Face masks strongly encouraged on NSW public transport

Face masks are now encouraged for passengers on NSW public transport.

The change to strongly encouraging mask wearing came on Sunday, August 2, with NSW chief health officer Kerry Chant recommending masks be worn in indoor settings where physical distancing is hard to maintain, such as on public transport.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said that physical distancing is still the main goal.

“People should continue to maintain their physical distance – it is our most effective weapon. However, if you find yourself in a situation where you can’t maintain your physical distance you should wear a mask,” she said.

“It is critical the community understands masks should be used in conjunction with other measures, and not as a standalone measure.”

People are still advised not to travel on public transport if they are sick and to maintain good hygiene.

While masks will not be enforced on public transport, Transport for NSW is strongly recommending passengers wear masks.

A Transport for NSW spokesperson also said that updated mask guidelines have been issued for staff.

“Transport for NSW has made face masks available for customer facing frontline staff and is strongly recommending these masks are used at work.”

While masks were made mandatory in Melbourne on July 22, no other Australian jurisdiction has enforced a similar measure. Social distancing is also not mandatory on public transport in NSW, however heavily encouraged and promoted through the “no dot, no spot” campaign.

CEO of the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) Caroline Wilkie said that the rail industry thanked those who were wearing masks.

“Wearing a mask helps save lives and keeps our rail workers safe as well,” she said.

“We welcome the public support for those on the front line as they keep working to support the rest of us.”

Passenger volumes on NSW public transport were beginning to increase in May and June. Sydney Trains recorded a low of six million trips in April, while June recording 13,754,000 trips. Since the start of July, however, trips on the entire NSW public transport network have begun to decline again, by around 9 per cent.

Prior to COVID-19, in June 2019 32 million trips were taken on the Sydney Trains network.

Stage 4 lockdown restricts public transport, rail construction in Melbourne

As Victoria enters stage 4 restrictions due to the spread of COVID-19, metropolitan rail services and construction on major rail projects in Melbourne are being cut back.

While public transport is able to continue running, with Melbourne under a curfew from 8pm to 5am, Metro Trains services have been significantly reduced with trains running infrequently. Yarra Trams have stated that some services will run at up to 40 minute frequency. Public Transport Victoria stated that changes to services will be different each night.

All Night Network services, which covers services that run after midnight on Friday and Saturday nights, will be suspended while stage 4 restrictions are in place. The current restrictions only allow people to leave their homes between 8pm and 5am for work, medical care, and caregiving.

According to Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews some staff will be redeployed.

“The Night Network will be suspended, and public transport services will be reduced during curfew hours. This will also allow us to redeploy more of our PSOs into our enforcement efforts.”

Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) spokesperson Daniel Bowen said that better communication of changes was needed.

“On Monday night details of drastic evening service cuts for trams and trains were only published as they took effect, giving travellers no time to plan ahead,” he said.

The PTUA recommended running trains to a Saturday timetable would be a better outcome, with less demand during the peaks.

“While the capacity will probably be sufficient to maintain physical distancing given the curfew and the shutdown of most workplaces, the big problem is the wait times. Imagine finishing your shift at 11pm and having to wait 90 minutes for your train home,” said Bowen.

Rail construction projects are also limited under the stage 4 restrictions. Major construction sites are limited to the minimum amount of people required for safety, and no more than 25 per cent of the normal workforce. Small scale construction is limited to a maximum of five people on site. Andrews said the government was reviewing major public projects.

“To date, we’ve almost halved the number of people onsite on some of our biggest government projects. Now we’re going to go through project by project, line by line to make sure they are reduced to the practical minimum number of workers.”

A Major Transport Infrastructure Authority (MTIA) spokesperson said that work would continue under the new restrictions.

“The MTIA is continuing to look at ways to further reduce the number of staff while allowing essential works to continue safely.”

On-site, MTIA staff are required to wear a mask, practice physical distancing and follow hygiene procedures and staggered shifts. A 70-person strong COVID Safety Team have been ensuring that all worksites comply, with multiple checks each day on every project.

Other rail businesses and organisations will largely be able to continue in line with their COVIDsafe plans. This includes passenger and freight operations, including rail yards, and transport support services.

