Throwback Thursday – Workin’ on the Järnväg

Today’s post is not throwing back too far, only to mid April, when I had the pleasure of getting my rail geek on in Northern Sweden, as part of my 7-week Grand Tour of the UK and Nordic countries.

Ever since I had seen a video on the underground automatic trains at LKAB’s Kiruna mine, I have wanted to visit to see them for myself.

This week, my team of rail fairy godfathers – the exceptionally well-connected Jonesy and the incredibly obliging guys at the Swedish trade commission – made my Swedish rail dreams come true!

My first excursion was a train cab ride on an iron ore train from Kiruna, in Northern Sweden, to the Norwegian port in Narvik.  Apparently, this opportunity is only offered to about 10 people a year, and they are usually important foreign dignitaries.  (I told you all I was a princess!)

I travelled with a Norwegian driver who wasn’t accustomed to talking about train handling and supervision equipment in English, but he did an excellent job of explaining with gestures and pointing out the best parts in the journey for photo opportunities.

One of most exciting things pointed out to me was a majestic, white reindeer galloping along the corridor.  I got a great photo of him… just before we ran him over.

I was very pleased to discover that the cabins are fully heated.  This line is run as driver only with supervision by a system called ATC, which has a similar level of supervision to Westec ATP in that a violation in speed initiates an brake intervention.   (This line will be the next line which Trafikverket will fit with ETCS, but it’s not underway quite yet.)  Vigilance is achieved via a half-on-half-off dead man’s pedal.

The Swedish aspects are reminiscent of those in NSW with a something over something setup indicating the current signal and the next one.  The mostly still yellow balises on the track provide location and signal information to the onboard equipment.  Trackside equipment is stored in half width locs painted red with the Falun mine style iron ore paint (to match the rest of the buildings in Sweden).  There are HBDs on the track the same as what one would find in Queensland but there were also signals interlocked with avalanche detectors on the Norwegian section of the track.  The landscape was certainly different to my last journey on a commodity train in the Hunter Valley.  I especially enjoyed the smell of woodfires which greeted us at many of the passenger stations and was fascinated by the “snow galleries”, above ground tunnels with glass windows designed to allow prevent snow fall and avalanches from affecting operations.


The train we were travelling in was a standard configuration, 746m long and 8454 tonnes.  The route has a long of curves and hills with the gradients and level above sea level signposted next to the track.  The driver explained how to feel when the train was stretching as we went up hill (the stretch is about 6m) and very soon I could tell from the train vibrations whether it was a positive or negative gradient.  Running brake testing is completed before the downhill slope is reached.  The driver prefaced this with, “If it don’t work, we jump.”  Luckily, we didn’t have to jump.

It wasn’t a particularly cold or snowy day, but there was a little snow fall.  In order to ensure that snow on the brakes doesn’t turn to ice, the brakes have to be used a little every 10 minutes.  The driver showed me a photo of what the train looked like on a bad day.


The trip took just over 2 hours, travelling 60km/h in Sweden and 50km/h past the Norwegian border.  At the border there are national flags painted in the rail tunnel, to signify the crossing, but if you blink, you’ll miss them.

The ore is unloaded quite quickly via six openings into a massive underground silo.  This was where I left the LKAB train to do a little sight seeing in Narvik.

Unfortunately, Narvik wasn’t as exciting a place as I thought it was going to be, although I did love the view of the houses overlooking the fjord (enough to paint it).  I went to two different shopping centres, took a few photos with statues and visited the very sombre war memorial museum.

I caught a passenger train back to Kiruna in the afternoon.

When I arrived, I had lost the internet connection on my phone so I trudged around in the snow for about 40 minutes until I saw buildings I recognised and bought myself a Risifruiti (my favourite Swedish kid’s snack) to celebrate my navigation success.

The next morning, I arrived back at LKAB for my underground tour, where I was assigned a personal tour guide for the day!

After getting kitted up, we drove down to the visitor centre at 540m, which was the original main level.  This was the most beautiful underground space I’d ever seen.  There were garden beds of iron ore pellets and blue lit rock walls.

I was ushered into an auditorium for a private viewing of a very glossy film about the mine.

