Further measures to reduce crowding across Sydney Trains

Sydney Trains will be taking extra steps to ensure crowding on the network does not return once patronage increases following the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown.

In responding to a report from the Auditor-General for NSW which found that platform crowding was a key strategic risk, a Sydney Trains spokesperson said that a raft of measures are being introduced.

“Sydney Trains is currently implementing a number of initiatives to help customers make informed decisions about physical distancing in accordance with NSW government advice,” said the spokesperson.

“These include increased visibility through signs and announcements on trains and at stations explaining physical distancing. Additional measures include a communication campaign targeting school children, managing Opal gates to space customers entering and leaving stations, new guidelines for passenger numbers on lifts, regular customer information announcements and social media messaging, and staff education to help guide customers safely around the network.”

In its report, the Auditor-General recommended that Sydney Trains and Transport for NSW (TfNSW) should address key data gaps in the operator’s understanding of where crowding was occurring.

“Sydney Trains do not have sufficient oversight to know if crowding is being effectively managed,” said the Auditor-General.

Although customer management plans exist for high-patronage stations, a lack of policy supporting the plans limited their effectiveness, the auditor-General found, and a centralised collection of data on crowding interventions did not exist, nor did Sydney Trains have a routine process for identifying whether crowding contributed to minor safety incidents.

Sydney Trains and TfNSW accepted the Auditor-General’s recommendations and have been instituting responses to limit crowding.

“In March last year, we saw the introduction of the $296 million world class Rail Operations Centre, with an integrated network of 11,000 digital cameras monitoring stations and concourses in real-time to help support crowd management and safety,” said a Sydney Trains spokesperson.

The Auditor-General also cited larger programs such as the More Trains More Services initiative as well as the building of Sydney Metro will alleviate network pressure in the longer term.

Research and technology programs are also looking at how to smoothen operations and changes customer behaviour. The Auditor-General found that some of these initiatives, such as reduced fare prices outside of the peak travel periods and improved wayfinding, needed to be evaluated to assess their value.

The effectiveness of measures to reduce crowding will be one way to encourage commuters to return to public transport. In the preliminary findings of a University of Sydney survey, public transport was found to be seen as significantly less comfortable than private cars, which could limit the use of trains and buses after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, said associate professor Matthew Beck from the Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies.

“To avoid levels of congestion that exceed those experienced prior to COVID-19, governments need to encourage work from home as much as possible. Businesses also need to be flexible with remote working and think about how they might stagger the hours of the day staff travel to and from work.”

According to Sydney Trains, continuing normal services levels has allowed customers to physically distance on trains and platforms.

“We have also continued to run a full timetable with only minor adjustments, despite substantially reduced patronage across the network. This has created the best options for customers to physically distance within train carriages and at stations.”

Digitalisation an enabler for network change

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.

Photography by RailGallery.com.au.

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.

Repairs to Blue Mountains line opens up regional services

Work to repair the Blue Mountains line following fires and heavy rains earlier this year has taken a major step forward.

A full timetable of regional trains can now run to and from Sydney, with a temporary signalling system installed, said a Sydney Trains spokesperson.

“The temporary signalling system uses axle counters to enable diesel freight and regional trains to operate between Mount Victoria and Lithgow,” the spokesperson said.

The line is a vital link between famers in the rest of the country and resources exporters, and the Sydney basin and Port Botany. The line also provides important connectivity for inland communities.

“Freight operators can now run more trains along the vital corridor with greater track access times. NSW TrainLink is able to run a full timetable for diesel passenger trains, including the second Bathurst Bullet,” said the Sydney Trains spokesperson.

The Blue Mountains line was hit hard in the bushfires of late 2019 and early 2020 with kilometres of track knocked out of commission. Buses have been replacing trains since then, with limited freight and passenger services resuming in late January.

The Sydney Trains spokesperson said Intercity trains, which rely on overhead electrical power, will return to the line once works are complete.