Australasian Railway Association (ARA) CEO Caroline Wilkie said she welcomed the government’s recognition of rail’s essential role and noted that the restrictions struck the right balance between keeping businesses operating and addressing the spread of COVID-19.

“The rail industry has been working hard to keep essential services safely operating throughout 2020,” she said.

“From the train drivers on passenger and freight services to those working in stations, workshops and in the office, rail workers have made sure essential services are there for people who need them no matter what.”

Rail manufacturing businesses will also be able to remain operating, due to their role in supporting an essential service. Manufacturing businesses that support critical infrastructure public works are able to operate as per their COVIDsafe plan.

“Now more than ever we need the rail network to be as reliable and efficient as possible and these businesses are crucial to that effort,” said Wilkie.

States must honour national border protocol say ALC, ARA

Inconsistency in the application of border controls for freight movements are creating delays and confusion for rail freight operators.

After the national cabinet endorsed a national protocol for freight movement over closed borders on July 24, which recommended that government agencies should consult with industry in relation to border controls, changes have occurred without consultation, said Australian Logistics Council (ALC) CEO Kirk Coningham.

“The lack of consultation directly contravenes the national protocol that all state and territories agreed to.”

Coningham said that a lack of consistency was creating confusion.

“It is especially concerning that some jurisdictions have now mandated negative COVID-19 test results for drivers coming from Victoria, yet Victorian authorities are explicitly discouraging anyone who is asymptomatic from obtaining a COVID-19 test,” he said.

“This leaves freight vehicle drivers travelling interstate from Victoria in an impossible position of being unable to comply with the requirements of one government because of the instructions given by another.”

Currently, South Australia is requiring those providing commercial transport and freight services who travel from Victoria to have a COVID-19 test within the last seven days of crossing the border.

Australasian Railway Association (ARA) CEO Caroline Wilkie said that consistency was vital to enable the efficient operation of supply chains.

“Delays at the border or differing approaches across the country frustrate those efforts at a time when we rely on our rail freight network more than ever.”

The national protocol sets out that COVID-19 tests should be made available to rail crew, and that routine testing should be required for those planning on entering or leaving hot spots. States and territories should also provide pop-up testing facilities that do not add undue time to the journey.

Wilkie said that delays at the border can have a significant impact on freight operations.

“It is essential state and territory border restrictions account for the vitally important role of the rail freight sector and make sure operators have consistent protocols to follow as they travel across the country.”

National protocol to reduce cross-border freight confusion

A joint national protocol to enable smooth freight movement over closed borders has been agreed upon by state and territory governments and the Commonwealth.

The national Protocol for Domestic Border Controls – Freight Movements establishes a common set of agreements for freight operators that are transporting goods across state borders that have been closed due to coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreaks.

The national protocol outlines that rail crew will not be required to quarantine or self-isolate for two weeks, unless they develop symptoms of COVID-19 or were in close contact with a case.

Rail crew who are crossing borders or travelling through hotspots should be required to keep a record of close contacts and should minimise non-essential contacts.

Freight operators are encouraged to have a COVIDsafe workplan which will be mutually recognised by state and territory governments.

If further changes are necessary, state and territory governments are encouraged to consult with industry to understand the impact of potential changes.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said that the protocol was the result of collaboration between government and industry.

“This is a great demonstration of how governments and industry are working together to ensure much-needed goods keep making their way to communities during the pandemic whilst keeping the health and safety of all Australians front and centre.”

Assistant Minister for Road Safety and Freight Transport Scott Buchholz said that with various and rapidly changing requirements, the protocol would enable the efficient operation of supply chains across Australia.

“We know this has been tough a time for the industry, with our freight operators often required to cross multiple internal borders in a single trip – facing the critical domestic border controls state and territory governments have had to operate to stem the spread of COVID-19,” he said.

“Aligning state and territory measures through this protocol will ensure smoother inter-state journeys for our freight operators and reduce delays in the supply chain.”

Australian Logistics Council (ALC) CEO Kirk Coningham said the organisation had been working to ensure that freight continues to move when border restrictions were put in place.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has underlined just how vital efficient, safe and resilient supply chain operations are to Australia. Yet the closure of state borders and imposition of restrictions during the pandemic has added complexity and duplication of processes associated with freight transport,” said Coningham.
Interstate border closures were a feature of the first wave of COVID-19 shutdowns in March, with freight operators required to fill out arrival forms.

