A purpose-built training facility for rail careers has been completed in Western Australia, with the first cohort of students to address a critical skills shortage in the rail industry. Read more
Thales’s Communications Based Train Control (CBTC) technology, SelTrac, will be deployed on the Millennium Line extension in Vancouver.
The signalling contract is part of the Vancouver Broadway Subway Project, which extends the SkyTrain Millennium line along the Broadway corridor.
The CA$2.83 billion ($3bn) project takes Vancouver’s iconic, fully automated SkyTrain underground beneath Broadway, as part of the redevelopment of the corridor through central Vancouver. The project is being carried out by the Broadway Subway Constructors General Partnership, a consortium led by Acciona and Ghella.
The project includes six stations and an interchange with the Canada Line at Arbutus Street and bus services to the University of British Columbia.
Dominique Gaiardo, vice president and managing director for Thales’ Urban Rail Signalling business, said the project would improve accessibility along the corridor.
“This exciting project will improve the livability and access across the vital economic and employment hub of the Broadway Corridor. Thales will continue to build local expertise and provide strong support to the city and is proud to contribute to the mass transit capacity expansion in Vancouver with the innovative SelTrac CBTC system.”
Thales and Vancouver have a significant history together, as the city was the first location for the deployment of the SelTrac system. The SelTrac signalling infrastructure supported the world’s first driverless CBTC system on the Vancouver SkyTrain Expo line. Thales has also provided signalling to the Millennium and Canada lines.
Drawing on the expertise developed in these projects and elsewhere, Thales has an urban rail signalling competence centre located in Burnaby, B.C, which will provide specialised rail signalling experts and local experience to the Broadway project.
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.”
Thales will roll out its SelTrac Communications Based Train Control (CBTC) system in three new cities, with one system recently entering service.
In Hangzhou, China, in its joint venture with Shanghai Electric Company, Thales SEC Transport (TST) recently celebrated Hangzhou Metro Line 16 entering revenue service. The 35.12km line can operate at speeds up to 120km/h and has utilised the SelTrac CBTC technology.
Functions of the signalling system deployed in Hangzhou include automatic train supervision (ATS), triple redundancy, automatic train protection (ATP) for engineering vehicles, and switch protection in intermittent automatic train protect (IATP) mode.
The newline will connect the Hangzhou city centre with the growing Lin’an District, enabling sustainable population growth said Jérôme Bendell, vice president of Thales North Asia and CEO of Thales in China.
“An efficient metro is essential for the commercial success and growth of any great city. Thales is proud to bring a proven expertise and decades of transit infrastructure experience to Hangzhou Line 16 that will contribute to the transportation foundation for Hangzhou’s growth and evolution.”
Three other metropolises have selected Thales CBTC signalling systems for new lines and capacity increases. In Seoul, as part of the modernisation of Incheon Subway Line 2, Thales is working with local Korean signalling company DaeaTi to increase the depot capacity, allowing for the driverless trains to be parked safely.
Thales is also delivering its vehicle on board controller (VOBC) with train contractor Woojin Ind.
In Istanbul, the SelTrac CBTC system will be installed on the new M10 line. This will be the second line in Istanbul with the technology, and will now link Turkey’s second busiest airport with Istanbul and its growing suburbs.
Again delivering as TST, the SelTrac CBTC system will provide the signalling for the new metro line 4 in Nangchang, in eastern China. The new line will be the longest in Nanchang, capital of Jiangxi Province, as well as having the largest number of stations.
Dominique Gaiardo, vice president and managing director for Thales’ urban rail signalling business, said that Thales tailors its solution to the needs of each customer and the requirements of passengers in each city.
“During the Covid-19 period, we are continuing to work together with our global partners in major cities such as Incheon, Istanbul, and Nanchang. Thales is committed to providing state-of-the-art SelTrac CBTC signalling technology.”
While digitalisation can realise great advances, overcoming application factors in digital train control involved takes smart engineering.
Although comprising a number of different, discrete technologies, digital train control systems represent one of the most significant changes in 100 years of rail signalling.
Older systems across Australia and New Zealand are undergoing a fundamental and wholescale shift as railway operators strive to maximise performance and capacity.
This presents a tremendous opportunity to improve rail capability and competitiveness across existing networks, extensions and new lines in both metro and mainline applications.
Replacing line-side multi-aspect colour light signalling with Digital Train Control (DTC) systems promises to bring improvements in line capacity, connections, reduce journey times and improve safety and performance, among an array of other benefits.
