Ensuring that rollingstock supply keeps up with the boom in infrastructure construction is a significant task for Victoria, but the state has a plan to do it.
From shop floor to c-suite, Robert Tatton-Jones brings a lifetime of rail experience to the management of Adelaide’s rail services.
Using what is already there has allowed Infinitive to deploy an advanced predictive maintenance solution based on existing data.
With the first hydrogen-powered trains in passenger service, there is little holding back a shift to net-zero emissions mobility.
Lifting data from the digital grave and into the cloud has opened up possibilities for rail maintenance. Autech explains how.
Twenty years ago, Swiss rail maintenance machine manufacturer Autech began providing its customers with an innovative way to measure their tracks. Using electronic measurement data collected by maintenance and measurement machines, rail infrastructure owners and operators could see the cross-sections of their rails, enabling an understanding of the wear and tear of this critical infrastructure.
Despite having this data on hand, CTO of Autech, Peter Merz found that it was not being put to use.
“What we saw is then they piled up the data, they printed it out and put it in the archive, and basically this data was lost.”
While some aggregated data was put into enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, the fine-grain measurements that could provide a maintenance engineer with insights were unavailable.
“The individual measurements were deleted or put in a storage system and were buried in the digital grave,” said Merz.
Having had this experience, Merz and the team at Autech began working on creating a cloud-based solution that would enable rail engineers to easily make use of the data they were collecting. The software system they developed has been named RailCloud.
“RailCloud really plots the view of the maintenance field engineers, so they can see their track, the overall condition of the track, but also the data on the individual section, even a single cross-section measurement,” said Merz.
RailCloud takes measurements collected in the field and combines them in a single, analysable database that is presented based on the geography of the rail track. The software’s base layer is a map of the system, and asset data stored in the cloud is overlaid on that map.
“It starts with the topography, the mapping, so the field engineer can go to this crossing, this intersection and so on. This is connected to the measurement systems, so the measurement systems automatically upload data, located by GPS,” said Merz.
“You can connect your measurement equipment to your network environment, so the data is automatically sorted, assigned, and allocated.”
The cloud-based software can then assign work orders and maintenance tasks based on thresholds set by the operator. In addition, having the data collected together, operators can now begin to predict rates of wear and trends, enabling predictive maintenance regimes.
“Of course, it’s a continuous thing – every year you make the measurements, every year you plan your maintenance. But with RailCloud we kept it quite light weight to make it simple and smart. You really can work on a daily basis with it, collecting measurement data, network, topology, workflows. Then you get data driven maintenance.”
DATA FROM THE SOURCE
To collect data on track condition and wear rates, Autech have recently developed RailXS, bringing together 30 years of rail measurement knowledge.
“The big advantage is it is very lightweight, it’s about 60-70kg and it can be mounted on any suitable rollingstock equipment,” said Merz. “This can be a dedicated equipment, it can be a small trolley, it can be an existing maintenance rollingstock, but it also can be a regular rollingstock.”
By mounting on regular rollingstock, measurement does not have to wait for track maintenance periods or shutdowns and can be done many times in one day.
The data is collected through laser optical sensors, which can record track parameters and the rail profile. Data is then automatically uploaded to the cloud platform RailCloud either via WiFi or a mobile internet connection. If this is not available, the data is stored and then uploaded once the vehicle returns to the depot or an area of internet connectivity. Before uploading, the measurement data is tagged with a location, either through GPS locating or RFID readers. Having these automatic systems means the data is ready to be utilised by the rail maintenance engineer, rather than having to be sorted or allocated.
“By transferring the data into the RailCloud it’s automatically allocated, you don’t have to work again. You can introduce filters to smoothen, aggregate, or transfer the data, or to do additional calculations, but the real key is to automatically map the data to your network and then there is no manual interaction needed again,” said Merz.
THE KEY TO PREDICTIVE MAINTENANCE
During the development process, the focus for RailCloud was to keep the software as lightweight as the measurement systems that supported it. This has enabled the software to be adopted by smaller operators, without the need for expensive experts and consultants to set up the system. Already, the system is in use on the tram networks of Zürich and Amsterdam where it has driven smarter maintenance practices.
