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UniSA Develops Train Software App to Boost Efficiency and Safety

A University of South Australia researcher has designed a smart train driver advice software, trademarked as Energymiser. The software was developed by Associate Professor Peter Pudney and the Scheduling and Control Group. It led to the longest-running industry collaboration in UniSA’s history.

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.

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 the firm to a Toronto-based technology company that specialises in global public and private transportation software across the passenger and freight sectors.

The Managing Director of ANZ Rail at the firm said, “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.”

Assoc Prof Pudney is currently investigating how to better coordinate 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 new coal-fired power stations to power their trains, he noted. “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,” Assoc Prof Pudney stated.

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 12 months, 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.

The Founder of TTG said, “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.”

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