Alstom to trial fully autonomous shunting in the Netherlands

French rail manufacturer Alstom has signed an agreement with Dutch infrastructure operator ProRail to test automatic shunting locomotives in 2021.

The tests aspire to a level 4 grade of automation (GoA4) where the trains will be fully automated, a first for shunting trains in the Netherlands.

Alstom will fit the automatic train operation (ATO) technology to diesel-hydraulic shunting locomotives owned by Lineas, the largest private rail freight operator in Europe. This technology will include automatic control technology, intelligence obstacle detection, and environment detection.

During the tests, train staff will remain aboard to ensure safety, however regular tasts such as starting and stopping, pushing wagons, controlling traction and brakes, and handling emergencies will be fully automated.

Bernard Belvaux, Alstom managing director for Benelux said that the trial would improve the operation of railways.

“This project is paving the way for fully digitalised railway. These tests will help the European rail system benefit from an increase in capacity, reduced energy consumption and cost while offering higher operational flexibility and improved punctuality. This test is fully in line with Alstom’s strategy to bring added value to our customers for smart and green mobility.”

Alstom has previously delivered ATO for metros around the world, including on the Sydney Metro, where the system also runs at a GoA4 level. This experience has enabled Alstom to demonstrate the benefits of an automated railway. By reducing headways and operating uniformly, automated trains can increase capacity, cut costs, and save energy.

ProRail has previously carried out tests with freight locomotives at GoA level 2, where a driver remains in control of doors and in the event of a disruption, with Alstom on a freight locomotive on the Betuweroute, a freight railway running from Rotterdam to Germany.

In May, Alstom announced that it would be trialling ATO on regional passenger trains in Germany in 2021.

signalling

Integrated signalling systems providing reliability on Sydney Metro

After a year of successful operations, Alstom is embedding signalling knowledge and experience from Sydney Metro into the local rail industry.

On May 26, 2020 Australia’s first fully- automated, driverless metro system completed its first year of operations. The service had already carried 20 million passenger trips across 105,000 services and was winning fans in its commuters for its frequency, reliability, and speed, having an overall customer satisfaction rating of 96 per cent.

Beyond the staff on the ground and the physical infrastructure itself, what was ensuring these high customer satisfaction metrics was the reliability of the innovative signalling system deployed on Sydney Metro.

For the project, Alstom supplied its Urbalis 400 Communication Based Train Control (CBTC) signalling system, which in the case of a driverless train such as Sydney Metro has a fundamental role to play in smooth operations between the train, the platforms and the control centre.

Although a first for Australia, this was not the first time that the Asia-Pacific region had seen the deployment of this system. Singapore was the first city to use a similar Alstom CBTC system, on the North East Line in 2003. One of the recent cases, however, was the extension of Hong Kong’s metro system known as the South Island Line, which shares an operator with Metro Trains Sydney (MTS) with MTR. This made for a smooth adaption of the technology to local conditions, said Pavan Devanahalli, Alstom’s project director for Sydney Metro.

“The Hong Kong South Island Line project was similar in terms of technology and architecture and the fact that with MTR as the operator, they were very familiar with the system and the technology. It really made sense for us to use that same platform.”

With the expertise for Sydney’s Metro North West Line drawn from Hong Kong, Singapore, and elsewhere Alstom set about adapting the system for the local conditions while building a base of local expertise.

As Devanahalli highlights, although the technology is proven, making it a success in a new context produces challenges.

“When deploying CBTC in a new environment, the challenge is the system might be mature, but you’ve got to make that work in the context of the operational conditions. The operator is new and Australia is doing this for the first time, so it was about adapting and integrating that technology.”

Alstom not only worked with the operator but also construction and civil contractors in the building of a new maintenance facility at Tallawong, the new railway from Epping to Tallawong and the retrofitting of the existing Epping to Chatswood line. Devanahalli points out that doing this while ensuring that the project was completed on time and under budget required working in parallel to optimise delivery.