“In Zürich, one of the departments wanted to do a replacement and the maintenance department said no we don’t need this replacement yet,” said Merz. “Using the RailCloud data they could prove that instead of a replacement being due every 5 years, it’s only in 12 years. RailCloud is driving fact- based decisions.”
Due to its flexibility, and the lack of a need for scheduled measurements by specialised vehicles, RailCloud can help operators take the next step to predictive maintenance.
“The big advantage is that you don’t measure every five years or every three years, you can regularly measure four times a year or even once a month,” said Merz. “You can set your intervals according to your needs, but in fact if you measure five times a year or 12 times a year, you have much better prognosis points of your wear rates.”
As wear rates are not linear, having more data points can enable a clearer picture of the wear curve to appear than what would be possible if measurements are only conducted every few years, said Merz.
“If you measure once a month you really see the trend or the curve, of your wear rate, and you see also deviation or if it changes in behaviour. That’s a big advantage, not just to know the state the track is in but what will happen.
“It’s the key to go into predictive maintenance.”
All of KiwiRail’s scenic services will return this summer, and the operator will add the Northern Explorer to its range of services.
To meet the demand for domestic rail touring KiwiRail is looking to expand its scenic fleet for charter services.
KiwiRail group chief executive Greg Miller said that the state-owned enterprise has been investing in upgrading the rollingstock used on the scenic routes during the COVID-19 lockdown period when all scenic trains stopped running.
“We had to carry out maintenance work on the carriages we use, and that work was delayed by the COVID lockdown. We prioritised the TranzAlpine, which runs between Christchurch and Greymouth, so it was the first service to resume,” said Miller.
Miller outlined that KiwiRail was expecting to make significant investment in its tourist trains, including in rollingstock.
“Pre-COVID, rail touring was enjoying a resurgence throughout the world and, with the support of a promised $80 million of government funding, KiwiRail was planning an ambitious upgrade of its scenic fleet and services,” he said.
“The indefinite closure of New Zealand’s borders to international tourists, and the re-purposing by the government of some of the proposed funding means that, for now, we are hibernating some of those plans and instead concentrating on designing viable timetables and services for the domestic market.”
KiwiRail ran the TranzAlpine service from Christchurch to Greymouth during the winter school holidays and will resume the service in September. The Coastal Pacific from Christchurch to Picton and the newly instituted Northern Explorer between Auckland and Wellington will begin running in the spring.
“In addition to these scheduled services, we are looking to expand our fleet to offer enhanced charter services throughout the year,” said Miller.
As part of the New Zealand government’s significant investment in rail, KiwiRail will acquire new rollingstock for its scenic services. A request for proposals was released to the market last September, however now suitable bids were received. KiwiRail is also in the process of acquiring new mainline locomotives.
“It looks like all New Zealanders will be holidaying at home this summer and as people plan their breaks, we urge them to demonstrate their support for environmentally friendly travel and choose to sit back and connect with the landscape on their national rail network,” said Miller.
Bombardier’s Wendy McMillan describes how the company is creating a rail manufacturing centre of excellence as it reaches a major milestone.
Announcing the Victorian government’s purchase of 50 new trams for the Melbourne network in 2010, then Public Transport Minister Martin Pakula, highlighted what the first order of locally made trams in 20 years would mean for the state.
“The order is a boost to our tram fleet and is a fantastic endorsement of our local manufacturing industry with major components built at Dandenong as well as assembly and testing.”
Three years later, and a different public transport minister was riding the first of the E-Class trams as it left the Southbank depot and travelled on route 96.
“The E-Class tram will mean an improved ride for passengers with pivoting bogies and air-conditioning designed specifically for Melbourne,” said Terry Mulder, who noted the considerable difference the tram would make for the city and Melbourne’s commuters. “Each E-Class tram can carry 210 passengers, which is significantly more than other trams on the network.”
