[ASC-media] Media release: making trains run to time

CRCA Media crcamedia at starclass.com.au
Wed May 12 21:33:51 EST 2004

CRCA Media Release  04/20

May 13, 2004


The era of the cursing commuter and the frustrated freight forwarder may be nearing its end: Australian engineers have developed a new approach to cracking a problem that has baffled rail managers for 150 years - making trains run to time.

The Co-operative Research Centre for Railway Engineering and Technologies has developed a suite of smart tools which will help rail operators to integrate train timetables with crew availability and track maintenance, reduce congestion on busy lines and re-schedule long-haul networks in real time to avoid delays.

"Passengers don't always appreciate that running a rail network is an unbelievably complex task - because one little thing that goes wrong can have a knock-on effect all down the line," says Rail CRC CEO Dudley Roach.

One of the hardest jobs is to co-ordinate train timetables with crew rosters, locomotive fleet assignment and track and train maintenance. Poor performance with any of these elements can have adverse effects on the others. Even when one element is scheduled to work perfectly, this in itself may cause adverse outcomes with some other elements. The interaction  of so many complex parameters requires compromises to produce the best overall result.

CRC researchers led by Assoc. Prof. David Panton of the University of SA are honing a 'best of all worlds' mathematics-based system that treats all three sets of schedules as part of an integrated process and picks out the best solutions.

Their final package is designed to yield the following advantages for the rail industry:
"	new software for train timetabling, crew rostering and maintenance scheduling.
"	a decision support tool for scenario evaluation.
"	lower overall operating costs. 
"	better timetable reliability through a more 'robust' schedule.
"	reduced staffing costs as a consequence of crew schedules that better address industrial and Occupational Health & Safety issues.
"	maintenance of tracks and trains which is more timely,  cost effective and better planned. 

In a second project a CRC team is developing a tool to help improve rail network performance, to ease congestion hotspots such as access to Sydney when freight and passenger trains are competing for rail space. This involves understanding the patterns in the buildup of congestion so timely action can be taken to ease it.

The project is delivering:
"	decision support tools for assessing network performance and for scenario planning
"	high level expertise in performance assessment for networks in fully operational or degraded states
"	tools to analyse the impacts of congestion in rail networks
A third CRC team is developing a sophisticated system for feeding train drivers with advice that will lead to better timekeeping and greater fuel economy through less speeding up and slowing down. The hand-held advice system is linked to a GPS locator that tells both driver and rail manager precisely where on the track the train is in a long-haul network, and gives advice on driving strategies to minimise energy consumption while keeping to schedule.

The fourth CRC project includes finding a more efficient way for trains to pass one another at the right station when they run on a single line railway. This apparently simple task is the result of weeks of painstaking planning, which is constantly being adjusted up to the moment the trains actually pass. Trains invariably stray from the plan, causing disturbance to ripple through the whole network. Operators are often so busy they have little time to try out alternative plans to see if they work better.

The CRC has developed a real-time dynamic rescheduling system that helps train controllers keep the network running smoothly by monitoring the movements of trains and, when necessary, revising the network operating plan so it recovers quickly from disruptions.
Benefits of the rescheduling system are:
"	improved adherence to timetables,
"	optimal response to operational disturbances,
"	reduced congestion,
"	reduced network operating costs,
"	reduced train lateness,
"	increased network reliability and capacity,
"	more efficient operation of individual trains.

"Together these four technologies can make a real difference to the timeliness and efficiency of Australia's national rail network and set new standards for train scheduling," Professor Roach says. "One day, we hope, Aussies will be famous for managing trains in the most efficient way possible."

"This research addresses National Research Priority Three - frontier technologies for building and transforming Australian industries."

More information:
Professor Dudley Roach, CEO, Rail CRC		07 4930 9597
Mr Tim McSweeney, Rail CRC				07 4930 9064
Prof. Julian Cribb, CRCA Media				0418 639 245

Web: www.railcrc.cqu.edu.au

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