“When you look at what was accomplished in the brownfield section, which was from Epping to Chatswood, that was done very quickly and there were significant lessons learnt in not only how to convert or upgrade to a new line but also in terms of the coordination of activities between ourselves and other contractors, including infrastructure works,” said Devanahalli, who expects these lessons to be applied and processes amplified in the conversion of the Sydenham to Bankstown section from suburban rail to metro.

In this section of the project, which will extend the Urbalis system from Chatswood, via new underground tunnels beneath the Sydney CBD and onto Sydenham and Bankstown, the existing train line will be upgraded. In this case, focusing on minimising disruption and maximising coordination for efficient access has led Alstom to hand-pick key talent to ensure the project is completed smoothly.

SETTING A BENCHMARK FOR OPERATIONS
While Sydneysiders have enjoyed the frictionless Metro North West Line, Alstom has been optimising the software behind the services to enable the growth of the system’s capacity. Being a digital system, Devanahalli highlights that the signalling team have been working with the operator to bed down the system through a series of software upgrades to enable greater efficiencies.

“What we’ve done during the course of the last year is optimise the software to meet the operational needs of MTS. We have had not only our international expertise pool available but also we have our local expertise that can react quite quickly to any new need or operational requirements.”

On the first day of operations, headways between trains were set at five minutes, however the intention was always to reduce that to four minutes once the system was in place.

“The timetable changed from five to four minutes between trains and all of that was done seamlessly. Of course, there was quite a bit of machinery moving in the back end but what that meant is that we could support the vision of Sydney Metro” said Devanahalli.

Even with all of the complexities that come with an entirely new train system, after a year the system has achieved figures of 98 per cent system reliability, and 99 per cent train availability. Devanahalli puts this down to the work of the entire array of partners who came together on the project.

GETTING THE LOCALS ON BOARD
Although Alstom initially brought in its expertise from projects in Asia as well as Europe, throughout the delivery of the new driverless line the company has built up a local talent pool for the next stages of City and Southwest.

“They went through a rigorous process over two years of going through the design and commissioning, and they’ve now been deployed in the operations centre, warranty and maintenance programs so they can now experience what it means to be in the operations and maintenance side of a project,” said Devanahalli. “The talent has been strategically groomed over the last three years and in-between the two projects they’ve been sent to Melbourne and Singapore for ongoing technical training, leadership, and professional development.”

Having some of the most advanced signalling projects occurring around the world in Australia right now has created a motivation for new signalling engineers to deliver the current generation of digital signalling.

“CBTC is really about software,” said Devanahalli. “But, on these projects, installation is key. Having a partnership and collaborative approach to delivering these projects is absolutely essential in Australia. No one person is delivering a project.”

Having built up a base of local expertise in the delivery of software-based signalling projects will enable future improvements to the system that allow for flexibility as demand shifts and changes.

Overall, Devanahalli highlights that the experience Alstom has had on Sydney Metro, as well as other projects around the globe, is that when it comes to signalling, it is not the product that is important, but the outcome that the signalling system can provide – safety, customer satisfaction, reliability and availability.

“The beauty of the CBTC system is that it’s interfacing with almost everything that happens on the railway, so there’s not a single system that it doesn’t touch – except maybe the station elevator. It’s really a matter of identifying the right technology and being able to interface that to CBTC. From that point forward the CBTC software does its magic.”

Alstom results

Alstom proposes divestments to satisfy EU merger laws

Alstom has announced its proposed commitments to respond to potential European Commission concerns regarding its purchase of Bombardier Transportation.

The commitments are part of the process to satisfy the European Commission’s merger regulations.

The actions that Alstom has proposed include the divestment of the Alstom Coradia Polyvalent line and its production facilities at Reichshoffen, in France, as well as the divestment of the Bombardier TALENT 3 platform and its production facilities in Heningsdorf, Germany.

Alstom has also proposed the transfer of Bombardier Transportations contribution to the V300 ZEFIRO very high-speed train.

In signalling and train control, Alstom has proposed to provide access to interfaces and products on some of Bombardier Transportation’s signalling on-board units and train control management systems.

