Informa Whitepaper: The ins and outs of rail signalling


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Leon Clark, a rail industry expert and managing director of training company Web Rail, says the lack of investment in the sector is currently one of the biggest concerns.

In this whitepaper, Leon shares with us his knowledge on the ins and outs of rail signalling.

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Informa Whitepaper: The ins and outs of rail signalling

  1. 1. WHITEPAPER: The ins and outs of rail signalling Introduction In a country as geographically and economically expansive as Australia, a quality transport infrastructure is required to ensure the ongoing success of its key industries. There is no doubt, then, as to the vital role that Australia's rail infrastructure plays. Spanning across the country and comprising more than 30,000 kilometres of track, according to Department of Infrastructure and Transport, numerous rail systems keep people and businesses connected. Among the various components and systems that support rail infrastructure behind the scenes, perhaps few are more important than rail signalling. Yet a raft of challenges, particularly those surrounding the need for skilled and experienced professionals in the sector, must be overcome to ensure the reliability and competitiveness of Australian rail. This white paper will take a look at the current state and challenges of rail in Australia, the important role that signalling and control systems play, and how professional training in the area can benefit the industry. The state of rail in Australia Australia's entire rail infrastructure is currently going through a period of exciting change, with a number of large-scale projects underway and set to take the industry to the next level. The majority of these developments are centred in the passenger rail sector, with the North West Rail Link in New South Wales garnering attention from around the country. Other notable passenger projects include Inland Rail, which connects Melbourne to Brisbane. There is no denying the massive scope of passenger rail in Australia. According to the Australasian Railway Association (ARA), Melbourne's light rail system is the largest in the world. Valued at $10 billion and comprising 250 kilometres of track, 1,773 trams, and 501 stops, it's hard to argue against its sheer size. Stepping aside from the public transport segment, several other initiatives are directly contributing to the success of a range of industries. A number of projects based in mines in Queensland, for instance, are providing the vital infrastructure to keep some of the country's most vital industries moving.
  2. 2. What are the current challenges? In line with its rapid growth, Australia's rail infrastructure has come across its fair share of challenges. Leon Clark, a rail industry expert and managing director of training company Web Rail, says the lack of investment in the sector is currently one of the biggest concerns. "Getting the funding streams available to support the development of infrastructure is certainly an issue. There's no real focused, consolidated funding," says Clark, who is also a course director at Informa. He points out that for some time, there has been far more attention paid to roads than to rail. While investing in roads is also critical to maintain the quality of Australia's overall transport network, a focus is needed on giving adequate funding to rail projects as well. Given the enormous economic, logistical and environmental benefits that passenger rail can bring, Clark says that it is essential that we "put as much passengers as possible onto urban trains". Figures cited by the ARA indicate that trams, for example, can carry more than 10,000 people per hour in a single arterial traffic lane - that would otherwise only transport around 800 cars. In addition, Deloitte Access Economics prepared the 'True Value of Rail' report for the ARA, which showed that over the course of a year, one passenger train can cut down carbon emissions by the same amount as planting 320 hectares of trees. Additionally, in light of Australia's massive impending population growth, the country will need to find a solution to the aggravated traffic congestion that is likely to ensue. Rail will undoubtedly play a huge role here - but does it have the systems and technology in place to cope with demand? The important role of rail signalling According to Clark, signalling and control systems are some of the biggest unsung heroes in the overall rail infrastructure. "The signalling itself is what enables the safe movement of the trains on the network," he explains. "What most people don't necessarily understand about railways is that trains don't stop very well. It's like being at a very busy intersection - if a whole lot of cars approach that intersection and none of them have brakes, they're not going to be able to pull up in time." "What the signalling does is it enables these trains to approach at a speed that will give them sufficient warning to apply the brakes and stop in position." The importance of signalling to rail transport cannot be understated. Most importantly of all, it is crucial to ensuring the safety of all users, letting everyone know who has safe passage and who needs to stop, and is a requisite to facilitate safe movement throughout the network.
  3. 3. In an encouraging sign, a healthy level of technological development is helping to boost the effectiveness and efficiency of rail signalling. Clark says that there has been "a lot of computerisation taking place" in the field, with fairly substantial advances in design. For example, much of the signalling itself is being moved from the wayside to being installed on the trains themselves, and in-cab signalling is likely to grow in uptake. The advantages of this are manifold, but mainly revolve around reduced infrastructure costs, higher speed, more efficient operation and a host of other economical benefits. As it is such a crucial part of rail infrastructure, it is imperative that anyone working in - or whose work is related to - the rail industry has a sound understanding of rail signalling. For professionals who would like to get up to speed with signalling and its many nuances, taking a training course is a great place to start. Training for rail professionals Clark says that one of the reasons behind the wide lack of understanding of rail signalling, even within the industry, is the dearth of appropriate training courses. According to Clark, there is a lack of specialised training opportunities catering to the many niche segments within rail. Most professionals are therefore left to simply learn on the job. For example, some universities in Australia do provide rail-specific education - including in signalling - but these are often very high-level and geared more towards those already with work experience. The industry has a lot of specialised concepts, with terminology and acronyms varying from state to state, and an intensive but accessible learning method is required. This is where courses such as Informa's Rail Signalling & Control Fundamentals come in. Such programs equip rail professionals from a non-technical background to engage with their engineers and technical colleagues, allowing them to communicate in a productive manner. Even a railway civil engineer and a civil engineer from another sector could be speaking completely different languages. These courses build bridges between these groups, teaching them the vernacular that allows them to work together on the same page. To learn more about the Rail Signalling & Control Fundamentals course and other rail programs, get in touch with Informa Australia today.