The barcode revolution: Standardising the industry

Thermit Australia’s Andrew Carter tells Rail Express how the company is implementing GS1 data standards and why global standards should be part of normal business.

As technological initiatives coordinate the Australian rail sector, the global standards that shape the entire industry will allow organisations to realise significant benefits as they streamline their operations. That’s why the Board of the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) is encouraging the implementation of GS1 global data standards across the Australasian rail industry to prepare it for its digital future.

For Andrew Carter, operations manager at Thermit Australia, suppliers of aluminothermic welding and glued insulated joints, it was a no brainer to start implementing GS1 standards and realise the vision towards a national approach of rail technology.

Carter has been involved in businesses that supply to the rail industry for the past 20 years. He took on a new role at Thermit Australia five years ago to manage operational interests. Carter has seen the industry evolve over the years, however, the biggest change to digitalisation in operations at the company occurred two years ago, when regional Victorian operator V/Line requested

Thermit to implement GS1 barcoding in 2018. Thermit Australia is one of 24 companies within the global Goldschmidt Thermit Group – a supplier of products and services for railway tracks. In the group’s 120 years of operation, this global standard had never been implemented before.

The Australian company was the first business across the international group to adopt GS1 barcoding. Initially looking to implement the standard as a standalone company within the Goldschmidt Thermit Group, the head office in Germany had also been investigating implementing GS1 standards across all of the group companies.

MODIFYING AND IMPROVING OPERATION
The Australasian Railway Association (ARA) is encouraging the industry to act on digital capabilities and automation of operational processes by using GS1 global data standards.

The ARA resolved for 2019 to be the year of building rail’s digital capability through a transformational joint initiative with GS1 called Project i-TRACE. The ARA and GS1 established an i-TRACE working group to help support the ambitious goal of rapid adoption of standardising the entire industry.

Thermit Australia had already implemented the GS1 standards, spearheading this initiative a whole year before the 2019 Project i-TRACE action plan.

Two years before V/Line had discussions with the ARA to adopt GS1 standards, the Victorian government-owned corporation was already having significant issues around tracking critical spares in the inventory of the company’s maintenance groups and project works.

V/Line consulted Thermit Australia to help standardise the identification (codification) and barcode labelling of stock to help fast track the management of inventory at V/Line’s main warehouse in Lara and the company’s additional 33 inventory depots across Victoria.

V/Line was the first customer that Thermit Australia had that wanted the introduction of GS1 standards, so the company had to undergo operational changes to its welding consumables labelling in order to meet V/Line’s product requests.

Carter said implementing a new system meant facing new challenges, but Carter said GS1 Australia assisted Thermit in understanding the practices for standards in the industry and building the system to improve data quality and barcoding.

“We knew we needed to adopt a GS1 coding based on a group wide format, so the key aspects of the project were to implement the Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) labelling on products for our customers, with V/Line being the first.”

Carter said throughout the initial process of modifying operations to comply with GS1 standards, V/Line provided valuable feedback to Thermit, ensuring the company can providing a suitable format that meets their requirements.

Thermit Australia had minor modifications during the implementation stage, sending V/Line prototype labels for review before supplying the final GS1 barcoded products, said Carter.

“We didn’t have to worry about V/Line coming back to us saying our barcoding wasn’t in line with their expectations as we engaged with GS1 the whole way through the first implementation stage,” he said.

Carter said the open collaboration between V/Line and GS1 Australia helped Thermit refine the style and format of labelling, according to the guidelines.

“GS1 Australia were of great assistance to help us implement the new barcoding guidelines, they would look at what we produced and then we created prototypes and got valuable feedback from V/Line.

“The first trial run of product with labels was sent to V/Line at the end of January 2019. Following feedback, some modifications were made and finalised at the end of March 2019 to provide them the efficiency they wanted through product handling,” Carter said.

“I’m very happy we’ve been proactive in embracing the GS1 barcoding standards as a supplier to the rail industry. It was an expectation in V/Line’s contract requirements and it potentially is a tender advantage as more requests for GS1 barcoding are rising within the industry.