The company behind this series of trams, Bombardier, is now approaching production of the 100th E-Class vehicle, and the trams, proudly adorned with the ‘Made in Melbourne, For Melbourne’ motto, have become testament to the benefits of local manufacturing. Wendy McMillan, President Australia and New Zealand at Bombardier Transportation, said that by being made in Melbourne, the global mobility provider can “think global, act local”.
“It means you’ve got the full suite,” said McMillan. “We have the engineering capability to match what you actually bid, product assurance and design safety, and then you go into production.”
With the Dandenong workshop now completing vehicle 86 in the series, each tram is the result of Bombardier’s local and global expertise.
“If we look at the E-Class, you have industrial design in Brisbane, and we have at least a third of the global capability of industrial design in our Milton office. What it means is that you have a collaboration between functions, either here or overseas, full collaboration to actually bring the book together for the customer to enable sign off,” said McMillan.
In addition to the trams manufactured in Dandenong, Bombardier also produces the Vlocity 160 DMU for Victoria’s regional network. On both products, Bombardier has been able to update and vary the design locally in line with changes to requirements. Having local engineering capabilities is essential to these changes.
“There might be new standards that come in that the customer may wish to do a variation for,” said McMillan. “For example on LRV crashworthiness, it might be lines of sight, there might be driver requirements that change from the operator. Having engineering presence on the ground enables you to have that assurance.”
The first introduction of the E-Class trams saw improvements in accessibility for travellers by increasing the number of low floor trams running on the network. In addition, the enhanced capacity built into the design of the trams has become increasingly important.
“With COVID-19, larger capacity is a nice thing in hindsight because that allows more people on that tram, so that will give the highest capacity for the Yarra Trams fleet. That obviously means greater access and equity for the commuter and it also ensures that it’s the smoothest ride,” said McMillan.
Other improvements included positive feedback for safety standards in the driver’s cab, and Bombardier has worked with research institutions to look at other areas where design innovation can be introduced to respond to the particularities of Melbourne’s network.
“We’ve worked with a tertiary institution around visibility, line of sight, windscreens, and cameras outside the vehicle so that the driver is fully aware of their surroundings,” said McMillan. “The Melbourne network is not a closed network, it has a high interface with vehicles, whether they’re private drivers, Ubers, taxis, trucks, so we’re working with Yarra Trams and the Victorian government to plan a trial of an Obstacle Detection Assistance System (ODAS) that warns a driver about cars and passengers in front of the tram.”
In addition to upgrades, being local means that Bombardier are working on the trams every day, both in Dandenong and at maintenance depots.
“There was an incident today, an interface with a car or a truck on one of our trams. We hold spares for that. Our ability being on the ground means that we can work quickly, with Yarra Trams at their site in Preston, to repair those vehicles and have them back out. We can do that sourcing from both the Dandenong site and also with Yarra Trams,” said McMillan.
STRENGTHENING LOCAL MANUFACTURING
Bombardier’s presence in Dandenong continues over half a century of rail manufacturing heritage in south-east Melbourne. First opened by Commonwealth Engineering, then taken over by ABB, the current Bombardier plant is built in such a way to provide the best services for the Australian rail industry.
“Because the site itself has got access to the main line it’s very accessible both for V/ Line and Yarra Trams. We have an LRV test track there too and that gives us the ability to do a lot of work for the Victorian government and Yarra Trams on site,” said McMillan.
As McMillan highlights, it’s this collaborative relationship that has developed over the decades that has allowed Bombardier to serve the largest tram network in the world with local knowledge and production.
“We’re in production up to 91, well on the way up to 100 with the E-Class. That’s a big achievement and we can’t do that without our customer the Department of Transport and the State government, as well as a lot of hard work and dedication from our partners in the supply chain,” said McMillan. “We’ve worked to get the right quality supply chain partners, to get it right first time, minimise rework, while having capacity for repairs.”
Across Dandenong and the wider south- east Melbourne region, Bombardier has been key to the flourishing manufacturing ecosystem. The 11,000 manufacturers in south-east Melbourne employ 105,000 people, with each manufacturing job supporting four more jobs in other sectors, according to peak industry body South East Melbourne Manufacturing Alliance (SEMMA). Manufacturing large, complex systems such as rollingstock here enables a flow on effect across the entire region.