In early July, when NSW closed its border for the first time with Victoria due to the outbreak in Melbourne, permits were required for rail freight staff crossing the border. This initially also required rail staff to self-isolate, however this was then overturned.

Coningham said the new protocol will reduce future confusion.

“The protocol’s explicit acknowledgement that authorities should consult with industry to understand the effect and impacts of potential changes ahead of any new directions being been put place is significant. Adherence to this commitment will be essential to avoid some of the confusion that has been witnessed throughout the pandemic, as border requirements were changed with inadequate notice to industry,” he said.

“ALC is pleased that these principles are all enshrined in the protocol that has been agreed to today. We also welcome the protocol’s commitment to mutual recognition of COVIDsafe workplans developed in other jurisdictions, and to standardising the duration and conditions of border permits.”

Big reforms without a big price tag

CEO of the ALC Kirk Coningham outlines how governments could make significant reforms to unlock freight and logistics networks.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been an expensive experience for governments around the nation. Budgets that were in surplus or close to balance have been pushed firmly back into the red, and this will undoubtedly affect the policy choices governments make in the months and years to come.

Yet, significant reforms don’t have to be accompanied by a big spend. As governments turn their minds to policy actions needed to hasten the pace of Australia’s economic recovery, there is significant opportunity to achieve regulatory reforms that will be of lasting benefit to the freight and logistics sector.

Developing a set of National Planning Principles was a key action to emerge from the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy released last year. Establishing these presents us with an opportunity to achieve a better balance and ensure that freight movement is properly integrated as part of a more nationally consistent approach to planning.

A key outcome flowing from the establishment of National Planning Principles must be to enshrine distinct planning recognition for freight and logistics lands within all state and territory planning schemes.

Of course, these new National Planning Principles would be significantly strengthened by the development of a National Corridor Protection Strategy.

A consistent national approach to corridor protection is essential to achieving the planning reforms that the freight logistics industry needs. Effective corridor protection not only serves to prevent future community discord over land use; it can also deliver significant savings for taxpayers when it comes to the cost of building infrastructure.

Infrastructure Australia underscored this fact in 2017, when it found that close to $11 billion could be saved on land purchases and construction costs for seven future infrastructure priorities listed on the Infrastructure Priority List if swift action was taken to preserve relevant corridors.

Now is also an ideal time to pursue harmonisation of regulations that govern freight movement as it transits across to the continent.

To take one example, the 2018 Review of Rail Access Regimes, published by the then Department of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development noted there were roughly 150 different environmental regulations that rail operators must comply with when operating rollingstock between Perth and Brisbane.

Clearly, there are cost savings and other efficiencies to be gained by moving towards a single set of laws across jurisdictions governing environmental regulation, workplace health and safety, workers’ compensation, and drug and alcohol testing for the freight and logistics sector. The new-found spirit of cooperation engendered through the National Cabinet process should now be harnessed to secure that outcome.

In a constrained budgetary atmosphere such as that which is likely to endure for several years in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is even more important that governments drive though low-cost regulatory reforms that will still deliver tangible benefits to the freight and logistics sector, and to the wider community.

rail industry

Get policy settings right and rail will help lead recovery

In the aftermath of COVID-19, there is a huge opportunity for the rail industry to support Australasia’s rebound, writes Caroline Wilkie, CEO of the ARA.

As COVID-19 struck, many industries wound down as travel restrictions and social distancing measures started to bite.

The much-discussed hibernation was a necessary reality for many, but for the rail industry the essential work of keeping our communities connected and economy moving ploughed on.

Public transport operators kept the trains running on time, and in many cases maintained their normal schedules to ensure those who needed to travel could maintain social distancing requirements.

The added work of additional cleaning and maintenance to keep their customers COVID safe was quickly implemented and continues as we return to a more normal way of life.

Throughout all the changes we’ve seen since this crisis began, dedicated teams that support the safe operation of our train network have been a saving grace for those that still needed to get to work, to care for family or simply buy essential supplies.

