The automation of the Pilbara train system (AutoHaul) is in ramp-up, with a steady increase in the number of trains in autonomous mode over the third quarter,” the miner told the ASX.

“Autonomous mode operations have increased to an average of 34 trains per day, equating to 290,000 kilometres (or 45 percent of daily kilometres) completed in this mode.”

The ramp-up is significant, considering the first AutoHaul train ran in mid-July.

Rio said it expects to fully implement the AutoHaul program by the end of 2018.

The mining company’s Pilbara iron ore operation produced 82.5 million tonnes in the third quarter, down 3 percent year-on-year and 3 percent compared to quarter two.

Rio said the production dip was due to “planned maintenance cycles,” as well as safety pauses across the entire operation after a truck operator was fatally injured at the Paraburdoo mine on August 15.

Railway digitalisation: Answering Australia’s congestion challenge

Australia, already one of the most urbanised countries in the developed world, must find a way to deal with ongoing population growth while transport networks are already pushing capacity. Thales Australia’s Sam Keayes spoke with Rail Express about the crucial role railway digitalisation will play.

Sam Keayes is Thales Australia’s VP for Ground Transportation Systems and Secure Communications & Information Systems. Keayes, who hails from the UK, says Australia may just be the global hotspot for railway digitalisation over the next decade.

“A lot of our customers have big ambitions, but I don’t think there are many customers globally that have as big ambitions as the various state and federal governments within Australia, in terms of improving the way people and freight are moved around on rail,” Keayes told Rail Express in August.

“There’s a huge population growth forecast in Australia, concentrated in an incredibly urbanised environment. We’re simply not going to be able to deal with that growth in passenger and freight volumes using the current technology.

“We’re going to need to push more rollingstock down the existing infrastructure; we’re also going to need to build more infrastructure; and we’re going to need to get the elements of transportation working more effectively together.”

New technology also allows the transportation network to be more reliable, and for maintenance to be more efficient.

“The huge amount of data we’re getting off every centre and every device that we’ve got on the rail network now provides huge opportunities for predictive maintenance, asset management, and giving passengers more information to plan and bridge their journeys.

“That technology, I think, can make almost as big a difference as building new infrastructure, and adding more capacity to existing infrastructure.”

Thales poised to take part

Thales’ Ground Transportation division employs 8,200 around the world, out of a total Thales workforce of around 65,000.

Its systems operate in more than 40 major cities, like London, Paris, Dubai and Hong Kong, and help move 3 billion passengers every year. The company has worked for major clients like the London Underground, which is using Thales’ SelTrac CBTC to modernise its signalling infrastructure.

“Essentially Thales is the partner of our customers to provide them with innovative, high tech solutions,” Keayes explains.

“Whether they’re trying to connect people to their jobs, or create a ‘thirty minutes to anywhere’ city, or to provide a safer, more secure transportation solution, they rely on us to provide the innovation and the right technology solutions to be able to achieve their objectives.”

Thales splits its railway digitalisation capabilities across three main offerings: rail signalling, passenger safety, and passenger services.

Thales employs 3,600 people in Australia working across several industries and a multitude of disciplines. At any one time a team of up to 100 are working on ground transportation systems out of the company’s Rydalmere office, west of Sydney.

“Incidentally,” Keayes notes, “we are desperate to get the Parramatta Light Rail and Sydney Metro West projects up and running as quickly as we can to service our own facility at Rydalmere.”

Thales counts Sydney Trains as a key ongoing customer, but has also delivered projects like Auckland’s contactless ticketing system, the AT HOP card.

Keayes isn’t shy about Thales’ ambitions to do more work in the region.

“In Australia we’ve had a long history of selling train protection products like axle counters, like track protection warning systems for customers like Metro Trains Melbourne, Queensland Rail, Aurizon, Rio Tinto and others around the country.

“Our aspiration is to expand that business, to build the full suite of signalling and rail traffic management systems into Australia, to ensure trains can run smoothly and safely throughout the rail network.”

Sydney Metro work a demonstration of value

Thales is working on Sydney Metro Northwest, where it is delivering the project’s Central Control System and Communication System, as a key supplier to the Northwest Rapid Transit consortium.

Keayes says the Northwest work is a prime example of Thales’ local capabilities integrating both software and hardware.

“In Sydney Metro Northwest,” he says, “all of the CCTV cameras, help points, access control, intrusion detection, telephony, passenger information systems and PA systems are integrated together with the control system software.”

Northwest is also a demonstration of Thales’ local and global experience working on both greenfield and brownfield projects: a significant portion of the Sydney Metro Northwest route is newly constructed railway, but the project also involves converting the existing rail line between Epping and Chatswood to a new Metro standard.

“When you’re building a greenfield system, you have the space, the ability to work throughout the day, and the ability to test systems in the lab before putting it out into the field,” Keayes explains.

“Operating on brownfield sites, you need to understand what’s there first. That’s very often the most challenging part of the project; getting a handle on the legacy systems that are there, their configuration state, what documentation and engineering underpins it.

“Only then can you understand what you need to replace, what you need to interface with, and then develop those interfaces if they’re required, so that the commissioning goes smoothly.”

R&D giving a competitive edge

Thales invests close to a billion Euro into research and development annually, and a huge amount of that work applies to its ground transportation capabilities. The company’s global reach allows it to conduct and apply this research in many markets.

As an added layer of value, Thales does a significant amount of work in cybersecurity, and this capability enhances the company’s ground transportation offering.

“Our R&D investment allows us to develop new digital solutions, new software platforms, and new signalling systems,” Keayes states, “and it allows us to maintain these systems for our customers.”

Thales’ Advanced Railway Management and Information System (ARAMIS) is one example of a product benefitting from ongoing R&D. In place in 16 countries, ARAMIS controls around 52,000 trains each day.

“That is not a simple product development,” Keayes says. “It requires continual investment to take advantage of new digital technologies, upgrades of old systems, and the like, with a future technology roadmap.

“In our DNA we are a technology company. We invest in R&D for our own technology, and to better understand the technology that’s around to interface with. We really put the time and effort into understanding how different systems will behave under different networks and operating conditions, so that our customers can make the right technology choices.”

Culture key to Australian success

Keayes says Thales’ commitment to growing its local capabilities, combined with a strong customer focus, should help it grow in the Australian market.

“One of the reasons I’m so confident in our ability to bring more of Thales’ global portfolio into Australia, is because over the last few years we’ve had a very good track record of delivery, and we’ve got a culture to do whatever it takes to deliver for our customers,” he says.

“Delivery, delivery and delivery are our top three priorities.”