“Once we implemented the barcoding with V/Line we have rolled it out to every customer that continues to request it, expanding our GS1 labelling process to major passenger rail networks including Metro Trains, Sydney Trains, and Queensland Rail.”

DRIVING TOWARDS DIGITALISATION

Carter said engaging with GS1 standards meant developing IT systems that aligned with the standard’s automating operational procedures.

Thermit Australia has two operational sites located in Somersby, NSW and Clontarf in QLD. Somersby was the initial facility using the barcoding standard as the site manufactures and provides welding consumables and implementation.

“The existing label generation at Somersby was a standalone system that required the manual transfer of data from our Navision ERP system into the label creation software,” Carter said.

“We decided to make this process more efficient and looked into having the ERP software send data automatically to the label software to generate the new GS1 compliant labels.”

After the company engaged its inhouse and external ERP software consultant, along with label manufacturer Wedderburn, Thermit Australia established that a new label generation software was required.

The new software, called Bartender, was compatible with the company’s existing label printing hardware, making the implementation process smoother, Carter explained.

“Our ERP system needed to be customised to allow the capture and transfer of the required data to the Bartender software,” he said.

By the end of June 2019, the new GS1 compliant product identification labelling was rolled out, with all customers receiving GTIN labels on the weld kits.

Since then, work has been commencing on adding GS1 barcoding to other products, with the first crucibles to be supplied to the market early this year.

Carter said the Clontarf site where labels are manufactured to be attached to the rail and installed in track will catch up in time.

At Clontarf, the existing product label is an aluminium tag with stamped data, and through the second half of 2019 Thermit investigated options to find a solution to add the GS1 data to the aluminium tag, Carter said.

“Dot peening was pursued with a new supplier and samples were sent to GS1 Australia and V/Line for assessment, they provided positive feedback however there were reliability issues reading the tags in different lighting environments.

“The readability of the dot peen on the aluminium is not satisfactory for the scanners that are already being used by our customers, so we are currently looking at a alternative materials instead and this work is ongoing.” Carter predicts over time the rail industry will more broadly see the benefits of adopting global standards, staying ahead and being up to speed with current standards has improved the efficiency of operations at Thermit Australia.

“This implementation project is driven by the industry and remains a key priority for us, so we will continue to endeavour to meet the requirements of our customers.”

Hopes for improved punctuality on Victorian public transport

With an in-principle agreement signed between the Rail Tram and Bus Union and Yarra Trams, there are hopes that tram punctuality in Melbourne will improve, following a below target result in February.

Yarra Trams recorded a punctuality rate of 81.5 per cent, with major disruptions due to industrial action occurring on February 17 and 20. This met the punctuality target of 79 per cent, however a reliability figure of 96.2 per cent fell below the 98 per cent target.

Other factors impacting on the result included a derailment of a Route 12 tram on Saturday, February 1, and a truck bringing down overhead wires on Swan Street on Friday, February 28, which impacted Route 70 trams.

The in-principle agreement between Yarra Trams and the RTBU will contribute towards improvements in punctuality in the coming months, highlighted Victorian Department of Transport head of transport services Jeroen Weimar.

“It’s pleasing the parties have come to an agreement that will end any further disruptions for our tram passengers.”

Other transport operators also had lower than targeted results. V/Line services had a punctuality result of 86.8 per cent and a reliability result of 88.8 per cent. V/Line has a target of 96 per cent reliability and 92 per cent punctuality.

Events affecting this result included the train derailment at Wallan on Thursday, February 20. This led to trains on the Seymour, Shepparton, and Albury lines being suspended while investigation and repair works were underway.

“All parties worked together in the wake of the tragedy to support the recovery and investigation and ensure the line could reopen once certified for passenger services to return,” said Weimar.

Bright spots for the regional operator included the Gippsland and Warrnambool lines, which experienced a boost to punctuality and reliability of roughly six per cent, the largest improvement on the regional network.