The rail freight industry also became an important part of keeping supply chains open as international borders closed.

The big swings in demand for household basics like toilet paper called for fast and reliable delivery to replenish supermarket shelves, and Australia’s freight operators helped meet that challenge throughout the worst of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the suppliers that maintain and operate the industry’s rollingstock, track and technology kept the network operating smoothly by continuing their essential work.

The outstanding efforts of the rail industry in difficult times has been of great benefit to the community and we thank the many people who have gone above and beyond in their roles to meet the challenges of this time.

But as the industry kept on moving, rail suppliers, contractors and freight operators were still feeling the impact of COVID-19.

A recent Australasian Railway Association (ARA) survey of 58 of its members found constraints on international shipments and falling customer spending were the biggest challenges they were experiencing in the face of the pandemic.

Concerned about the financial impact on their business, they worried the pipeline of government projects would slow – and some had already seen evidence of just that.

About half had deferred investments, putting workplace expansions and capital expenditure on hold as they repositioned their businesses to get through these unprecedented times.

But the industry showed its commitment to the long term, with only a relatively small number of respondents taking the tough decision to stand down staff or roll out redundancies.

Despite the challenges, the survey respondents were already planning for recovery and preparing their businesses for the growth that will eventually come.

Our members told us maintaining the current project pipeline was the single most important thing governments could do, followed by funding stimulus projects.

The ARA has acted on this feedback and has been engaging with federal and state governments on potential stimulus projects to support the rail industry.

ARA members also called for improved local content policies and procurement processes as more and more businesses considered a shift to using more local suppliers.

In fact, a staggering three quarters of those looking to make changes to their supply chain said they would seek more suppliers in Australia or their home state.

This is a huge opportunity for the rail industry and for Australian jobs.

The ARA’s tendering framework, released in May, supports the need for a nationally consistent procurement approach.

Making such a change was already considered vitally important before COVID-19, but now, taking that step could help the industry realise its ambition to support even more local content.

Strong local content policies and more uniform national standards would give suppliers the economies of scale they need to build sustainable businesses here in Australia and help the industry boost the resilience of its supply chains.

The success of the National Cabinet has shown that collaboration between the states can work to achieve consistent approaches.

That is exactly what we need right now.

The good news is the industry is ready for that recovery and expect it will come quickly when the time is right.

About a third of survey respondents told us they could be back to normal operations within a month once the impact of COVID-19 was over.

Most others said it would take them less than a year.

So as the many essential workers in the rail industry keep working through this most unusual year, there are signs of optimism for recovery on the other side of this event.

Getting the policy settings right to speed that process will be key to supporting a strong rebound for the benefit of all Australians.

Freight industry shaping supply chain strategy

The federal Freight Industry Reference Panel has met for the first time to progress industry input into the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy.

According to panel chair John Fullerton, the work of the panel will cover all modes.

“Our advice to government will present a holistic, cross-network, multi-modal view and I look forward to working with these members on this critical goal.”

The panel, announced in June, will provide expertise on the delivery of the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy, the agenda for government and industry action in freight for the next 20 years. These actions include investment, improved supply chain efficiency, better planning, coordination, and regulation, and more precise freight location and performance data.

The plan has been developed to grapple with a 35 per cent growth in freight volume between 2018 and 2040 and the changing profile of freight to more urban freight. At the same time, freight productivity and costs have plateaued, reducing competitiveness of exports.

“As we act to respond to the ongoing impacts of COVID-19, we also need to maintain our focus on meeting our long-term freight challenges to support a bigger and more productive Australia and to secure a prosperous future for this critical industry,” said Fullerton.

“That’s why we’ll be working hard to ramp-up momentum on the strategy, with each of the panel members bringing a depth of knowledge and a range of experiences from across all freight modes and supply chains.”

Assistant Minister for Road Safety and Freight Transport Scott Buchholz said that the shared and collaborative experience of COVID-19 for the freight industry highlighted the importance of working across government and industry.

“The strategy is important now more than ever to support this critical industry and indeed the entire nation by driving real improvements to Australia’s freight productivity, because that is good for jobs and the economy,” he said.

“The panel has an important role driving ambition for the strategy and acting as a vital conduit for industry views and providing independent advice on progress made.