“Once we actually manufacture the design, we have an extraordinary, capable, local supply chain, and that’s around the Dandenong area in addition to Australia and New Zealand,” said McMillan. “Then there’s the multiplier impact, and obviously it’s in addition to the employment of those in the local community.”
The light rail operation alone employs more than 70 people directly, while enabling training through apprenticeships and partnerships with local education providers.
“Whether it’s safety training, welding, base manufacturing, or other skill sets, we have apprentices at the site and are close to Chisholm TAFE,” said McMillan. “Each quarter I give out service awards, and the incredible clusters around 5, 10, 15, 20, even 35 years, it blows you away.
“Another aspect is we’ve got a welding school that we offer to external training facilities, but you can’t do this unless you’re a good member of the community. We’re really trying to do not only the right things for the right reasons but really be proactive. We’ve done that in the bushfire appeal, we have an MoU that we’ve just signed with community development organisation St Kilda Gatehouse.”
BUILDING FROM A SUSTAINABLE BASE
Having these deep links to the community has become more important than ever. When COVID-19 hit, one unintended consequence of the local content requirement meant that there was minimal disruption to Bombardier’s manufacturing.
“We’ve been fortunate in our management and the local content policy assists in this regard in having suppliers around,” said McMillan. “Certainly, all supply chains were seriously disrupted and still are to an extent, but the actual impacts to us on these lines have been fairly minimal in a Victorian context. We were at one stage the only Bombardier Transportation site, apart from the China joint ventures, that were open in the world because of the unfortunate state of COVID and its impacts, particularly in Europe, the UK, and the Americas.”
While the disruptions of COVID-19 has an immediate impact on operations, McMillan also sees a role for rollingstock to play in enabling governments to respond. As governments look for ever greater value for money in transportation programs, changing the interaction between rollingstock and fixed infrastructure could provide a way forward.
“We’ve seen a request from clients to really stretch the rollingstock offer to match the associated network infrastructure. They look at expenditure and the interface in both. That might mean just your tram stops, how many of those need to go out, can rollingstock do something different about that? We’re very happy to look at the design possibilities in that regard as well,” said McMillan.
In addition, broader mobility trends will continue. As Melbourne looks to upgrade its network, innovations in light rail vehicles can overcome the limitations of a legacy network. Bombardier is involved in early design work for the next generation of trams, a defined benefit of which will be onboard energy storage to reduce the need for upgrades to the power network.
Another area for future development is integrating tram networks with the wider transportation system. Operating between heavy rail and active transport modes such as walking and cycling, McMillan sees an ongoing role for light rail in solving the ‘last mile’ of passenger movements.
“You have your last mile in logistics and you certainly have that in passenger movement. You’ve got the disruption of Uber and those operations as well in terms of how people still commute and get to nodes of heavy rail stations and meeting that with bike, so we are designing for bicycle capacity on our trains and trams.”
Increasing demand on Victoria’s regional network is leading to new thinking about the role of regional commuter trains, particularly to reduce emissions from diesel-powered units on unelectrified lines.
“In terms of regional-type commuter we can do a bi-mode diesel train, or a battery-electric train, and that can be introduced here. It could be utilised around the growth areas of the South East where we are but particularly to Ballarat and Geelong,” said McMillan.
Another area where Bombardier is involved in the next generation of transport networks is in delivering the signalling for the Melbourne Metro Tunnel project, as part of the Rail Systems Alliance (RSA). This is one area in particular where McMillian sees the local and the global coming together once again.
“Being basically in the same time-zone as Southeast Asia, and having very significant labs in Bangkok, assists with the RSA contract that’s on the ground here. You’ve got to be global for benefits and function shares. No one wants to reinvent the wheel and no customer wants that to happen on their program so that’s the benefit that we offer particularly in the services category.”
In the meantime, however, the day to day operations at Dandenong continue, with safety always the focus.
