Omada graduate program

Learning rail’s complexity: Omada’s graduate signalling engineers

With no prior knowledge of the rail industry, Omada’s graduate engineers have been introduced to the complex and rewarding world of rail signalling.

In early March, Omada launched their graduate program with the goal of increasing one of the rail workforce’s most lacking resources, that of rail signalling engineers. Nicholas Soilleux and Nathan Murphy were the first two engineers to join the Omada Rail Systems graduate program.

Soilleux joined Omada with a Bachelor of Engineering (Honours), majoring in Electrical and Computer Engineering, from the University of Queensland. For Murphy, joining Omada was an insight into an industry he had previously known little about. Having recently graduated from Queensland University of Technology with a Bachelor’s Degree in Electrical and Aerospace Engineering (Honours), he had also completed an engineering internship at Aviation Australia.

“It was only once I joined the rail industry that I realised how important and integral the signalling field is to the safe and effective operation of railway networks,” said Murphy.

Having gotten a glimpse of the industry as it stands, Murphy acknowledged the great potential that the rail industry holds for young engineers.

“This is a great opportunity to work in a very stable field, with many future career paths. A great benefit is being able to work under the mentorship of skilled and experienced engineers who have all been amazingly helpful.”

With their appetite whetted for what was to come in a career in the rail industry, Murphy and Soilleux were quickly inaugurated into the world of rail signalling under the guidance of Omada’s directors Luke Craven, Mark Hadfield, and Christopher Miller, along with Signalling Design Engineer and Tester, Neil Shineton.

Over the course of the three-year program, graduates will complete their Post-graduate Diploma in Railway Signalling, while being involved in practical work including design, testing, and construction work.

During the first months of the program, a new challenge arose. To comply with restrictions caused by COVID-19, Omada shifted to working from home in late March. Training has continued through this shift utilising video calls to conduct online training and tutorials. These are complemented with exercises, such as filling out example control tables for interlockings. But despite having to working from home, the progress of the training program has not been restricted. As Murphy pointed out, major achievements have been made.

“I have achieved Metro Trains Melbourne (MTM) assistant signal design competency and have been able to design circuits for a project that I’ll hopefully see implemented,” he said. “Gaining competency to go on site and being able to get into the real nitty gritty of the signalling systems and the real- life application of the signalling designs has been a real milestone.”

Having been introduced to the contemporary world of rail signalling, Murphy also highlighted that the technology he is working with now is a far cry from what previous generations of signalling engineers would have grappled with.

“Signalling systems are extremely complex and integral to the safe and effective operation of the networks. I’ve been able to see how the systems design for the railway has developed since its first inception in the early 1800s in England.”

These insights have emerged through Omada’s inhouse Basic Signalling Training (BST) course, delivered in the first year and providing the basis for further training
over the three-year program. The BST course is designed to expose those with no background in rail to the complexities of the industry and enable them to build on a base knowledge of signalling principles, work on site safely and competently, and effectively use design tools and software such as MicroStation.

Just two months into the program, Murphy and Soilleux were able to get first-hand experience on Omada’s project at the Rail Academy in Newport, Victoria. While under mentorship and strict guidance, the graduates collected the information needed to upgrade the signalling equipment at theAcademy. The aim of this project to upgrade the signalling infrastructure, is to result in the Rail Academy being one of the best equipped specialist rail training facilities in the world.

Nathan Murphy pictured working on site during his first year in the Omada graduate program.

With Murphy and Soilleux now halfway through their first year of training, in September another new face joined the program. Gavin McDowell, who had a previous career in electrical engineering, took the opportunity to involve himself in the graduate program as a way to begin a career change into rail.

Similar to Murphy and Soilleux, McDowell saw the opportunity to be part of an expanding organisation.

“I was motivated to join Omada as it is a rapidly growing company with lots of experience working within the railway industry. I was also motivated by their goal of becoming the leading provider of railway signalling engineering services in Australia,” he said.

Gavin McDowell has previous experience as an electrical engineer, before joining Omada.

Already, McDowell has been exposed to the different railway standards and networks while gaining an insight into design procedures, interlocking systems, and track circuits, providing a foundation for his future career.

