Sydney Metro Northwest's radio revolution

MCS Digital

By Sam Lister, Senior Systems Engineer & Project Manager, MCS Digital Project Team
Monday, 16 January, 2017

Sydney Metro Northwest's radio revolution

The groundbreaking Sydney Metro Northwest rail project will be served by an equally groundbreaking TETRA radio system.

Late in 2015, MCS Digital, in collaboration with Teltronic (a subsidiary of the Sepura Group), was awarded the contract to integrate a radiocommunications system for Sydney Metro Northwest, Stage 1 of Sydney Metro — Australia’s largest public transport infrastructure project.

Sydney Metro Northwest will greatly improve the quality of life for Sydney’s north-western communities. The technical highlight is that it will be the first fully automated train system used in a metro rail project in Australia. With this comes some exciting challenges and a need for innovation.

With a range of new stations as well as the conversion of the existing Epping-Chatswood section, the new line will be a ‘turn up and go’ service, with no need to check timetables and a train departing every four minutes during peak periods. Anyone who’s commuted on such a system in major cities around the world, including London, Shanghai or Berlin, will know it’s a fantastic experience. With a single deck design and three double doors per carriage, passenger movement should be much improved, further enhancing the speed and efficiency of getting people to their destinations.

From a communications perspective, what challenges does this raise?

Sydney Metro Northwest will not share tracks with any of Sydney’s existing trains, and it will be a fully automated system, ie, without drivers. So not only are the requirements different to those previously experienced in Australia, but because it’s going to operate as a standalone system there’s also no need to stick with what currently exists.

This gave MCS Digital, in collaboration with Teltronic and Sepura, the opportunity to take a step back and consider “How are we going to fulfil the requirements for the communications that we need?” and “Which radios will best suit the system?” Even as a network intended for fully automated train operation, Sydney Metro Northwest will still need both operational and maintenance staff, who will require the ability to communicate effectively throughout the network for routine operations. Also, in the event of an emergency situation, communication will be vital for a quick response. And in addition to voice communications, there’s also a range of data requirements.

Existing railway radio systems in Australia largely use GSM-R technology; however, the solution chosen for Sydney Metro Northwest is the feature-rich Teltronic Nebula TETRA system, which will be installed as part of the operations and maintenance communication system. Both TETRA and GSM-R were developed in Europe and are widespread in use. TETRA’s time division multiple access means it can include four different timeslots inside the one frequency. This enables the network to have different communications going over each frequency and, on top of that, the ability to use multiple frequencies together inside each base station and increase capacity for communications depending on requirements. Data information can also be provided through various methods.

Above, below and beyond

Sydney Metro Northwest will have above-ground sections where trains travel along an elevated ‘skytrain’ viaduct and at-grade sections, both of which require TETRA coverage. Customer service attendants will move through the system and there will also be a depot, which will have perhaps one of the most concentrated areas of radio users within the TETRA coverage.

The Teltronic TETRA system will have a central core of equipment that will be in communication with all of the base stations within the network. This will enable all voice and data communications to be routed to where they need to go. The base stations for outdoor coverage areas will be provided with antenna systems to ensure coverage to fulfil the project requirements.

Sydney Metro Northwest will also have underground sections. Just as with the outdoor coverage areas, TETRA base stations will provide coverage, this time with leaky feeder cables through the tunnels for reception both within the trains and inside the stations.

From the radio subscriber point of view, MCS Digital’s partnership with Teltronic and Sepura provides a fantastic opportunity for utilisation of world-class radio equipment and terminals, such as the Sepura SC2020, one of the newest radios on the global market.

Inside the trains, it will be a different story. Although the trains are fully automated, expert train controllers from the new state-of-the-art Operations Control Centre will, of course, still need to have radiocommunications with the trains. The Teltronic RTP-603 train radio control head will enable users to operate the radio system, though not in the usual fashion that you might find. Often, standard radio terminals are integrated into packages for use in transportation, but the Teltronic radio control head has been designed specifically for the transport sector. The device is extremely resistant to damage by external forces, ensuring continued operation and maximised safety, which is particularly important in a metro transport environment. As a public transport system, it’s important for Sydney Metro Northwest to have redundancy, backup and as much safety as possible.

The control head is connected to the radio system in the train, which is interfaced with other on-train systems. This system gathers data and information required and sends it to a central control room or any other place where communication is required.

In the event that a train stops somewhere or there is an emergency situation, it’s extremely important that communications are maintained so that announcements can be broadcast to customers. These communications are mission critical and must be transmitted and received through the radio system with absolute reliability.

The Teltronic control centre infrastructure has been developed over a number of decades and provides the operator, who’s dealing with not only the radio system but a number of other systems simultaneously, with the ability to control and work with the radio network. The interface gives the control centre operator direct access to the TETRA system to monitor what is happening with routine rail work, as well as to be able to see if there are any problems and intervene as required. Customer safety remains the highest priority in this radiocommunications project.

Sydney Metro Northwest is a perfect example of how modern technology projects are conceived, implemented and operated. Looking to the future as an innovative integrator, MCS Digital, along with Teltronic and Sepura, will continue to explore ways in which communication systems can be further advanced to provide state-of-the-art solutions to the transport sector.

Images courtesy TfNSW.

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