Sunday, January 10, 2010

Bicycling the Sydney Light Rail Extension

View Leichhardt to the Cooks River by Cycle in a larger mapIt has been proposed to extend the existing inner Sydney light rail line 5.6 km to Dulwich Hill along the old Rozelle Freight Line. Some Greenway proposals envisage the space being used for a cycle and walkway, rather than a tram line. On Sunday I folding bicycle along the route from Marion Street, Leichardt to Dulwich Hill, using the directions in "Cycling Around Sydney - 30 of the Best Rides in Sydney" (Bruce Ashley, 2007).

The first half kilometre is a pleasant ride between the Hawthorne Canal and the embankment of the rail line, in some places through a tunnel of green. There are pedestrian underpasses allowing access to the cycle track at several points, including adjacent to the Artest. Art School. At Parramatta Road it is necessary to leave the green path and cross the very busy road and corss the bridge to the western bank of the canal. The path then continues south to Grosvenor Crescent. AT this point you can see the remaining span of the Whipple truss bridge over Long Cove Creek (1886). There is an Institution of Engineers Australia historic engineering marker on the nearby railway viaduct (unfortunately the marker is slightly crooked, not in keeping with the IE Aust standards). At this point there is no bicycle or pedestrian access along the river or rail line.

In my view the best option would be to use the route for trams and, where possible, accommodate cyclists and pedestrians. The goods line can be converted to a tram line at little cost, compared to the proposed Sydney Metro.

See also "Leichhardt to Cooks River by folding Bicycle", in Travel Journal

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Monday, January 04, 2010

Newington Armory Heritage Railway

Newington Armory Heritage TrainA hidden gem for railway enthusiasts in Sydney is the Newington Armory Heritage Railway. This is a 610mm, two foot gauge network used to transport munitions around the former Newington Arms Depot. It may be a surprise to learn the New South Wales Government owns this battery electric train with articulated passenger carriages.

Gemco Locomotive BatteriesThe tacks were laid in 1909, with carts originally pushed by hand. Battery powered electric locomotives were introduced in 1940. The GEMCO George Moss and Co locomotive used to pull the tourist train around 7.6 km of track was built in 1963. The tour starts near the former gateway to the complex (which is the ticket office). It travels past what is now the armoury theatre (with the Sydney Olympic Park Lodge YMCA visible up the hill), past what are now artists studios and the Birds Australia Discovery Centre. The train then enters an area restricted to the public, stopping at several points to view the buildings used to store material.

Locomotive couplingArticulated Wagon CouplingOrdnance wagons have been converted into passenger carriages, with seats, roofs and doors. The wagons are unusual in being articulated. Conventional couplings are used to the locomotives, with one at each end in a push-pull arrangement. As the tour guide kept emphasising, this is a real railway, which is required to meet railway safety standards.

Track to munitions buildingThe standard tourist trip lasts one hour and covers the Royal Australian Navy section of the former arms depot. This includes a section off limits to the public. This does not include the section built to US specifications in WW2 by SeaBees for the US Navy (in use until 1946).

Armoury DisplayThe highlight of the tour is when the train travels through the centre of one of the buildings and an array of bombs, shells, torpedoes, guided missiles and military shields are briefly glimpsed. The train the stops allowing the passengers to get out and inspect the display. What is emphasised is that these are not facsimiles, but real weapons made safe by removing the explosives. As well as assorted naval shells are Sea Cat anti-aircraft missiles, Harpoon cruse missiles, air launched and submarine torpedoes and the Australian developed Ikara anti-submarine missile, complete with acoustic homing torpedo.

Concrete stores lighters (barges) were unloaded on the wharf near the present day Armoury Warf Cafe. The armoury was set up in 1897 for the Royal Navy and closed in 1999.

One of the stranger sights on the tour is a party on two wheel Segway battery vehicles. But this fits with the history of the site, which had "Electromobiles" (battery powered vehicles), with petrol powered vehicles banned due to risk of explosions. The usual mode of transport for most staff was by foot or bicycle.

The wetlands next to the armoury are permanently closed to the public due to the presence of unexploded ordnance.

For a more detailed travelogue, see: Travel: Newington Armament Depot, Homebush NSW.

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Friday, November 06, 2009

Railway standardisation a lesson for the NBN

"The World's First Railway System: Enterprise Competition and Regulation on the Railway Network in Victorian Britain" by Mark Casson, OUP, 2009 looks at how efficient the investment in railways in the the 19th century were. There are lessons in this for Australia's planning for the National Broadband Network.