Omada will soon be looking for candidates to bring into their graduate program’s second intake. If you or someone you know are interested in joining the
rail industry, Omada’s graduate program is a strong platform for personal and professional development.

Ballarat Line Upgrade

Final testing and commissioning on Ballarat Line Upgrade confirmed

The final phase of testing and commissioning for the Ballarat Line Upgrade will be carried out during late December 2020 and January 2021.

The jointly funded project is in its final stages after construction was completed in 2019, said Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack.

“We’re excited to see the Ballarat Line Upgrade at this final stage, preparing the line for those much-needed extra services and better reliability for passengers in these growing communities,” said McCormack.

“It’s been more than three years in the making and nearly 1.6 million hours of work by dedicated crews, and we’re now on the home stretch to delivering huge benefits for passengers.”

Once critical safety testing is completed and drivers are trained for the new elements of the line, passengers will be able to take advantage of further increases to services between Ballarat and Melbourne, said Victorian Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan.

“We’re thrilled passengers will soon see the full benefits of the Ballarat Line Upgrade, but first we must complete this crucial final step on the project, as we integrate new track, a new signalling system and other infrastructure onto the existing rail line,” said Allan.

“It’s one of the most critical tasks undertaken on the project to date and it’s taken time to get the right resources in place to deliver this final piece of the project.”

While construction was largely finished in 2019, the new signalling system, which will allow more trains to run more frequently, was the last element of the project to be bedded in.

“Our rail experts have continued complex and extensive signalling design and planning work throughout the year in preparation for the commissioning, and passengers will soon enjoy the benefits of this hard work,” said Allan.

While buses replace trains, 500 metres of track duplication between Bacchus Marsh and Maddingley and at two level crossings in Ballan will be installed.

Once services return to the line, the new second platforms at Ballan, Bacchus Marsh, and Wendouree will open. The new station at Cobblebank has already opened and other stations have benefited from upgrades.

Already, two extra peak weekday services have been running between Melton and Southern Cross Station. Once complete, trains will run every 40 minutes in the off peak.

Alstom results

Alstom first to achieve certification for latest ETCS standards

Alstom is now the first company to be fully certified to the latest onboard and trackside European Train Control System (ETCS) standards.

Issued by independent railway certification and testing organisation Belgorail, the new certification allows for Alstom’s technology to be interoperable with Baseline 3 Maintenance Release 2 for the complete railway system.

“We are proud to have yet again set a new standard in rail. We are on track to gradually replacing all the existing incompatible systems throughout Europe and to optimising and boosting the international freight and passenger transport,” said Jean Francois-Beaudoin, SVP Alstom Digital Mobility.

ETCS is widely used throughout Europe for mainline and high-speed systems. In addition, the technology has been adopted internationally, with ETCS being implemented on Brisbane’s Cross River Rail project and on the Sydney Trains network. Other countries such as India, Taiwan, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia have also adopted the European standard.

ETCS uses a digital radio-based system of train control, removing the need for trackside signalling equipment. Movement authority is transmitted to the cab of the train via GSM-R or GPRS mobile data technology. Train location is determined by balises and sensors and the onboard computer determines the maximum possible speed based on train location and track data.

The deployment of ETCS is marked by sequential baselines, of which Baseline 3 is the latest. The baselines set standards for the interoperability of physical in-cab and trackside equipment and software. The latest standards incorporate specifications for the use of more advanced radio technology such as GPRS, with GSM-R technology to be phased out in the 2030s.

Alstom supplies ETCS equipment via its Atlas solution, which represents 70 per cent of the world’s onboard rail systems in service and 18,000km of tracks wordwide.

9,000 trains globally have been equipped with the Atlas onboard solution, and 1,100 vehicles will be equipped with the Baseline 3 Release 2 solution.

Alstom is the first manufacturer to apply ETCS Level 3 in Germany, which involves a higher level of communication integrity to move to ‘moving block’ spacing.

Realising growth through consistency

Omada Rail Systems have expanded their footprint and their capabilities.