Here’s what I learnt about the mine:

  • There are approximately 2000 employees with about 500 on shift at any time
  • RFID tags automatically keep track of employees’ movements throughout the mine
  • LKAB produces 90% of Europe’s iron ore
  • The mining method used is sub level caving, which leaves no voids with a very stable foot wall
  • The mine is as deep as six Eiffel Towers
  • Approximately 100,000 tonnes are mined each day
  • The iron ore is shipped in pellets, including “green” magnetite pellets which oxidise to haematite during combustion, decreasing the energy required for processing
  • The ore body extends under the town and the town will be moved a second time, to the east, when the mine extends too far under the town
  • The two mountains on LKAB’s symbol represent Kiruna and Malmbeget (LKAB’s other mine)
  • LKAB have rock bolts with wifi transmitters so that they can sense rock stability information
  • This wasn’t from the film but until 1978 it was actually illegal for women to work in Swedish mines
We spent a little time on the visitor centre level, looking at displays, especially one showing the train I travelled on the previous day, featuring the 1000th wagon, which is painted bright yellow.
A large contingent of tourists arrived, so we drove down to the cafe level at about 1300m, which had the vibe of an IKEA cafeteria.
After lunch, I had the opportunity to see the underground, driverless trains dumping ore into a pass below.  The whole base of the wagon falls away as opposed to merely having doors at the base open.  The trains’ location is determined by balise and they are automatic, although can be manually overridden, especially in the case of a “stalemate”.  I was quite excited and was teased by my tour guide for my enthusiasm.
After seeing a few more mining machines in the underground workshop, we drove to the surface and admired the beautiful view.  Then, we visited the control centre where the trains (and everything else) are monitored.
The last stop of the day was to see the rollingstock workshop, which was housed in a old red brick round house.  This wasn’t just a maintenance facility but also where LKAB make their own (and others’) wagons.

In the evening, I caught the train south east from Kiruna to Lulea, which was the port city for the second LKAB mine.  After a brisk walk in the fresh evening air, I arrived at my hotel, just before the restaurant kitchen closed for the night.

In the morning, I was met by Professor P-O, the rail guru of Sweden.  He took me to visit Trafikverket, the rail and road infrastructure owner of Sweden, where I had the opportunity to ask the rail asset owner about their network, its upgrades and issues.

Then we visited the university, where the rail centre of excellence is located.  I met some researchers who are working on cloud-based asset management, including bearings that transmit their state wirelessly and onboard infrared cameras (which I tested out).

P-O isn’t just a rail expert, he also is a brilliant tour guide.  We had lunch at a mountain top restaurant, visited the port, saw Facebook’s European data house, went to visit the world heritage Gammelstad village of “church houses” with the church built of 80 different kinds of rock, and had princess cake at a cafe untouched by the passage of time.

This marked the end of my rail-geek adventures and I flew back to Stockholm that evening, for some Falun sausage pasta (al la Marcus), Swedish hockey ice hockey semi-finals and Toby snuggles.


If you’d like to read about more (less engineering) Grand Tour adventures, you can at my travel blog, Yvette on Tour.



Throwback Thursday – City of Ängelholm


In 2013, I attended the IRSE International Convention, which was mostly in Sweden. This was probably my favourite day of the convention – tunnels, train museum exhibits and a rail trip amongst picturesque countryside – what more could any signalling lady need!

This morning, we took a chartered train north to Ängelholm. As soon as the train pulled up to the platform, a sea of cameras pointed towards it to capture the very special occasion for every IRSE member’s personal scrapbook, slideshow or blog:


Ängelholm was about an hour train ride away so we took in the scenery throughout the journey:


After arriving in Ängelholm (station below), we were given the opportunity to visit the Swedish Railway Training Centre where you seem to be able to learn anything about railway track, power, signalling and telecommunications, and also how to drive trains.

They also had a room full of interlockings connected to a model railway. As awesome as this was, it actually wasn’t the most impressive model railway of the day.

Part of the same complex as the training centre was the Swedish Railway Museum, which had some intricate exhibits, like this one showcasing a locomotive competition from the 1800s:


My favourite attraction was an interactive film projected onto a screen with a model railway below which provided commentary about the historical varieties of trains that had been used on the Swedish network while operating a model of that particular type of train through the model network. I absolutely loved it and I think I need to get one for my office.


