Working between rail operators and technology vendors, RCS Australia are taking a technology neutral, functional approach to signalling.
The digitalisation of all facets of industry is a process that has been underway for decades now, and has most recently spawned the new term, Industry 4.0. Primarily concerned with the integration of cyber and physical systems, it is a term not often heard in the rail sector. However, as digital systems open up new possibilities for rail infrastructure builders and operators, organisations are required to work with new technology.
One company making this happen in Australia is Rail Control Systems Australia (RCS Australia). As CEO Paul Hann explains, knowing both sides of the equation enables RCS Australia to translate emerging technology for the rail industry.
“We understand the authorised rail operators (AROs), we understand some of the barriers that they face, particularly from a technical perspective. Similarly, we’ve built relationships with the technology providers. Rail is a little bit different to their normal market, so we bridge that gap.”
RCS Australia has experience working with legacy signalling systems around Australia and having seen the limitations of proprietary technology, the company understood that its position as a technology neutral company unaffiliated with a particular vendor could serve the rail industry.
“We understand that our clients’ needs and requirements should be driving the technology, not the other way around. That was really what was driving our move more into looking at technology solutions and how we can apply those to our clients, the AROs,” said Hann.
As both Hann and Jacquelle Coldhill, Director, Commercial and Projects, know, the core competency of railway operators are the operation and maintenance of existing signalling systems, not necessarily the design, construction, and commissioning of new technology. Having developed an array of competencies to serve just that need, RCS Australia can use their expertise drawn from projects around Australia to guide the successful implementation of innovation in signalling.
“There can often be different challenges in understanding what the ARO actually wants. Sometimes you have to work with them to help them understand what’s best for their railway and how the equipment or the solution can actually address their needs,” said Coldhill.
Since its formation in 2007, RCS Australia has grown to encompass signalling engineering, construction, testing and additionally, the selection and implementation of technology platforms and solutions.
“With in-house capability from feasibility and scheme development through to construction and commissioning, being able to provide technology solutions to address some of our client’s needs as part of the package was a missing piece of the puzzle,” said Hann.
In some instances, to address a perceived dearth of local expertise, rail projects have turned overseas to solve their signalling challenges. One issue with this approach, however, is that the unique specifications of each Australian rail system may not be immediately known, highlights Coldhill.
“Some of the challenges with using an international workforce comes down to understanding project specific competency requirements and having experience on a particular network and with the standards required by the ARO. Importantly, we understand that Australia is not a one size fits all market. Implementation of a given technology can be quite different across AROs. Through our team’s mix of local knowledge and technology expertise we aim to provides specific and appropriate solutions for our clients,” said Coldhill.
This innate understanding, combined with a technology neutral approach, leads to a customer-centric outcome.
“Local knowledge combined with a commercial off the shelf (COTS) solution means that we can genuinely drive things by requirements,” said Hann. “We’re not trying to shoehorn a technology into a project, quite the opposite. We’re trying to match a solution with the requirements of the ARO, combining local knowledge with the ability to source the right solution.”
In addition, RCS Australia are based locally, and are able to continue providing support long after the first trains are running over the new system.
“We can provide ongoing support once a project is delivered. We’re an Australian company committed to long term relationships with our clients, so there’s considerable ongoing post commissioning support, whether it’s training, maintenance or further development and innovation,” said Hann. “Our interest is really in the growth of the Australian rail industry, we’re not here to sell widgets.”
RCS Australia’s knowledge of signalling comes from a diversity of projects around the country. These include standalone freight networks, the integration of metropolitan and regional networks, and new, high capacity suburban lines. Currently, the team is engaged on a number of major projects, including Cross River Rail, Melbourne Metro Tunnel, and Inland Rail. While the scope of each project is quite different, as Hann points out, the approach is the same.
“As providers of safety critical systems, there’s a level of no difference, whether it’s suburban network or a freight network. But the operational requirements can be very different. We focus on our ability to take those operating requirements of a given railway and turn that into a functional signalling scheme.”
On the Cross River Rail project, the installation of a new signalling technology
has to be integrated with the existing network along the brownfield sections and where the new infrastructure links to the existing rail line.
We’re looking at new technology but in an existing network,” said Hann. “We’re not the new technology provider on Cross River, but part of our role is ensuring integration with the existing signalling system and the current methods of operation such that once this new technology is commissioned it can operate seamlessly within the legacy systems of that network.”
On the Cross River Rail project, RCS Australia have deployed their design, construct, and commissioning teams for the safe and efficient delivery of the signalling infrastructure.
“For our integrated technology and delivery engagements, we are developing functional specifications based on the operational requirements of the railway, linking that to technology, and then developing and designing that technology. We deliver it in house from design development through to factory build, deployment to site and final commissioning,” said Hann. “All of those links in the process enable us to bring efficiencies to the party because of the integrated nature of the team and common goal of everyone involved.”
In addition, as Coldhill notes, on a large, multi-stakeholder project such as Cross River Rail, bringing these services in house enables a smoother project management process.
“You’re not managing subcontractors, you’re not challenged with technology or commercial interfaces, you’re not facing so many hurdles and, as a result, there is less delivery risk for our clients.”
Not being focussed on one particular technology, while being part of a multidisciplinary team allows for RCS Australia to take a ‘best for the project’ approach. This requires knowing the requirements of both technology vendors and rail operators.
“COTS vendors are a third-party supplier but they’re a key element to the success of the project in terms of product support. That’s where we focus on being able to translate what they’re doing into rail and present that to projects in a way they understand and that they can see mitigates risk and satisfies their overall requirements,” said Hann.“With the knowledge and expertise of our the team at RCS Australia, we are able to bridge that gap.”