“Works to repair the existing signalling system and overhead electric supply to run Intercity trains to Lithgow continue.”

Digital innovation with a customer focus

Rather than seeing digitialisation as an end in itself, rail projects are using signalling technology to answer pressing questions.

Driving the digital transformation of industry are four levers – digital data, connectivity, automation, and digital customer access – according to global consultancy Roland Berger.

In the rail industry, these levers are being pulled, however instead of being an end in itself, the move towards digital rail is an enabler of a host of other improvements to services.

These outcomes were on display at the Train Control and Management Systems summit, held in Sydney from February 19 to 21. While each individual project used its own combination of data, connectivity, automation, and digital customer access, the end outcome was driven by the industry need.

One of these projects is the Australian Rail Track Corporation’s (ARTC) Advanced Train Management System (ATMS). Although begun over a decade ago in 2008 with a proof of concept trial, as ARTC operation readiness manager – ATMS, Gary Evans described, the technology has been driven by its outcome and is nearing its first deployment in 2020.

“ATMS will bring improvements in our network rail capacity, operational flexibility, train service availability, transit times, and rail safety, and it will replace trackside signalling by providing precise locations of trains.”

While adopting virtual block authority management similar to other advanced train control systems, ATMS retains the trackside infrastructure.

“Trackside infrastructure is something ARTC does very well and the project monitors the environment, the occupancy of the points, so our system has track circuits over the switches,” said Evans.

Across the ARTC network of 8,500km of track, interlocking between sections of signalling and track will be centralised.

“It’s a high-fidelity track database, it’s rated to Safety Integrity Level (SIL) 3 and it enables virtual block authority management. The blocks within which the trains operate are usually a physical block and they are separated by signals, what we do with this system is that we can break it down into virtual, electronic blocks and currently, for the proof of concept we ran about 200m electronic blocks, the ones that we are using at the moment are 500m in length,” said Evans.

The new virtual block system will allow a granularity of control not previously possible.

“In terms of train operation, a train will go through a physical block today every 20 minutes. A train that will go through this same infrastructure will probably consume in the order of eight of these electronic blocks but as it is moving through it will report back at 15 second intervals,” said Evans.

“ATMS is rated for four minute headways for 1,800m trains travelling at 115 km/h.”

While the technology in itself is a step forward for the control and management of train systems, the implementation of the ATMS and the use of the four levels of digital transformation is ultimately about delivering a service for the customer, in this case, freight operators across Australia. This has led to ATMS’s unique features. Having to serve a number of freight operators at various points throughout the freight network that stretches from Kalgoorlie to Newcastle, has led to interoperability being a key facet of ATMS. Retaining trackside infrastructure allows for unequipped train traffic to use the system, and the trainborne interface was developed in consultation with operators.

“We did a lot of work with the operators on the driver interface unit. The first one that was put in front of them was a European-style one, which was a dial type set up and we almost had a walkout of the operators because it didn’t give them a lot of information and it required them to be fixated with that dashboard whereas they wanted something that didn’t require that. We worked together collaborative to come up with the current system.”

The resulting interface gives drivers a 10km look ahead, and relays information on train speed and speed limits in real time. Using location determination systems onboard the train, the system can alert a driver, operator, and controller if the train is exceeding limits.

Evans summarised the benefits of the ATMS system.

“Improved safety authority and speed level enforcement, improved trackside safety for trackside workers, increased rail capacity, improved service reliability, improving the structure of maintenance costs, more flexibility in the network, and safer management of trains.”

While Australia’s rail industry has been plagued by different technologies and standards in each state, the ARTC regards ATMS as a technology to synchronise rail control and management, for the benefit of the end user.

“ARTC’s customers traverse three states so it’s very important for us to take the lead and ATMS provides us a once in a lifetime opportunity to actually have a harmonised rule set,” said Evans.

Having this in place will allow for further innovations driven by the digitalisation of rail control.

