By Edina Hadzovic and Madhur Advani

Creating certainty in the delivery of rail projects

Delays in large infrastructure related projects are not unheard of. With a myriad of tasks involved in a single project – be it engineering related, stakeholder management related, or systems related, it is often hard to comprehend the scale of a complex, large project, right at the onset. 

A common factor for delays and disruptions, particularly within the rail industry, is often the absence of a disciplined process, like that of Systems Engineering Integration (SEI). Without a formalised process like SEI, comprehensive projects can fall apart. 

SEI is a disciplined approach that combines multiple subsystems into a complex and complete system. Within the rail environment, SEI typically refers to individual components within a project working together as a whole. This not only includes the electrical, mechanical and civil aspects, but also focuses on human, environmental and security elements. It is only when all the internal and interfacing elements of the system work together correctly that a working end-product can be achieved.

In a way, SEI can be the ‘make or break’ factor when delivering a successful rail project, as it keeps the involved stakeholders in check and ensures important fragments within the project don’t disintegrate.

The need for system integration in rail is not a novel concept. Successful implementation of this process has been delivered from the first diesel powered train in 1913 in Sweden (Bechtel Technology Journal, 2011) through to more recent technological advancements in rail through projects such as the New South Wales digital train upgrade in 2018. They will also be seen in the future through the implementation of the ‘Faster Rail in NSW, Victoria and Queensland’ program. 

The growing importance of system integration is driven by the need for:

  • Increased performance: including increased passenger capacity, higher operating speed, lower operational costs through increased efficiency and most importantly, increased safety
  • Increased automation: to create uniformity in processes and reduce the variability which may lead to negative outcomes (including human error)
  • Increased coupling of discrete systems: the more complex the system, the more effort is required to reduce the latency and lost process of multiple systems working together

Organisational changes and increased system complexity have pushed the need for SEI to be embedded into organisations, while also creating the need for a dedicated integration team to deliver a healthy project outcome.

Bruno Annetta, Systematiq’s Systems Engineering consultant currently within MTM, discussed his thoughts around the importance of systems engineers and their involvement with early verification and validation (V&V) and integration within multiple industries.

“Systems engineering integration is an integral part of any project. Having worked in manufacturing, the water industry, defence and now rail, I have experienced the benefits of a dedicated systems engineering team and process embedded within each project,” Mr Annetta said. 

“Systems engineering looks at how a whole system is formed, how it will be used, and how it can be upgraded and/or replaced in the future, all with a technical point of view. Further, it looks at all the separate subsystems developed and how they interact to meet the requirements for the project, as well as any changes that may be implemented in the future.” 

A comprehensive view needs to be undertaken when considering successful SEI. Measures of success must not only include the systems performance, but must also account for cost factors, stakeholder expectations, customer experience and safety. Current projects are examples of the importance of such involvement with external interfaces and early V&V, which is likely to mature further, as Melbourne’s rail system develops to a world leading network.

As a new and future-focused rail design, the High Capacity Metro Trains (HCMT) project is a prime example of why early SEI is required and how it will provide future benefits to both passengers and crew.

The HCMT is a complex system that combines several technologies and disciplines including signalling, telecommunications, and cyber security. The train itself includes sub-systems such as advanced braking and traction systems, high capacity signalling (HCS) and controlled heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems which all must interoperate to provide a safe and comfortable passenger journey. 

To ensure the appropriate integration of such systems is achieved, the HCMT to date has been subject to vigorous and continuous V&V activities, both in static and dynamic environments such as the Newport and Pakenham testing sites, in addition to the mainline rail network across the Pakenham and Newport corridor. This testing program will continue until all 65 trains are delivered for passenger service.

The HCMT must also integrate with external interfaces to be future proofed for changing requirements and the delivery of ongoing projects. For the delivery of the first HCMTs on the Pakenham corridor, the HCMT project has been undertaken in parallel with major infrastructure upgrades to the Pakenham line, which has delivered power upgrades and platform extensions to accommodate the extended seven-car set configuration of the HCMT. Further, to meet the future outcomes of ‘Victoria’s Big Build’, the HCMT and its HCS system must be compatible with the Metro Tunnel (estimated to be completed in 2025) to meet timetabling requirements and the operational requirement to travel on both the Pakenham and Sunbury line. 

A key SEI milestone for the HCMT will be the delivery and operation of the next generation high capacity signalling technology, which will be installed on trains and throughout the Metro Tunnel to enable more trains to operate on the network, especially during peak hour travel times. This system will allow for trains fitted with the signalling equipment to automatically adjust their speed to maintain a safe distance from the train in front, thereby improving operational safety and reducing Melbourne’s current city loop bottle neck. 

The HCMTs have been designed to accommodate this future technology, which will lead the industry in high-tech signalling. Melbourne is leading the rail infrastructure industry nationally through the Melbourne Underground Rail Loop (MURL) project, and continues to utilise the discipline of systems integration for better passenger, safety and operational outcomes. 

