The Australasian Railway Association (ARA) has published a report calling for the prioritisation of rail innovation to avoid Australia falling further behind the rest of the world.

ARA Chief Executive Officer, Caroline Wilkie, said the report, Finding the fast track for innovation in the Australasian rail industry, found an absence of research funding, a fragmented market and state-specific government procurement processes had frustrated investment in innovation and could threaten the future of rail manufacturing in the country.

Ms Wilkie said the Federal Government’s current manufacturing focus provided the ideal opportunity to support a stronger rail innovation culture that helps Australia get the most from future investment. 

“The rail industry is expected to invest $155 billion in the next 15 years and we have to make that investment count,” Ms Wilkie said.

“The world-first introduction of autonomous trains in the Pilbara region is just one example that shows Australia has the capability to lead the way on rail innovation.

“But the policy settings must be right to support innovation and technology adoption across the industry as a whole.”

Ms Wilkie said that there had been no government funding for rail research and innovation since the closure of the Rail Manufacturing CRC in early-2020. 

“State procurement processes make it even harder, with like-for-like replacement requirements and inconsistent local content policies reducing the private sector’s ability to put forward new solutions to support better project outcomes,” Ms Wilkie said.

“Good ideas will increasingly be sent offshore at the peril of our own economy if we don’t act now.

“We run the real risk of being saddled with an inefficient, outdated rail network if we don’t support greater innovation and technology adoption to deliver the best possible outcomes for Australian rail users.”

The report, authored by L.E.K. Consulting, calls for rail innovation to be identified as a national priority, with dedicated research funding.

Ms Wilkie said this approach would provide the certainty needed to support increased private sector investment in innovation and would drive skills development and jobs creation in the rail industry.

The report confirmed such a move must be supported by a single rail market in Australia that replaces state-based policies with a national local content approach. 

A stronger rail innovation culture was vital to address the current decline, with only one per cent of the world’s rail patents in 2019 coming from Australia. 

Ms Wilkie said the scale of Australia’s national rail network presented a real opportunity to establish the country’s reputation for excellence. 

“The Australian rail industry can realise exponential benefits from rail innovation and technology and adoption due to the sheer size of our network,” Ms Wilkie said.

The report found Australia’s ability to recover operational costs was limited when compared to overseas. 

While Australia’s manufacturing productivity was increasing, the country was being outstripped by its international counterparts.

Australia’s rail manufacturing revenue is falling by about 1.6 per cent per year. By contrast, the UK’s rail innovation focus has seen revenue rise by 4.8 per cent per year.

Ms Wilkie said a strong rail innovation culture could create a high value, high tech export market for Australia and could play a valuable role in the nation’s post pandemic recovery.

“The international experience has shown that where governments lead a focus on rail innovation, private investment follows,” Ms Wilkie said.

“We have the projects in the pipeline and we have the network scale to make rail innovation a real success.

“All we need now is for a true national focus to bring government and industry together to make the most of this opportunity.” 

The full research report, Finding the fast track for innovation in the Australasian rail industry, is available here.

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1 Comment
  1. Bernard Schaffler 3 years ago

    I have taken my thesis to the point where I need funding to build the Traction Simulator. The purpose of the development is to replace filthy diesel locomotives with hydrogen fuel cells to power electric traction.

    Thesis by Bernard Schaffler. MSc Eng. FIEAust. CPEng. MIEEE
    [email protected]
    Hybrid Locomotive with Slip/Slide control and predictive wheel diameter compensation of each wheel powered by DTC traction inverters

    A traction control system which measures the relative speed difference of each axle with respect to the chosen master axle. This information is instantaneously recorded each time the locomotive is coasting on no-load in either direction. In the forward direction the back wheels set is the master. In the reverse direction the front wheel set is switched to be the master. The speed is recorded via a resolver attached to the non-drive end of each traction motor. The speed difference of each axle is due to the variations in wheel circumferences. This information is sent to a master controller which calculates the torque to be applied to each traction motor so that all motors provide equal adhesion to the rail.
    This corrective torque signal is integrated with the traction inverter software to correct the torque of each ac traction motor for both slip (traction) and slide (braking) conditions. In this way, different torque is applied to each axle thus compensating for differences in wheel circumferences. The purpose is to reduce wheel wear and to maintain maximum adhesion from a new wheel (larger circumference) to a fully worn wheel (smaller circumference).
    Schaffler Consulting principle is PREDICTIVE.
    GE challenged this principle but failed. GE system is RESPONSIVE
    Rail Damage caused by traction slip

    Traction Simulator

    The Traction Simulator will be arranged so that one traction wheel can be moved in and out of the large wheel, simulating slip or slide. The speed of that wheel must be corrected immediately by the inverters that drives that wheel.
    It is the intention to move on to expand to Hybrid Battery Operated or Hydrogen Fuel Cell technology to eliminate carbon emission to help climate change. Diesel power must be replaced urgently. The author invites any rail operator to discuss the possibility of using this technology on a shunter locomotive in the first instance.
    The locomotive control system calculates the reference based on the common locomotive speed to produce a torque reference for the traction control system. Wheel wear on a locomotive is significant. Depending on the position of the wheel, wear varies between the front and rear wheels resulting in differences in wheel diameter. If the same torque reference signal is sent to each traction inverter, the tractive force on each wheel will depend on that particular wheel diameter. Therefore, different diameter wheels will create different torques at the wheel / rail connecting surface. This difference will initiate slide on the smallest diameter wheel.
    If the electrical traction system uses one common inverter to drive all the traction motors on a bogie, the result will become worse because all the traction motors will apply the same torque to wheel axle but will result in varying adhesion where the wheel diameters are a major factor. In this case it is not possible to change the torque instantly and unmanageable to measure the traction coefficient instantly. This is not the case with this invention.
    For the same torque, the wheel with bigger diameter will have less force delivered, which will cause less adhesion. Conversely, the wheel with smaller diameter will deliver higher force, which increases the risk of slipping. The converse applies during braking where slide is a major cause of wheel flats and wheel wear.
    In this development the master reference is taken from the back wheel when in traction when off load and moving forward. The back wheel is least likely to slip. The master feedback notation is reversed when the locomotive travels in the reverse direction.

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