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With Sydney Trains in the process of rolling out European Train Control System (ETCS) Level 2 signalling as part of the Digital Systems program on sections of the T4 Eastern Suburbs & Illawarra Line and the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) implementing its Advanced Train Management System (ATMS) across the interstate network, interoperability will be key for the effectiveness of these technologies in enabling more traffic to run through the Sydney network. Read more
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The installation of European Train Control Systems (ETCS) signalling equipment on Brisbane’s Shorncliffe line has begun.
The Shorncliffe line is being used as a testing environment ahead of the rollout of ETCS on Brisbane’s network as part of the Cross River Rail project.
Simon Cook, director program delivery at the Cross River Rail Deliver Authority said the Shorncliffe line was chosen as a test case due to its place within the network.
“Signalling assets on the Shorncliffe line are due for replacement in the next few years, making it a good fit with our rollout schedule for ETCS. The line is also away from the main line and the freight corridor, which means testing on this line will minimise impact on customers, and the overall network,” said Cook.
When rolled out across the rest of the network, ETCS signalling will allow for more trains to run through the future core of the Brisbane network. ETCS will be installed in the new tunnel constructed as part of the Cross River Rail project, as well as on the inner-city network between Northgate and Milton stations.
Safety is also another reason for the installation of ETCS, as the continuous monitoring of a train’s position, direction and speed enables safer operations.
Existing rollingstock are being fitted with the in-cab equipment at a new workshop in Redbank and trialling the equipment on a variety of rollingstock is part of the testing process, said Cook.
“Over the next two years, the project will move through several stages, from initial testing with first-of-class train fitment, through to full service delivery using a mix of rollingstock, so we will develop and prove installation, operations, reliability and maintenance on the Shorncliffe line.”
Queensland Rail staff will also be trained on the new technology from later this year, with structured training for train crew and other roles to kick off in 2021.
Ultimately, installation on the Shorncliffe line is hoped to enable a smooth deployment as the technology is deployed elsewhere.
“Using the lessons learned from our Shorncliffe line trial will provide efficiencies in the design, installation and testing of subsequent areas,” said Cook. “We will use our System Integration Lab as well as the pilot line to integrate and test a range of the systems that are planned for the CRR tunnel.”
Siemens has been announced as the successful tenderer for the supply of a new Traffic Management System (TMS) for Sydney Trains.
The TMS is part of Transport for NSW’s Digital Systems program, which involves the replacement of traditional signalling with European Train Control System (ETCS) level 2 in-cab signalling. The program also involves the implementation of Automatic Train Operation (ATO) to assist drivers to provide reduced and more consistent journey times.
The $80 million TMS will continually monitor the position of all trains, to ensure trains run as scheduled and to assist with responses if incidents do occur.
Minister for Transport Andrew Constance said that the TMS would improve the Sydney Trains network.
“This is an important step in the process of upgrading our network with internationally proven technology that boosts safety, capacity, reliability and enhances the customer experience,” said Constance.
“Sydney’s heavy rail network is the backbone of our public transport system and it’s crucial we have the latest systems and technology available to serve our customers well into the future.”
The TMS will be operated from the Rail Operations Centre (ROC) in Alexandria, and integrate with other operational systems used by Sydney Trains.
The first deployment of Digital Systems will be on the T4 line from Sutherland to Cronulla and Bondi Junction to Redfern. The deployment of the system to other parts of the network is currently being planned.
Once the system is fully rolled out across the Sydney network in the 2030s, Digital Systems will allow for greater utilisation of the rail network, more reliable services, reduced journey times, and enhanced real-time information.
The implementation of ETCS on the South East Queensland network highlights the many benefits of modern signalling systems.
In major capital cities, transport operators are looking to get more and more out of their assets as populations grow and the demand for sustainable mobility increases. In many cases, the rail systems that have formed the backbone for public transport have been upgraded with new, modern signalling systems to bring trains closer together and increase the frequency and volume of services.
Brisbane has been no exception and is currently beginning the implementation of European Train Control System (ETCS) as part of the Cross River Rail (CRR) project. However, as Simon Cook, project director ETCS at CRR highlights, there is more than one reason why modern signalling is being rolled out.
“The interesting thing with ETCS and this project is that it is delivering a range of benefits for different people and organisations,” said Cook.
Cook lists three main goals for the system, safety, capacity and reliability, which reflect the priorities of the different agencies involved in the project.
“For Queensland Rail safety and reliability would be the top two things, for the Department of Transport and Main Roads – who is the project sponsor and has responsibility for the overall network and how to manage the patronage increases – capacity and reliability are front of mind.”
When addressing the goal of safety, the deployment of ETCS on the Brisbane network, both in the newly constructed tunnel and on the inner-city network between Northgate and Milton stations, allows for a major upgrade in safety systems.
