Building human and customer focused digital rail systems

As rail organisations around Australia move towards their digital future, ways of working and approaches to implementation will vary, as has been the case of Australia’s distinct rail network since its foundation.

During the second day of the Train Control and Management Systems summit, these divergent paths towards digitalisation were laid out.

Showcasing what this means in New South Wales was Andrew Constantinou, deputy executive director of Digital Systems Business Integration at Sydney Trains.

Constantinou outlined how the newly opened Rail Operations Centre (ROC) near Green Square in Alexandria, Sydney is one element of digitalisation in rail. The ROC is designed to organise the complex Sydney Trains network which condenses 15 train lines running 120 trains per hour into six CBD tracks.

The purpose built control centre being outside of the traditional location of alongside the rail corridor introduced a new concept of operations, which, according to Constantinou, “Starts with bringing all your people together”.

Beginning from a human factor driven design principles, the team utilises a systems engineering approach to organising the new centre. Constantiou acknowledged the human element of shifting operations control.

“One of the biggest challenges was simply bringing everyone on board for the concept of operations,” he said.

This challenge was in part resolved through technology, and in part through understanding how people would respond to their new environment.

The concept design was driven by simulated scenarios which could demonstrate how a new operational layout would affect performance. Current operations staff used a VR walkthrough to determine what their future workspace would look like. This approach would overcome the issue of distinct rail operations control centres effectively competing with one another.

At the other end of the scale, Gary Evans, operational readiness manager of ARTC’s Advanced Train Management System (ATMS) showcased how the new system would allow Australia’s vast freight network to increase frequency, throughput, reliability, service reliability, while reducing operational and maintenance costs.

The new system, which is currently being trialled, enables virtual block authority management. However, rather than being an end in itself, the system can allow ARTC’s customers to find efficiencies.

“ARTC wants to be an enabler for its customers,” said Evans.

Digitalisation key to future of rail

As Transport for NSW (TfNSW) begins work on its new digital systems facility in Chullora, delegates at the Train Control Management Systems conference heard how the installation of digital systems can lead to a rail system fit for the future.

The conference, held on February 20 was opened with a presentation from Joern Schlichting, head of the ETCS programme at Deutsche Bahn, who described how through digitalisation, Germany was building a “fundamentally new rail system”.

In implementing the ETCS programme, Deutsche Bahn will respond to two major challenges the industry is facing, and which are shared by operators in Australia. These are the need to enable the rail network to carry larger volumes of people on existing tracks and overcome the issue of high numbers of staff reaching retirement age. Rather than an end outcome, said Schlichting, “ETCS is a tool in order to think about completely new redesign of the railway system”.

As part of the ETCS migration strategy in Germany, a wholescale digitalisation of the rail network will be undertaken. These include digital interlockings and railway vehicles, and will ultimately provide a platform for the future integration of other technologies, such as automatic operations, and the ability for trains to recognise obstacles and the environment on their own.

“ETCS is not a technology, it is a language,” said Schlichting.

While these technological changes will allow for more frequent and efficient services, the migration to digital platforms is also thought to attract a new generation of rail workers, as many involved in train control reach retirement age.

These are concerns shared by the Australian rail industry, as it adopts ETCS. In NSW, TfNSW is upgrading its infrastructure to ETCS level 2 as part of its Digital Systems project. In Queensland, ETCS will be integrated into the Cross River Rail project.