The European Commission is now reviewing these commitments and will make a decision whether to further investigate the procedure by July 16. Third parties are invited to submit observations.

In a statement, Bombardier confirmed its support of the commitments. Both companies confirmed that the acquisition process is on track to be completed in the first half of 2021.

The two companies confirmed that Alstom would acquire Bombardier Transportation in February, 2020, following weeks of rumours. The value of the exchange is between $9.4 and $10 billion.

In Australia, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has begun a review of the merger and has set a provisional date for the announcement of findings of August 20. The ACCC will apply the legal test of whether the merger is likely to have the effect of substantially lessening competition in a market.

Alstom

Alstom using AI solution to manage social distancing in Panama

Alstom is using artificial intelligence (AI) technology to manage passenger flow and maintain social distancing.

The system is currently in use on the Panama Metro, where Alstom has deployed its Mastria multimodal supervision and mobility orchestration solution.

Initially used to manage passenger crowding in peak periods, the system has been adapted to maintain social distancing requirements due to the coronavirus (COVID-19).

“The ability of this tool to analyse millions of pieces data in real time makes it an indispensable ally for operators at all times, but especially in the current context. Simply put, it matches transport offer to demand, no matter the conditions,” said Stephane Feray-Beaumont, vice president innovation & smart mobility of Alstom Digital Mobility.

The system gathers data from a various of data sources, including train weight sensors, ticketing machines, traffic signalling, management systems, surveillance cameras, and mobile network.

This data is then fed into an algorithm, which determines when the network is reaching its capacity limit. The operator can then carry out actions in response to the data, whether that be increasing train frequency, adjusting entry to the system, managing people on the platform, or suggesting changes to transport systems that feed into the rail network.

Since being installed on the Panama Metro late in 2019, Mastria has been mining the system’s data to be able to intelligently predict when the system will be reaching capacity through machine learning techniques. After three months, the system could predict saturation up to 30 minutes before it was visibly observed, enabling remedial action to be taken, and reducing wait times in stations by 12 per cent.

During COVID-19, the system has been used to limit train loads to 40 per cent of maximum capacity. To achieve this, new features such as real time monitoring of passenger density and flows, simulating limiting access to stations, and analysing the distribution of passengers along trains have been developed.

When the COVID-19 threat recedes, Panamanian operators will be able to use the new features to manage the return to public transport, said Feray-Beaumont.

“All experts agree that public transportation, and particularly rail, will continue to be the backbone of urban mobility. Artificial intelligence will be our best travel partner in this new era of mobility.”

Worker transfer deal maintains train manufacturing jobs in Ballarat

The Victorian government has brokered a deal to transfer manufacturing staff from Alstom’s manufacturing site in Ballarat to Bombardier’s maintenance depot in the same regional town.

The deal was agreed to by the Victorian government, the two major manufacturers, and unions, and will see 27 of Alstom’s permanent manufacturing staff redeployed to work on the VLocity train maintenance program, which will be carried out at Bombardier’s Ballarat workshop.

Alstom workers who have not been redeployed will continue working on other rollingstock projects, said Minister for Public Transport, Melissa Horne.

“We’re helping keep these highly skilled manufacturing jobs in Ballarat – giving certainty to workers and their families.”

The deal comes after speculation over the future of Alstom’s Ballarat workforce once the final X’Trapolis trains in the current order are completed. While the Victorian government has committed to an order of X’Trapolis 2.0 trains, designs are still being completed, leaving the workforce in limbo. Victorian secretary of the Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) Luba Grigorovitch said that the jobs could have disappeared altogether.

“There was the potential for these regional jobs to be lost, and I’m really pleased that the state government applied the pressure that was necessary to ensure that the redeployment of the employees has been facilitated.”

The Victorian government has committed $12 million to Alstom to continue designing the X’Trapolis 2.0 trainsets.

Grigorovitch welcomed the investment but said that a confirmed order was needed.

“The investment in the design phase is only the first step and the workers and their families will only truly be secure once they see an order of much needed X’Trapolis 2.0s.”

