Sydney Trains – Electronic Rail Lubricator Project

1. Summary of the project, product, framework

Sydney Trains developed a business case for upgrading all existing mechanical rail lubricators with highly efficient modern electronic rail lubricators. The project replaces the existing network of 428 mechanic lubricators with 119 new electronic units, improve lifecycle cost, asset performance, safety and environmental benefits. The new electronic lubricator units employ remote health monitoring capability which will enable a condition based maintenance regime (previously fixed time scheduled) and enable fundamental changes to rail lubricator maintenance practices to improve staff and rail corridor safety.

2. Description of project or framework addressing the assessment criteria

Rail lubrication is a standard practice world-wide to manage the friction contact between a train wheel flange and steel rail. Lubrication is provided on curved tracks where there is the highest friction and lateral forces.

Effective lubrication is required to manage and minimise the wear and tear of the rail steel and train wheels. Sufficient lubrication is also required for the management of environmental factors such as rail squeal noise.

The Sydney metropolitan heavy rail network has traditionally utilised wayside mechanical rail lubricators (Figure 1). The system utilises a track side reservoir and is connected to a mechanical applicator on the rail. A pumping action is triggered for every wheel that transverses through the applicator. The lack of control on lubricant application typically leads to inefficient rail lubrication and over supply of grease around the lubricator site (negative environmental impact).

In in 2014 and 2015, Sydney Trains carried out a proof of concept (best practice) trial involving a hi-technology wayside lubrication system, to support of the development of the first rail lubrication standard. The trial found that adoption of a high-technology electronic lubricator (Figure 2) would bring significant lifecycle benefits (improved and reliable rail lubrication) and environmental and safety benefits.

In 2016, a business case was approved for the network-wide replacement of the existing mechanical lubricators. The network-wide replacement would reduce the total number of lubricators by 74%, whilst improving overall rail lubrication performance to 100% compliance with the new rail lubrication standard.

The selected product and rail lubricant combination has been type approved with electronic controls (Figure 3) and a remote performance monitoring system (Figure 4). The units are powered by solar energy and have a higher storage capacity (360kg compared to 30kg) compared with previous mechanical units.

  • 2.1 Use of Best Practice Asset Management Principles

2.1 Use of Best Practice Asset Management Principles

The Electronic lubricator project and business case was driven and designed in full alignment with Sydney Trains’ Asset Management Objectives (refer Figure 5).

  • Efficiency – AM2, AM3, AM4, AM25, AM5
  • Asset – AM14, AM9
  • Safety & Risk – AM11
  • Compliance – AM17

Sydney Trains rail management strategy (in the Sydney Trains Asset Management Plan) was the driving force behind the improvement of network rail lubrication. This project is aligned to key business objectives including:

  • Limiting maintenance crews’ exposure to the ‘danger zone’
  • General reduction of maintenance work in the rail corridor
  • Financially sustainability
  • Efficiency in the management of the asset lifecycle
  • Compliance to standards and legislative requirements

2.2 Degree of originality and ingenuity of solution

As a part of this project, Sydney Trains identified an opportunity to change and optimise the existing maintenance model for rail lubricator assets. Sydney Trains thoroughly investigated in-house and outsourced maintenance models including the in-house dedicated lubricator maintenance team to improve efficiency and reduce cost of lubricator maintenance.

A contract combining design, construct and through life support/maintenance was established, representing a novel approach for lower value assets whilst maintaining concept and synergy. The bundling of a performance based maintenance contract intrinsically provided motivation for the supplier to issue the most optimised lifecycle cost proposal, balancing CAPEX investment and ongoing OPEX maintenance costs.

2.3 Program and project management

This project implementation spans 18 months with carefully informed milestones designed to minimise the operational maintenance risks (old and new systems in place concurrently). The scope of the project considers the design, construction and change management implementation aspects of the new electronic lubrication system.