“At the Dandenong site we’ve achieved a safety record there and that is a result of every one of your staff, management down,” said McMillan.
ARA CEO Caroline Wilkie makes the case for procurement reform in rollingstock and signalling to assist infrastructure spending to stimulate the economy.
Governments in Australia have indicated that they will continue to fund committed infrastructure projects and have begun to bring projects forward to further stimulate the economy to support job growth and investment due to the impacts of COVID-19.
The Australasian Railway Association (ARA) commends this sensible approach. Infrastructure spending is in the long-term national interest, stimulating multiple parts of the economy, not just construction. Stimulating rail manufacturers and suppliers would be of immense benefit, particularly in regional Australia, where many are located.
However, there are other areas where governments could go further to identify and act on measures that could be introduced to support further cost savings and improve the delivery of new rail projects.
Reforms in the area of tendering and procurement would deliver better, faster, and cheaper projects in the rail sector. While this debate is not new within the infrastructure portfolio, the economic impact of COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of pursuing efficiencies to ensure the rail infrastructure construction sector and rollingstock supply chain remain in a position to support the government’s infrastructure agenda and further stimulate the economy during
these difficult economic times.
Australia’s tendering practices are significantly costlier and more time consuming compared to international benchmarks. The tendering costs in Australia are estimated to be around 1-2 per cent of a project’s total cost, which are double the world benchmark of 0.5 per cent. Increased tender costs are immediately reflected in the project pricing, so reducing the costs of tendering should be important to all parties. High tender costs also increase the risk profile for tenderers and thereby tend to discourage participation.
The ARA proposes that significant benefits could be realised if improvements were made to current Australian industry procurement practices. Substantial improvements can be achieved through more streamlined and consistent tender processes that improve efficiencies for both suppliers and purchasers, from pre- qualification right through to contract award.
These changes would minimise the consumption of resources on redundant and non-productive outcomes, reduce procurement cycle times, further reducing costs and releasing industry capacity for delivery. Further, tendering on the basis of appropriate and more standardised contracting models and risk allocation frameworks for delivery will also reduce tender development and negotiation costs. Creating a consistent and well understood delivery environment will also lead to more successful project delivery outcomes.
The ARA commends the recent procurement-related initiative in NSW, embodied in the NSW government’s Action Plan: A 10-point commitment to the construction sector. The plan reduces the red tape for firms with a proven track record and supports streamlined prequalification schemes for contractors, tiered according to their size and capacity. It reviews existing pre-qualification schemes to ensure they focus on capacity and capability and do not impose unnecessary costs and administrative burdens on suppliers; and minimise the number of project-specific bidders that are required to generate and submit prior to the selection of a preferred tenderer.
The ARA believes that all states should adopt similar principles.
The benefits arising from any process optimisation and standardisation are multiplied when adopted across Australia’s procurement agencies. The ARA supports the convergence and the maximum practical standardisation of procurement practices on a national basis as an urgent and worthwhile objective.
Under the auspices of its Rail Industry Group, the ARA has convened an expert committee of suppliers, consultants, and other interested parties to make specific recommendations for improvement.
The Best Practice Guide to Rolling Stock and Signalling Tendering in the Australian Rail Industry analyses present deficiencies in current tendering frameworks that add unnecessary cost and complexity to already complex tender processes. It makes recommendations for improved practice by procuring agencies in eleven thematic areas.
The ARA has written to Transport and Infrastructure Council ministers with the Guide and is meeting officials to advocate for its implementation.
Procurement – similar to standards, specifications, and training – particularly in regard to rail systems, are areas where Australia has suffered due to its colonial legacy, with differing policy and arrangements in place throughout the six states acting as a deadweight against a national industry.
States, territories, and the federal government have demonstrated their ability to work collaboratively on issues of national significance where there is clear benefit to doing so during this pandemic. This cooperative model should be utilised for other key matters where federation has imposed challenges for industries, where significant savings can be achieved through harmonisation such as rail industry procurement.
The Greater Wellington and Horizons Regional Councils have locked in $5 million in funding for a business case for new regional passenger trains.