“Future enhancements that we will work through is a path to semi automation or automation of operational systems, and integration with fuel and energy management systems.”

Having data on how a train is travelling will allow operators to more efficiently plan routes while identifying driving behaviours that increase fuel costs.

For example, rather than running at full speed through a section of track before coming to a complete stop at a signal, freight drivers can be told the optimum speed to travel to reach that signal as it turns green. Looking further afield, ATMS could lead to driver-only operation. In these cases, digital rail is not so much about the technology itself, but the enhancements that can come from its implementation.

“ARTC wants to be an enabler for its customers and not a disabler,” said Evans.

DIGITALISATION AS A SOLUTION TO DEMOGRAPHIC, ENVIRONMENTAL CHALLENGES
As Australian rail infrastructure managers and operators adopt their local digital systems, international examples provide guidance on the motivations and outcomes of digitalisation programs. Perhaps none are more comprehensive than the digital rail system being rolled out across all of Germany’s 33,000km of rail. Beginning with the trans-European corridor, the Stuttgart S-Bahn and specified high speed lines, Joern Schlichting, head of the ETCS program at Deutsche Bahn (DB), outlined the significance of the project.

“In terms of automatic train operation (ATO) and ETCS, this is the future. That means fundamentally, a new rail system.”

According to Schlichting, Germany’s existing rail control system was performing sufficiently, and not reaching obsolescence. This made the attractiveness of the business case for adopting ETCS, however penalties within the agreement with other EU member states overcame that.

“The projected penalties would have been at least €1 billion if we didn’t equip these corridors. So, the German government said if we have to spend €1bn on penalties or equipment, let’s spend it on equipment.”

This presented an opportunity for DB and its rail infrastructure arm, DB Netz to rethink how the adoption of ETCS could be a further enabler for other issues the rail network was facing.

“Why not stop to think about how could we make the best out of it?”

This approach enabled DB to utilise the digital rail technology to confront two critical issues facing the sector – a demographic exodus and a modal shift from road to rail to reduce carbon emissions.

“What we found that is as long as we talked about ETCS as a technology issue in terms of replacing one thing by another thing there was no business case. As soon as we started to think about what the real business drivers are – what are our threats – then we found out our demographic issue is one of the worst,” said Schlichting.

In 2011, DB estimated that in the next 10-15 years, 50 per cent of mission-critical staff will retire. Replacing this staff cohort with a younger generation would require a rethink of the type of work train operators would be doing, particularly in regards to legacy systems such as interlockings.

“With these old interlockings, we have one maintenance area where we have 18 generations of interlockings, so you can imagine it’s a nightmare for people working there to be able to maintain them.”

Moving to digital systems would overcome this legacy issue and enable a younger, digital-native generation to easily fit into the systems and ways of working.

“Actually ETCS is more of an enabler. ETCS is a tool in order to bring about a completely new redesign of the rail system,” said Schlichting.

The other element that digitalisation could go towards is the relative carbon footprint of transport in Germany. Although Germany has committed to a 95 per cent carbon reduction by 2050, transport has been a sector that has been stubborn in reducing its emissions, falling by only 0.6 per cent between 1990 and 2018, compared to energy which dropped by 33 per cent. The magnitude of the task is not lost on Schlichting.

“We have to move transport from road to rail, so that means we need to create the capacity, but in the past our network has been shrinking.”

Driven by cost cutting directives, DB has reduced its workforce from 120,000 to 40,000 in the past 15 years and has also torn up tracks and points. However, now the system is required to double passenger traffic by 2030, and cargo traffic by 30 per cent. Digitalisation and the improvement of signalling thus becomes a way to increase the shrinking system’s capacity.

“How can we do this with an existing network that has been shrinking in the past and without having any money at the time for loads of new lines?” asked Schlichting.“Digitising it is the chance to create more traffic.”

At the core of this digitalisation push is the adoption of ETCS technology, common across Europe, which with a focus on outcomes, Schlichting describes as a “language”. Once the system and vehicles are talking to each other in this language, then further technology improvements can be introduced when the users demand it, just like new vocabulary.