The conclusion drawn by Casson is that there was duplication of railway infrastructure and some inefficient placement of capacity. He concludes that this was due to a failure of the political process, with MPs not having the courage to make decisions for the good of the national as a whole, unable to choose between competing local interests and so making suboptimal decisions. Casson argues that private enterprise with some government planning could have resulted in a more efficient railway system and that this was done in India. This work provides some insights for Australia, with Casson also commenting that Australia failed to learn from the UK's problems and introduced three different railway gauges, a lack of standardisation which is a problem 100 years later.

The National Broadband Network is similar to the model Casson suggests, with central government planning and private investment. I suggest that the Internet protocols are the equivalent of the standard gauge which was missing from Australian railway planning. With it we will be able to have a meshing of multiple private and public networks, seamlessly carrying data round Australia and around the world. Without it we will have a series of little branch lines, with packets of data having to be loaded and unloaded between different data standards, just as goods still have to be transferred between different gauge railway lines in Australia today.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

West Coast Wilderness Railway Tasmania

ABT steam engineThis month I achieved a long term ambition, by riding on the West Coast Wilderness Railway from Strahan to Queenstown, Tasmania. This is a narrow gauge line using the Swiss Abt system to get it up steep hills. If you are interested in historic steam railways, then you must visit Tasmania and travel this railway.

On my previous Trip to Tasmania for talks, I was jokingly asked if I would like to run the railway. I aimed to do a "live" web report from the train, but had to settle for taking some photos and posting them later.

ABT steam engine crossing roadAbt locomotive on turntableThe railway was built to carry material to and ore from the mines at Queenstown. It is now a tourist railway, restored using lavish federal and state funding. The railway has been controversial from the day it was opened, being the subject of company rivalry as well as a pawn in state and federal politics for more than one hundred years. This is touched on in the commentary on the train and covered in detail the excellent historical book available at the Strahan station: "The Abt Railway : Tasmania's West Coast Wilderness Railway" (by Lou Rae, latest edition 2008 ).
Strahan Railway StationThe Strahan station is the restored original (the other stations on the line are modern replicas). If you are a steam enthusiast, then check when you book that one of the original steam locomotives will be used (some trains are pulled by a historic diesel). If you are early you may see the locomotive come out of the shed, cross the road and be turned on the manual turntable (two staff pushing with their backs). I recorded low resolution video of the locomotive being turned and leaving the turntable (with the sound of the whistle) and approaching the station.

Name Plate Abt locomotiveCab of Abt locomotiveThe seam locomotive was built by DUBs & Co in Glasgow Locomotive Works 1898 (No 3730). This is a talk engine, as popularised by the books and TV show "Thomas The Tank Engine". Meticulously restored and carefully maintained the locomotive has gleaming brass and shining steam gauges. It is a bit uglier than a cartoon loco, due to the extra pipes needed to power the rack and pinion "ABT" equipment, needed to pull the train up steep hills.

Thomas the "Fat" Conductor on the ABT railwayThe train is fully crewed, this being a real train which has to meet the usual railway safety standards. Much like an airline flight, the conductor "Tom" (inevitably nicknamed "the fat conductor" despite his slimness) provided a safety briefing, as well as giving some history and selling travel guidebooks (the detailed railway history is a better buy for the enthusiast).

While the locomotives are genuine, the passenger carriages are locally built replicas (the original carriages being used on the "Puffing Billy Railway" Victoria). The carriages feature local Tasmanian timber and polished brass (with luggage racks from Queensland Rail). While I went to a lot of trouble to power a wireless modem from USB for the trip, I found there was a 240 Volt power point next to each seat.

River beside ABT RailwayLower Landing Station on ABT RailwayThe line first follows the curve of the harbour, then up a river valley. On one side of the line most of the time the line clings to the side of a steep river valley, covered in dense temperate vegetation, with the river visible below. There are several stops for the passengers to get out and take in the view. The stations and some track work are newly built in a sensitive way: not attempting an exact historical restoration.

Water tower made from bailey bridge at ABT Railway stationAs an example bailey bridge components have been used to build several bridges and the water towers for the stations. Clearly these are not from the 1890s, but are in the spirit of a non-nonsense line.

Train at station on ABT RailwayFor the rail enthusiast there is the delight of being able to walk across the tracks, examine the ABT "rack" close up and watch the locomotive being oiled and watered.