Metro Trains had a positive month, by delivering 98.6 per cent of scheduled services, above its 98.5 per cent target. Punctuality just fell short of the 92 per cent target at 90.3 per cent.

During February, heavy rain, track and signal faults and police operations disrupted the network.

“We continue to work with Metro Trains to ensure punctuality improves in line with what passengers expect from our metropolitan network,” said Weimar.

Services to resume following fatal XPT derailment

Normal operations are set to return on the North East line in Victoria following the fatal XPT derailment at the Wallan loop last week.

An Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) spokesperson said operators advise that freight and passenger services will resume soon as repair works to damaged sections of the Wallan loop are almost complete. 

“Teams of up to 70 people at a time have been working around the clock to make the rail line available for freight and passenger rail services,” the ARTC spokesperson said.

Operators advised that subject to regulatory checks, services may start back on track from Thursday evening. Freight services are expected to resume first with passenger trains to follow. 

Rail services will resume after the relevant approvals from the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR).

The carriages of the train involved are being moved progressively back to Sydney, and rail works have included replacing 300 sleepers, laying 20 lengths of rail and 800 tonnes of ballast, as well as undertaking signalling works which are in their concluding stages.

John Fullerton, CEO of Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) visited the site on Thursday 27 February to thank rail staff working to repair the extensive damage to the track.

“A week ago, we lost two much-loved members of the rail family. This accident devastated families, friends, and colleagues, as well as an industry that prides itself on safety, and everyone wants to understand what happened and what actions need to be taken to prevent it ever happening again,” Fullerton said.

“For ARTC, our focus has been four-fold for the past week: cooperating with investigations underway, supporting our staff and contractors, working alongside emergency services and NSW Transport to safely remove the train, and repairing the track so it is available again for use.

“I would like to take this opportunity to give my heartfelt thanks to the teams of staff who have worked hard in tragic circumstances to undertake these tasks.”

A fire destroyed the Wallan signal box three weeks ago and caused  signals to be out of commission in the area along the section of the derailment.

The investigation will examine whether live signal testing by ARTC had been occurring along the track at the time of the derailment.

V/Line utilises sections of track where the derailment occurs and bans live testing of signals while services are still running.

The Herald Sun reported that senior Victorian transport sources said that running trains through the track where signals were not bagged increased risk, and the way they had been marked with a cross tied together with plastic was a “disgrace”.

An ARTC spokesperson said they have been providing full support to investigators from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), ONRSR and the Victorian coroner.

The ATSB will release a preliminary report in about a month, while the final report coming in about 18 months.

Concern over toxic soil to be dumped at a V/Line rail yard

$172.9 million V/Line stabling yard development could potentially be used as a temporary holding site for contaminated soil with possible carcinogens PFAS and asbestos.

The Wyndham Vale rail yard is set to be occupied by V/Line as a maintenance and storage space to replace the Footscray train stabling site which is being removed as part of the West Gate Tunnel works.

The $6.7 billion project requires 2.3 million tonnes of soil to be relocated offsite. The 82-hectare government-owned site in Melbourne’s west is being considered by officials following a meeting with Wyndham Council this week.

The Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) are raising concerns for the health and safety of rail workers if the soil was dumped next to the V/Line rail yard.

Luba Grigorovitch, Victorian Secretary of RTBU wrote in a letter to state Government officials on Monday that she is “deeply concerned” the toxic soil would pose a huge risk to workers and residents.

Grigorovitch told Rail Express that she is demanding confirmation from the government whether soil would contaminate the air conditioning systems of the Geelong-Melbourne trains, which run directly alongside the site.

The state secretary for the union said they’ve been inundated with calls from concerned V/line workers. 

“Our members don’t want to be operating alongside contaminated soil,” she said.

“This government seems to be infamous for passing the buck. We’ll be  undergoing full safety audits and testing before giving the ok for our members to be working at the site.”

The new facility is designed to meet interpeak stabling needs for V/Line trains operating on the regional rail network, while also ensuring there is capacity to house additional trains in the future.

