Next gen train control system on WA’s radar


Western Australia is on track to commence its mammoth 12-year train signals upgrade project – allocated $7.4 million in the last budget for the planning stage alone – with a request for tender seeking special advisory services for implementing a new automatic train control (ATC) system.

A generic term encompassing various integrated system solutions that provide in-cab signalling and train traffic management, a new ATC system “will revolutionise the way the Transperth rail network operates, gradually replacing the ageing signalling network with an automatic digital version”, according to WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti’s media release.

According to tender documents, “[t]he preferred technology for ATC in Perth is Communications-Based Train Control (CBTC)” — the global de facto standard for high-capacity metro systems.

CBTC systems allow trains to be operated automatically, “with or without supervision by a driver, and can follow each other safely at shorter intervals as short as two minutes, removing signalling as a capacity constraint of the railway,” explains Frank Heibel, director of an independent railway consultant firm, writing for the Infrastructure Magazine.

The tender documents indicate that WA Public Transport Authority (PTA) is seeking a single consultant or consultancy for the specialist ATC advisory services, although depending on the submissions received, it may choose to split the scope of services among multiple consultants or consultancies.

The documents further mention that PTA is likely to engage “a single ATC supplier to deploy ATC across the entire network and train fleet, using a long-term collaborative contract model.”

Installation of a CBTC system would increase Perth’s train service frequency – currently around 15 trains per hour – by up to 150 per cent, according to the tender documents.

The increasing population in Australia’s capital cities, and the growing need for transport infrastructure to meet their needs, is expected to continue driving technology investments in this sector. Along with personalised, on-demand transport and autonomous vehicle trials, improving rail service capacity will help prepare Australian transport systems to cope with future demand.

CBTC systems are already used in other parts of the world, including the New York, London and Tokyo metro systems. In Australia, Sydney Metro Northwest will be the first metro system to use the CBTC technology. The $8.3 billion project will be implementing “a signalling and train control system using Alstom Urbalis 400 Communications Based Train Control (CBTC) technology to integrate with Alstom Metropolis trains and interface with communications systems”.

Sydney Metro Northwest is scheduled to commence services in the first half of 2019.

Melbourne is the second Australian city to invest in the CBTC technology for its $11 billion rail infrastructure project, Metro Tunnel, which is scheduled for completion by 2026.

In July 2017, the Rail Systems Alliance (RSA) – comprising of Bombardier, CPB Contractors, Melbourne Metro Rail Authority and Metro Trains Melbourne – was awarded a $1 billion package to deliver high-tech railway signalling. According to Bombardier’s December 2017 press release, the company will supply its CityFlo 650 CBTC system under its $310 million share of the contract. 

Although touted as the first high-capacity signalling system to be rolled out on an existing railway system in Australia, there were concerns about the viability of the new technology on Melbourne’s old and complex rail network.

“Melbourne's rail network is complex, with many level crossings, open sections vulnerable to trespassers, and a large mix of Metro, V/Line and freight trains,” reported The Age in September 2014.

Heibel indicates in his article that railway lines shared by intercity and freight trains are better suited by “another technology for ATC, the European Train Control System (ETCS), which offers interoperable products from multiple vendors and is designed for mixed passenger and freight operations rather than for conveyor belt-like metro systems.”

Indeed, Brisbane has been considering this alternate ATC option for its suburban rail, with its 2016-17 State Budget allocating $634 million to fund the implementation of ETCS as a precursor to its Cross River Rail project. In November 2017, Siemens announced that it will be investing $4.8 million to develop an ETCS technology centre in Brisbane.

According to Queensland Rail, work has already commenced on the North Coast line from Caboolture to Gympie North to lay the foundations of ETCS technology. The work is likely undertaken by Alstrom, who was awarded the contract in March 2017 worth an undisclosed amount.

The 2017-18 Queensland Budget states that contract for the delivery of ETCS in the Inner City is expected to be awarded in 2018.

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