Fallen iron bridge on ABT RailwayRemains of the original engineering works are event at several points of the trip. The original iron bridge, washed away in a flood is visible in the river. At another point the original test track for the rack and pinion system can be seen from the 1800s.

At one station you can observe the train from an overhead bridge. In the photo you will notice that a cover (like a lid on a pot) has been placed over the funnel of the locomotive.

Locomotive turntable at station on ABT RailwayThere is also a second turntable, which can be seen close-up.

Pedestrian overpass made from bailey bridge on the ABT RailwayThe nearby pedestrian bridge is constructed from the same bailey bridge components as the rail bridge.

ABT Steam Locomotive from AboveThe water tanks which make this a "tank engine" can be best seen from the bridge. The small tanks also result in the train having to stop to take on water. While the line is short, the steep grade results in the engine having to expend considerable energy.

River foam from natural detergentsAt one station you can walk down to the river. What at first looks like snow on the water is foam from a natural detergent from the forest.

Observation car on ABT RailwayThe end carriage of the train has a delightfully ornate open observation platform. Several times the safety briefing emphasised the danger of opening the doors while the train was in motion, so it is not clear if the open platform is used.

Wooden trestle bridge on ABT RailwayNot all the bridges have been replaced with steel. One is a wooden trestle, which you can walk under.

Carrage couplings on ABT RailwayI have included some photos of the buffers and chain couplings, for those interested.

ABT Steam Locomotive on RackABT Steam locomotive The rack which is used on the steeper track is newly made, to the original design, but the rails are second hand, recovered from other Tasmanian rail lines.

Abt rack system.Close-up of the rack between the rails on the ABT railwayDriver checking the ABT LocomotiveDriver checking the oil in the ABT LocomotiveClose-up of ABT Locomotive

The rack and pinion is a complex mechanical device and must require considerable maintenance. Along with the staff needed to look after the passengers, it is not clear how the railway could be a paying proposition, even if full.

Tree fernApart from the railway and the river, there are the temperate plants to examine close up.

Bailey Bridge on ABT RailwayAs with most railway journeys it is rarely possible to observe the train itself, or where it is going, while on board. The commentary provided gave plenty of warning when there was a good view coming up and on which side. I was able to get a photo of the train crossing the bailey bridge.

King RiverAbt Steam locomotive However, the views of the river were frequent, as the train wound around the steep bank. It is difficult to imagine how the line was built with limited use of powered machinery.

Yellow tailings water mixing with black tannin water beside ABT railwayThe effects of mining can still be seen in the rivers, with the yellow water contaminated with mine tailings mixing with the black water naturally stained by the grass.

ABT Locomotive at Queenstown stationQueenstown station interiorPassengers at Queenstown stationQueenstown station

The journey ends at the reconstructed Queenstown station. There is an excellent gift store in the station as well as a coffee shop.

The rail fare includes a bus ride back to Strahan.

The trip is half a day, but seems much longer and I fell asleep on the bus ride back. There are shorter trips during the peak tourist season. For those wanting a more adventurous experience there is "Piners and Miners" tour in a stretched Land Rover converted to run on and off the rail line.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

West Coast Wilderness Railway

Abt locomotive on West Coast Wilderness RailwayOne step closer to a long term ambition, I have just booked a ride on the West Coast Wilderness Railway.This is a narrow gauge line using the Swiss Abt system to get it up steep hills. On my previous Trip to Tasmania for talks, I was jokingly asked if I would like to run the railway. This time I hope to do a "live" web report from the train.

After my difficulties with booking airline flights via airline web sites for Jetstar and Virgin Blue , there turned out to be an easy process for the admittedly less hectic steam railway. Pure Tasmania provides a service to let you book the railway, cruses and other tourist attractions. One thing to look out for is that the train only goes one way per day: hat is it travels the lenght of the line one day and returns the next day. The standard fare includes a return journey by coach.

