The future of rail is closer than you think

Australia transports 800 million tonnes of iron ore per year on the ballast track system, which uses a fundamental design that has been around for over 200 years. 

 

It’s a complex system with many components that are subject to multiple failure modes and a high maintenance burden.  

With the ever-increasing demand for higher levels of safety and increased utilisation from both the heavy haul and passenger rail infrastructure within Australia, this has led to the development of the Embedded Rail Technology (ERT) system. 

ERT will enable a truly 24/7 rail network system. It’s simple: rail built with fewer pieces requires less maintenance. Less maintenance means less downtime. Less downtime means more trains on tracks. And that means a safer, more reliable and cost-effective network.

ERT offers up to 95 per cent fewer elements as it only requires approximately four elements per metre, compared to traditional rail systems, which require between 50 and 90 elements. 

A slipform or pre-cast concrete base with an embedded rectangular block rail removes the need for all the components used in fastening and anchoring a traditional rail.

Fewer elements means fewer things that can fail. Apart from safer rail, this means less maintenance is required. The only remaining requirement is to replace rails when they wear out. Thanks to ERT’s unique and more robust rail profile, the need for replacement is less frequent.

This reduction in maintenance requirements provides true 24/7 uptime, which enables more goods and passengers to be transported each day. With higher tonnage and higher speeds, uptime becomes even more valuable.

ERT is a reliable and safe track solution – a proven efficient system that offers best value and comes with a host of other benefits. So, why hasn’t ERT been widely adopted yet?

A research partnership funded by a Corporate Research Centres Projects (CRC-P) grant from the Federal Government has been created to investigate ways to overcome some of the barriers that prevent wide-scale adoption of the ERT system across Australia.

Left: Traditional rail systems have multiple components.
Right: ERT is a more simplified system, with only four components per square metre.

 

The partnership, led by Downer and including ERT Ltd, Australian Government, University of Wollongong, University of Technology Sydney and Antoun Civil, has been formed to combine specialist knowledge in ERT, slipform concreting, engineering, material and robotics and will focus on developing solutions to increase the efficiency and reduce the time of installation of ERT.

With the research phase completed in December 2020, the research team is now focused on exploring and evolving installation and construction solutions by December 2021, and resolving special components, maintenance and testing by June 2022.