Since establishing the company in 2016, directors Luke Craven, Mark Hadfield, and Christopher Miller have grown Omada Rail Systems into one of the top railway signalling engineering companies in Australia; providing high quality professional management and engineering services from project inception and feasibility, through to the testing, operations, and maintenance phases.

A growing footprint
Since the beginning of 2020, the company has expanded their team’s physical presence into New South Wales and South Australia. Now with more than 30 full time staff, this expansion adds to the existing teams in Queensland and Victoria.

This recent growth has been concentrated in Omada’s testing team. Speaking in an interview on Omada’s expansion, Hadfield said, “Employing experienced engineers in these locations has opened up opportunities for us to work on projects that have previously been too costly to take on. The reduction in costs associated with not having to fly our team interstate to these locations, allows us to provide our clients with a great value for money service.”

The mass of rail projects underway across Australia has created huge demand for testers, however, this resource in the industry is a sparse commodity. Attempting to meet this demand, Omada’s directors made the decision to bring Ian Arnold into the company as Testing Engineering Manager to develop and lead the Omada test team. A highly experienced Tester in Charge (TIC) and well-known in the industry, Arnold quickly got to work in building an effective team of testers.

Julie Pennington, the first person to be employed by Omada in New South Wales, was brought in as an experienced TIC. In South Australia, Matthew Hooper has joined Omada, a tester with more than 17 years of experience in leading teams on large projects. The arrival of these new engineers has added a new dimension to Omada’s services, combining high quality design and management services with onsite testing and commissioning work. Now with multiple TIC’s, principal testers, functional testers and test assistants across Australia, Omada has built a diverse testing team, capable of meeting project requirements with minimal risk.

“The additions we made to our team were carefully selected to ensure we significantly increased our testing and commissioning capabilities. Not only have we expanded into new locations, but we have now positioned our company to be able to deliver full projects, rather than just packages of work,” said Hadfield, “The diverse experience of our staff provides us with the unique ability to solve any potential problem our clients may throw our way.”

Sustainability focus
Omada is fast becoming known in the industry as one of the most reliable and effective engineering options. Hadfield backed this claim by saying, “We have received excellent feedback from a number of our clients on recently completed projects. In particular, Ian Arnold was singled out by a client for being particularly effective, pulling everything together to get a commissioning over the line, safely and on-time.”

To establish a name as one of the industry’s most trustworthy providers, quality and reliability are vital.

“We have built a reputation for quality services and on-time project deliveries, which has been a major factor in allowing us to meet new clients, develop stronger relationships with our existing clients, and form industry partnerships,” said Hadfield.

Utilising their industry contacts, Omada’s directors have formed strong working relationships with rail construction companies around Australia, adding to their growing list of capabilities.

It is clear from the growth that Omada has shown recently, that there is a strong focus from the directors on business development. By increasing capabilities and capacity for work, Omada’s directors also set out to diversify their workforce. In March this year, Omada began a graduate program and welcomed two young graduate engineers into the company. Since then, these graduates have been able to work under mentorship on designs and work on site as test assistants, gaining valuable experience for future projects.

Despite increasing their team’s size and working on a greater number of projects, the quality of service that the team provides has not decreased. Omada’s directors have made this possible by ensuring that new team members are committed to adopting Omada’s values, methodologies and processes, backed up by a highly effective mentorship system.

For more information on Omada Rail Systems’ capabilities and project work head to their website: omadarail.com

Vancouver

Thales to deploy CBTC signalling for Vancouver SkyTrain extension

Thales’s Communications Based Train Control (CBTC) technology, SelTrac, will be deployed on the Millennium Line extension in Vancouver.

The signalling contract is part of the Vancouver Broadway Subway Project, which extends the SkyTrain Millennium line along the Broadway corridor.

The CA$2.83 billion ($3bn) project takes Vancouver’s iconic, fully automated SkyTrain underground beneath Broadway, as part of the redevelopment of the corridor through central Vancouver. The project is being carried out by the Broadway Subway Constructors General Partnership, a consortium led by Acciona and Ghella.

The project includes six stations and an interchange with the Canada Line at Arbutus Street and bus services to the University of British Columbia.