At the same time I booked on the Gordon River Cruise, selecting the cheapest "atrium" seating. I assume this is an inside seat, not on the upper deck or near the windows. Often this can be a better place to sit. After sitting in the open or against a window you can start to feel a little too exposed on a long cruse. The cheap seats can also be more fun. On a trip up the Bosporus from Istanbul the locals got out their own food, musical instruments and started a party with belly dancing. I expect that Tasmania will be a little more restrained, but who knows? ;-)

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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Two Sides of Japan Model Railway

City section of the Two Sides of Japan Model RailwayThe Canberra Model Railway Club held its Expo 2009 last weekend. Highlight of the event was the "Two Sides of Japan" display in N Gauge, showing not only bullet trains speeding across the countryside, but a Japanese city with electronic display signs and light rail. Unfortunately while there is a web site detailing how this was built, there are no photos doing the finished layout justice.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Sydney CBD Metro

The New South Wales Government has announced that work will commence on the $4.8B Sydney CBD metro. Unfortunately, as with previous metro proposals , this seems to be an ad-hoc one off proposal not part of a plan for Sydney.

The NSW Government released "City of Cities: A Plan for Sydney's Future" in December 2005. It aimed to plan for a population increase of 1.1 million by 2030, balancing economic growth with social and environmental issues. Whatever the plan's flaws, it is better than no plan.

The City of Cities plan included a $8B North West-CBD-South West Rail Link. There3 was no CBD Metro in the plan. However the Strategy for Transport included criteria to assess transport proposals: enhanced liveability, economic competitiveness, fairness, environmental protection and governance. These could be applied to the CBD Meto to see if it would be of value to Sydney. The metro announcement makes no mention of a long term large scale plan, only short term details:

The 7km CBD Metro is the first step towards a metro rail network for Sydney. It will run underground from Central to Rozelle via Town Hall, Martin Place, Barangaroo/Wynyard and Pyrmont. A station will also be safeguarded for future development at White Bay.

The route alignment is subject to further development and some modifications may occur as new information is obtained (particularly information related to major services and building basements).

The platform depth at the stations will range from approximately 20 to 35 metres below street level. The tunnel depths will be further determined as the design progresses.

Objectives of the route

The proposed route has been selected based on the objectives listed below and in consideration of a number of significant constraints, particularly in the CBD.

  • Provide for stations to be built at optimal locations
  • Take account of operational requirements for customer experience and maintenance
  • Minimise impacts on future CBD developments by following road alignments as far as possible
  • Minimise impacts on existing structures and basements
  • Minimise impacts on existing underground infrastructure
  • Utilise the Interim Metropolitan Rail Expansion Pitt corridor through the CBD (as identified in the Infrastructure SEPP) as much as possible
  • Safeguard the Interim Metropolitan Rail Expansion West corridor through the CBD (as identified in the Infrastructure SEPP) and other underground infrastructure
From: The Route, Sydney Metro, NSW Government, 2009

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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Sydney CBD to Parramatta West Metro

According to media leaks, joint state and federal government study has been conducted into a West Metro between the the Sydney CBD and Parramatta in western Sydney ("Get ready: high-rise suburbs coming", January 6, 2009 and "Subway a highway to high-rise hell, say opponents", January 7, 2009, by Linton Besser and Wendy Frew, Sydney Morning Herald). The West Metro, underneath Parramatta Road would cost $8.1 billion. Like the proposed and cancelled North-West metro, the scheme is not for a European style metro, but a heavy underground railway.

The proposal appears far more feasible than previous abandoned Sydney railway plans. The planned stops at locations such as Leichhardt appear much better thought out than the previous metro (see map from Paramatta Council). The project would depend on funding from the Federal Government's Infrastructure Australia. The carefully worked out process IA has for selecting projects should help avoid the failures of previous NSW government rail and road projects.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Big Red Metrobus in Sydney

Yesterday I was in a hurry to get from Norton Street (Sydney's Little Italy) to the Sunday concert by The Song Company in the 2008 Spring Festival of Music Concert Series. In answer to my prayer, along came a big red new Metrobus. This is a new service which commenced operation yesterday and is being trialled for 12 months. As the name implies the service operates like a metro: there is no timetable, with buses instead arriving at set frequent intervals (every 10 minutes in peak hours, 15 minutes off peak, 20 minutes on weekends).

As the service had just been introduced there were two extra staff on board to hand out pamphlets and explain the service. The buses are claimed to carry more people that a standard bus, but looked the same to me. They are fitted with an electronic display showing the next stop and an automatic voice announcement. The bus I was on is a single unit, but articulated ones are also being used.

The pamphlet and the bus stop signs are an improvement on previous STA bus information. The metro style maps are easy to understand and to work out where to change to other transport. The roadside signs lack a countdown timer to tell you when the next bus is leaving, but the on-board staff explained that these signs are planned.