An artist’s impression of Sydney Trains’ Rail Operations Centre.

DESIGNING A CUSTOMER FOCUS INTO RAIL OPERATIONS
In some ways, Sydney Trains is experiencing a similar issue to DB, albeit on a smaller scale, as population pressures and urban development cause more Sydneysiders to use the network. As the acting executive director, Digital Systems Business Integration (DSBI) at Sydney Trains, Andrew Constantinou sees these impacts in the operations of the network.

“Increased patronage effectively translates into our ability to create more services and our ability to create reliable services and that’s where the ROC plays into.”

The Rail Operations Centre (ROC) is a new, purpose-built building in Alexandria, Sydney which has brought together the rail management centre, the infrastructure control centre, security monitoring facility and two signal boxes, covering most of the geography of Sydney Rail. A customer and operator demand for precise, accurate information has led to the streamlining of operations into one centre and finding a way to simplify communications.

“Part of the scope is to develop a new concept of operations,” said Constantinou. “We have introduced a new incident management system that took away a lot of those phone calls, and developed a dashboard so that all areas in the ROC can understand what is the mission for that particular incident and who is dealing with what priorities.”

In this case, the digital systems that were built into the ROC had to be designed with the end user in mind, the rail operator, and to minimise disruptions on the network.

“It really starts with bringing all your people together. We started with seven design principles and I focus on the top two – collaboration and communication – because if you can build a high-performing control room floor that fosters good communication and good collaboration, you start ticking the other boxes which are underneath it,” said Constantinou.

While individual controllers’ roles were driven by the train systems they were operating, the human demands of communication were paramount.

“We looked at what communication happened. So what communication happened face to face, on the control room floor, over the telephone, and through various subsystems?

“We did that two-fold. We did that in normal mode and we did that in degraded mode. That gave us an idea around who spoke to whom and when did they speak to whom,” said Constantinou.

Ahead of designing the space, Constantinou’s team conducted a role matrix to see where the patterns in operations were, particularly in degraded mode.

With the Sydney Trains network compressing from 15 lines across the suburban network into six in the CBD, getting those critical staff together would be key for functional communication.

“We were able to say 50 roles in network operations were similar and should be sitting next to each other,” said Constantinou. “We quickly worked out which ones were the more critical to operations, which of those roles needed more supervision, which should be configured in a way that they have more supervision around them, and that led to a functional link analysis to understand if there were any functional commonality in the roles.”

With these findings, operations staff were then given a VR headset so that they could inspect the draft design and see how it fitted with their behaviour.

“We set up outside every control centre with a basic fit out where people would come in and put on the masks. They would walk around the desks and the control room floor and we would take every comment down to see how we could respond to it,” said Constantinou.

Following this was trial runs in defined scenarios, such as a tree falling over a rail corridor and a train colliding with the tree.

“You can see the phone calls that go in from the driver to the area controller and the different colours are typically people who would’ve been located in different control centres,” said Constantinou.

“They would’ve, through situational awareness, overheard the conversation because they’re sitting at the right proximity, or they would’ve been able to swing around and talk to these people.

“If you start doing the maths, it’s all the way from a two minute to a 10-minute saving threading through that scenario, so it’s good to know we can save time,” said Constantinou.

At the newly designed ROC, which opened in mid 2019, data, connectivity, and customer access came together, however with the outcome determined by the end user, not the technology itself.

The effect of extreme weather on rail and track infrastructure

As severe weather events become more intense and frequent, rail infrastructure owners and mangers are responding to this new reality.

Documenting the risks that climate change poses to the Australian rail sector, the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) listed six types of impacts. These were: track failures due to extreme temperature days, increased risk of flood and storm damage to track infrastructure, sea level rise flooding coastal tracks, yards and other infrastructure, wind damage to overhead lines, track failure due to decreased soil stability and increased erosion, and increased bushfire damage risk.