“The current signalling has been in place for a long time, so bringing in a modern signalling system with automatic train protection is really important as the number of trains and customers on the network increases,” said Cook.
Cook highlights that reducing the occurrence of signals passed at danger (SPADs) is one example where the network will directly benefit.
“A SPAD is very disruptive as well as having potential safety implications and it’s one of the key safety metrics of railways. “If you’ve got automatic train protection so the train will brake to prevent overspeed or avoid exceeding movement authority, then that’s an absolute gamechanger and with a good train management system and an in-cab signalling system for drivers then it’s a smoother, more reliable journey for customers as well.”
To address the second goal of capacity, the deployment of ETCS is about futureproofing the Brisbane and South-East Queensland network.
“The Queensland Rail network hasn’t seen the same level of growth over the past five years as other states, but it has lifted over the last year. ETCS and the CRR project has been put in because of the really big growth that’s forecast in patronage on the Gold Coast line and the Sunshine Coast line.”
Based on 2019 census figures, the City of Brisbane and the Gold Coast added the largest number of people for any local government area in Australia.
The final goal is reliability, an area where Cook highlights Brisbane’s rail network can become more efficient and meet international benchmarks.
“There are ageing assets on the network and you could just keep replacing like for like but the deployment of ETCS was a really good opportunity to bring assets up to a new standard to really drive up some increases in performance and reliability.”
Ultimately, ETCS will allow for automatic train operation through the new tunnel, simplifying one of the most complex parts of the South East Queensland rail network. Ensuring reliability here will lead to benefits on other lines.
“What we don’t want to do in Queensland is end up with a situation where we’ve got a range of bespoke signalling systems, so we are really keen to stick to a standardised approach spreading across our network and operators, and that’s the reason for selecting ETCS,” said Cook.
The ETCS project officially roared to life at the tail end of 2019 when Hitachi was announced as the successful tenderer for the ETCS systems. The $634 million project was initially a standalone upgrade to the network under the auspices of Queensland Rail, however in 2018 the project was moved to the Cross River Rail Delivery Authority, and is now one of three works packages, along with the Tunnels, Stations, and Development project and the Rail, Integration and Systems project.
According to Cook, ETCS sits alongside the two other packages, and while construction has begun on CRR, ETCS has begun its staged approach to implementation.
“Signalling is the absolute heart of the railway system and any change to that system is going to be potentially disruptive for customers, for maintenance crews who have to learn completely new equipment, and for rail traffic crew and signallers who have to learn a completely new system. You don’t take that on lightly, and the change task is probably bigger than the technology task so the way that we’re going about it is a staged approach.”
The first program of testing will be carried out on the Shorncliffe line. The line was chosen to be a test track due to its lower patronage and separation from the rest of the network. Preparations are underway to fit out Queensland Rail’s 160 and 260 series trains.
“We are finalising the preliminary design for the Shorncliffe line and starting off detailed design next month for the first fleet of trains,” said Cook.
“The idea with using the Shorncliffe line as a pilot area is that we can test our trains there along with the other technologies that we’re going to see in the tunnel at opening. Platform screen doors are another bit of equipment that will be new to the Queensland Rail network so we can either simulate or even install small sections of platform screen doors on the Shorncliffe line and check the integration with the trains and the signalling all work.”
DELIVERING FOR THE END USER
Cook says that for him and his team within the Cross River Rail Delivery Authority (CRRDA), their aim is to ensure the systems that Hitachi provides fit with the Queensland network.
“For me as project director and my team, we’re fairly agnostic over the actual technology, but we’re here to deliver the right system at the right time for Queensland Rail and for the DTMR.”
This has been done so far through the colocation of the CRRDA and Queensland Rail teams and operational readiness work beginning at the outset.
“Operational readiness lessons are something that we picked up from looking at other projects,” said Cook. “You can’t start too early on that. You need to really understand the whole change that’s going to come to the railway through this, so a lot of effort is on focusing on training package, design, consultation with the train crew and signallers on what the changes will mean for them, and of course looking forward to the design for the rest of the network.”
Although there are no other operational examples of automatic train operation over ETCS on passenger rail in Australia, Cook has looked to overseas project for lessons about ensuring that the CRRDA is not only looking from an engineer’s perspective but an end-user’s view of how the system will work.
“I’ve spent a bit of time learning about Thameslink in the UK, which did take a bit of settling down, but there are certainly a few really good takeaways there from an operational perspective; understanding how they worked with their train crew, the teething troubles they had and understanding how train drivers and other operational staff will really interact with the system.”
Queensland Rail have contributed to the design of human factors along the project, and will continue to take on board the views of front line staff.
