The story of running the train network in NSW is one of constant invention, innovation and change, always with the goal of moving more customers more reliably and more safely. As we look forward to the opening of the high-tech Rail Operations Centre next year, we uncover the milestones that have taken running our railways from levers to leading edge.
NSW’s first public rail line opened on 26 September 1855. Running just 22km from Sydney to Parramatta with only four stations, four locomotives and six services each weekday, keeping track of the trains was a fairly straightforward affair.
Over the next 50 years the rail network expanded dramatically. By the early 1900s it was possible to travel by train as far as Bathurst in the west, Moree, Tenterfield and on to the Queensland border in the north, and to Nowra and Albury in the south.
Running the growing railways relied on hundreds of people known as signallers at stations and sidings or in small signal boxes spread across the remotest parts of the network.
Everything was manual. Signallers used paper timetables, visual checks and train register books, and drew on track diagrams to monitor and log train movements, and pulled large manual levers to operate the signals. While they could update each other by phone, they only had visibility of their own patch and there was no centralised control centre. Signallers gave updates to train controllers, who were responsible for making decisions on how to manage delays and disruptions on the network.
Moving to the modern age
Over the first half of the 20th century, electrification arrived and illuminated track diagrams replaced old paper-based systems, and push-button control panels replaced manual levers.
It became possible to see the bigger picture of the railway network and control hundreds of signals from a single location. These advances came together at what was affectionately called the Sydney Signal Box, which opened in 1979. Although it was dubbed ‘malfunction junction’ in its early days, the box and its team quickly became the heart of the network – reliably guiding up to 4,000 passengers and freight and steam train movements every day.
The opening of the Rail Management Centre in 2002 saw closer coordination between train control and signalling, and the centralisation of other activities like train maintenance, and security and incident responses to keep things running smoothly.
Fast forward to now and we’re moving to a fully digital railway with the ongoing transition from old manual and analogue systems to the digital Advanced Train Running Information Control System, known among our people at Sydney Trains and NSW TrainLink as ATRICS.
ATRICS provides visibility of the entire network via digital displays and allows signals, points and other equipment to be operated at the click of a mouse. More importantly, it improves on-time running, is safer and provides a centralised source ofinformation on train movements.
Communication between drivers, controllers, signallers, guards and track workers across NSW has also gone digital, with the rollout of digital train radio. It’s improved safety by eliminating the drop outs that were common with the analogue radio system.
Ready to ROC
The most dramatic transformation of how we manage the railways is almost here, with the new Rail Operations Centre (ROC) set to open at Green Square early next year.
In what will be an historic first for Australia, the facility will take network control to a new level – bringing everyone that manages trains or deals with customer decisions together for the first time in a single, purpose-built, 24/7, high-tech control centre.
We’ll be able to manage more trains more effectively to provide faster, safer and more reliable journeys and better information for customers. When incidents happen, key people will be notified instantly, communication will be easy and our response will be coordinated so our customers are back on their way as soon as possible.