For example, new platform screen doors will be installed at each of the Metro Tunnel’s five new underground stations. Each station will be fitted with floor-to-ceiling toughened glass walls along the length of its platforms and platform screen doors that will open and close automatically when trains arrive at and depart stations. This capability has required early planning at a multi-disciplinary level to ensure that the doors, the sensors, and the trains all work together in sync. Platform screen doors are currently successfully in service in some of the world’s leading underground rail networks, including Hong Kong.

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Through the projects mentioned above, along with several projects that are targeted to meet the expectation that an additional ten million people will live in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane by 2060, rail will be essential to support the growing number of people living further away from the cities. 

Not only will these projects keep Australians moving as our suburban fringe grows, but as mentioned in the Australian Federal Budget, delivered in November 2020, the rail industry will play a key role in Australia’s economic recovery. 

“The move to fast-track infrastructure will support over 66,000 direct and indirect jobs”, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced recently. The new funding commitments in the 2020-21 budget included $528 million for regional rail upgrades in Victoria and $102.3 million for METRONET high capacity signalling in WA. 

Caroline Wilkie, Chief Executive Officer, Australasian Railway Association (ARA), commented that the billions of dollars in funding would change the future of transport in Australia. Ms Wilkie also added that the $2.2 billion for the Victorian Suburban Rail Loop project and $1.48 billion to build 100 new trams would deliver significant, tangible, and long- term benefits to the economy and community. Large investments being made by the government within the rail sector that rely on maintaining an interconnected network and the use of modern technology to promote efficient and sustainable rail networks to support the growth of the country for years to come, require adherence to the systems engineering and integration process. As a result, a greater number of experienced systems engineers are critical to support Victoria’s and Australia’s growing investment in rail and infrastructure.

To support the need for such talent across the rail industry, Systematiq has supplied consulting systems engineers to assist with safety assurance and V&V activities on several rail projects. 

“The breadth and depth of in-house systems engineering experience and talent at Systematiq is first class, and would be an asset to any organisation seeking this kind of technical capability. We have engineers who are dedicated specialists in their field and have a strong and growing list of reference projects in the rail industry. By way of example, the work done by Systematiq on the HCMT Project and the MTM project is testament to the appetite that Systematiq has for taking on a variety of systems engineering related work,” David Lamb, Rail Business Development Manager at Systematiq, said. 

Complex projects always involve interdisciplinary engineering streams and professionals, however, systems engineers adopt the role of bringing all disciplines together. Without this clearly defined role, individual disciplines may only work in silos to deliver their allocated task to the project. 

Systematiq’s Bruno Annetta commented, “Throughout my experience within rail, I have positively seen the benefit of employing a systems engineering approach to projects from an early stage. 

“When developing new or upgrading existing infrastructure, rail services are often disrupted. Consequently, there is a small margin for error as delays could result in a cascade of issues for MTM and passengers alike. SEI and strong management are crucial to rail projects. Further systems integration into rail projects can only result in positive outcomes because we all want to get to where we’re going on time.”

The demand for SEI is likely to continue to increase to complement the requirements of Australia’s future infrastructure projects. The only way to meet the increasing demand is by implementing the right processes and employing the right resources to meet the timelines and milestones throughout the project delivery process while ensuring nothing falls apart.

This partner content was brought to you by Systematiq. For more information, please visit www.systematiq.com.au.

References:
Wikipedia, 2021, Image: Platform Screen Doors, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Platform_screen_doors#/media/File:MTR_KWH_(2).JPG
Unsplash, White and Yellow Train on Rail Tracks during Daytime Photo, https://unsplash.com/photos/mui6Y0oUVdQ
Department of Transport, 2021, Bigger trains for a better Melbourne, https://transport.vic.gov.au/our-transport-future/our-projects/high-capacity-metro-trains
Rail Projects Victoria, 2021, High Capacity Signalling, Project overview, https://metrotunnel.vic.gov.au/about-the-project/project-benefits/high-capacity-signalling
Armstrong, J., Wade, J., 2015, Development of Systems Engineering Expertise, Procedia Computer Science, Volume 44, Pages 689-698, (Development of Systems Engineering Expertise (sciencedirectassets.com)
Transport for NSW, 2018, Digital Systems to transform Sydney’s rail network, Digital Systems to transform Sydney’s rail network | Transport for NSW
State Government of Victoria, 2021, Victoria’s Big Build, https://bigbuild.vic.gov.au/
Australian Railway Association, 2021, Victorian Budget confirms landmark rail projects, new trams critical to recovery, Victorian Budget confirms landmark rail projects, new trams critical to recovery | ARA
Create Digital-  https://createdigital.org.au/infrastructure-projects-scott-morrison-counting-on-rebuild-australian-economy/ 
Australian Railway Association, 2021, Faster Rail in Australia, https://ara.net.au/sites/default/files/u784/Fact%20Sheet%20-%20ARA%20Faster%20Rail.pdf
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