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Long-range rail communications to be enabled in Australia


Siemens and Denmark’s DAMM, a provider of the TETRA communication platform, have announced an agreement to combine the international train control standard ETCS with the long range radio communication system TETRA for rail operators in Australia.

The agreement will, for the first time, allow mining, freight and other entities to use long distance communication networks to control ETCS-enabled trains with communication towers installed at distances of 10 or more kilometres instead of the current typical requirement of five to seven kilometres.

The agreement stemmed from the fact that the standard communication protocol used in European railways (GSM-R) is more suited to small distances and high population densities. 

According to Siemens, ETCS is quickly becoming the “world standard” for main line train control. However in countries like Australia, the large distances can make this very expensive to deploy.  Combining ETCS with TETRA communications allows this interoperable standard to be deployed at a significantly reduced investment. 

Speaking on the partnership, Max Eichhorn, executive general manager of Siemens Mobility in Australia and New Zealand said, “Moving passengers and goods quickly, efficiently and safely is a daily challenge for most vendors. With each state mandating their own networks and no national framework, we wanted to introduce the most interoperable platform using ETCS that works anywhere in Australia.”

He also described the agreement as “particularly ingenious” as it leverages existing infrastructure and networks, without the need to invest more, and prepares Australian rail for future technological progresses.  

Providing voice and data for critical emergency communications services among others, TETRA is a European standard. It operates over frequencies in the 400MHz region and gets a greater range than GSM or LTE which are 1.8, 2+ GHz, though with lower bandwidth. 

TETRA’s popularity in the Australian mining sector has stemmed from the fact that DAMM’s systems are decentralised rather than centralised, making them more reliable for customers. Their systems are also more RF sensitive, requiring fewer towers. 

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