“I look forward to seeing the panel’s work progress as we continue working hard to implement this critical strategy to achieve better outcomes for our national freight supply chain.”

SEQ

Services increase on SEQ network, but group calls for more infrastructure

105 train services will be added to the South East Queensland (SEQ) public transport network on weekdays from August 10, to support safe travel.

The train services are in addition to almost 1,000 extra bus services as the state welcomes commuters back to public transport.

“We have no community transmission here and active cases are in single digits, so our buses, trains, trams and ferries are safe,” said Queensland Transport and Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey.

Patronage is down on the network by about 50 per cent compared to the same time last year, however the state is expecting an increase with universities reopening and office workers returning to the CBD. Currently about 330,000 trips are made a day on the public transport network.

“We don’t expect those numbers to immediately climb back to where they were before COVID-19 arrived but we still want to spread passengers out as much as we can, and these extra services will help do that,” said Bailey.

“This boost to morning and afternoon peak services will add almost 58,000 extra seats on buses and trains.”

While the increase in bus services are a trial, the extra train services will be permanent across seven lines. Services will run every 15 minutes in the morning and afternoon on the Beenleigh, Caboolture, Cleveland, Ipswich, Redcliffe Peninsula, Shorncliffe, and Springfrield lines.

Queensland is still encouraging passengers to spread their commute where possible outside of the peaks and as part of its COVID-19 Safe Public Transport Plan is installing hand sanitiser stations at all train stations.

The Queensland government has been encouraging passengers to use active transport and public transport as part of the “Reboot your commute” campaign, however Robert Dow from RAIL Back on Track said that active and public transport in South East Queensland remained low by international standards.

“RAIL Back On Track calls on the major political parties and the RACQ to stop proposing ‘congestion busting’ urban freeway projects in the upcoming Queensland election and instead announce major significant public transport and supporting active transport investment,” said Dow.

Dow listed 16 initiatives across SEQ, including some such as the Beerburrum to Nambour and Salisbury to Beaudesert commuter rail upgrades which have been languishing for 10 years or more.

E-Class Melbourne tram. Photo: Liam Davies

Major boost to train and tram services in Victoria

Victoria is adding hundreds of train and tram services across major train lines and key tram routes from Monday, July 13.

10 extra services per week will be added to the Sunbury, Craigieburn, Werribee, Mernda, Dandenong, Ringwood, and Glen Waverly lines, with an extra five services a week on the Hurstbridge line.

Once level crossing removal works on the Frankston line are complete on Monday, July 27, an extra 10 services a week will run on the Frankston and Sandringham lines.

On the tram network, two new peak period routes will be added. One will run during weekday peaks along St George’s Road, Brunswick Street, and Collins Street, while another will run for up to 19 hours every day between Victoria Harbour and St Vincent’s Plaza, also via Collins Street.

Route 30 will be replaced with route 12 to alleviate congestion on Collins Street, and will instead run on La Trobe Street.

The extra services are in part to reduce the chance of the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) for those who do need to use the public transport system to travel, said Victorian Minister for Public Transport and Roads and Road Safety Ben Carroll.

“We’re adding hundreds of new train and tram services every week – giving Victorians the options to travel outside of the traditional peak hours and practice better physical distancing, keeping us all safer.”

In addition to the extra services, boarding via all doors on buses will be implemented over the next 18 months, to reduce crowding at bus stops, and contact will also be reduced with the end of cash payments on board buses from July 13.

Extra cleaners have also been deployed to the network to reduce the chance of the spread of infection.

“We’re grateful to our frontline public transport staff for keeping Victoria moving during the pandemic – these changes will keep them safer as they do their essential work,” said Carroll.

COVID

The digital pandemic: How COVID-19 has accelerated digital rail

COVID-19 has upended many aspects of rail transport, however there are aspects of the disruption that provide an opportunity for digital transformation.

By March 23, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic had hit New Zealand.

Already, the country had closed its borders to anyone who was not a New Zealand citizen or permanent resident and those who could return had to isolate for two weeks. But in late March, the way that New Zealanders would get around their cities decidedly changed.