The funding comes from Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency and begins the procurement process for regional trains that are expected to cost $300m.
The two councils, which cover cities including Wellington, Whanganui, and Palmerston North, are seeking to increase rail capacity to serve their growing populations, said chair of Greater Wellington Regional Council Daran Ponter.
“Earlier this year the Government announced $211m for track improvements and this is another important piece of the puzzle. While the new trains will stop passengers being packed in like sardines in the next five years, we expect them to provide a resilient and reliable service that not only meets the needs of customers but also aids population and economic growth over the next 10-15 years.”
Lines in the regional network have seen increases in patronage. On the Wairarapa Line, patronage grew from 680,000 boardings in 2009 to 780,000 in 2019, with a 24 per cent increase in peak patronage. On the Manawatū line, average growth over the past four years has been 3.1 per cent.
With the $5m in funding, the councils will conduct a market assessment, investigate risks and costs, and complete the detailed business case. Kapiti Coast councillor and environment chair Penny Gaylor said that new trains would greatly benefit the region.
“We’ve long championed electric or dual mode fleets to replace older diesel trains to lower carbon emissions and this funding brings us a step closer to that reality. Investing in a modern rail fleet also enables us to use the trains across the whole network, bringing extra capacity to Kapiti passengers and encouraging more people to make the shift from cars to public transport.”
The Wellington network currently operates a mixed fleet of 83 Matangi EMUs, manufactured by a consortium of Hyundai Rotem and Mitsui, and three diesel locomotives which haul 24 passenger carriages. Although the EMUs were introduced in the last decade, the diesel locomotives and carriages have been in service since the 1970s.
Wairarapa councillor and deputy chair of Greater Wellington Adrienne Staples said that new units would improve services.
“Getting new trains would be a great win for regional rail passengers and the economy. Passengers will benefit from more capacity and increased frequency and more connections between Manawatu, Horowhenua, Wairarapa and Wellington will provide economic benefits at a time when we need to look to smarter ways of working and connecting people.”
The Australasian Railway Association (ARA) has called for an update of tendering procedures around Australia to accelerate job-creating rail projects.
Releasing a new tendering framework, the ARA included 21 recommendations to improve the procurement process for rollingstock and signalling equipment.
ARA CEO, Caroline Wilkie said that implementing these recommendations would extend the benefits of rail infrastructure and supply contracts.
“Australian tendering costs are higher than global benchmarks and that makes it harder to get projects out of the planning phase into delivery,” said Wilkie.
“As governments look to bring on new projects to speed our post-pandemic economic recovery, simple and fast tendering processes will be needed to get people quickly back to work.”
In the framework, the ARA’s recommendations include changes to market sounding and pre-project engagement, a one-time national pre-qualification scheme, a simplified probity management process, clear requirements at the point of early contractor involvement, a harmonisation of specifications, and a cost recovery process for rollingstock design.
“Small measures like a one-time-only pre-qualification process and standardised templates, terms and conditions would make a big difference and reduce costs for both government and the private sector,” said Wilkie.
The ARA commended the NSW Government Action Plan, which it said set the standard for procurement and should be the benchmark for other states.
“A nationally consistent procurement process would cut red tape and focus tender discussions on the all-important project outcomes,” said Wilkie.
Today, Australian tendering costs are approximately 1-2 per cent of a project’s total cost, well over the international benchmark of 0.5 per cent. Bringing Australia into line with other countries would allow for reduced project pricing as well as improving participation by reducing the risk profile for tenderers.
“It is important tender processes are fit for purpose and resourced to succeed so projects can move from planning to delivery as soon as possible,” said Wilkie.
In a speech to the shadow cabinet on May 11, federal opposition leader Anthony Albanese’s call for more local content in rollingstock. Albanese said that trains should be built in Australia, and pointed to examples in Queensland, Victoria, and WA.
Wilkie noted that well-managed procurement processes can create employment in Australia.
“Now more than ever we need government and industry working together to get projects up and running to deliver jobs for all Australians.”