“At the end of the day they’re the people that will be driving these trains and they’re the people that will be controlling the signalling, so it has to be right for them,” said Cook.
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.”
Warwick Talbot, acting executive director, future network delivery at Sydney Trains explains how Sydney Trains is rolling out its Digital Systems Program and the key principles driving the project.
As a 40-year plan for NSW’s future, no one could accuse the Future Transport 2056 plan of not being ambitious. As part of a suite of plans, the strategy sets out the vision for how the people of greater Sydney and NSW will get around in the mid 21st century. At the core is the Sydney network, which will be the veins pumping people through the metropolis of three connected cities.
Riding the trains, metros, and light rail services of Sydney in 2056 will be forecasted 12 million residents of NSW, and the roughly 8 million Sydneysiders will be making greater use of the heavy rail network than they do now, with fewer trips made by private car. By 2056, the transport network will need to handle 28 million trips a day. In outlining his vision for the state, NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance wrote that a key element of the plan is its use of technology.
“It is the first transport plan in Australia to harness technology to improve customer and network outcomes, and it starts with a long-term vision for our communities,” wrote Constance.
Already, the technological building blocks of this new network are being put in place, and while 2056 may seem far away, Sydney Trains has begun implementing the first stages of the Digital Systems Program to enable the city’s over 150 year old train network to meet the demands of the city as it continues to grow. The focus of the Digital Systems project is to enable this existing network to meet future demand, described Warwick Talbot, acting executive director, Future Network Delivery at Sydney Trains.
“The key driver is the demand that we forecast on our network and we need to increase capacity.”
Talbot noted that two key components of the network currently limit capacity; the signalling system and train dwell times.
Announced in 2018, the Digital Systems Program links these two components of the network together, along with a host of other improvements that come from moving from an analogue to digital train control system. The system will upgrade the Sydney Trains suburban network to European Train Control System (ETCS) Level 2, and the regional network to ETCS Level 1. These measures will enable more trains to run more frequently throughout the Sydney network.
“When you digitise and go to a digital signalling system you then allow yourself to be able to regulate trains, so you can speed them up or slow them down as the demand changes throughout the course of the day,” said Talbot.
The Digital Systems Program has three main elements. The first involves the replacement of trackside signalling equipment with in-cab train control technology. The second is implementing Automatic Train Operation (ATO), which enables faster and more consistent journey times. The third is a digital Traffic Management System for the entire network that can more effectively manage the network.
The ETCS technology is the digital signalling element of the project. Moving from the traditional coloured light signalling system will enable trains to move through the network at more frequent intervals. However, more frequent train services mean that each train must spend less time on the platform.
“If you get a higher throughput of trains, you then need to manage your dwell times at the stations,” said Talbot. “Particularly at the busy ones, you have to look at how to get people on and off the train quickly to shorten the time that the train is actually stationary on the platform.”
With three minutes in-between trains, dwell times will have to be reduced to less than a minute at busy points in the network. Here, the digital systems encounter the human element of rail services, said Talbot.
“There’s a number of different ways that we’ve been exploring the management of dwell time, by having additional people on the platform guiding the customers in the right places to allow people to get on and off faster, announcements, wayfinding, barriers to allow people to depart the platform easily, blocking off platforms when they get overcrowded to allow people to get off the platform. We’re experimenting with all forms to try and optimise our ability to manage dwell at busy stations.”
Another factor driving the adoption of digital systems at Sydney Trains is the impetus to make the system safer. Digitalising elements of train control, signalling, and traffic management will allow for the system to respond faster to incidents, and remove some risks of human error.
“The second key driver for the project is the ability to make the system safer,” said Talbot. “We can have a regulatory system whereby if for any reason a driver is incapacitated or cannot control the train then the train is automatically controlled. That provides a high level of safety for the driver and the passenger as it avoids a collision.”
While implementing a safe, efficient system is the priority, the adoption of digital systems is part of the wider technology-driven modernisation of the Sydney transport network and implementing a digital train control system is one step in that direction.
“Getting us to a digital railway allows us to then start to automate a lot of our previously manual functions,” said Talbot.
While Sydney Trains will not be going the way of Sydney Metro by having a fully driverless, centrally controlled system, the Digital Systems project can become an enabler for a wider variety of digital technologies.
THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE DIGITAL SYSTEMS PROGRAM
In adopting the Digital Systems strategy, Sydney Trains has taken a staged approach. With procurement now underway, the project began by consulting widely and learning from other projects around the world that have adopted digital train control systems.
Although the organisation has significant expertise in traditional signalling and train control, Sydney Trains knew that adopting a digital approach to train control would require significant outside knowledge.