Dominique Gaiardo, vice president and managing director for Thales’ Urban Rail Signalling business, said the project would improve accessibility along the corridor.

“This exciting project will improve the livability and access across the vital economic and employment hub of the Broadway Corridor. Thales will continue to build local expertise and provide strong support to the city and is proud to contribute to the mass transit capacity expansion in Vancouver with the innovative SelTrac CBTC system.”

Thales and Vancouver have a significant history together, as the city was the first location for the deployment of the SelTrac system. The SelTrac signalling infrastructure supported the world’s first driverless CBTC system on the Vancouver SkyTrain Expo line. Thales has also provided signalling to the Millennium and Canada lines.

Drawing on the expertise developed in these projects and elsewhere, Thales has an urban rail signalling competence centre located in Burnaby, B.C, which will provide specialised rail signalling experts and local experience to the Broadway project.

How RCS Australia is using COTS technology to solve complex signalling challenges

Working between rail operators and technology vendors, RCS Australia are taking a technology neutral, functional approach to signalling.

The digitalisation of all facets of industry is a process that has been underway for decades now, and has most recently spawned the new term, Industry 4.0. Primarily concerned with the integration of cyber and physical systems, it is a term not often heard in the rail sector. However, as digital systems open up new possibilities for rail infrastructure builders and operators, organisations are required to work with new technology.

One company making this happen in Australia is Rail Control Systems Australia (RCS Australia). As CEO Paul Hann explains, knowing both sides of the equation enables RCS Australia to translate emerging technology for the rail industry.

“We understand the authorised rail operators (AROs), we understand some of the barriers that they face, particularly from a technical perspective. Similarly, we’ve built relationships with the technology providers. Rail is a little bit different to their normal market, so we bridge that gap.”

RCS Australia has experience working with legacy signalling systems around Australia and having seen the limitations of proprietary technology, the company understood that its position as a technology neutral company unaffiliated with a particular vendor could serve the rail industry.

“We understand that our clients’ needs and requirements should be driving the technology, not the other way around. That was really what was driving our move more into looking at technology solutions and how we can apply those to our clients, the AROs,” said Hann.

As both Hann and Jacquelle Coldhill, Director, Commercial and Projects, know, the core competency of railway operators are the operation and maintenance of existing signalling systems, not necessarily the design, construction, and commissioning of new technology. Having developed an array of competencies to serve just that need, RCS Australia can use their expertise drawn from projects around Australia to guide the successful implementation of innovation in signalling.

“There can often be different challenges in understanding what the ARO actually wants. Sometimes you have to work with them to help them understand what’s best for their railway and how the equipment or the solution can actually address their needs,” said Coldhill.

Since its formation in 2007, RCS Australia has grown to encompass signalling engineering, construction, testing and additionally, the selection and implementation of technology platforms and solutions.

“With in-house capability from feasibility and scheme development through to construction and commissioning, being able to provide technology solutions to address some of our client’s needs as part of the package was a missing piece of the puzzle,” said Hann.

RCS Australia’s solutions have been implemented on a number of major rail projects.

LOCAL KNOWLEDGE
In some instances, to address a perceived dearth of local expertise, rail projects have turned overseas to solve their signalling challenges. One issue with this approach, however, is that the unique specifications of each Australian rail system may not be immediately known, highlights Coldhill.

“Some of the challenges with using an international workforce comes down to understanding project specific competency requirements and having experience on a particular network and with the standards required by the ARO. Importantly, we understand that Australia is not a one size fits all market. Implementation of a given technology can be quite different across AROs. Through our team’s mix of local knowledge and technology expertise we aim to provides specific and appropriate solutions for our clients,” said Coldhill.

This innate understanding, combined with a technology neutral approach, leads to a customer-centric outcome.

“Local knowledge combined with a commercial off the shelf (COTS) solution means that we can genuinely drive things by requirements,” said Hann. “We’re not trying to shoehorn a technology into a project, quite the opposite. We’re trying to match a solution with the requirements of the ARO, combining local knowledge with the ability to source the right solution.”

In addition, RCS Australia are based locally, and are able to continue providing support long after the first trains are running over the new system.

