ARTC Says Goodbye to Analogue and Sticks to ICE

The Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) officially switched off the last two of seven out-dated regional radio systems previously used on its network today, completing a seven year project.

“The ‘switch off’ of the old radio systems in NSW and Victoria means freight trains operating on ARTC’s national freight rail network now use a single, safer, digital radio system,” ARTC CEO John Fullerton said.

“In saying goodbye to analogue radio we can clearly see one the reasons why ARTC was established – to drive a co-ordinated and planned approach to investment across the national rail freight network to make it simpler and easier for customers to use,” Mr Fullerton said.

“The implementation of the digital, 3G-based National Train Communications System (NTCS) project, in close cooperation with Telstra, provides a single, digital backbone to ARTC communications, a true national communications network interoperable with systems across the nation.”

The NTCS project started in 2007 and leverages the Telstra NextG™ mobile network – it provides 100 per cent coverage with the assistance of satellite communications. The project was funded by the Australian Government.

While the physical network including mobile communications towers and satellites has been in place since June 2010, the retrofitting and testing of ICE (In-cab Communications Equipment) units across the national locomotive fleet and multiple operators has now been completed.

Currently 900 trains with ICE units operate across the country, 704 units were supplied by ARTC as part of the NTCS project.

“Despite this being a complex task with multiple stakeholders, it is a testament to the cooperation and close working relationship of the rail industry that we see the final step taken today to solely switch to digital,” Mr Fullerton said.

The ICE units mean no more double handling of radio equipment for train drivers using the Defined Interstate Rail Network.

“This is another sign of the national freight network?s ongoing modernisation and standardisation – making it far easier to use as a mode and reinforcing our competitiveness and reliability.

“Not only does ICE provide a single interface for train drivers right across the interstate network, ARTC saves costs by no longer needing to operate multiple communications platforms,” said Mr Fullerton.

The NTCS solution also provides a reliable, high speed data network to support existing and future data intensive applications.

“In addition to being a safer communications platform by removing previous coverage blackspots, NTCS has provided a platform for ARTC to innovate and take advantage of the possibilities that come with a digital network,” Mr Fullerton said.

Using the Telstra NextG™, applications such as safe travelling distance technology (proximity alerting), real-time locomotive tracking, sophisticated track and wayside monitoring technology, track awareness support systems and the next generation of ARTC freight management, the Advanced Train Management System (ATMS) have all been able to be tested.

Overview – National Train Communications System

Funded by the Australian Government, the National Train Communications System (NTCS) provides for routine and emergency communications across ARTC and non ARTC train control territories and has replaced many disparate and old communications systems, of which ARTC was previously required to maintain and support for Train Control operations.

The primary purpose of the NTCS project was to provide a cost efficient, effective and interoperable Train Control communications network to support the current train control requirements and also future proof ARTC by providing a reliable high speed data platform to support future data intensive communications requirements.

NTCS provides:

  • A single network for communications between train control, trains, trackside workers and wayside equipment
  • The In-Train Communications Equipment (ICE), the design, and supply of 704 units for train operating companies to install on their motive power units
  • Support for both routine and emergency operations
  • Seamless coverage across the entire Interstate and Hunter Valley Rail Networks
  • Dual redundant communications media – NextG™ as the primary media and Iridium satellite as the secondary media
  • Communications interoperability with non-ARTC train control areas
  • Both voice and data communication support services, at agreed service levels
  • GPS tracking
  • A communications backbone for data centric train management systems.

Around 1024 Telstra Mobile sites form part of the communications network along ARTC?s rail network. Telstra provided an additional 81 radio sites along the rail corridor comprising 70 macro base stations and 11 radio fitted tunnels.

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