During the summer of 2019-2020 the rail industry experienced almost all of these impacts.

In New South Wales, bushfires closed multiple major train lines, including the Main Western Line through the Blue Mountains, the Southern Highlands Line between Goulburn and Macarthur and the Unanderra Line between Moss Vale and Unanderra.

Rail infrastructure owners around the country felt a number of these impacts, and Arc Infrastructure, the manager of the WA rail freight network, was no exception.

“This summer we have seen bushfires in the South West, Mid West (Mogumber) and Kalgoorlie/Esperance cause interruptions to rail traffic, heavy rainfall impacting track infrastructure, and an electrical storm in the Mid West affect signalling and communications infrastructure on the Eastern Goldfields Railway,” said an Arc Infrastructure spokesperson.

Sydney Trains also acknowledged how the weather can impact infrastructure.

“Extreme weather events, such as high temperatures, strong winds, lightning, bushfires, high rainfall, and flooding, can have a significant effect on the performance, efficiency and operation of Sydney Trains’ infrastructure,” said a Sydney Trains spokesperson.

With these increasingly severe and frequent weather events recognised as constituting a new normal, rail network managers and infrastructure owners are having to grapple with what this means for their assets.

BUILDING RESILIENCE

In Infrastructure Australia’s Australian Infrastructure Audit 2019, resilience was a key theme. The report acknowledged that although Australia’s extremes have been well known – floods, drought, fires, and cyclones being an almost yearly occurrence – resilience, the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, was not reflected in planning processes.

Resilience takes a different kind of thinking than had been previously reflected in planning documents. Although methods and protocols to repair damaged infrastructure were established, the data to be able to predict future events was not always available.

“Timely access to evidence that aids the evaluation of likelihood and consequence can help the planning of construction, maintenance and resilience. However, evidence about the scale of risks, their impacts and the costs of addressing them is often weak or not accessible,” write the authors of the report.

In this context, climate change becomes a compounding factor. The modelling of risks is based upon events that have happened in the past. When events start becoming more frequent and outside the historical range of severity, these models have to be re-evaluated.

“In a rapidly changing environment, risks shift in nature and severity, complicating assessment. This can lead to reactive, rather than proactive, responses to both short- and long-term risks to networks,” write Infrastructure Australia.

The report notes that there is much to be done.

“Australia’s infrastructure sector lacks clear, publicly available guidance on how to manage risk and plan for greater resilience in the future.”

Image credit: Sydney Trains.

THE RAIL INFRASTRUCTURE OF 2100, BUILT NOW
While Infrastructure Australia’s assessment was made for Australia’s infrastructure as a whole, rail itself has some key challenges. Rail networks are expected to last for up to 100 years, with some track in use today laid in the early 20th century.

The longevity of rail infrastructure presents a critical issue, as the cost of relocating infrastructure has been so high as to be prohibitive. However, as noted in Building resilient infrastructure prepared by Deloitte Access Economics for the Australian Business Roundtable for Disaster Resilience & Safer Communities, the increased cost of natural disasters will lead to the replacement of damaged assets becoming equivalent to the entire cost of large infrastructure programs, suggesting that resilience building is a nationally significant infrastructure project on its own.

Within this context, the rail infrastructure being built now has to account for changes expected to occur in the next 100 years. In the best-case scenario of global temperature rise being kept to between 1.5 and 2O°C, sea level rises of up to a metre are predicted. The knock on effects of this on rail track infrastructure have been catalogued by the ARA.

Sea level rise will directly impact low lying sections of track, particularly those freight lines that carry bulk cargo for export. Increases in extreme rainfall, leading to flooding, can cause assets to be inundated and landslides. With sea level rising, coastal and inland areas will be vulnerable to inundation, and increased frequency and severity of heat waves will cause track buckling and brownouts and blackouts.

