Catching Train Technology - Making way for High Capacity Signalling in Australia

Europe has been using High Capacity Signalling systems for almost 20 years though in some areas of Australia, our systems are operating on 100-year-old technology. Is it time to make way for something new? Thomas McPeake, Senior Signal Engineer & Innovation Lead, discusses.

Rail transport abroad

"Is it time to make way for something new? Now seems a better time than ever to make way for High Capacity Signalling...but it won't be easy."

Has there ever been a more exciting time to be working in rail in Australia? Not only did the Australian Government recent announce that $5B of its infrastructure fund would go into rail upgrades in the biggest cities, but State Governments, private investors and property developers are also talking up major rail projects too – particularly in Sydney though Melbourne and Brisbane aren’t far behind either.

In recent times though it seems there’s been no shortage of headlines about train delays or overcrowding, and admittedly, many of those headaches can be traced back to signalling problems. This is largely given that many of our train systems are still operating on technology that in some instances dates back to 100 years old. Now, don’t get me wrong here, I do love those old systems. In fact, they are important pieces of history and a testament to rail – one of the world’s oldest and long lasting transportation systems.

Mechanical Signalling Levers are still used in some parts of Australia.

But is it time to make way for something new? Now seems a better time than ever to make way for High Capacity Signalling (HCS). You see, HCS systems move Signalling from trackside to the train using wireless connectivity, sensors and advanced software which manage and track trains remotely so there is far more control.

HCS is the kind of technology that underpins the emergence of autonomous or driverless trains. These systems are fast becoming the standard on high capacity metropolitan rail networks as they deliver major system efficiencies, fewer delays and allow for more trains – boosting capacity and reducing energy use.

Europe has been in the HCS space for nearly 20 years. Initially, China was behind in HCS but in recent times they have rapidly caught up and are now actively promoting their rail technology expertise to move into new markets. Australia on the other hand has been slower at getting on board but now we are starting to see that change.

Yet, none of it will be easy. High tech trains, alongside upgraded communication infrastructure, plus tailored software and smarter operating systems, are not only expensive but will need to be integrated into our existing rail services and ideally with minimal disruption to the network. Challenge accepted...?

Yes! Arcadis knows just what that will mean. In the Netherlands alone we have around 150 rail engineers who have been navigating and working with Europe’s extensively and increasingly advanced, high-tech high speed rail systems since they first began.

Precisely why the team in Europe created their own in-house rail modeling software, Xandra - to bring advanced mapping and insight to all operational aspects of even the most complex infrastructure projects.

Being able to tap that world-class expertise paired with our local knowledge of Australia’s growing rail network, means I can hand-on-heart say we have a head start on a new rail era that promises to take us in to the future.

Thomas McPeake

Senior Signal Engineer & Innovation Lead Ask me a question