The buses do not accept cash and all tickets must be purchased before boarding. This will cause some inconvenience but greatly reduces bus loading time. It is also safer than the arrangement in Melbourne with trams (and buses in Thessaloniki), where patrons have to attempt to buy a ticket from a machine on-board a moving vehicle. There are newsagents and other vendors selling tickets near most bus stops.

The Metrobus is a cost effective and realistic answer to some of Sydney's transport problems, unlike the unworkable "North West Metro". However, there is a danger the Metrobus trial will fail due to a lack of investment. Some areas where it could be improved are:
  1. Usable Web Site: Sydney Buses provide a minimum of information about the service on the web in a difficult to read format. Instead of large, slow to download and hard to read PDF documents, the Brochure, Route Map, Download the TravelTen calculator should be provided in the form of web pages accessible by the disabled and usable on a mobile phone. The Wikipedia entry for the service provides better information than the official government web site.
  2. Next bus electronic sign: Each stop needs an electronic sign counting down to when the next bus leaves. These signs need to provide an accurate estimate. When I tried the Perth "Cat" system, the signs were so inaccurate as to be useless and discouraged patronage, rather than helping it. STA should invest in a reliable system which uses real time displays with wireless links to a GPS reporting bus. The signs could be solar powered in most cases.
  3. Next Bus Cafe: Electronic signs could be installed in cafes near the stops and the the staff encouraged to help patrons with bus information.
  4. Better road access: While the Metrobuses are new and have a good ride, the service suffers from the poor Sydney roads. The NSW government should repair the road surface along the bus lane for the Metrobus route to improve the ride and speed up the service. Bus priority traffic lights would further improve the service. Also the buses could be equipped with with traffic cameras, linked to the RTA Transport Management Centre, with a button for the driver to report a traffic problem. The RTA central controllers could then see and act on problems effecting the buses. An additional option would be to fit the buses out with mobile traffic infringement cameras, so that vehicles parked in bus stops and otherwise impeding the service could be issued with fines immediately.
  5. Electronic tickets: Sydney needs a workable electronic ticketing system, such as the Akbil system used by Istanbul Public Transport. Sydney has abandoned one electronic ticket system (Tcard) and is planning to install another system which will not work. Sydney needs to rationalise its fare structure before an electronic ticketing system will be workable. One option would be to propose the Australian Government fund a national standardised system and have it piloted on the Sydney Metrobus.

Name of stationStop numberLocations servedConnections

Market Place Leichhardt22WLeichhardt Market Place
Elswick Street21WLeichhardt
Cromwell Street
(Eastbound only)
Leichhardt Town Hall20WLeichhardt, Norton Street Palace Cinema
Norton Plaza19WNorton Street Plaza
Norton Street18WNorton Street Italian Forum
Catherine Street17WSydney Institute of TAFE - Petersham College
Percival Road16WAnnandale, Stanmore
Johnston Street15WAnnandale
Bridge Road14WAnnandale
Denison Street
(Westbound only)
13/14WCamperdown, Annandale
Mallett Street13WCamperdown
Missenden Road12WRoyal Prince Alfred Hospital
Larkin Street11WUniversity of Sydney
Ross Street10WUniversity of Sydney
Sydney Uni (Footbridge)9WUniversity of Sydney
Sydney Uni (Main Gate)
(Westbound only)
8/9WUniversity of Sydney
Victoria Park8WUniversity of Sydney, Victoria Park, Broadway Shopping Centre
Broadway7WBroadway, Broadway Shopping CentreBus: Newtown, Glebe Point Road
Abercrombie Street6WBroadway, Ultimo
Unversity of Technology (UTS)5WUTS, Broadway, Ultimo, Haymarket
Railway Square4WRailway Square, Sydney Institute of TAFE, Ultimo, HaymarketTrain: Central Station
Bus: Northern Beaches
Rawson Place3WChinatown, Paddy's Markets, Haymarket
(Westbound only)
2/3WChinatown, Paddy's Markets, Haymarket
World Square2WChinatown, World Square, Town Hall
Sydney Town Hall1WTown Hall, Queen Victoria Building, St. Andrew's Cathedral, George St CinemasTrain: Town Hall Station
Park Street City1ETown Hall, The Galeries Victoria, Pitt Street MallMonorail: Galeries Victoria
Hyde Park2EHyde Park
Museum3EHyde Park, Downing CentreTrain: Museum Station
Bus: Bondi Beach, Paddington, Bondi Junction, Bronte
Brisbane Street4EWhitlam Square
Riley Street5EOxford Square
Taylor Square6ETaylor Square, St Vincent's Hospital, University of Notre Dame Australia
Albion Street7ESurry Hills, UNSW College of Fine Arts
South Dowling Street
(Eastbound only)
7/8ESurry Hills
Moore Park8EMoore Park, Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney Football Stadium
Cleveland Street9EMoore Park, Fox Studios, Entertainment QuarterBus: Randwick, Coogee
Robertson Street10EMoore Park, Centennial Park
Alison Road
(Eastbound only)
10/11EMoore Park Supa Centa
Carlton Street11ERandwick Racecourse
Ascot Street12ERandwick Racecourse
Todman Ave13EKensington
Addison Street14EKensington
Doncaster Avenue15EKensington
UNSW16EUniversity of New South Wales
Barker Street17EUniversity of New South Wales
Middle Street18EKingsford
Kingsford Nine Ways19EKingsfordBus: Maroubra, La Perouse