The project will involve construction of a stabling yard, driver facilities and a bypass track connected to the Geelong line, which will allow trains to access the facility without delaying passenger services.

38 new VLocity carriages are arriving to the V/Line network early this year and there are concerns that there isn’t enough facilities for the growing network.

V/Line stated in 2018 that stabling capacity would be exceeded by March 2019.

The Age obtained an internal V/Line document under freedom of information laws, reporting that “the rail yard was needed to run a greater number of services on the network and to operate new trains reliably”.

According to the internal document, the lack of maintenance infrastructure will continue to impact on performance and shortages will impact V/Line’s reliability.

A government spokeswoman told the Hearld Sun that if Wyndham Vale was a temporary site it would not disrupt rail operations.

“Transurban and its builder are working with project parties to find a long-term solution to manage the rock and soil from tunnelling – no decision has been made,” she said.

Department of Transport spokeswoman said operations of the stabling facility will not be compromised.

“While a decision on where to temporarily hold soil from tunnelling for the West Gate Tunnel is yet to be made, the land in question is outside the Wyndham Vale stabling facility so if the site was ever used it would not impact the timing or operations of the new stabling facility,” she said to The Age.

The Wyndham Vale rail yard is metres away from proposed housing estates and four planned schools.

Treasurer Tim Pallas and member for Werribee said on air during a 3AW interview that it won’t be a long-term containment.

“Any suggestion that there is going to be long-term containment or toxic facility is just nonsense,” Mr Pallas told 3AW.

“What is proposed at Wyndham Vale is essentially a short-term place where it is isolated from the environment and if it is ever used – it may well not ever be used – it’s only if you can’t get access to the long-term facility.”

The stabling project is funded by the state government and is still under construction and set to open in the coming months.

Industrial action continues to affect PTV performance

Ongoing industrial dispute across the Public Transport Victoria (PTV) network has affected January performance for all three operators.

It was revealed in the public transport performance results for January 2020, published by the Department of Transport on Tuesday, that the monthly reliability of Metro Trains, V/Line, and Yarra Trams has fallen below the threshold.

Jeroen Weimar, department of transport head of transport services said all parties need to come to the table and come to an agreement quickly to prevent further inconvenience.

More protected industrial action is planned across the network this month, with expectations that February performance targets could be affected too.

A PTV spokesperson has stated services are expected to be significantly disrupted on metropolitan trams next week and V/Line Ballarat and Gippsland lines.

“We’re working closely with Yarra Trams to reduce the impact of industrial action as much as we can,” the spokesperson said.

The PTV January report stated that other factors also played a role.

“While the driver resourcing issue was a major factor, Metro’s performance was also impacted by hot weather and storm activity.”

Lighting strikes affected rail equipment throughout the month as well as damage to overhead equipment on the Frankston line on Friday, 10 January.

“We continue to work with Metro Trains on plans to improve performance, through the rollout of initiatives including extra staff on station platforms, new technology on platform displays and ongoing work to prevent people illegally walking on tracks,” Weimar said.

Extreme heat impacted the tram network, with some routes cancelled, replaced or diverted when the temperature went above past 40 degrees in late January.

Yarra Trams ran an extra 3,724 tram trips during the Australian Open at Melbourne Park, which was a 21 per cent increase on the extra trips run for last year’s event.

Despite extreme weather and planned industrial action, between December and January, V/Line improved its punctuality from 85 to 90.6 per cent and reliability from 90.7 to 94.6 per cent.

“V/Line’s three busiest lines, Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo, experienced sharp rises in punctuality from December, growing from 89.9 to 92.6 per cent, from 91.8 to 93.3 per cent and from 86.1 to 90.2 per cent respectively,” a PTV spokesperson said.

“The January Ballarat punctuality figure was also the line’s best in more than three years and follows significant improvements delivered as part of the Ballarat Line Upgrade late last year.”

Weimar said it’s “encouraging”  to see regional trains improving throughout the month.

