AusRAIL, Passenger Rail, Products & Technology, Research & Development

AusRAIL: Staying agile in the changing rail industry


Tim Young explains how Downer is helping realise the benefits of passenger rail growth.

A Deloitte Access Economics report found each passenger journey made by rail instead of road generates benefits to society of between $3.88 and $10.64 by reducing congestion, accident and carbon costs. In September, 1.2 million trips were taken on Sydney’s trains and trams each day.

There is no better time to realise the societal benefits of rail travel. But the transport and infrastructure sector is changing, and the challenge for rail operators, maintainers and manufacturers is keeping pace with the evolving industry and expectations of an evergrowing customer base. That’s an opportunity – and challenge – the industry is keenly aware of, Downer’s Rollingstock Services executive general manager Tim Young says.

“We’re seeing a huge shift in what passengers expect from their transport providers, and in turn, what our customers expect from us,” Young tells Rail Express. “From technology to sustainability, urban services is changing across Australia, and being agile in these circumstances is key to the industry’s success. It is the passengers that we really need to start to focus on and service better. As we know, passengers don’t measure averages, they measure variation, and the old adage, that you’re only as good as your last game, could never be truer than today.”

Partnering for success

“At Downer, we talk about relationships creating success – and that’s a commitment we take seriously across our business. It means partnering with our customers, suppliers and academia to address challenges across our industry, recognising that we can do much more together than alone,” Young says.

One partnership Young says has proved immensely successful is Downer’s work with the Rail Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (CRC). Launched in 2014, the initiative works to foster, sponsor and direct collaborative research and commercialisation partnerships in rail manufacturing.

By bridging the gap between industry and academia, Downer has been able to develop innovative solutions to complex problems and tap into a nation-wide network of expertise.

“We’re investigating diverse issues ranging from data analytics to virtual reality, exploring how they can help us improve various aspects from engineering design, to maintenance, to operations. We’ve got some really smart people working with us thanks to these partnerships, bringing their expertise to the table to help us develop real, industry focussed solutions to improve the lives of everyday Australians,” Young explained.

The Rail Manufacturing CRC has actively worked with Downer on a wide range of innovative projects over the last five years, including predictive maintenance, passenger dwell time management, and battery systems. “Downer has committed to engaging with the Rail Manufacturing CRC to support the creation and adoption of new domestic rail technologies, including Dwell Track and TrainDNA. This is in addition to generously providing support to several PhD students working in leading research on miniature robots for rollingstock maintenance, and virtual and augmented training for rail,” Rail Manufacturing CRC CEO Dr Stuart Thomson said. “Not only will this research drive innovative improvements to Australia’s rail sector, it also highlights the value that Downer places in collaboration, and the resulting benefits that this provides to their organisation’s competitiveness on a global stage.”

Integrating operations

With passengers expecting a seamless transport experience, closer partnerships are just part of the answer. Organisations must also look into how technology and knowledge can be integrated for better maintenance and operations outcomes.

In May 2019, Downer launched their Integrated Operations Centre (IOC), a hub of cutting-edge technology, co-located staff and integrated systems.

The IOC brings together critical functions such as planning, engineering, mobile response and materials supply personnel to enhance operational asset management. Young says the IOC is another piece of the puzzle to improving the passenger experience.

“With the growing pains of the heavy rail networks and potential capacity gap along the east coast of Australia, we see the IOC as an opportunity to aid in the passenger experience and bridge the capacity gap through enhanced fleet management, stimulating greater reliability, capacity, availability and immediacy of response. In addition, it will unlock value to operators in the form of enhanced driver education, timetable development and passenger satisfaction,” he says. “Not only that, it provides an opportunity for us to work more closely with our customers to enhance operations, through better sharing of data, recprical information flows and real-time reporting.

“Understanding passenger experience is key, and they too can help in this process,” Young adds. “For example, the IOC also monitors social media, enabling real time monitoring of asset condition and passenger sentiment. On several occasions this has resulted in us sending a technician to the train to rectify an issue whilst it remains in revenue service.

“In the future, I think we can expect to see this kind of integration and innovation take hold across the transport industry – embracing the full ecosystem of operations, improving the passenger experience while enabling ease and speed through the rail network.”

A commitment to sustainability

Young also emphasises the increasing importance of sustainability and environmental concerns to business outcomes. “The drive towards a more sustainable future continues to gather pace, and it’s something investors are becoming more passionate about and the industry must address, while delivering an efficient, reliable and cost-effective service,” he says. “An emphasis on sustainability is core to achieving our goal of Zero Harm, and for several years Downer has focussed on developing solutions to reduce energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and repurpose trade waste across our business.”

Earlier this year, Downer delivered the first Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) in the Southern Hemisphere for a rollingstock asset – the Waratah Series 2 train – and was recognised as an industry leader at the 2019 Australasian Rail Industry Awards.

“The EPD shows the environmental impact, resource use and carbon footprint of our trains across their 30-year lifecycle and can also help predict the future performance and environmental impact of the train even at the end of the vehicle’s life. It’s something that our customers are increasingly asking for and demonstrates Downer’s commitment to environmental responsibility across the life cycle of our assets,” Young says. “With an improved understanding of our rollingstock’s full carbon footprint, we are leveraging this to shift our thinking to investigate what we can do to improve both our end of life management and through life management options during . maintenance and overhauls, to reduce the carbon impact as opportunities arise.

“For example, we’re currently investigating opportunities in cradle to cradle asset recovery in Victoria, where we’ve been working with local suppliers to understand how we can recycle laminated glass and what re-use potential there is for it within our business.

“Thought leadership is fundamental to our success, and we need to continue to collaborate and innovate across the value chain. It’s these alliances and arrangements between academia, suppliers and industry that will unlock even greater value for the rail sector.”


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