By redeploying the workers onto the VLocity fleet, maintenance schedules will be sped up, said Horne.

“Alstom workers will gain new experience and skills carrying out vital maintenance on our VLocity fleet – helping to keep services moving across regional Victoria.”

ATO on regional passenger trains trial to go ahead in 2021

A world-first test of automatic train operation (ATO) on a regional train line has received a prestigious award from the German government.

The German Federal Ministry of Economics awarded Alstom with the Innovation Prize for Regulatory Sandboxes for its planned trial of ATO in daily operation of regional passenger trains in Braunschweig.

The test is planned for 2021 and will be conducted by Alstom in partnership with the Regional Association of the greater area of Braunschweig, the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the Technical University of Berlin (TU Berlin).

Jörg Nikutta, managing director of Alstom in Germany and Austria, said the prize recognised Alstom’s focus on innovation.

“In the future, automated trains will optimize regional rail operations, reduce energy consumption, and increase ride comfort. In this way, highly automated driving will make a decisive contribution to climate protection and contribute to the development of a modern, attractive railway system. Following the development and successful testing of the world’s first hydrogen train Coradia iLint, Alstom is once again the innovative driver in rail transport with the pilot for regional trains in automated operation,” he said.

The trial will be conducted with two Coradia Continental regional trains, owned by the regional rail operator for greater Braunschweig. The trains will be equipped with an European Train Control System (ETCS) and ATO equipment to enable the trains to travel automatically.

The trial will involve two different grades of automation (GoA). In regular passenger operation the trains will operate at GoA3, meaning the trains will be fully autonomous but with an attendant who can step in if there is an emergency. In shunting the trains will be operated fully remotely, at GoA4.

Birgit Milius, head of the Department of Railway Operations and Infrastructure at TU Berlin said that the trail would be an indication of how rail will operate in the future.

“ATO, or Automatic Train Operation, is one of the most exciting challenges in the railway industry. It gives us the opportunity to shape and significantly change the operational management of the future. But a lot of research is still needed before this is the case, and I am very pleased to be working with Alstom on this project,” she said.

Findings from the tests will inform the legal and regulatory framework for ATO. Alstom will use its expertise in ATO for metro trains and research into autonomous freight trains to guide the project.

 

Trial of hydrogen-powered trains in passenger service complete

The world-first trial of two hydrogen fuel-cell trains in passenger service has been successfully completed.

The two Alstom Coradia iLint trains have passed 530 days and 180,000km of operation for LNVG, the transport operator for the German state of Lower Saxony.

With the trial now completed, 14 Coradia iLint trains will enter service in 2022, replacing the existing diesel multiple units.

Alstom will manufacture the trains and maintain them at its site in Salzgitter. Gases and engineering company Linde will construct and operate a hydrogen filling station near Bremervoerde station.

Jörg Nikutta, managing director for Germany and Austria of Alstom Transport Deutschland said that the new trains are a step forward for emissions-free transport.

“Our two pre-series trains of the Coradia iLint have proven over the past year and a half that fuel cell technology can be used successfully in daily passenger service. This makes us an important driving force on the way to emission-free and sustainable mobility in rail transport,” he said, noting that data from the trial will inform the development of hydrogen propulsion technology.

Lower Saxony’s Minister of Economics and Transport Bernd Althusmann said that the completed trial has a significant beyond transport.

“Alstom has made hydrogen history here. The project is of a great importance to industrial policy that goes far beyond Germany. Here, we are witnessing the first competitive product of hydrogen mobility at industrial level.”

When used, hydrogen produces no emissions, apart from water, and the hydrogen-powered propulsion system also reduces the amount of noise the trains produce. The Coradia iLint has been designed to replace diesel units on non-electrified lines. Enak Ferlemann, parliamentary state secretary at the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure, said that this was where hydrogen could play a big role.

“Hydrogen is a real low-emission and efficient alternative to diesel. Especially on secondary lines where overhead lines are uneconomical or not yet available, these trains can travel cleanly and in an environmentally friendly way. We would like to see more such applications.”