“We can provide ongoing support once a project is delivered. We’re an Australian company committed to long term relationships with our clients, so there’s considerable ongoing post commissioning support, whether it’s training, maintenance or further development and innovation,” said Hann. “Our interest is really in the growth of the Australian rail industry, we’re not here to sell widgets.”

CURRENT WORK
RCS Australia’s knowledge of signalling comes from a diversity of projects around the country. These include standalone freight networks, the integration of metropolitan and regional networks, and new, high capacity suburban lines. Currently, the team is engaged on a number of major projects, including Cross River Rail, Melbourne Metro Tunnel, and Inland Rail. While the scope of each project is quite different, as Hann points out, the approach is the same.

“As providers of safety critical systems, there’s a level of no difference, whether it’s suburban network or a freight network. But the operational requirements can be very different. We focus on our ability to take those operating requirements of a given railway and turn that into a functional signalling scheme.”

On the Cross River Rail project, the installation of a new signalling technology
has to be integrated with the existing network along the brownfield sections and where the new infrastructure links to the existing rail line.

We’re looking at new technology but in an existing network,” said Hann. “We’re not the new technology provider on Cross River, but part of our role is ensuring integration with the existing signalling system and the current methods of operation such that once this new technology is commissioned it can operate seamlessly within the legacy systems of that network.”

On the Cross River Rail project, RCS Australia have deployed their design, construct, and commissioning teams for the safe and efficient delivery of the signalling infrastructure.

“For our integrated technology and delivery engagements, we are developing functional specifications based on the operational requirements of the railway, linking that to technology, and then developing and designing that technology. We deliver it in house from design development through to factory build, deployment to site and final commissioning,” said Hann. “All of those links in the process enable us to bring efficiencies to the party because of the integrated nature of the team and common goal of everyone involved.”

In addition, as Coldhill notes, on a large, multi-stakeholder project such as Cross River Rail, bringing these services in house enables a smoother project management process.

“You’re not managing subcontractors, you’re not challenged with technology or commercial interfaces, you’re not facing so many hurdles and, as a result, there is less delivery risk for our clients.”

Not being focussed on one particular technology, while being part of a multidisciplinary team allows for RCS Australia to take a ‘best for the project’ approach. This requires knowing the requirements of both technology vendors and rail operators.

“COTS vendors are a third-party supplier but they’re a key element to the success of the project in terms of product support. That’s where we focus on being able to translate what they’re doing into rail and present that to projects in a way they understand and that they can see mitigates risk and satisfies their overall requirements,” said Hann.“With the knowledge and expertise of our the team at RCS Australia, we are able to bridge that gap.”

smart signal

Delivering a next generation smart signal

Required to develop a unique solution for a challenging requirement, Aldridge have implemented a smart signal built for the future.

Across the vast majority of most train networks, most signals have the sophistication of a light bulb – the signal is either on, or off. The increasing sophistication of new lines, and their requirements to deliver more in a smaller package, has required a new kind of smart signal.

Sydney-based rail signalling experts, Aldridge have developed a new smart signal which can provide a much greater amount of information in a tight environment. Already in use in some of the most advanced systems in the Asia-Pacific region, David Aldridge, managing director of Aldridge, explains what makes these signals smart.

“In a conventional signal, you might have an A or B on it, and then if you need to put a C on there you can’t do it; you need to build a whole new signal. This one you can reprogram to show an A, B, C, D, or whatever, that’s the difference – their ability to be able to generate all characters.”

The new signal can decode up to 10 110VAC selection inputs and generate a comprehensive range of alphanumeric characters and symbols on displays up to three digits wide. This solution was developed in house, as company engineer Craig Sharwood highlights.

“I can change a lot of the behaviour of the display that previously would be locked in hardware and any change would require a major change to circuit boards and documentation. Here I can just change the code that controls the signal and change an A to a B or a 1 to a 5.”

The flexibility of the signal does not end at the display, however, as it can be configured with any number of interlocking systems and has already been installed in divergent projects.