With these risks in mind, the ARA calls for the industry to look at mitigating risks via a long-term program of activities. Whether collaborative or led by individual organisations, the ARA notes that successful planning will require the embedding of adaptation and continuity into planning, development, maintenance and improvement programs of all major rail infrastructure owners.

Some infrastructure owners are already planning of how to respond to this changed environment.

Sydney Trains, whose network was significantly affected during the summer of 2019-2020, is building resilience into the physical nature of the network.

“In recent years, Sydney Trains has undertaken a number of initiatives to protect the network from weather events. These include replacing timber sleepers with concrete to reduce the likelihood of significant rail head movement, tension- regulated overheard wiring, improved lightning and surge protection at assets like control centres and substations and improving advanced weather warning systems,” said a Sydney Trains spokesperson.

These works are part of a $1.5 billion annual program of routine and periodic maintenance across the network.

In Western Australia, Arc Infrastructure is currently looking into how to build in resilience to its network, as Arc Infrastructure CEO Murray Cook, told Rail Express.

“We have an innovative research project underway across our network to prevent the risk of derailment through the use of research, data and technology, supported by the deep knowledge and experience of our people.”

Arc Infrastructure is currently in the process of building a system to predict, detect, and prevent derailments that occur as a result of track section washaways, said an Arc spokesperson.

“In order to predict washaways, we are using various sources of information (including historical track washaway data, historical rainfall data and topographical data) to understand and quantify the potential damage caused by various intensities of extreme weather across our network. This data is then being correlated with realtime rainfall data to generate alarms for probable washaways on specific sections of track.”

So far, the project is being tested on historical events, with results showing that of the washaway events that occurred in February 2017, 47 per cent of the locations were predictable, based on the analysis.

Across Australia, a combination of planning, technological innovation, and consistent maintenance will be required to ensure that the rail netowrks laid down today can be used safely and efficiently in 2100.

Sydney Trains misses punctuality target in February

Sydney Trains and NSW TrainLink have recorded below target punctuality performance in February 2020, with only 83 per cent of services arriving within five minutes for Sydney Trains services, and 6 minutes for NSW TrainLink services.

The target for both services is to have at least 92 per cent of peak services arrive within these benchmarks.

The February target is the lowest out of the publicly available monthly data going back to July 2018.

A spokesperson for Sydney trains said the result in February can be attributed to severe weather.

“There were multiple weather related events across the rail network in February, including electrical storms causing a tree to falling on overhead wiring at Blackheath, landslips at Artarmon and Leura, flooding at Olympic Park and on the South Coast, elements affecting infrastructure at Hawkesbury River, Lidcombe and on the Southern Highlands, and ongoing bushfire recovery work on the Blue Mountains Line between Mount Victoria and Lithgow.

“This is in addition to a power supply issue at the Hornsby Maintenance Centre, a train requiring mechanical repairs at Lidcombe and a medical emergency at Erskineville,” said the spokesperson.

Services on the T1 line had the worst punctuality result across the network in February, with only 77 per cent of services meeting the benchmark. Within the T1 network, western line services recorded the lowest performance, at 74 per cent reaching the on-time benchmark.

T3 Bankstown services were the best performers during February, however at 87.2 per cent still did not reach the benchmark.

Services were generally closer to being on time in the afternoon peak than in the morning peak. Overall punctuality for the financial year ending February 2020 is 90.9.

Sydney Trains serviced 420 million trips in the last financial year, a 35 per cent increase from 5 years ago. 3,200 services provide 1.4 million people’s journeys each weekday.

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.

Rooty Hill station upgrades increase accessibility

Station upgrades have been completed at Rooty Hill Station, in Western Sydney.

The station, located on the Main Western Line, now has four new lifts to make each platform accessible. Family accessible toilets have also been installed on each platform, said a transport for NSW spokesperson.

“The upgrade also includes a new pedestrian footbridge with new stairs to each platform, larger platform canopies for better weather protection and upgrades to CCTV and lighting to improve customer safety and security,” said the spokesperson.