Alstom results

Alstom releases results for the 2019-2020 financial year

Alstom has released its results for the financial year 2019-2020, ending March 31, 2020.

The Paris-based, Euronext listed rollingstock and signalling manufacturer booked orders of €9.9 billion ($16.6bn) over the year, and had sales results totalling €8.2bn ($13.76bn).

The figures were driven by orders in Europe, including very high speed trains in France, metros, and regional trains, as well as Alstom’s winning of the Metronet railcar build and maintenance contract in Perth and the contract to supply further rollingstock and signalling to the Sydney Metro Southwest extension.

“Although considered a stabilisation year, Alstom enjoyed strong commercial momentum in a very dynamic railway market,” said Henri Poupart-Lafarge, Alstom chairman and chief executive officer.

“We won major orders especially in Europe and in Asia-Pacific. In addition, we secured pioneering orders for our green mobility solutions, illustrating the potential of such technologies and the dynamism of the shift to carbon free transportation modes.”

Research and development spending accounted for 3.7 per cent of sales in 2019/20, with focus particularly on emissions-free mobility, including electric motors, hydrogen fuel-cells, and battery traction systems. Alstom was awarded contracts for its hydrogen train and battery electric train in regions in Germany.

The effect of COVID-19 is not fully realised in these accounts, as they finish at the end of March, 2020, however Alstom noted that it would not issue dividends to shareholders in July. The company calculated that the impact on sales of COVID-19 is roughly €100 million ($167.9m), due to a slowdown of sales recognition. As of May 12 a restart of production is occurring, and the company expects a fast recovery in the rail market.

“Alstom considers the health and safety of its employees and stakeholders as its top priority during this period. We are confident for the resilience of Alstom’s business in the mid-term, given the fundamentals of the rail market and in particular, the need for greener mobility,” said Poupart-Lafarge.

digital rail

The digital rail revolution

As one of the leading providers of digital technology in the digital rail sector, Mark Coxon of Alstom explains what changes rail can expect to see in its digital future.

Since the beginning of the modern era, rail has been closely connected to each major industrial innovation. Initially, in the first industrial revolution, the use of steam to textile mills was almost as iconic as the steam-powered train engine, which became the symbol of increased productivity and modernisation during the 19th century.

In the next era, the adoption of hydrocarbons as a source for fuel also enabled the diesel train, able to haul large loads for transcontinental journeys. Simultaneously, widespread electrification and the urbanisation of worldwide populations saw the adoption of electric, underground metro services that have kept crowded cities moving. Now, as the information revolution looks to set to be the next defining wave of innovation, train technology is leading the way in innovation.

Alstom is one of the early adopters of the digital wave in rail, and indeed has become one of the drivers. The significance of this shift is not lost on Mark Coxon, managing director of Alstom Australian and New Zealand.

“Digital Railways doesn’t have quite the romantic ring of the great train services of the past – the Orient Express, the Canadian Pacific or the Trans-Siberian. But digital is the next big wave in the railway sector, and train users can look forward to higher service standards, more timely information and even better ticket pricing,” he said.

The two primary technologies that have come to define digital rail are digital train control and digital signalling. Although there is an array of other technologies, according to Coxon, these tools will have a fundamental impact on the evolution of rail during the current industrial revolution.

“Digital signalling and digital technologies in general will have a huge influence on the evolution of rail services. They are just the latest developments in an industry that has a great track record (pun intended) of technological innovation. From steam to diesel to electric power, the railroad’s evolving technologies have unleashed economic potential and social mobility wherever the rails were laid.”

Indeed, the new technologies exist in order to improve the usefulness of rail networks, rather than being a cosmetic add on.

“Today we are entering an age where digitalisation allows operators to have real- time information on train movements and analyse overall performance – ultimately reducing costs by streamlining processes and improving efficiency and reliability,” Coxon said.

UNLOCKING THE URBAN
For many cities, including Australia’s urban centres, the efficiencies promised by digital rail could not come soon enough. Traditional signalling systems have reached the end of their useful life, while patronage continues to increase. Additionally, building new rail lines through cities is often not an option, and tunnelling underneath poses significant cost challenges. This has put pressure on existing technology, said Coxon.