“The structure of the signal is such that I can adapt it to be compatible with whatever interface I have to connect the signal to,” said Sharwood. “it gives us some flexibility to make it talk and in whatever format that the customer would like.”

A PROVEN SOLUTION
The smart signals were first developed to be used on two projects in Southeast Asia, the MRT Purple Line in Bangkok and the KVMRT system in Kuala Lumpur. For both systems, Aldridge had to comply with the customer’s demand for a new kind of signal.

“The customer’s challenge required our signal to display numerous character combinations using encoded 110VAC signalling over a limited umber of control lines.

Our solution enabled this customer to achieve the desired signal display functionality at lower cost, by reducing cable harness conductor count and interface overheads,” said Sharwood.

With the technology proven on these projects, when the call came for a similar signal for the Sydney Metro Northwest project, Aldridge was able to supply their solution.

“We’d already designed the product for the two other projects in Asia,” said Aldridge.

“We had the technology running and then we reproduced it here using the same technology.”

Although the core technology was the same, the signal had been improved as a result of previous versions, giving the product an edge over other solutions, said Sharwood.

“We have refined it over several iterations with other clients, so it’s given it maturity as a product. It’s not just a drawing board situation, it’s something that’s in service.”

While the product had been updated, the size of the kinetic envelope on the Sydney Metro lines presented a new obstacle for Aldridge to overcome.

“One of the challenges was the actual size that they gave us which we had to bring the product down to, to miniaturise it,” said Aldridge.

“A normal signal here in Australia, or basically anywhere in the world, is 300mm in width and these had to brought down to 270mm.”

In bringing down the size of the signal, Aldridge also developed the system to be modular, so that it could continue to fit into the diverse requirements of each future rail project. For Sydney Metro, the signals combine a points position indicator, which indicates left, straight ahead or right, with a red horizontal bar for stop, and a separate main route indicator number. The two displays are electrically isolated, and the arrangement can be modified for the variation required.

“Every company has their own interlocking system – they’re all a little different – and then they also have different group requirements for reporting back to the controller from the signal, what happens in fail mode, and all those little parameters,” said Aldridge.

Being able to approach each project on its own terms with an applied solution that can be modified to fit has allowed Aldridge to step in on projects when other have pulled out at the last minute.

Four typical examples of how the smart signals could be configured, showing the route number and points direction.

DESIGNED TO BE SAFE FOR FUTURE APPLICATIONS
Currently, the signal is used as a non-vital signal on the Sydney Metro network. Aldridge has delivered 153 signals, including 55 smart running, 26 smart shunting, and 72 buffer stop signals, across the Sydney Metro project so far. Although automated, the system requires signals for manual operations, including shunting, that must be fully operational when the Metro is running.

As part of the safety measures in the signals, the two separate indicators can be monitored independently, while also performing their own self testing in a loop configuration.

“The most recent model is a higher safety integrity level (SIL) level than the original, so it monitors its own power supply and it monitors its outputs. It has a status output to say basically ‘I’m ok or not ok,’ so it’s not a signal that can be used for controlling, generating a stop, but it has sufficient reliability and controls built in to make it more than adequate for this non vital application,” said Sharwood.

While the current signal is not being used to convey a movement authority, the fundamentals of the system are such that further deployments could use the signal in what Sharwood terms a hybrid manner.

“The Aldridge smart signal has the potential to displace a lot of normal signals. Rather than just displaying characters in the array, on the same array it could be displaying signalling information.

“At the moment we’ve kept it separate, the smart signal is displaying digits and characters and we still have more conventional bar signals, but it’s possible with the right approach that we could have characters and arrows, bars, all sorts of different types of signalling, embedded in the display.”

THE ALDRIDGE DIFFERENCE
The development of the innovative smart signal required a different set of skills than what is normally required of a signal engineer, however just as mandatory was the existing expertise Aldridge had in hardwired signals.

“We have leveraged some components that we know are good and the rail industry feels comfortable using and re-using. We’ve used a small number of components that we know are basically the stalwarts of the industry and our product range and added the technology and added the smarts to succeed and satisfy customer requirements,” said Sharwood.

While the 5mm LED lights and other componentry may have resembled existing signals, there was a considerable amount of new thinking involved in the design.

