This article first appeared in Track & Signal magazine.
Train drivers in Australia are tasked with carrying passengers and goods across massive distances created by our geographically dispersed cities.
Take the Indian Pacific passenger rail service, one of the world’s true transcontinental railway lines. The service transports more than 70,000 people per year with drivers responsible for the safe arrival of a 1.4-ton passenger train stretching almost one kilometre in length on a journey spread over more than 4,000 kilometres.
The velocity of growth within Australian cities is also putting strain on authorities and policy makers to accommodate for more commuters. Industrial rail is also on the rise. According to the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development, rail freight – mainly supporting commodity exports – is expected to jump by two-thirds by 2030.
The rail industry needs to prepare for the expansion while maintaining the highest standards of safety and efficiency.
Safety has always been paramount in the rail industry – firstly for people, secondly for goods. As the industry strives for increased on-time performance, increased speed and efficiency will be in focus but never at the expense of safety.
Good communication is essential in maintaining the highest levels of safety. That’s why two-way radios have been a longstanding companion for drivers and operational staff to keep them in constant contact with headquarters. But the real power of these devices is changing, driven by highly specialised, fit-for-purpose business applications. Two way radios are now applications-rich digital devices that do much more than simply connecting drivers and dispatchers with voice communication.
Safety and security
When an accident or event occurs effective communication is paramount.
“Man down” apps are among a number of digital radio features available to two-way radio communication systems which bring life-saving potential to a number of industries, from mining to logistics and transport. If a train driver’s radio is tilted to its side for a defined period of time it could indicate an injury or even a crash. In these circumstances a worker in a control room can be automatically alerted via GPS tracking helping to pinpoint the exact location of the train. Emergency services can be notified immediately while voice communications to other trains and stations can help to mitigate or prevent further incidents.
Radio devices also have a “crash detect” feature, which can send an alarm back to the dispatch operator in the case of major impact or severe breaking.
Lone worker apps build further on this idea. Instead of routinely making voice calls on the radio this app automatically alerts workers to simply press a button on the radio to confirm they are alright. This provides a safe and reliable way for drivers to routinely check in.
Using voice call recording, railway organisations can also monitor staff to ensure they’re working safely. This is particularly valuable after an incident occurs when learnings need to be captured to drive future safety improvements.
Crucially, radio applications enable speed monitoring through GPS tracking. If a driver is going above the recommended speed on any part of the track, dispatch is notified and can request the driver to slow down. While protecting the safety of passengers and train staff, this also lowers maintenance costs on parts that erode from the train moving too fast.
Improved productivity and connectivity
While these applications are primarily designed to improve safety, they also have the power to improve productivity and connectivity between staff.
Modern apps allow rail workers to use their own smart devices on the job. Push-to-talk apps can be installed on smart phones, tablets or other devices that securely integrate with the two-way radio network. These apps can also be weaved into Wi-Fi, landline and computers meaning staff can stay connected in whatever way suits them.
Staying connected over long distances is also critical – application features such as ‘channel steering’ allow radio devices to automatically change to the relevant channel as the train moves through different regions and zones.
Staying on track
As the rail sector continues to expand and support vital industries across Australia, organisations will depend on communications networks to ensure safer and more efficient operations.
In the new era of digital disruption, the most successful rail organisations will leverage the right technologies to ensure efficiency, speed and, above all, safety for workers and passengers alike.