On March 25, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the country had moved to alert level four. This meant that New Zealanders could not leave their homes unless for essential services and in Auckland, the public transport network reduced to weekend level services.

Callum McLeod, who is in charge of Auckland Transport’s web presence, mobile app and journey planner, could see that there were still passengers making use of the network.

“There were still Aucklanders that needed to travel for essential purposes, be that workers in health care, people travelling to the doctor or the pharmacy, or even just getting their groceries in areas that had limited other options for transportation. We knew that these customers were wondering, ‘How do I travel and get to where I need to go while still being safe?’”

Physical distancing measures applied by that point required people to keep a distance of at least two metres between themselves and others, and this applied to public transport as well. McLeod understood that passengers wanted to know whether there was enough room on the buses, trains, and ferries that were still operating before they got on. Luckily, McLeod and his team had a solution.

“We had bus occupancy information available internally, as an operational tool, for about the last year or so, and we’d been using that to manage patronage and understand where certain routes might be getting a little busy.”

Up until then, however, that information was not available to passengers. Seeing how critical this information was, the team of software developers at Auckland Transport got to work.

“We’d been doing some design exploration, but we hadn’t intended to launch it as quickly as we did. Given the situation we pulled the team together and over the course of about a week implemented the capability to display occupancy data that from our real time streams and then present that in a way to the customer that made sense,” said McLeod.

While the Auckland Transport app had previously categorised capacity in terms of many seats, few seats, and standing room only, this needed to change for the COVID-19 reality, said McLeod.

“In the context of COVID-19, this function became even more important and it became less about needing a seat and more, ‘Can I travel while keeping enough distance between myself and others?’”

The system, initially rolled out for buses, was based upon passengers tagging on and off with their Hop travel cards. Every nine seconds, that information is transmitted back to Auckland Transport, along with the bus’s location, determined by GPS. With the system up and running for buses, the time came for it to be deployed for trains as well, however a different method of collecting data had to be used.

“With our trains the tag on, tag off point is at the station level, it’s not on the train itself, so we weren’t able to use that information. But what we do have on our trains is automatic passenger counters in each of the doors and we’ve been using that historically for boarding and unboarding patronage,” said McLeod.

Similar to the deployment of the bus information in the AT App, a development cycle that was expected to take many months was compressed down to a week.

“We worked with CAF, who build and maintain our trains, to build and install that software update across all of the train units over the course of a week. Then we used the same model on the backend to turn that boarding and off counts into the appropriate category – empty, few seats available – and that fed in automatically to AT Mobile.”

With the programming now in place, Auckland Transport have updated display boards at stations and stops and expect the solution to be one of a number of permanent upgrades to service delivery.

Thales is working on a suite of measures that are designed to help operators overcome the disruptions of COVID-19.

A DIGITAL SANDBOX
While transport authorities the world over have had to make rapid responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, and associated lockdown and distancing measures, it has also been an opportunity for experiments. In particular, as Elias Barakat, general manager, ground transportation systems at Thales outlines, operators are looking for ways to get passengers safely back on public transportation systems.

“As the restrictions are eased off slowly, operators need to be putting measures in place to actually try and reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmissions.”

Barakat highlights that data will be a key resource for operators.

“The data that they need to manage patronage and provide a safe transport environment are things like crowding on trains, crowding on platforms, adherence to distancing rules and hygiene requirements.”

Just as important as the data itself, however, is how it can be used to manage the perceptions that commuters will have of how safe the service is.

Being able to source data from multiple different points is also important. Sources of this data include ticketing gates and CCTV systems.

“When passengers arrive at a station and they find overcrowding, they’re not going to feel safe and they’re going to avoid using public transport,” said Barakat. “Passenger crowding and passenger flow analytics are becoming more important in terms of the data that public transport authorities need to gather and use to try and control crowding on platforms and trains.”

“We have had positive reviews and social posts. One of them was ‘The latest feature on how full the bus is helps me with physical distancing. Thank you, AT.’ Another was, ‘Finally Auckland Transport added capacity checking for their buses. No more waiting at the stop only to have a full bus pass you by.’”

Already public transport operators in Australasia are having to deal with patronage levels that are at the upper end of what is permissible under physical distancing regimes. Using data to enable customers to make choices about when to travel is one area that McLeod is looking to explore.

