Oslo- based Wavetrain Systems aims to improve safety at railway level crossings across the globe and looks to more business down under.
Oslo-based Wavetrain Systems aims to improve safety at railway level crossings across the globe.
After finding success in Europe, the company decided to spread its wings in 2015 pulling into Australia.
Level crossings represent the single biggest risk factor for global railway authorities. These areas where roads and railway tracks intersect are the location for a quarter of all train accidents, according to the European Railway Agency. Wavetrain Systems estimates there are 1,250 accidents and approximately 330 casualties in Europe each year connected to level crossings.
Recognising the need to reduce danger in this area, Wavetrain Systems outsourced a market analysis to confirm if there was an appetite for an innovative and cost-effective solution to increase safety at railway level crossings on the global level. Mr Mark Foster, who assisted with the survey and now works as the Asia Pacific Country Manager at Wavetrain Systems, notes the answer was a resounding yes.
A group of scientists at the Norwegian Seismic Array ( NORSAR) originally developed the core technology that would become the key component of Wavetrain Systems functionality. The innovation makes it possible to detect trains directly at level crossings by using acoustics. All of these components are normally located within 15 metres of the site which is different from traditional setups where the system is much further away from the crossing.
These acoustic sensors are mounted on the rails and listen for distinct sound waves generated by approaching trains. The digital data is analysed by a nearby control unit, which activates the customer’s preferred warning devices, such as gates and flashing lights, at the appropriate time. The company’s Level Crossing Warning System is an end-toend SIL 2 certified product that uses SIL 4 certified acoustic sensors.
Despite its high-tech nature, the inspiration of Wavetrain Systems is actually quite simple. In an interview with Science X, NORSAR Chairman of the Board, Anders Dahle, explained, “We liken Wavetrain Systems to the Native American practice of putting one’s ear to the ground. Our system is literally on the track, listening for trains.”
Mr Foster says the Wavetrain Systems solution can significantly reduce installation and life cycle costs while retaining the required quality and security at the crossing. This aspect is appealing to railway authorities worldwide but it is not the only thing the technology can help with.
“Our technology not only detects trains acoustically, but we can ‘hear’ anomalies in the rails themselves. So we can warn of pending rail breakages or other issues,” he points out.
Southern Express Wavetrain Systems tabbed Mr Foster to lead its Australian entity in 2015 based on the need of the market there. Cooperative Research Centre ( CRC) for Rail Innovation found there were more than 725 million annual customer journeys and 720 million tonnes of freight moved across Australia via rail. Despite rail’s high usage in the country, there is room for safety improvements across the board.
“There are circa 23,000 passive level crossings in Australia alone that could benefit from a system to detect trains and activate warning lights and boom gates,” Mr Foster states. “These can all be upgraded to active crossings and this is why Wavetrain Systems felt the Australian market would welcome our technology.”
One key decision for Wavetrain Systems was the establishment of an
Australian arm as opposed to another type of arrangement. While being a Norwegian-based company doesn’t help or hurt Wavetrain Systems in Foster’s view, being a registered entity allows the firm to provide clients with greater peace of mind.
“I have had to explain in our instance that we are working with the British rail business, from our Oslo headquarters, on a day to day basis. This gives my local base comfort,” Mr Foster says. “It does help if a company has a local registered entity in the region. Supplier accreditation does take local content rules seriously.”
Australia also serves as an ideal launching pad for Wavetrain Systems’ expansion efforts in Asia. The company is already in talks with several countries and remains optimistic that it will be able to have a regional presence in the near future.
“We are actively engaged with the rail authorities in China, Taiwan, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and Japan. We are working on solutions for them surrounding level crossing protection and asset monitoring also,” Mr Foster details.
In Southeast Asia, rail safety isn’t necessarily seen as a priority. Even as work begins on high-speed rail links between the region and China, level crossings on current lines in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam are quite basic with some relying on manual gates operated by onduty guards. Mr Foster acknowledges changing current infrastructure may not be feasible.
“It is difficult to get the authorities in Southeast Asia to act on level crossing safety generally. Our progression in that region will ultimately be asset monitoring for future rail projects,” Mr Foster explains.
Looking towards the coming years, Wavetrain Systems has several goals it hopes to accomplish in addition to regional expansion that will help it improve business on multiple levels.
“In the short term, we want to achieve product type approvals which are a requirement for safety critical systems in Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom and France. Then our system can be considered in rail project tenders without further system evaluation,” Mr Foster notes. “In the long term, we want to find success in Southeast Asia, USA and Europe. Manufacture our systems under license in the regions we are active and adding cost benefit to our end users.” From Norway to Australia
The path from Norway to Australia isn’t one travelled by many Norwegian businesses. For whatever reason, domestic firms do not target the land down under despite a strong economy and high spending power. There are quite a few challenges for Norwegian companies thinking about the expansion and the sheer size of the country can be overwhelming.
“Australia is a vast land and servicing all the states is expensive. There can be a lot of travel. This must be a consideration in start-up estimations and budgets,” Mr Foster describes. “You also need to secure a relationship with a freight carrier that gives you all the options, such as good freight rates for air and sea, consolidated hub options out of Europe, local customs broking and local bond storage options.”
And, of course, you have the usual considerations such as time zones, insurance, human resources and office space. Talent is another aspect that must be planned for. Mr Foster had experience with Wavetrain Systems and previously worked with a Europeanbased rail business allowing for a smooth transition. Most businesses won’t be as fortunate.
That being said, there are a number of things Norwegian businesses in Australia can do for support. The local business community may be small, but it can still be quite powerful. There is no better place to start than the Norwegian Australian Chamber of Commerce.
“Make contact with your local Norwegian Australian Chamber of Commerce. My early contact and ongoing involvement led to numerous networking opportunities,” Mr Foster proclaims. “The relationship also led to various opportunities to have the Norwegian Ambassador perform joint visits to potential clients. The support of the Embassy was invaluable and very well received in our meetings.”
Additionally, Mr Foster urges those companies either in Australia or considering an expansion to engage with other Norwegian corporates already there. These conversations can often reveal useful strategies and other contacts to further your growth in the country.
As an Australian, working with Wavetrain Systems has provided Mr Foster with a first-hand look of the Norwegian culture and work environment and it has made an impression on him.
“I really envy the Norwegian culture in that when my colleagues are on leave or have left work for the day, they generally do shut-off, relax and wind-down. I can attest to the fact that this does create a healthier work environment overall, with well-rested and re-invigorated staff. This is something we Aussies could learn from,” Mr Foster concludes.
Above left: Wavetrain sensors being installed along railroad tracks. Above: The Wavetrain Systems Level Crossing Controller in action.