In Australia, there have been disparate drivers for the adoption of DTC, however increasingly these technologies enable significant innovation, both in freight operations, with Rio Tinto’s fully automated railway, and in passenger services with the fully automated Sydney Metro Northwest.
David Milburn, GHD global leader – Digital Train Control explains how transport organisations can maximise value from digital investments regardless of the specific rail technology and the context of its application. Milburn has decades of experience in leading Train Control and Systems Engineering (SE) teams for major programs, and has been successfully applying SE techniques to railway projects since 1996. Milburn has worked on a range of signalling systems and related standards, specialising in transmission-based signalling such as ETCS and CBTC.
“We help clients to become informed purchasers. Each technology has distinctive characteristics appropriate to different train control scenarios and our knowledge in both DTC and legacy signalling systems enables us to identity and manage risk in a safety critical environment.”
As an umbrella term, DTC includes systems such as Automatic Train Operation (ATO), Automatic Train Protection (ATP), European Train Control System (ETCS), and Communications Based Train Control (CBTC), among other variants. Each network will ultimately find a solution that fits best with their operation and funding highlighted Milburn.
“We provide agnostic solutions and advice to help clients find what best fits their particular needs and help them to navigate different products and different suppliers to get the most appropriate solutions.
“This involves selecting the right concept for their particular railway, and then providing technical leadership and project engineering to bring that into the physical infrastructure,” said Milburn.
STARTING FROM SAFE
While railways have had more than 100 years of history to determine the best practice for traditional lineside signalling, the relatively new status of DTC requires a risk-based approach to safety that works to identify and minimise any potential unplanned events.
“Most operators have spent decades working in a particular manner. The rules have been developed over a long period of time, often as a reaction to incidents and accidents and to accommodate a particular technology. One of the key challenges when you’re introducing new technology is to identify and manage all the potential risks before day one of operation,” said Milburn.
GHD works with operators and suppliers to develop specifications and standards that can be applied in the implementation of DTC systems in Australia.
“We can work with clients to support them in developing their concept of operations, how their system is going to work, provide analysis to make sure that they have got the right concept, and develop engineering rules, and operational rules to efficiently and safely manage the system and to meet the operational concept.”
While there will often be local variations in developing standards for train control systems, GHD can draw on its global network, in collaboration with partners, to define and implement DTC systems to meet the needs of a particular application.
Already, 42 cities run 64 fully automated metro lines, with the first mainline- passenger with ATO over ETCS service on the Thameslink project in London, in March 2018. In total, there are over 100,000 kilometres of ETCS equipped infrastructure around the world.
Taking lessons from these projects, GHD is advancing its approach to efficiently support the delivery of DTC systems projects in Australia.
To ensure that depth of knowledge can be applied to each project, GHD has worked to build up a talent pool of those who have hands-on knowledge of application and integration issues in other contexts where DTC has already been applied.
“Even when the technology is successfully deployed, in some cases it can’t actually be fully implemented because the railway administration hasn’t completed the necessary organisational and business change, or the training and competence of people,” said Milburn.
GLOBAL EXPERIENCE – LOCAL EXPERTISE
Understanding both the human and technological side of DTC systems has led to recognition that having the right expertise is key to driving successful and transformational DTC systems. This is what GHD is providing in Australia, whether playing the role of an independent certifier, as GHD did in the Sydney Metro Northwest project, project management, business case development, or systems integration.
“The first part of that is creating a pool of resource and pool of expertise,” said Milburn. “A lot of clients are encountering this technology for the first time. They are working on projects without the comfort of having first hand previous experience but we are building a team of people who have successfully deployed these very specialist technologies.”
While train operators may have a wealth of expertise in traditional signalling technologies, DTC systems require a new set of competencies, both during installation and operational phases.
There is an acute skills shortage in Australia when it comes to DTC. GHD has been working to develop a local knowledge base and provide the necessary upskilling and support to signalling engineers in Australia. Where appropriate, GHD has recruited engineers with a proven track record on successfully completed overseas projects.
“We’re working hard to establish a training facility for digital train technologies, both for generic approaches and principles as well as more detailed competencies, and courses for maintenance and design.
“At the moment, there’s a huge gap between the number of projects and the resources required in Australia,” said Milburn.
AVOIDING THE MISTAKES OF THE PAST
With a number of DTC systems already in operation, each with their subtle different operational methodologies, and a number of projects in their early stages, the value of standardisation cannot be understated. This is vital to ensure that Australia does not repeat the mistakes made in the last century by having approaches unique to each state or operator. Already, Milburn is seeing Australia head in this direction.