“Railways have been part of the urban landscape for so long that networks in many countries have become extremely dense, especially on commuter lines in major cities, making it difficult and costly to implement major upgrading projects. Instead, the kind of improvements in efficiency that digital technology excels at can have massive operational impacts.”

Digital rail can also extend to find connections with other forms of transport, across heavy rail, metro, light rail and also bus and micro-mobility networks. Finding these efficiencies in the digital ecosystem can deliver major benefits to transport and city planners.

“Digital technologies hold out the promise of true transport integration, linking main-line rail services with other urban transportation modes, enhancing efficiency and passenger convenience,” said Coxon. “The introduction of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT), Intelligent Transport Systems and open- data/open-source transport applications are transforming urban transportation, optimising the efficiency of existing and new urban transport systems, at a cost much lower than building new infrastructure from the ground up.”

Within the railways themselves, the enhanced data and feedback gathered by digital sensors form a connected railway that can reduce costs and improve service delivery.

“New transport data collection technologies are also being deployed to provide information about delays, downtime, and predictive maintenance which could lead to huge improvements in service standards, safety, and unlocking the potential of railways. Passengers will also be able to make real-time decisions about their journeys based on the features that matter most to them such as reliability, safety, travel time, and cost,” said Coxon.

In addition, as governments and individuals increasingly identify a project’s sustainability as a key factor, adopting the digitalisation
of railways can enable railway operators to reduce energy usage, improving air quality, while also delivering a seamless experience for the commuter.

“Enhanced safety, predictive maintenance, and automated driverless operation are all part of rail’s future,” said Coxon.

PUTTING THE PASSENGER FIRST
Perhaps an even more fundamental shift will be occurring in the way that passengers interact with transport. Currently divided into discrete journeys often limited by transport mode, a connected digital railway can enable the rise of Mobility as a Service (MaaS). Via data-enabled apps, commuters can move through transit modes made as one seamless trip, with real- time information to smoothen the transition.

“From the passenger’s perspective, access through online apps to real-time information on travel times, potential service interruptions, ticket prices, seating arrangements and even on the least crowded places to wait on a station platform, will enhance convenience and reduce the stress of travel,” said Coxon.

Reducing disruptions also enables transit time to fit into the other rhythms of daily life, with enhanced services available onboard.

“Railways today offer a connected service all along the passenger journey with on-board Wi-Fi for internet and entertainment options. Passengers are able to experience these services using their own mobile devices –laptops, tablets and smartphones,” said Coxon. “This approach to train connectivity can unquestionably deliver a significantly improved passenger experience.”

These developments occur as part of a strategy of putting the individual first, rather than forcing the individual to comply with the requirements of the service.

SEIZING THE DIGITAL FUTURE
However, just as digital rail offers solutions, there are challenges too, as Coxon acknowledges.

“The path to digitalisation will not, of course, be entirely smooth.”

The benefits of digital rail require collaboration and coordination between companies, agencies, and organisations that have up until now existed in their own silos, with limited interaction. In addition, the skills and knowledge that is required to build and run a digital rail system is quite different to those needed in an analogue rail environment, although Coxon notes that these changes could have their own benefits.

“Despite the challenges, the railway sector’s move to digitalisation is clearly unstoppable. Digital technology in the railway sector will see a shift from the traditional emphasis on heavy engineering, to software and data handling skills. In the future, once the hardware is installed, upgrading a signalling system will no longer require hundreds of workers out on the tracks; it might be more like upgrading the software on your phone.”

Getting to this digitally enabled future may require some difficult transitioning, however through collaborating across industry lines, returns can be found.

“Rail operators should take this digitalisation opportunity to integrate different mobility options into their existing offering and consequently focus on value creation through innovation,” said Coxon.

“Without a doubt, it is the quiet efficiency of digital technology that will take rail systems and their passengers into a new age of rail travel that is safer, more convenient and comfortable, more economical, and more climate-friendly.”