From: Metrobus, Wikipedia, 2008

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Friday, September 12, 2008

Metro in Sydney Transport Plan

The formation of a new NSW Government provides the opportunity to rethink Sydney's transport planning. The "North West Metro" proposed as a "European" style metro was not viablee. Sydney is not a European style city and needs a different transport system. The government should look to cities such as Perth, Adelaide and Brisbane to see how to use heavy and light rail and express bus ways for public transport.

European style metros service densely populated cities using closely spaced stations and short lines. The Sydney metro was to be a single 38km rail line with 17 stations (one for every 2 km) to cost $12B. A few months ago I visited the Greek city of Thessaloniki and saw a real European metro under construction This will have 13 stations, almost as many as the Sydney plan, but is only 9.6 km long, one third the spacing of the Sydney system. This smaller system will cost only 800 million euros, but even so has taken thirty years to build.

Instead of one long rail line, Sydney could consider some shorter genuine metro lines to service densely populated parts of the city in the next few decades. However, this should be a supplement to improved heavy rail, as Perth has done. There are also measures which can be introduced relatively quickly and cheaply, costing hundreds of millions of dollars and taking years, rather than billions taking decades. These include extending the existing light rail in the inner west of Sydney and providing priority bus lanes.

Another relatively easy problem to solve is the ticketing system for Sydney transport. The previous smart card project failed due to a complex pricing system for Sydney's diverse transport system. Istanbul has an integrated electronic ticketing system (Akbil) for the city's trams, trains, buses, ferries and even two Funicular railways. This works because the fare structure of the transport system has been simplified.

Given that transport systems take decades to implement, Sydney could look at some emerging technologies, such as hybrid buses,
Guided buses (used in Adelaide), and rubber-tyred trams. The have the potential of providing the low cost and flexibility of conventional buses with the capacities of metro and light rail, using some of Sydney's existing road infrastructure. As an example some of the lanes of existing toll roads and toll tunnels could be converted to guided bus-ways. The buses would collect passengers on ordinary roads and the enter the guided way for a high speed trip to the city center.

The buses could be electrically powered from renewable sources while on the bus way. Computer control of the buses would provide a similar level of safety, ride comfort and speed to an advanced light rail system. Buses which primarily use the guided ways could be powered by rechargable batteries when away from the guide way and would not require internal combustion engines. Express buses which only used the guide way could be driver-less.

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Monday, March 24, 2008

Railway wireless options

A news report has questioned if Australian railways should adopt the European GSM-R digital radio system, or Tetra. GSM-R is an adaption of the GSM phone system for railways. Tetra (TErrestrial Trunked RAdio) is a European developed digital trunked radio system. Tetra has the advantage of being used more widely than just for railways, but is no more technically  advanced than GSM-R.

Both SGM-R and Tetra have advantages and disadvantages. Neither is designed for high speed data transfer comparable to 4G mobile  phone networks, but this is not a requirement for a railway system. One problem is the need to install infrastructure. Unless the wireless network is shared with other suers (such as police and other emergency services), they a whole network has to be installed and paid for just for the railway. This applies to both GSM-R and Tetra, but there are more likely to be other government Tetra users to share the cost.

An alternative would be for the railways to use public 4G wireless mobile phone and other data networks (particularly WiMax). Railways have tended to want to use their own dedicated communications network, however, if multiple public networks were used this might provide sufficient reliability. In any case the telecommunications companies are likely to be keen to provide access to their services for railway passengers and so install the needed equipment in tunnels and other locations the signals would not normally reach. There would be little extra cost in providing railway communications. These could also be used for other equipment, such as level crossing signals.

