My colleagues and I recently attended the AusRAIL Conference & Exhibition in Canberra from 27 – 28 November 2018.
If you were not able to attend, here is a quick summary of what took place:
One of the most interesting and inspiring talks of AusRAIL 2018 was the keynote speech by Frances Valintine, founder of the Tech Futures Lab.
She warned that everything is a target for disruption – services, people, functions and potentially even entire companies – and encouraged a customer-centric approach in efforts to future-proof the rail industry.
For example, rail has an ageing workforce and is competing with other industries for progressive, diverse and innovative skills.
She presented the outlook that the future of rail will be built upon smart transportation systems that leverage technologies to deliver interconnected rail networks and infrastructure.
The increased focus on sustainability and demographics will likely take us down the track of smart railways and the Internet of Smart Trains.
Ms Valintine also challenged the rail industry to change its thinking in terms of expecting predictable increases in progress, because in reality innovation is exponential – not linear.
Data and technology are improving in capability and potency while costs to attain these gains are reducing (Moore’s Law).
While it is good to look at how better data and the right technology can lead to less risk, improved safety and better reliability, it is equally important to think of the opportunity cost: what you will miss out on if you don’t have good data and technology?
This panel discussion on Day 2 featured Paul Harris from Public Transport Victoria (PTV); Doug Creighton from the Institute for Intelligent Systems Research and Innovation (IISRI); Mark Smith from Transport for New South Wales (TfNSW); Stuart Thomson, CEO of Rail Manufacturing CRC; and Bonnie Ryan of GS1 Australia.
One of the dominant themes in this discussion was the need for more collaboration between governments, operators and technology providers.
Mr Harris and Mr Creighton spoke about the need for a roadmap or framework that would help improve cross-industry participation and collaboration. This would support a national view on rail and bring together the knowledge and capabilities of all the industry’s stakeholders for the benefit of all.
Ms Ryan provided an update on Project i-TRACE, the joint initiative by GS1 and the Australasian Railway Association (ARA). In order to build the rail industry’s digital capabilities, standardisation and digitisation will be key.
Participating in the project will mean that all your physical assets will have a digital identity to help you track and monitor them from procurement to purchase. This will pave the way to a consistent and common understanding of assets.
He explained that AI is dependent on data and we need to collect this data, understand it and draw conclusions from it before we can truly drive innovation with AI.
There were also calls to look to other industries (such as the aerospace or automotive industries) and copy their processes or technologies instead of reinventing the wheel.
There is definitely value in leveraging innovation from other industries, although I would suggest that these then need to be tailored to the rail industry’s terminology and users.
David Panter, Trapeze’s Industry Solutions Manager for Intelligent Transport Solutions, spoke on the first day of the conference on Zurich’s tram operations.
David has almost 40 years of experience in public transport technology and software development and delivery.
Running Like Clockwork: How Zurich’s Trams Keep to Time
Zurich is consistently ranked in the top three cities in the world for quality of life. While many factors are considered in the rankings, effective and reliable public transport makes a large contribution to the city’s stellar reputation.
Zurich’s transport network comprises a mix of trains, trams, trolley buses and diesel buses, operating in an unusual environment. Verkehrsbetriebe Zurich (VBZ) have to work within constraints such as extreme cold or snow affecting the network, and heritage buildings and streets that place limits on operations.
In spite of these challenges, VBZ has been able to improve their on-time running even with major disruptions such as traffic accidents.
As always, the ARA put together a fantastic line-up of experienced speakers and presenters to spark debate and discussion around the future of rail.
While the roadmap to this future is not set in stone, it was clear to all attendees that having the right solutions in the right place is essential as technological capabilities and the demand for timely and meaningful data grow.
This means that initiatives such as Project i-TRACE and alignment to the ISO 55000 series (as well as attendant technology, such as Enterprise Asset Management or Workforce Management solutions) are a key priority for rail asset owners and operators.
Written by: Michael Zink