The project management team has considered:

  • Technical change management requirements (new technology and processes impacting technical maintenance plans)
  • People change management requirements (by way of training for frontline staff and an outsourced maintenance model)
  • Extensive stakeholder consultation across multiple business directorates (including operations delivery and train crewing)

2.4 Benefit/Value of the project or service to the community or organisation

In line with best practice, the project will provide optimised rail lubrication to the Sydney Trains network. The optimised lubrication design will be fully compliant with the new Standard and reduce the asset requirements from 428 to 119 electronic units.

The project improves rail lubrication performance through decreasing rail and wheel assets (application of lubricator mitigating excessive wear and tear), reducing the re-filling requirements (increased storage capacity), increasing the longevity of the assets, improving safety (less staff required in the rail corridor) and reducing maintenance costs (reduced intervention required) across the Sydney Trains network.

The onboard system enables monitoring and trending of parameters including lubricant level and battery performance. Trending will enable condition based maintenance such as re-fueling and predictive battery replacement.

Safety benefits

All lubrication units are mandated to be installed outside of the ‘danger zone’ (area within the rail corridor in close proximity to train operation). The positioning of the lubricator units enables safer maintenance activities by mitigating staff exposure to the ‘danger zone’ and reducing potential service disruption to customers.

The remote controlling ability further supports the Sydney Trains’ ‘danger zone’ reduction goals as the lubricator can be remotely switched on or off. Switching on and off lubricators is a common requirement to support trackwork activities (such as ultrasonic testing for internal rail flaws). Traditionally, this activity would require staff to enter the rail corridor and physically switch on and off the lubricators.

The reduction in staff in the ‘danger zone’ and in the general rail corridor, along with condition monitoring capability, will improve the availability of the network by reducing the need for both planned and unplanned maintenance. This will support the continuing requirement of improving on time running and customer satisfaction.

The elimination of over application of lubricant, will also improve wheel rail adhesion reducing safety risks (e.g. SPADs (Signals Passed at Danger)).

Environmental benefits

The electronic controls can precisely control the volume of lubricant and frequency application by fine adjustments to pump time duration and frequency of application based on wheels passed. The fine control will enable the optimal level of product to the applied, minimising ‘over greasing’ (where an excessive level of grease contaminates the track structure).

This is a common issue with the old mechanical systems (basic control over volume of lubricants being applied). The optimised pump frequency and duration will reduce wastage of lubricants and improve environmental impacts (keeping the lubricator locations ‘clean’).

The optimised rail lubrication will also improve noise impacts from freight and passenger traffic. In locations of tight curves, the electronic lubricators may provide a noise reduction factor of up to 5db.  

The project is adopting an environmentally conscious disposable strategy of the old mechanical lubricator units. The old units will have hydro-carbon based lubricant removed responsibility, followed by units being re-used (other rail networks) or recycled. 

The use of solar power eliminates the need to connect the systems into the electrical network.

  • Opinion as to specific contribution made by the nominated individual / team / organisation

3. Opinion as to specific contribution made by the nominated individual / team / organisation

A lifecycle cost model and cost benefit analysis was completed to support the business case for a network-wide replacement of existing mechanical lubricators. Below is a list of factors the team considered in the evaluation to promote endorsement:

  • Capital expenditure
  • Maintenance and operating expenditure
  • Avoided track capital and maintenance costs
  • Avoided wheel capital and maintenance costs
  • Improvements in operational performance including reduction in fuel burn and electrify
  • Reduction in noise
  • Reduction in emissions externalities
  • Improvements in network safety

The capital investment business case was approved based on the positive financial and economical outcomes along with strong alignment to Sydney Trains asset management objectives.

  • General comments

The electronic rail lubrication project will bring a generational change in rail lubricator technology, maintenance and processes to Sydney Trains. The project will bring best practice management of rail lubrication with significant benefits in terms of lifecycle cost, performance, safety and the environment.

Figure 1 – Old mechanical wayside rail lubricator units with 30kg storage capacity
Figure 2 – Electronic wayside rail lubricator unit installed by the project with 360kg storage capacity
Figure 3 – Electronic control unit with remote monitoring feature
Figure 4 – Remote performance management – current lubricant level and consumption

Figure 5 – alignment to asset management objectives

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