“We’ve seen a number of instances in Australia, where organisations have taken off-the-shelf ETCS technology, and then worked with the supplier to add additional functionality important to their respective needs,” said Milburn.
“For example, the introduction of ATO over ETCS, with the introduction of satellite positioning. These are all functions outside of the European standards at the moment but it would be hugely beneficial for the industry to work together to avoid significant and costly problems in the future”.
The establishment of ETCS was aimed at overcoming these issues in Europe, where, for example, trains on the Paris – Brussels – Cologne line traversed seven different train control systems, from more than 20 train control systems in the EU.
“Australia now has the opportunity to standardise so that you have common competencies across state and organisational boundaries.”
Nuno Guerra, who is leading Thales Australia’s Metro agenda, explains how the implementation of digital rail systems can benefit a network operator.
Australia’s major cities are growing at an exponential rate, and pressure is being placed on infrastructure and transportation services to improve operational efficiencies and the passenger experience. A digital revolution in smart-mobility is already occurring, allowing town planners to manage and capitalise on these pressures. Rail infrastructure will play a central role in this revolution, with disruptive technology enablers such as artificial intelligence (AI), big data analytics, the industrial internet of things (IIoT), and cloud computing driving its transformation.
In Australia, both Sydney and Melbourne are at the forefront of the rail revolution: Sydney announced the North West Metro in 2008 and the new CBD and South East sections of its Light Rail in 2014. Both projects are now complete and open to the public. Similarly, Melbourne has announced its Melbourne Airport Rail Link – a critical connection between Tullamarine Airport, the metro, and regional networks – and the Suburban Rail Loop, both scheduled to begin construction in 2022.
Rail networks are awash with data and, with projects like those we are seeing in Sydney and Melbourne, the potential for utilisation is immense. Though there are many assets that incorporate and utilise digital technologies, only a fraction of this data is captured and analysed to generate actionable insights and improvements for customers and efficiencies for operators. There is potential for operators to boost revenue by as much as 30 per cent by implementing data-driven decision-making capability into their networks.
When comparing the rail sector to the likes of road transportation, there has been an explosive growth of ride sharing apps and online booking platforms. The roads sector has successfully leveraged data and used technology to connect directly with the customer and as a result built a competitive edge. The rail sector, by comparison, has not capitalised on data at the same pace. However, the rail industry is at the threshold of a major transformation in this data revolution. The benefits of rail travel to the community are hard to dispute, with each passenger journey made by rail rather than road generating benefits for society of between $3.88 and $10.64 by reducing congestion, accidents, and carbon costs, according to the Value of Rail report produced by Deloitte Access Economics for the Australasian Railway Association.
WHAT ARE THE MAIN DIGITISATION AND SMART-MOBILITY PRIORITIES?
The keys to success when it comes to digital revolution and smart-mobility, which are at the forefront of Thales’s development roadmap are safety and security, efficiency, and reliability. These shape our thinking in terms of what we aim to achieve in a smart network and address the five key digitisation priorities that are outlined below.
First and foremost, improvements in safety and security are paramount – Thales’s safety and mission critical systems such as signalling and supervision & control systems are digital and cyber secured by design by default, providing real-time data on congestion, occupancy, and security.
In relation to cyber-security, the digital railway presents a special challenge to traditional security measures due the deployed nature of the assets and their susceptibility to hackers. Thales has tackled these issues using a two-technology approach – traditional IT network security and ‘edge’ security (referring to devices deployed in the field). Thales Cybersecure by Design services focus on early threat detection and segmented networks to limit the access of direct connections outside the network. The ‘edge’ devices that make up the IIoT are manufactured under stringent security guidelines to ensure access points are not exploited, and reduce the risk of counterfeits and clones. Through limiting and securing access to these geographically scattered devices, organisations are also able to maintain tighter control and lower device maintenance and update costs. These technologies give operators confidence that their data and operations are safely expandable and secure.
The second priority is reducing maintenance and operational expenditure. Unplanned shutdowns are a major problem for operators, accounting for hundreds of millions of lost revenue per year. Research has shown that the top cause of unreliability is external problems, followed by signalling and train issues. To counter this challenge, we can tap into existing data sources such as Communications-Based Train Control (CBTC) systems, axle counters and point machines and use big data analytics algorithms to detect abnormal behaviour and predict maintenance requirements. This is the primary function of Thales’ digital TIRIS solution – processing hundreds of terabytes of data to monitor, in real-time, equipment installed on-board trains and along thousands of kilometres of track. The aim is a zero unplanned maintenance approach and customers have seen maintenance costs reduced by 30 per cent, site visits down by 50 per cent and overall downtime reduced by 40 per cent.