“We acknowledged some time ago that we are not experts in this new digital railway and so we went and sought a great lot of expertise from railways that are already deploying or are in the process of deploying ETCS and we learnt a lot about the fact that we needed to take baby steps,” said Talbot.
This learning was applied in Sydney by undertaking a limited roll out. The first segments to have the technology rolled out will be two sections of the Illawarra line, one from Redfern to Bondi Junction, and another from Sutherland to Cronulla. The ETCS technology for each segment will be provided by a separate provider, for a particular reason, said Talbot.
“We looked at the roll out across the whole network and we wanted to try and reduce the time of that so therefore you needed more than one supplier, so if you’re looking at simplicity to gain the knowledge for implementation with two different suppliers then you need to find two discrete areas which they could try.”
There is also a commercial benefit for Sydney Trains by having two suppliers for the ETCS technology, however there will be only one supplier of the traffic management system.
“It gives you the commercial ability to ensure that you get the quality and timely delivery of project because you’ve got competition in there. We chose those two areas because we could make it discrete and we could get two suppliers in there to do the implementation of the ETCS system,” said Talbot.
By having two separate sections of the same line as test sites, the system can also simulate a staggered roll-out of the technology across the wider network.
“As we roll out you’ll always be going from a fitted area to a non-fitted area and vice-versa, so we needed that non fitted area partially because we needed to test our movement of how drivers behave between fitted and non- fitted areas without going into the middle of the city to do that,” said Talbot.
The tiered approach was also driven by the realities of ETCS implementation around the world. As the system is being adopted by multiple train systems at once, this places restrictions on what is possible at one time.
“While there might be eight companies around the world that supply and deliver these systems, they are being installed all over the world. In Europe it’s going gangbusters in installing, New Zealand, Africa, and the UK, around the world it’s being implemented and therefore you have to mindful there’s a limitation on skilled competent resources.”
PRINCIPLES OF THE PROJECT
With this local and global contexts, Sydney Trains established a number of principles to drive the Digital Systems Program. One is ‘configure, not customise’.
“Everybody has learnt that overseas and once a system becomes specific, you’re then beholden and it’s a lot more costly to change in the future as technology and knowledge changes.”
The next principle was to ensure that the benefits of the system are apparent to customers as soon as possible. Instead of waiting to do one full and comprehensive roll out, segments of the project will come online earlier, enabling benefits to be felt earlier. This principle also drove the implementation of the traffic management system.
“We feel that our existing control system is not fully adaptable as a traffic management system in managing all facets of a railway, such as crewing, PA, communications, signalling, you name it, so having a traffic management system means you can handle incidents and do decision support functions to try and get back into operations from an incident as quickly as possible,” said Talbot.
Finally, from the perspective of Sydney Trains internally, the implementation of digital systems was as much a change to the business as a change to the technology, as Talbot highlighted.
“Because your business is run on the basis of a manual task business with humans carrying out the functions, now you’re moving to a more automated function, and therefore your business needs to throw out its whole rules and start with a new set of rules to be able to manage incidents, operations and maintenance.
“Everybody that we talked to overseas said ‘Pay as much attention to your change to your business as you would do to the implementation of the technologies’. So, we came to this model where to get things to be in harmony you need to make sure you have equal focus on people, technology, and processes.”
WAYS OF WORKING
Such an understanding of the way that the Digital Systems Program would upend the nature of the Sydney Trains organisation led to Talbot coming to a realisation.
“We’re not changing the technology to suit the business; we’re changing the business to suit the technology.”
This meant that Sydney Trains went through an extensive identification and impact assessment of the Digital Systems Program on current programs, from asset maintenance to the skills and competencies of staff. During the adoption phase, which could take up to 10 years, analogue and digital systems will have to operate side by side. This means that the systems and processes that come with digital technology will have to be in sync with current processes.
The work to conduct this change within Sydney Trains has been implemented collaboratively, with Sydney Trains and its implementation partners, including systems integrator Network Rail Consulting and partner organisations Acmena, The Go-Ahead Group, and Ineco. Talbot describes the resulting project team as an “integrated team environment”.
“It’s easier to get around to talk to people and also the working groups are easier to form when we need to have discussions on various topics and on top of that our governance structure that we’ve chosen is collaborative.”
Currently, the team are working towards finalising the procurement phase with the technology suppliers for the first two segments of the roll out.
“We went through a whole range of early contractor involvement and a collaborative tendering process with the shortlisted suppliers and now we’re towards the end of that,” said Talbot. “Final negotiations and contracts will be awarded shortly and then we’ll move into what we’re calling the integrated program design period (IPDP).”
Having the project team and suppliers working together aims to minimise detailed design reworking that needs to be done.
Once the suppliers are chosen, implementation of the system with the first deployments of in-cab signalling and a network-wide traffic management system is scheduled to complete in 2023.