In addition to the work on the station, a new commuter car park, with 750 car spaces, 16 accessible spaces, 10 motorcycle spaces, and 10 electric vehicle charging spaces, opened in early January.

Power for the vehicle charging ports will be locally sourced.

“The power requirements for these facilities are supplemented by sustainable features built into the car park design, including a rooftop solar system with 1140 solar panels. These also efficiently operate the car park lights and lift,’ said the TfNSW spokesperson.

Included in the upgrades are artworks produced by the local Aboriginal community, and pavers have been installed with the handprints of 450 school children from the local area.

The station’s heritage as the original terminus of the Western line’s extension to Blacktown, and its subsequent role in Sydney and NSW’s rail heritage is acknowledged in the station’s footbridge.

The upgrades to Rooty Hill station are part of TfNSW’s wider Transport Access Program, which is making stations more accessible around the state.

Sydney Trains seeks suppliers for UPS network

Sydney Trains is searching for suppliers to replace its network of uninterruptible power systems (UPS).

The 40 systems are spread around the network which are a mix of new and aged units.

These systems supply power to the Sydney Trains electrical network, signalling location in particular, in the case of utility power failure. If these systems lost power there would be significant disruption across the train network.

The tender documents outline that a successful tendered will be able to provide installation, commissioning, and maintenance services.

The UPS systems range from 10-25-kVa 1 phase 240V input and output with 110VDC Bus, to 25 and 30kVa 3 phase 415V input and output with 110VDC Bus, and 40kVa 3 phase 415V input and output with either 110VDC or 400VDC Bus.

Tenders close on February 20 at 2pm and can be submitted via NSW’s online tender process.

Weather destruction is flooding NSW network with repairs

The Blue Mountains in New South Wales has been hit with catastrophic weather in the past 48 hours, heavily disrupting the Sydney Trains and NSW Trainlink network in the region.

Signal boxes and thousands of kilometres of signal wiring is currently being replaced on the Blue Mountains line.

NSW Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Paul Toole said Sydney Trains had secured the track infrastructure and were now working to stabilise the land.

Sydney Trains stated in a social media post on Monday that heavy rain has led to land-slips, fallen trees, flooding, and damage to infrastructure.

“It’s been a really tough 48 hours.”

The heavy rain resulted in a land-slip that occurred between Leura and Katoomba last Sunday afternoon that forced the closure of the Blue Mountains line between Springwood and Mt Victoria.

“Re-opening the line is a huge job – engineers need to rebuild the embankment and infrastructure, including earthworks, track reconstruction, signalling and overhead wire repairs, however we are confident this work will be completed in a matter of weeks, weather dependent,” said Toole.

Toole stated earlier this month that it would be months before part of the Blue Mountains line would reopen again due to bushfire damage.

On Wednesday, Toole said repair work at Leura wasn’t expected to delay reconstruction works taking place further up the line.

“At the end of last year, 25 kilometres of track was significantly damaged by bushfires between Mount Victoria and Lithgow, with thousands of kilometres of communication, electrical and signal wiring lost,” he said.

Engineers have developed temporary systems to allow limited rail connectivity and safely operate some freight and passenger services on Tuesday.

Transport for NSW said they are working closely with freight operators to provide alternate routes.

Sydney Trains said that its frontline operational staff from the network and NSW TrainLink have been working on the line, but that forecast rain will continue to impact the network in the coming days.

Sydney Metro’s underground tunnels are also suffering from the torrential rain in the CBD.

Over a million litres of rainfall flooding has occurred in the 10-year-old tunnel between North Ryde and Chatswood that relies on pumping methods to eliminate excess water.

The 15 kilometre new metro tunnel features waterproof gaskets to prevent flooding.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the water pumps have not malfunctioned but the volume of water limited their effectiveness due to the rainfall in Sydney last weekend.

Other services in Sydney have been impacted by the flooding, including light rail and infrastructure damage on the Central Coast and Newcastle line.