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With just one month until the third annual Heavy Haul Rail Conference and Exhibition, we spoke to five rail experts to gain their views on where the industry is heading an future opportunities for the sector.
Although Australia has been at the leading edge of heavy haul rail for decades the industry strives for continued performance improvement. With this in mind, what do you see as the next advancement in Heavy Haul Rail and how will it shape the future of the rail and/or resources sectors?
Brian Marsden, General Manager Rail, Global Mining, Parsons Brinckerhoff: The following are personal opinions. I consider that some of the major developments will be:
The low hanging fruit has been picked. New mines will be further from ports, ore quality will be lower, and more projects will be in less developed countries. In future, rail capital and opex costs will be a larger proportion of supply chain costs than in the past.
The proportion of product carried on multi user rail will increase, driven by its potential for maximised utilisation and reduced unit costs.
Companies will more aggressively seek innovative ways to increase heavy haul capacity per track. The potential savings are enormous.
Automation costs will continue to fall and there will be many applications in heavy haul rail
Communication costs will continue to fall, and integrated mine/rail/port/ship/ etc supply chain information, communication, control, condition monitoring, and safety and security monitoring will be more common.
Ravi Ravitharan, Director, Institute of Railway Technology, Monash University: The next advancements in heavy haul should be focussed on maintaining its vital but remote infrastructure in a timely manner. There should be sufficient intelligence build into systems that are capable of assisting staff to maintain their infrastructure in an effective manner. Science, technology and engineering should be combined when developing these systems. My presentation at the Heavy Haul Conference in Newcastle will be covering these aspects.
Bryan Nye, CEO, Australasian Railway Association (ARA): The application of ITS and digital systems will lead to automatic and increased productivity for the rail industry. This will be essential to improve productivity and reduce costs to enable the Australia resources sector to compete globally.
Brad Doyle, Freight Technical Manager, Faiveley Transport: Fail safe higher performance freight train brakes are a watershed in heavy haul; operations, productivity, capacity & LCC. This is a paradigm shift to the problem of keeping trains moving rather than preventing costly accidents. These brakes will have more long term impact than ECP and allow it to reach its true potential.
Nick Aschberger, Software Development Manager, TrackIQ
I think this will happen in two big areas – automation and “big data”. Firstly the industry will look to save money and improve performance by investing in automation equipment – from automated trains through to automated condition monitoring of equipment.
Secondly, the software systems used in heavy haul can generate a lot of data – e.g. maintenance activity records, or condition monitoring data. I see heavy haul developing tools around using this “big data” to make increasingly well informed decisions – and then even automating those decisions.
As the industry looks to build on its expertise what are the main challenges and opportunities ahead, particularly in the context of a tough economic climate?
Brian Marsden: Some opportunities include:
Increased track capacity with maximised utilisation is an opportunity to reduce tonne km costs through higher throughput
Cycle times can be reduced through operational and technological reductions in “dead” time, including disciplined train operation
Governments have an opportunity to innovate with special economic zones and better services for cities and towns to reduce very high staff turnover and high total cost of staffing.
Australian heavy haul capability in both narrow and standard gauge is world class. We have an opportunity to make this a signature industry for Australia, with Australian based standards, management, engineering, operations, and technology for heavy haul rail design, construction, and operation being exported worldwide. Our management experience spans greenfield and brownfield from concept to handover.
Ravi Ravitharan: The general challenges are retaining experienced staff in the heavy haul industry. You will notice that staff numbers have significantly increased during the boom time, albeit they may be fly-in-fly-out (FIFO). Under difficult economic climate, some of the experienced staff will be not available to support the operations. Unless necessary steps (e.g. intelligent systems) are put in place to support the operations heavy haul industry will face the issues it experienced in late 90’s with significant loss of corporate memory and inefficiencies in its operations.
Bryan Nye: Reducing costs and improving productivity through innovation and the adaption of technology.
Brad Doyle: More complete wagon operating costs and potential revenue earning should be forecasted for decision making. This would give more importance to LCC and thus getting over up front wagon purchase price. Smarter and more capable wagons will cost up front 20% more but would re-pay this in just a few years.
Nick Aschberger: It’s all about doing more with less – less staff, less equipment & getting longer life out of the equipment already in service. I think technology and business analysis will be key components in addressing these issues.