Monday 21st Oct, 2019

Rail technology roadmaps: a Canadian perspective

Credit: Wikimedia

The recent Rail Technology Workshop saw senior rail executives come together to kick-start the development of a technology strategy and roadmap for the Australian rail industry for the next 30-40 years.

By Jennifer Perry

While many rail organisations have developed individual technology roadmaps, the workshop marked the first time that industry came together to work towards a common technological base.

With Canada a few steps ahead of Australia, having already got a technology roadmap in place, delegates benefitted from hearing the Canadian experience that was shared by Mike Roney, chair of Canada’s Railway Research Advisory Board.

Roney said that the Canadian rail industry used the Association of American Railroads’ (AAR) technologyroadmap as a basis for developing a specific Canadian technology strategy, and took more of a freight focus because that’s where “the money is made”.

“The AAR technology roadmap started when our chief executives said that even if the railways don’t gain market share, we still have to be carrying 80 per cent more tonnage on our lines 20 years into the future which requires us to spend a great deal of money on capacity improvements,” Roney said.
“The target we came to was if we can do 50 per cent of that improvement in capacity through technology then there is a great deal of value in that for the railways.”

Canada took many of the AAR’s technology roadmap principles into consideration when developing its own strategy, including the need to develop capacity without spending capital; making assets sweat; fuel efficiency and advanced power systems; reducing in-service failures; automated health monitoring of track and rollingstock; interoperability; positive train control; and information technology that supports improved customer service.

“The next piece of evidence we put together was the visioning of the top operating officers within Canadian National and Canadian Pacific – the two major Canadian freight railways – who were basically asked what they would like their railway to be when they grow up,” Roney said.

The resulting vision highlighted key strategic areas such as the need for new technologies to lower stress states and for the rail network to be fluid, scheduled and precise; the need for safety systems to be more vital, predictive and condition based and for technologies that reduce emissions, amongst others.
Some of the technologies that featured in this vision were wireless train control systems to improve safety and capacity, friction management to control the friction levels along rail lines and reduce fuel consumption, ECP braking and longer trains with distributed power.

Key stakeholders then came together to decide on what research priorities would form Canada’s joint industry government research program for its technology roadmap; Roney said that with a lack of industry funding for research, it was paramount that funding went to areas that “everyone up the line” recognised as the top priorities.

Research projects included human behavior and compliance, energy and the environment, railroading and harsh and changing environments, infrastructure integrity, human factors, operational fluidity and capacity and emerging technologies.

Roney’s views were welcomed by the Rail Industry Safety and Standards Board’s (RISSB) general manager Kevin Taylor, who told Rail Express that with Canada “out there leading rail reform”, it had plenty of good case examples for Australia to follow including the development of a technologystrategy.
Taylor said that while the Rail Technology Strategy Workshop marked an important step in the industry’s development of a technology strategy, it was “just the start” of what may be a rather lengthy development and approval process.

“A project plan will be provided for RISSB’s approval in November, and subject to this approval, work will start in earnest,” he said.

Taylor also mentioned that it was important that broad industry buy-in was achieved in the development of the strategy and thus the RISSB process of consultation will be followed.

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