Thirdly, digital systems must help increase capacity. Data on passenger journeys, train occupancy, and platform crowding has enormous potential when taken in isolation, however, when combined and processed using big data analytics and AI, greater potential can be unlocked. The Thales NAIA solution processes passenger data in near- real time, allowing operators to discover and predict passenger behaviours, detect friction points in traffic flow and adapt staff and train services according to passenger demand. The flow-on benefits to train occupancy and capacity will have a distinct improvement on operational efficiency and customer satisfaction.
Asset availability presents the fourth priority. The ability to manage mobility across an entire city, and ensure availably and reliability of assets to meet passenger and freight demands is a critical challenge. Network visibility and real-time asset management enables more effective tools to manage this challenge. Multimodal Operation Control Centres (OCCs) provide these tools by tapping into multiple data sources and the industrial internet of things to create an ‘intelligent infrastructure’. Creating a dynamic visualisation of digitised assets across the network, enhancements to traditional systems such as signalling and interlocking systems will feed into this framework, exceeding current capabilities to increase frequency of operations and reduce delays.
Finally, digitisation must improve the passenger experience. As evidenced above, these modular digital solutions will combine to benefit the passenger in many ways. Ready access to comprehensive data will enable operators to make informed decisions on operations and maintenance to better manage passenger flow, train occupancy and wait times. Similarly, the passenger will benefit directly by more accurate and real-time information on congestion and delays. The Thales Central Control System (CCS), recently delivered on the Sydney Metro North West, is already providing this real-time information.
These disruptive technology enablers mean big change for the rail sector in Australia, and a leap forward for the smart-city architecture that is revolutionising our cities. Thales is at the forefront of this digital revolution, combining our global expertise in ground transformation with our data-driven digital service solutions to provide end-to- end solutions for our customers.
Infrastructure Australia has listed the High Capacity Signalling Project, part of the Metronet program, as a priority project.
Now added to Infrastructure Australia’s Infrastructure Priority List, the move acknowledges the benefits which could come from upgrading signalling on the Perth network.
In addition to extensions to lines and new stations, Metronet is proposing to replace the existing signalling and train control system with new infrastructure. This would lead to improvements across the network, said Romilly Madew, chief executive of Infrastructure Australia.
“Modern Automatic Train Control systems can facilitate a range of service improvements, such as schedule and headway optimisation, turn-up-and-go service frequencies, real-time passenger information, faster recovery from operational disruptions, and better regulation of train traffic at network pinch points.”
The system will use a Communications Based Train Control System (CBTC), and the project’s wider scope covers implementing automation train operation, supervision, and regulation, as well as the construction of a Rail Operations Centre, a back-up signalling equipment room, and upgrades to the current Alternate Train Control facility. Current signalling and control systems are reaching the end of their operational life.
“The High Capacity Signalling project will make better, more efficient use of the existing rail network. The existing signalling and control systems are nearing the end of their asset lives. Upgrading them to an integrated high-capacity signalling system will give Perth’s rail network the capacity to grow while also creating more reliable, safe and punctual train operations. Coupling this project with Metronet new lines and stations will create a more attractive public transport network for Perth residents,” said PTA spokesman, David Hynes.
Madew said the project aligns with the priorities of Infrastructure Australia.
“It’s important to note that the High Capacity Signalling Project strongly aligns with Infrastructure Australia’s own recommendations to improve the performance of urban rail networks in our capital cities by making better use of existing networks and technology.”
Implementing the signalling project would enable capacity increases of up to 150 per cent on the rail network and the business case submitted by the WA Public Transport Authority found a cost benefit ratio of 2.6.
The business case stated that a single contractor will design, build, and maintain the Automatic Train Control system, and that the first roll out would be either on the North-South line group by 2026 or the South-East line group also by 2026.
Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure Alan Tudge said that the signalling upgrades will fit alongside other improvements to the network also designated significant by Infrastructure Australia.
“For people in the north of Perth the Morley-Ellenbrook Line will be 21 kms of rail line improving connectivity and productivity for locals,” said Tudge.
“At the same time the Capacity Signalling System project will improve the performance of the current rail network by allowing trains to run more often, reliably and safely.
“Metronet will get cars off the road, bust congestion, connect communities to jobs and services and unlock opportunities for business growth in the region.”