Some railways are using WiFi for signaling, but this would generally apply only to small, dense, metro systems, due to the need for a base station every few tens of metres.

Railways are installing new GSM-R networks, such as China's use of GSM-R for its network. Railways are using 4G networks, such as Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) is to use Telstra's NextG 4G mobile phone network for 10,000km of rail line in regional Australia.
THE State Government's promised rail communications system upgrade has come under attack, with claims the $80 million project is set for cost blow-outs because of outdated technology.

The upgrade of the Metropolitan Train Safety Communications System, announced in May 2006, is designed to allow drivers to communicate directly with each other in the event of emergencies such as track intruders or accidents.

The Government favours GSM-R technology, a variant of the GSM system used for most non-3G mobile phones. Technical experts describe this as a second-generation technology and point out that the IT world is already using third-generation (3G) technology.

The Age understands the Government plans to use the GSM-R on the phone spectrum bought after the collapse of One.Tel in 2001. But that licence expires by 2015....

The London Underground, Paris, Madrid, Berlin and many train networks throughout Asia have progressed to the more modern TETRA system, which is said to be more cost effective in metropolitan areas. ...

Many suburban train drivers have told The Age they have been forced to use their own mobile phones to fill "dead spots" in the current radio system.

From: Railway project cost blow-out fears, Mathew Murphy and Clay Lucas, The Age, March 22 2008

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Australian Rail Conference Exhibition 2007

Last week, in between computer conferences, I attended AusRAIL PLUS 2007, the
Australian Rail Conference Exhibition. This is held in conjunction with a conference, which costs money. But like many such events, the exhibition is open to anyone from business for free. There were a number of computer and telecommunications exhibits to justify my attendance, but it was really just an excuse to look at train stuff. ;-)

Some items of interest:

Thales Australia are expanding out from Defence equipment into transport, particularly rail systems. As an example they are supplying the Communications and Surveillance Subsystem (CSS) and to perform the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) System Integration (SI) for the Sydney Suburban Passenger Vehicle Public Private Partnership (PPP) Project (ie: computers and telecommunications for Sydney trains).

Ultimate Australia Transportation Equipment Pty Ltd Sleeper Seat with designer Gary Ullmannhave designed an aircraft style reclining seat for long distance trains . The SLP-1 Sleeper Seat (prototype) is 60 kg (production mass 50kg), has a single seat width of 600 mm (double 1200mm), with a pitch of 1800 mm.They hope to sell this for the Cairns Tilt Train. The seat has the same entertainment system LCD video display as fitted to the tilt train retracting into one arm of the seat. I suggested to Gary Ullmann, the designer, that they replace this with a larger 10 inch LCD display and keyboard, as used on the Airbus A380. This could then be used as a computer for business, as well as entertainment. Unfortunately Ultimate do not seem to have an Australian web site, but you can get an idea from their China one.

China South Locomotive and Rolling Stock Industry (Group) Corporation were one of several companies from China with cumbersome names selling locomotives and other railway products. They each seemed to have some form of high speed passenger train on offer as well as freight locomotives. I was unable to get their web site to work in English.

Garard were offering monolithic concrete shelters for equipment. These are buildings about the size of a shipping container made from one continuous piece of reinforced concrete. They are used to hold electrical equipment for railways, but could make very secure computer rooms. The buildings can be made on site, or delivered on a truck (or train) pre-wired with the equipment installed. Because they are made of one piece of concrete, they are very secure and less likely to leak.

Open Access displayed their Wireless Announcer. This is the wireless Emergency Warning and Intercommunication (EWIS) Alert system installed in the Sydney CBD for the APEC meeting. Unit with antennas, digital radio, amplifier, loudspeakers and battery backup are mounted on poles around the city to warn in an emergency. Some units also have alphanumeric displays.

CRC for Rail Innovation, is an industry academic research collaboration. They are looking at:
  1. Economic Social and Environmental Sustainability
  2. Operations and Safety
  3. Engineering and Safety­
  4. Education and Training

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Want to run a railway?

Abt locomotive on West Coast Wilderness RailwayIn Tasmania for talks I met Tim Ambrose who looks after IT for the Federal Group resort complex. I said I would like a ride on their vintage steam train and he said would I like to run the whole railway, as they needed a manager.