January included the excavation and concreting of the final section of the Metro Tunnel’s eastern entrance while adding new sections of track. 

Six new tram stops were also installed on Nicholson Street in the city’s north, making Route 96 Melbourne’s most accessible.

Metro Trains and Yarra Trams will pay compensation to eligible passengers after both operators fell below their reliability thresholds in January.

Track repairs commence following V/Line and freight train crash

Work is now under way to replace more than 1,800 damaged sleepers and more than 180 metres of damaged rail.

Last week an incident involving a freight and passenger train between Chiltern and Barnawartha in south of Wodonga, Victoria caused all services on the line to be suspended until further notice.

A northbound freight train derailed, and a passenger train travelling south on the adjacent track struck a wagon of the derailed freight train.

A spokesperson from the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) provided an update on the investigation following the incident that occurred on Wednesday, January 29. 

“The ARTC is continuing to work with rail safety regulators and operators on the recovery effort,” the spokesperson said.

After safety regulators completed their initial assessments the day after the incident, the recovery operation started involving around 60 workers.

“Work so far has focused on recovering wagons, components, and containers from the track and moving the V/Line train and majority of freight containers,” the spokesperson said.

“While repairs are underway, timing for the line to reopen is not yet confirmed.

“With temperatures reaching more than 44 degrees in the recovery site area, hot works are being extremely carefully managed and crews provided additional rest breaks and hydration measures.

“ARTC will provide further updates to media and our customers as soon as they become available.”

Weather, industrial action affects rail performance in Victoria

Victorian rail operators have fallen short of their monthly targets in December, while light rail operator, Yarra Trams met its punctuality target but missed its reliability threshold.

The figures, from Public Transport Victoria, highlight the strains that train operators are under during a busy and weather-impacted month, said head of transport services at the Department of Transport, Jeroen Weimar.

“Metro Trains was faced with many challenges in December but we’re still looking for them to improve their performance to ensure our passengers get the reliable service they deserve,” he said.

To cope with extreme heat levels in December, with temperatures reaching 44 degrees on December 20, Metro Trains has instituted real time temperature monitoring. The technology enabled fewer services to be cancelled during the heat.

Another factor impacting delays were people illegally entering tracks, incidences of which increased in December.

Increased patronage in the month also led to 540 extra metropolitan train services on New Years Eve.

Overall, Metro Trains’ punctuality sat at 90.8 per cent, and reliability at 98.2 per cent, a 0.1 and 0.7 per cent drop on November figures, respectively.

Yarra Trams’ result sat at 82.8 per cent for punctuality, and 97.2 per cent for reliability. During December the network was affected by industrial action, heat damage to overheads and bridge strikes along Racecourse Road.

Weimar highlighted that these delays were somewhat avoidable.

“It’s incredibly frustrating to see that tram overhead and rail bridges are continually being struck by oversized vehicles,” said Mr Weimar. “It is the responsibility of drivers to know the height of their vehicle and plan their journey accordingly to prevent avoidable disruptions on our roads and public transport network.”

Similar factors affected the performance of the V/Line network, as heat placed speed restrictions on services and industrial action led to services being replaced with buses.

Resleepered track on WA's Leonora Branch Line. Photo: Brookfield Rail

Victoria’s $27 million sleeper replacement project underway

Sleeper replacement work has begun along the Shepparton line as part of the Victorian government’s more than $27 million sleeper replacement project.

A crew of 50 V/Line staff is working through the night in 10-night blocks to replace the first of 37,000 sleepers on the 83-kilometre section of track between Seymour and Shepparton.

“Crews are working through the night to get these essential sleeper replacements done while minimising disruptions to passengers,” minister for public transport Melissa Horne announced on Monday.

The government says the work is progressing quickly with workers now on the section of track between Murchison East and Toolamba.

Because of the major work, Shepparton trains will travel over the new sleepers at a slower speed to allow them to bed down.

“As a result, all services have an additional two minutes’ journey time during the works,” according to a government statement.

