Sydney Trains digital systems

By Stephen Lemon, Program Director Digital Systems, Transport for NSW

Sydney’s heavy rail network has served the city and surrounding regions for more than a hundred years. Over that time, systems have become outdated and management and maintenance of the network has grown incredibly complex.

The network is also carrying more people than ever. It took 160 years for the railway to reach 300 million journeys annually and just five years for that total to reach 404 million. That’s a 30 per cent increase in annual journeys since 2013. Demand will continue to grow. Between 2016 and 2056, the population of Greater Sydney is expected to increase by around 40 per cent, from 4.7 million to 8 million people.

Even after the opening of the new Sydney Metro and light rail projects, the Sydney heavy rail network is still expected to do the heavy lifting in peak hour public transport trips. It’s therefore critical we increase capacity of the existing Sydney rail network by modernising systems and technology.

The Digital Systems program will increase network capacity and enable more frequent and reliable services. In 2018, the NSW Government allocated over $800 million towards the first stage of the Program, which will replace legacy signalling and train control technologies with modern, internationally proven, intelligent systems.

The Program consists of three main elements:

  • Replacing trackside signalling equipment with the latest European Train Control Systems (ETCS) Level 2 technology
  • Implementing Automatic Train Operation to assist drivers, who will still remain in control, and provide faster and more consistent journey times
  • Introducing a Traffic Management System (TMS) for more effective incident management and service regulation across the network

These elements will enable the increase in network capacity that is crucial to satisfying current and future demand, as well as benefiting our customers with more reliable services, reduced journey times and enhanced, real-time information. This technology will also allow for safer and more efficient operation and maintenance, lower capex and opex costs and lower energy consumption. The Program will be delivered in stages with services progressively deployed from the early 2020s.

Global lessons learned

The game-changing technology we’re delivering is already proven in many cities around the world. We employ a rigorous lessons learned process using knowledge and experience gained from comparable local and international projects, to ensure our Program is delivered in the best way possible. Each lesson learned is assigned to a senior leader in the project team who has accountability for implementing that lesson into their Program area.

We have commissioned an International Independent Peer Review Group (I2PRG) made up of local and international experts. The group provides ongoing insights from local and overseas developments and maintains and updates our lessons learned register. The I2PRG also supports the project team with independent assessments to support informed decision-making and identify potential issues and risks.

Program Principles

We know that to succeed, major transformational projects like Digital Systems must take into account people and processes while implementing new technology. The deployment of the Digital Systems program will be as revolutionary to Sydney’s rail network — and the 10,000 plus people who work on it — as the network’s change from steam to electrification in the 1920s and 30s.

With this transformational challenge in mind, we’ve thoroughly examined all of our lessons learned and distilled them into seven key Program Principles. These principles provide ongoing guidance and direction to everyone involved in the Digital Systems program:

A learning and growth culture – We’re focused on creating a learning and growth culture, implementing global lessons learned to continually improve the Program and develop a sustainable workforce. We don’t just ‘set and forget’. Rather, we ‘set and refresh’. We continuously update our Lessons Learned register to inform our Program while we live and breathe our principles.

Early wins for customers – Digital Systems provides a step-change in improvement of system reliability, availability and maintainability, and a pathway to further improvement. Realising early project benefits for customers will help reinforce our stakeholders’ motivation and buy-in.

New systems, new ways of working – To fully realise the benefits of the new systems and technologies, we will develop new rules, principles, procedures and competencies. Our new ways of working will support a sustainable future for our customers.

Whole-of-life thinking – Digital Systems will embrace ‘whole of life’ systems thinking and asset management to optimise future operations and maintenance efficiency. We will not sacrifice long-term Program benefits to achieve short-term gains.

Configure not customise – Digital Systems will adopt standard equipment and systems, taking off-the-shelf solutions and configuring them for the Sydney network. This approach will allow us to benefit from future developments and innovation as part of global technology roadmaps.

No network disruptions – We’re determined that the implementation of Digital Systems will not disrupt services for customers. Innovative tools and methodologies will allow us to deploy and test new systems while minimising the need for network access.

An integrated and collaborative approach – International experience has consistently demonstrated the need for meaningful collaboration between clients and suppliers, moving away from adversarial client/contractor relationships. The Digital Systems program will also integrate this collaborative approach with the operator/maintainer, ensuring engagement and meaningful consultation with frontline employees as end-users.

A meaningful approach to collaboration

Every large project involves collaboration and we recognise that it’s an often-used term. The Digital Systems program has set out a number of commitments and practical arrangements to ensure meaningful and ongoing collaboration. This collaborative framework includes documented processes towards, for example, creating and maintaining a positive work environment, developing and upholding clear agreements, communicating openly, and taking prompt and cooperative action to secure best mutual outcomes when issues or ambiguities arise.

Meaningful action towards improved collaboration is also a key element of the NSW Government Action Plan: a ten point commitment to the construction sector. The plan aims to drive quality, innovation and cost-effectiveness in procurement for NSW government infrastructure projects.

This commitment has also guided us in the successful execution of our first major contract package – the System Integrator. Network Rail Consulting (NRC) in combination with its partners Acmena, The Go- Ahead Group and Ineco have joined the Program, overseeing the integration of the new technology into the Sydney Trains network.

The System Integrator team brings a unique combination of Australian, Spanish and UK expertise in the latest digital railway technology. New team members are co-located in our project office and are already providing valuable insights from other digital railway initiatives.

Momentum is building on the Digital Systems program with major procurement continuing through 2019. We are laying solid foundations to seamlessly transform the Sydney network into a modern digital railway. By implementing global lessons learned, adhering to sound Program Principles and recognising that successful transformation requires a people, process and technology approach, we will help meet Sydney’s growing public transport needs.

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