Today Frankston – tomorrow the world?
Melbourne commuters have been riding the first trains capable of ‘conversing’ with cars in a bid to reduce accidents at level crossings.
While it’s not something passengers would have noticed, during July and August the Frankston line has been part of the world’s first and largest trial of a new ‘intelligent transport system’ designed to help cut collisions between cars, trucks and trains.
Based on GPS and mobile phone-style dedicated short-range communication technology, it enables cars to receive warning of approaching trains. The warning comprises six-levels of in-car audio-visual alerts that escalate in urgency and volume as trains gets closer to crossings.
Results of the Victorian trial have ‘exceeded expectations’ and already attracted attention globally says Professor Jugdutt (Jack) Singh, Director of La Trobe University’s Centre for Technology Infusion.
Public Transport Minister Terry Mulder said the State Government was looking at rolling out the system across its entire fleet of 210 trains (see video report at the end of this story).
The La Trobe system has also been short-listed by the Queensland government for trials in that State.
Three sets of trials
Professor Singh’s centre developed the system in partnership Public Transport Victoria and the Australian Automotive Co-operative Research Centre.
Following regional trials at Dingee in northern Victoria early this year, there has been a month of orchestrated night-time testing involving 70 cars and a train at Highett and Cheltenham during May and June.
This has now been followed by ‘live’ trials on the Frankston line during July and August involving eight trains and ten motor vehicles.
With some 9,500 level crossings on Australian public roads – about 2,000 in Victoria – and only a third of them with flashing lights or boom barriers, technology that can alert drivers to approaching trains is of considerable benefit.
The system and the way it works was officially unveiled on 23rd August at a demonstration organised by Public Transport Victoria, Melbourne Rail and La Trobe University.
Transport Minister Mulder said safety was a key priority for the State Government and it had provided $1.2 million toward the $5.5 million three-year project.
The next step, along with other level crossing safety upgrading, would be to see the system installed on all Victorian trains.
‘Collisions between cars and trains have devastating consequences. This Government is committed to doing everything it can to improve safety at level crossings and eliminate the senseless loss of lives and suffering these collisions cause,’ Mr Mulder said.
La Trobe University Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), Professor Tim Brown said La Trobe was delighted to be involved in the project since it fulfilled the key mission of the University to make a difference to the community.
‘This project will greatly benefit driving safety in Victoria, with the added potential of being able to export leading-edge Australian technology and expertise.
‘With more than 600 rail and vehicle crashes at level crossings in Australia during the last decade, the technology could prevent and hopefully eliminate collisions, saving many lives,’ Professor Brown said.
Professor Singh said collision warning systems, including ‘co-operative intelligent transport technology’ like that developed by the La Trobe Centre, have been hailed by the motor vehicle industry as the next area of major road safety innovation, after seat belts, airbags and ABS systems. Such systems are expected to be available in new cars by 2014.
Professor Singh has been invited to demonstrate the La Trobe Rail Crossing System in October at the ‘Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) World Congress’ in Vienna and the ‘Global Level Crossing Symposium’ in London.
He says the technology has been developed, tested and refined over the past three years. The trials are being supervised by Dr Aniruddha Desai, Senior Research Fellow at the La Trobe Centre for Technology Infusion, working with an operations crew of about 28 people, including ten Centre staff.