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Rail leaders meet on interoperability

rail interoperability

Rail sector leaders from across the United States, Asia and Europe gathered with local leaders in Sydney this week to explore new ways to advance rail interoperability through national standards reform.

Advancing national rail interoperability is a priority of National Cabinet and infrastructure and transport ministers, to improve passenger and freight connections so that rail can take a larger share of the growing transport task.

Ministers have tasked the National Transport Commission (NTC), through the National Action Plan, to develop a small number of critical national standards and complementary rules to help streamline rail in a digital era.

The NTC’s Future Rail Technology Forum, co-hosted with the NSW Government, is focused on learning from international experience, as Australia looks to develop a small number of mandatory interoperability standards.

The Forum will give more than 90 decision-makers from rail operators, manufacturers, infrastructure managers and government departments the chance to hear directly from international speakers about how standards reform has been implemented to support the productivity of rail.

It will also provide a better understanding of suppliers’ viewpoints.

Forum speakers include Josef Doppelbauer, the Executive Director at the European Agency for Railways; Carolyn Hayward-Williams, Director at the Office of Railroad Systems and Technology, in the United States’ Federal Railroad Administration; and Tom Lee, Director of Standards at United Kingdom’s Rail Industry Standards Strategy (RSSB).

“A principal benefit of standards is that by managing technical compatibility, you’re reducing risk, and you’re reducing cost,” Lee said.

“In the UK, because our standards are developed collectively by industry, they also provide a way of pooling knowledge over a wider area. Industry can effectively learn from the experience and the mistakes of others who’ve gone before them.”

Learning from others was a key driver for the forum, so that Australia can pick up and apply lessons from overseas while understanding what is unique about our own system.

NTC’s Executive Leader, Facilitated Reform, Sandra McKay said there was a great appetite across the industry and governments in Australia to streamline rail services and reap the benefits of a more efficient system.

“In Australia, the challenge is finding ways to integrate new and old parts of the rail and new technologies within a co-regulatory system,” she said.

The forum in Sydney is the second of its kind, supporting nationwide action on rail interoperability by bringing governments, industry, operators, and builders of the network together to help overcome historical challenges that reduce the competitiveness and productivity of rail and maximise the benefits from current investments.

Infrastructure and transport ministers, the Australasian Railways Association, and public and private operators, manufacturers and investors across the country have signed up to a Memorandum of Cooperation to ensure interoperability while modernising Australia’s railway operations. This is a mutual agreement to work together to move more people and freight seamlessly across Australia’s cities, regions, and ports.

“A nationally consistent approach to align new digital technology, standards and skills training will make rail more efficient and create a safer, more sustainable and seamless rail system that plays a bigger role in the national economy,”  McKay said.

Ministers have endorsed the NTC to develop three mandatory, performance-based interoperability standards focussing on digital train technology, a single on-board interface for drivers and crew, and streamlining rolling stock approvals.

This will require Rail Transport Operators to consider interoperability impacts beyond their own network, on rail lines and corridors of national significance.

Over the next 12 months, the NTC will be engaging with governments and industry on the five interoperability priorities of National Cabinet: harmonising the most critical interoperability standards and rules, addressing key skill shortages, ensuring interoperability while modernising Australia’s railway operations through the deployment of new digital signalling systems and technologies and streamlining rollingstock approval processes.

“This forum is an important start to engaging with industry to evolve rail from a collection of individual networks into a more seamless, safe and sustainable railway system. This can’t be done by any one government or industry alone,” McKay said.