Full steam ahead for UniSA’s train software app

Almost 40 years ago, Peter Pudney was riding the trains between Gawler and Adelaide, working on a simple algorithm to help drivers keep time and reduce their energy use.

A master’s student at the-then South Australian Institute of Technology (SAIT), the software he helped develop would count the number of times the wheels on a train went around to calculate where it was on a trip.

Today, GPS has replaced manual wheel counts and the algorithm – refined and honed over four decades – now runs in the cabs of 8,000 passenger, freight, and heavy haul trains on four continents.

The software uses information about the train, route, and schedule to calculate efficient driving strategies and advise drivers when to accelerate and brake to ensure they arrive on time with minimum energy use.

Trademarked as Energymiser, the smart train driver advice software developed by Associate Professor Pudney and the Scheduling and Control Group led to the longest running industry collaboration in UniSA’s history.

For 23 years, UniSA’s Associate Professor of Industrial and Applied Mathematics worked with TTG Transportation Technology (formerly TMG) to develop Energymiser, helping the international rail industry to optimise train scheduling, energy efficiency, and driver safety.

Earlier this year, that chapter closed with the sale of TTG to Toronto-based technology company, Modaxo, which specialises in global public and private transportation software across the passenger and freight sectors.

Modaxo is a subsidiary of Constellation Software, a multi-billion dollar organisation. TTG’s solutions became part of Modaxo’s overall rail solutions portfolio, offered through the Trapeze Group.

While the sale marks the end of one era, it ushers in an exciting new chapter for UniSA and its Energymiser creators.

“The research collaboration is continuing under Modaxo, who are very enthusiastic about the work we are doing at UniSA,” says Assoc Prof Pudney.

“They are keen to explore how we can help them improve not only the scheduling and control of trains, but also light rail and buses, so we are a really good fit for them.”

Ben Dvoracek, Managing Director of ANZ Rail at TTG and Trapeze, echoed these sentiments.

“The success that TTG and UniSA have had together is quite unique. Being specifically focused on the development of transport technology, we constantly think about different ways of making all transport stakeholders productive and efficient,” Dvoracek says.

“The world is evolving faster than it ever has. With a smart and dedicated TTG and UniSA team, we will continue to maintain a heightened level of curiosity and focus on how we improve technology capability to drive sustainability in transport,” he says.

Assoc Prof Pudney is currently investigating how to better co-ordinate train schedules to control the electricity demand on a grid, working with France’s state-owned national railway company SNCF on this project.

“The goal is to reduce the demand for electricity during peak periods so that France and other countries don’t have to build a new coal-fired power stations to power their trains.

“As fossil fuels become more expensive and we move into a carbon-constrained world, it’s more important than ever to make trains more energy efficient. We are at the stage now where you can’t just build more trains and more tracks. We just need to hone the technology to increase efficiency and reduce emissions.”

Energymiser is now being deployed or has been trialled on trains across the UK, Belgium, France, Spain, Germany, China, India, Australia, New Zealand, and Africa. It is used on some of the world’s longest and heaviest freight trains (weighing 22,000 tonnes and stretching 2.5 kilometres) as well as TGV trains reaching speeds of 320 km/h.

The software is saving rail companies up to 20 per cent of their energy costs. Arriva Trains in Wales, for example, reported saving 750,000 litres of fuel on its 125-train fleet in a 12-month period, and Australian rail operators are clawing back an average of $2 million a year.

Assoc Prof Pudney says the UK has also reported fewer incidents where train drivers overshoot stations, thanks to Energymiser’s advice system.

“It’s been really rewarding to work on a project continuously for the last quarter of a century, overcoming a never-ending stream of interesting challenges. The next phase of our research will focus on how we match our energy use to the available supply of renewables. It’s going to be an exciting time,” he says.

TTG founder Dale Coleman described Modaxo as an “ideal fit” for TTG, adding strength, experience, passion and diversity to the research partnership with UniSA.

“Thanks to the expertise of UniSA researchers, including Professor Phil Howlett and Professor Peter Pudney – and formerly Professor Ian Milroy – TTG has been able to build a global business and be recognised as a world leader in its field,” Coleman says.

A video explaining the Energymiser app can be viewed at: https://bit.ly/3bOD56p

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