New iPad software keeps trains on time

Dr Peter Pudney holds an iPad featuring Energymiser software. SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

UniSA researchers have developed a train driver advice system that runs from an iPad, helping trains stay on time and reducing their energy use and carbon emissions by up to 20 per cent.

Thirty years in the making, the Energymiser system was invented by researchers at UniSA’s School of Information Technology and Mathematical Sciences and the latest version of the system – an iPad app – has recently been trialled in Europe.

Senior Research Fellow Dr Peter Pudney says the trials build on the success of earlier versions of the Energymiser system, which is already being used by trains in Australia and overseas.

“Having successfully trialled Energymiser in France on the 320km/h TGV high-speed train, the French national rail operator SNCF is now moving to the second phase of the project to roll the system out across their 1500 TGV drivers,” Dr Pudney says.

“Working with SNCF, we integrated our driving advice software onto their iPads. Each SNCF train driver has an iPad that shows the route and timetable information as they are driving.

“Our software calculates how a train should be driven in order to ensure that the train arrives at each timing point on time, and uses as little energy as possible.”

The system uses GPS to monitor the progress of a train journey, and continually calculates the most efficient way to complete the journey taking into account track gradients, speed limits, power limits and the timetable. It then advises the driver when to apply power, when to maintain speed, when to coast and when to brake, as well as displaying real-time information about the route and journey.

It is currently used by railways around the world on a variety of trains, including intermodal freight trains and coal trains in Australia, coal trains in New Zealand, and high-speed passenger trains in the UK. It works on diesel, diesel-electric and electric trains.

Dr Pudney says recent trials in the United Kingdom have also illustrated the system’s ability to reduce congestion on rail networks.

“We recently conducted trials in the UK that demonstrated that we can send updated timetables to trains in real time in order to smooth the flow of trains through busy junctions,” he says.

“We are also working with train manufacturers to develop systems that are built into the trains and can interact directly with the traction control systems to drive the train automatically – this means that the system will provide a cruise control option for trains, which improves efficiency and is better for the environment.”