The West Coast Wilderness Railway is a narrow gauge line using the Swiss Abt system to get it up steep hills. I my next trip to Tasmania, I hope to do a live Internet report from the train, wireless broadband permitting.

Source: The Australian

Job Code: 2151291
Location: Hobart, TAS Australia
Date: 09-09-2007
Residency: Must have residency
Job Type: Permanent
Job Description

Manager - West Coast Wilderness Railway
Without a doubt, the West Coast Wilderness Railway (WCWR) is one of the best heritage railways in the world.
An opportunity now exists for a team-oriented leader with a passion for excellence to take responsibility for the day-to-day management of WCWR. This is a broad role including strategy, governance, safety, and product development. With a strong team supporting you, and as part of the senior management team for west coast operations, including the Strahan Village and Gordon River Cruises, you will be well positioned to drive the on-going growth of this premier tourism attraction.
An understanding of co-regulatory environments and a commitment to safety is sought. Essential is your strong team orientation, excellent problem solving skills, and an undeniable ability to achieve results. As part of Tasmania's largest employer of hospitality and tourism professionals, Pure Tasmania offers future career development opportunities across the State and generous employee benefits.
Please quote ref: PT24.
Want to know more?
Visit or phone Juliet Casey on (03) 6221 1673 / 0448 300 252
Visit or send your application to:
Pure Tasmania Recruitment,
PO Box 200,
Launceston 7250,
fax (03) 6335 5796.
Applications close 21st September 2007.

Pure Tasmania Recruitment
Hobart, TAS Australia

Fax: (03) 6335 5796

From: Manager - West Coast Wilderness Railway, CareerOne Services Pty Limited, 2007

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Thursday, August 09, 2007

Running Trains on WiFi

For those having difficulty getting their WiFi to work reliably at home, you may not want to take a trip on a train in Asia. The mechanical signals used to stop trains colliding are being replaced with 802.11b wireless communications (ie: WiFi):

Increasingly, moving block train control systems are being used, operating as communication-based train control (CBTC) systems. Modern CBTC systems require up to 1Mbps (megabit per second) of uninterrupted communication between the trackside automation equipment and fast-moving trains.

Because most rail operators in Asia demand a high local content, it seems appropriate to use international radio standards and commercial off-the-shelf radio components, which can provide the necessary bandwidth. This is generally achieved by using standards and technologies for wireless local area networks (WLAN), and typical CBTC systems are based on the well-known 802.11b standard. ...

From: Wireless technology takes off in Asia, International Railway Journal, July 2007
Railways use very stringent safety standards, so it would be interesting to see how they made the case that WiFi would be reliable enough for controlling trains. It may be that the article is wrong and a WiFi-like systems is being used, perhaps using different dedicated frequencies. As an example of that European railways use a modified form of the GSM phone standard, adapted for railway requirements, called GSM-Railway (GSM-R). This uses separate frequencies from the GSM phone networks and has special features for safety and reliable working. Alternatively the railway might use several different commercial networks (as has been proposed in Australia).

An example of an 802.11 train system is
Alcatel's SelTrac, one version of which uses 802.11. The first use of this was the Las Vegas Monorail. There is a detailed technical paper on the technology used:

Alcatel is pioneering the implementation of an open standards RF communications technology (802.11 Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum (FHSS)) for trains moving in excess of 120km/h. Whether it’s used for Communication-Based Train Control (CBTC) or Closed Circuit Television (CCTV), 802.11 remains the preferred choice since it’s the only standard that supports mobility and defends against obsolescence. Alcatel adopted 802.11 FHSS technology in 1999 and has performed several trials and demonstrations since then.

From: Open Standards for CBTC and CCTV, Radio-Based Communication, Ed Kuun, date: ????
It is not clear how different the technology Alcatel is from ordinary office and home WiFi.

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Great Railway Journeys of Australia

A display of "Great Railway Journeys of Australia" is at the National Museum of Australia from 20 April until 26 August 2007. This is a modest display of models, posters and memorabilia, put together by the Workshops Rail Museum of Queensland.

There is an online collection of photos, accompanying the exhibition. Including:
As well as the material exhibited and photos, the Workshops Rail Museum have also prepared a 21 page education kit for children (some adult rail enthusiasts may like to try answering questions in the kit without having seen the exhibition). The Museum keen to hear from other institutions who might like to host this exhibition.

Some of the journeys I have been on:
One not mentioned in the exhibition is the brief trial of a tilt train in NSW:
An other train trips.

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