“We’ve been looking at how we can use the occupancy information in broad ways. We are trying to work out how we do it at an agency level or route level, and show the occupancy levels across the day, particularly in our peak service periods. If we can break that down into 15 minute buckets and show that before 6.30am there’s plenty of room, it starts to ramp up and then ramp back down after the peak, that can help people make decisions about when they can travel, and allow them to shift their behaviours to maintain their safe distance.”

In other contexts where the wearing of masks is mandatory on public transport, Thales has deployed its facial recognition technology using CCTV feeds.

“We have systems that perfom data analytics to do facial recognition and detect whether some people are not wearing mask and highlight that to the operator in the operations control centre. Thales has solutions where we can do video analytics to measure the separation between crowds on the platforms and similarly on the trains themselves, to make sure that people are not sitting in seats next to each other and not standing next to each other in breach of social distancing rules” said Barakat.

These data feeds can then be configured to trigger an automated response.

“As soon as a facial recognition algorithm does the facial analysis and they discover someone is not wearing a mask, that would come up as an alarm in the control centre and you can automatically contact that person through an automated warning communicated via the PA system,” said Barakat.

Barakat highlights that as much as these technologies enforce physical distancing at an individual level, the deployment of such technologies can assure other passengers that the service is safe.

DATA DEPLOYMENT IN OPERATIONS AND MANUFACTURING
Just as important as keeping passengers safe is ensuring that the public transport workforce is safe as well. Reducing the number of hours on site via predictive intelligent asset management and maintenance can reduce the risk of staff infections and subsequent disruptions to the workforce. One tool that is enabling operators as well as equipment manufacturers to be able to flexibly respond to these requirements are virtual twins. Prashanth Mysore global strategic business development and industry marketing director at Dassault Systèmes, highlights how virtual twins are being adopted.

“We’re seeing a surge in an adoption of technologies such as virtual twin experience to automate factories and operations, so they can be more flexible and agile.”

With much of the workforce encouraged to continue working from home, cloud-based platforms are providing businesses continuity.

“Virtual twin experience provides a way to interact, collaborate, and control the real-world operation while remotely working,” said Mysore.

In product design, digital twins can be used to recalibrate designs to accommodate physical distancing measures, while also virtually testing the spread of diseases within confined environments such as a rail carriage.

“There is an increasing adoption of simulations of design for safety, for example railcoach designs and cabin designs are using this widest propagation simulation technology to better design for safety,” said Mysore.

Working with a model-based design on a virtual platform can allow for the rapid altering of existing products.

“Model-based design will really give a lot of flexibility in implementing concepts such as scientific simulation models that really helps with adopting those safety principles,” said Mysore.

Dassault Systèmes SIMULIA technology shows how particles are distributed during a simulation of a sneeze in order to design and create better personal protection equipment.

UPDATING DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION
While it is too early to definitively state what aspects of our lives have been permanently changed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Barakat sees a shift in how willing passengers may be to have their movements captured as data, and how disposed operators will be to apply the collected data.

“What we are finding now with COVID-19 is that, because it’s about the personal safety of each passenger, including their own, commuters seem to be more accepting of CCTV data being captured and analysed to detect safety breaches,” he said.

One area where passenger data could be used more, highlighted Mysore, is in workforce planning and schedule optimisation.

“For the transportation sector more frequent workforce planning is needed in order to have your business continue amid the developing norms of social distancing and minimal workforce availability. Platforms have the capability to focus on scheduling agility. To accommodate disruptions, you need to have workforce planning agility and the scheduling agility, both on the production side and the operations side.”

In order to reduce crowding at the station and on carriages, Barakat foresees an appetite for more integrated transport management.

“What could be improved is interconnectivity between multimodal transport and ensuring that the timetables are coherent so that when a ferry or a bus arrives at a hub there’s a train ready within a few minutes so that you reduce the dwell time of the passengers.

With reduced patronage during this period of COVID, operators need to maintain a reasonable level of train and public transport operations, so by having an intelligence train management system you can have time table management in real time to deal with passenger flow unpredictability as commuters stagger their working hours and balance work from home and work from the office.”