The major overhaul will reduce the need for future maintenance work, as well as improving the ride quality of the track, and ensuring safer and more reliable service for north east communities.

“We’ve invested more than $27 million on sleeper replacements along the rail corridor in the last 12-months as part of our plan to deliver more reliable services for locals,” member for Northern Victoria Jaclyn Symes said.

V/Line appoints new board members

The Victorian government has appointed three new directors to the V/Line Corporation Board, as well as granting a second term for existing director Rachel Thomson.

New directors Liz Roadley, Tom Sargant and Kevin McLaine possess organisation financial, asset management, accounting, public transport operations, strategic planning experience.

Returning Director Rachel Thomson has more than 20 years’ experience working both nationally and internationally in senior roles across risk management and insurance.

The appointments terms run through until 30 October 2022, and key priorities include continuing the ongoing modernisation and cultural change within the organisation.

“All Directors bring to the V/Line Board a wealth of relevant experience and knowledge, across a broad range of industries,” said minister for public transport Melissa Horne.

“Our three new Directors, Liz Roadley, Tom Sargant and Kevin McLaine are all well placed to help V/Line continue delivering the rail services regional Victorians need.”

Recently appointed Chair, Gabrielle Bell, and currently serving Deputy Chair Craig Cook, alongside the new directors, will oversee the organisation’s corporate governance. They will also work with chief executive officer James Pinder.

“The V/Line network is growing faster than ever before – central to making sure we can continue to deliver a more punctual, reliable and accessible regional rail system is a strong board of directors,” said Horne.

The announcement comes as John Donovan and Kay Macaulay finish their tenure on the V/Line Board after four years.

“I also want to thank John Donovan and Kay Macaulay for their dedication to V/Line during their time as Board Directors over the past four years,” said Horne.

Metro train. Photo: RailGallery.com.au

Victorian transport performance poor in September

Metro Trains, Yarra Trams and V/Line will pay compensation to Melbourne’s commuters for poor public transport performance during the month of September, according to Public Transport Victoria.

As part of the state’s contracts with transport operators, tough performance standards need to be met to operate Melbourne’s train network.

Metro Trains delivered 89.9 per cent of services on time in September, for failing to deliver 90 per cent of on time services. It also failed to meet its 98.5 per cent reliability target by 0.1 per cent.

This means the operator will pay compensation to passengers for the fourth time this year for falling short by 0.1 per cent.

Minister for Public Transport Melissa Horne directed the Department of Transport to work closely with Metro Trains to improve their performance. As such, a dedicated team was created by the department to work closely with Metro’s management to improve performance.

“Metro Trains is expected to deliver a train service that Melburnians can rely on and there were a number of times during in September that did not happen,” said Department of Transport Head of Transport Services Jeroen Weimar.

Our train passengers deserve better.”

According to the government statement, several incidents impacted punctuality during the month of September, including one wherein an overhead power fault near East Richmond trains on four lines over several hours.

“There were more than 320 incidents involving police operations, trespassers on train tracks and near misses, which delayed a total of 955 trains.”

The 2019 AFL Finals series was also on in September, for which 300 extra services were delivered to help transport 250,000 fans.

Yarra Trams surpassed its 82 per cent punctuality target with 86.3 per cent, but achieved 97.9 per cent reliability which is under the 98 per cent compensation threshold and, as such, will pay compensation. Excluding an industrial action which meant work stoppages, says Public Transport Victoria, Yarra Trams averaged 98.9 per cent reliability throughout September.

Operational staff at Yarra Trams are planning another strike in October over its demands for wage increases. The Rail, Tram, and Bus Union is also engaging Metro Trains in court over the right to launch industrial action as well as seeking a new agreement with V/Line.

V/Line achieved 96.8 per cent reliability and 87.7 per cent punctuality. However, it will pay compensation to passengers for falling short of their targets on some individual lines.

“It’s pleasing to see V/Line deliver a consistent regional service this year,” Mr Weimar said. “We’re currently delivering a series of regional rail infrastructure upgrades, which will improve services across multiple regional lines.”