“These signals bear almost no resemblance to any predecessor signals so in a lot of ways we had to start from scratch and basically design something completely new,” said Sharwood.

Pulling this exercise off however required belief from the top down.

“A lot of industries like rail get stuck with the things they know and the things that work over and over and suddenly that isn’t enough” said Sharwood.

“At some stage we have to go, ‘Ok, I have to make a big leap into modern technology.’ That’s what Aldridge did in this case.”

This approach is where Aldridge has been able to distinguish itself in its ability to find the right solution, with 70 years of experience and 30 within the rail industry.

“In general, we lead the customer a little bit in terms of what could possibly happen,” said Sharwood.

“They look to us to say, ‘How do we actually use this signal?’ Even down to the point of what size fuses should be used, what earthing should we have.

“Sometimes we assist the customer on their side of the fence to help them integrate into their network, and into their systems,” said Sharwood.

signalling

Integrated signalling systems providing reliability on Sydney Metro

After a year of successful operations, Alstom is embedding signalling knowledge and experience from Sydney Metro into the local rail industry.

On May 26, 2020 Australia’s first fully- automated, driverless metro system completed its first year of operations. The service had already carried 20 million passenger trips across 105,000 services and was winning fans in its commuters for its frequency, reliability, and speed, having an overall customer satisfaction rating of 96 per cent.

Beyond the staff on the ground and the physical infrastructure itself, what was ensuring these high customer satisfaction metrics was the reliability of the innovative signalling system deployed on Sydney Metro.

For the project, Alstom supplied its Urbalis 400 Communication Based Train Control (CBTC) signalling system, which in the case of a driverless train such as Sydney Metro has a fundamental role to play in smooth operations between the train, the platforms and the control centre.

Although a first for Australia, this was not the first time that the Asia-Pacific region had seen the deployment of this system. Singapore was the first city to use a similar Alstom CBTC system, on the North East Line in 2003. One of the recent cases, however, was the extension of Hong Kong’s metro system known as the South Island Line, which shares an operator with Metro Trains Sydney (MTS) with MTR. This made for a smooth adaption of the technology to local conditions, said Pavan Devanahalli, Alstom’s project director for Sydney Metro.

“The Hong Kong South Island Line project was similar in terms of technology and architecture and the fact that with MTR as the operator, they were very familiar with the system and the technology. It really made sense for us to use that same platform.”

With the expertise for Sydney’s Metro North West Line drawn from Hong Kong, Singapore, and elsewhere Alstom set about adapting the system for the local conditions while building a base of local expertise.

As Devanahalli highlights, although the technology is proven, making it a success in a new context produces challenges.

“When deploying CBTC in a new environment, the challenge is the system might be mature, but you’ve got to make that work in the context of the operational conditions. The operator is new and Australia is doing this for the first time, so it was about adapting and integrating that technology.”

Alstom not only worked with the operator but also construction and civil contractors in the building of a new maintenance facility at Tallawong, the new railway from Epping to Tallawong and the retrofitting of the existing Epping to Chatswood line. Devanahalli points out that doing this while ensuring that the project was completed on time and under budget required working in parallel to optimise delivery.

“When you look at what was accomplished in the brownfield section, which was from Epping to Chatswood, that was done very quickly and there were significant lessons learnt in not only how to convert or upgrade to a new line but also in terms of the coordination of activities between ourselves and other contractors, including infrastructure works,” said Devanahalli, who expects these lessons to be applied and processes amplified in the conversion of the Sydenham to Bankstown section from suburban rail to metro.

In this section of the project, which will extend the Urbalis system from Chatswood, via new underground tunnels beneath the Sydney CBD and onto Sydenham and Bankstown, the existing train line will be upgraded. In this case, focusing on minimising disruption and maximising coordination for efficient access has led Alstom to hand-pick key talent to ensure the project is completed smoothly.

SETTING A BENCHMARK FOR OPERATIONS
While Sydneysiders have enjoyed the frictionless Metro North West Line, Alstom has been optimising the software behind the services to enable the growth of the system’s capacity. Being a digital system, Devanahalli highlights that the signalling team have been working with the operator to bed down the system through a series of software upgrades to enable greater efficiencies.

“What we’ve done during the course of the last year is optimise the software to meet the operational needs of MTS. We have had not only our international expertise pool available but also we have our local expertise that can react quite quickly to any new need or operational requirements.”

On the first day of operations, headways between trains were set at five minutes, however the intention was always to reduce that to four minutes once the system was in place.

“The timetable changed from five to four minutes between trains and all of that was done seamlessly. Of course, there was quite a bit of machinery moving in the back end but what that meant is that we could support the vision of Sydney Metro” said Devanahalli.

Even with all of the complexities that come with an entirely new train system, after a year the system has achieved figures of 98 per cent system reliability, and 99 per cent train availability. Devanahalli puts this down to the work of the entire array of partners who came together on the project.

GETTING THE LOCALS ON BOARD
Although Alstom initially brought in its expertise from projects in Asia as well as Europe, throughout the delivery of the new driverless line the company has built up a local talent pool for the next stages of City and Southwest.

“They went through a rigorous process over two years of going through the design and commissioning, and they’ve now been deployed in the operations centre, warranty and maintenance programs so they can now experience what it means to be in the operations and maintenance side of a project,” said Devanahalli. “The talent has been strategically groomed over the last three years and in-between the two projects they’ve been sent to Melbourne and Singapore for ongoing technical training, leadership, and professional development.”

Having some of the most advanced signalling projects occurring around the world in Australia right now has created a motivation for new signalling engineers to deliver the current generation of digital signalling.

“CBTC is really about software,” said Devanahalli. “But, on these projects, installation is key. Having a partnership and collaborative approach to delivering these projects is absolutely essential in Australia. No one person is delivering a project.”

Having built up a base of local expertise in the delivery of software-based signalling projects will enable future improvements to the system that allow for flexibility as demand shifts and changes.

Overall, Devanahalli highlights that the experience Alstom has had on Sydney Metro, as well as other projects around the globe, is that when it comes to signalling, it is not the product that is important, but the outcome that the signalling system can provide – safety, customer satisfaction, reliability and availability.

“The beauty of the CBTC system is that it’s interfacing with almost everything that happens on the railway, so there’s not a single system that it doesn’t touch – except maybe the station elevator. It’s really a matter of identifying the right technology and being able to interface that to CBTC. From that point forward the CBTC software does its magic.”

Thales to support NSW digital strategy

Global technology provider and rail signalling manufacturer Thales will develop a leading digital control, communication, and signalling centre in Sydney.

The announcement follows Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s $1.6 billion Digital Restart Fund which aims to make NSW the digital capital of the southern hemisphere.

Thales Australia CEO Chris Jenkins said that the announcement enables Thales to commit to basing its digital innovation in Sydney.

“This is incredibly exciting for the many innovative companies operating in this state. To back the NSW ambition, we are committed to establishing a digital innovation lab in western Sydney to develop digital solutions for public transport,” said Jenkins.

Thales supplies digital transport systems to Sydney Metro and has supplied telemetry solutions to Sydney Trains.

Jenkins said that Thales would be drawing on its global expertise and tailoring the solutions to the needs of NSW and Transport for NSW, focusing on Metro, light rail, transport cyber security, and digital rail signalling.

“The Digital Innovation Lab will continue to grow smart jobs in western Sydney, enhancing our existing team of world-class engineers and software developers already based in our Transport business.”

NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said that investment in digital technology would drive the state’s economy.

“This record investment in technology recognises that digital infrastructure is as important as transport infrastructure to the State’s economic growth.

“We must be fast followers in the Digital Revolution to accelerate agility, lift productivity and generate the jobs of tomorrow.”

The $1.6bn in funding also includes $240 million to enhance NSW’s cyber security capability, the biggest single investment in cyber security in Australia’s history, said Minister for Customer Service Victor Dominello.

Cyber security is also a focus for Thales.

“It’s never been more important that our public transport systems are protected with the highest levels of cyber security, which Thales delivers to public transport operators around the world,” said Jenkins.