Another awesome attraction was a simulator with a moving floor and screen that demonstrated the experience of travelling in different classes of historical train. We certainly got our train geek on today!


20130919-005520.jpg I took a photo of that semaphore display above because it reminded me of the Help! cover done by the Beatles.

After learning what AloeVera Drycken tastes like after mistaking it for a plain bottle of water (note that it not only has a taste like moisturiser and lychees but a texture like uneven bubble tea), we visited the Hallandsås Tunnel project office and watched some presentations about the breakthrough of the main tunnels, had a short walk to view the tunnel entrance and then posed for some photos.



This is an interesting project with a tumultuous history relating to the failure of the original tunnelling method selected and some other sorts of political stuff.  (Read more here). I think the most interesting feature of the tunnel was the requirement to provide wifi to passengers during their journey despite the quite limited time they would spend in the tunnel.

We were allocated some free time before dinner so we had a wander around the town centre.

We found the obligatory H&M store and then settled into a pub to escape the wind. I tried a few cocktails, one of which bore a striking resemblance to metho…


We had a lovely traditional dinner and tried some awful shots which tasted as if you had already vomited as soon as you drank them (unlike normal shots where there is a delay between the consumption and the taste of spew).

Our chartered train only just arrived back in town and it is way past my bedtime so I’m calling it a night.

Bridging the Gap


Happy Throwback Thursday on Friday! Unfortunately I had to head south to London at very short notice so the past 36 hours have flown by in a haze of suits, demo’s, meetings, awful London hotel rooms and cocktails, and hence Throwback Thursday is running a little late. This week we’re heading to Florence and looking at the Duomo, featuring Brunelleschi’s dome. Warning: engineering porn featured ahead.


So here’s an old post that I never published last year!! Completely forgot that I hadn’t published any of my Italian blogs last year…. Could be something to get you, and me!, through the autumn and winter.  So seems like a plan to publish them now and then and revel in the December sun and an Italian holiday or two!

Florence….. It really was a machine!

I can’t stress enough that you should really put in the effort and climb both the Duomo and the adjacent Bell Tower.  The Bell Tower obviously gives you a view of the Duomo that cannot be beaten, and the view from the Duomo is second to none…. Except maybe that of the Bell Tower 😛  Engineer Sarah was very, very excited to be seeing the Duomo with it’s dome engineered by Brunelleschi and completed in 1436 which was until the development of modern building materials…

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Throwback Thursday -Swedish Signals, Tunnels and Meatballs


In 2013, I was lucky enough to win a bursary to attend the IRSE International Convention in Sweden and Denmark.  Applying for scholarships, bursaries and free spots at conventions/conferences/meetings is a brilliant way to travel without having to spend your boss’s training budget or your own cash and I would highly recommend it to your all!

This was the write up for the first day of the convention.  And one of my very first blog posts!


VARNING: This post contains content that may bore some readers who haven’t yet embraced the awesomeness of railway signalling…

Today, I was tasked with writing up the day’s events for the IRSE magazine. I took my assignment seriously and took lots of notes (which I am trying to transcribe now – I can’t remember the last time I wrote something other than my signature and the date) and took lots of photographs of items of interest.

Last night, we were given detailed instructions for which door of the conference centre to enter by (that is, not the one that says St Gertrude’s Conference Centre, in Swedish, the one that says something else entirely irrelevant).


I followed these instructions and was rewarded with a lovely little courtyard and then, the opening address for the convention.


I was allocated to group A1 (the best group, obviously) which meant that our first presentation of the day was from the Operative Chef (a real Swedish chef!) of Trafikverket, who unfortunately was just the equivalent of a COO and not anything to do with the culinary arts. His presentation spoke about how Trafikverket has 94,400km of road and 11,900km of railway monitored by 4 road traffic control centres and 8 rail traffic control centres. One of the things that stood out was the Swedish railway principle that means that trains that depart and travel according to their timetable take precedence where their timetable is threatened by an already late-running train.

After this presentation, we walked to the Malmö Control Centre to see the real thing:


The control centre was going through a refurbishment so a lot of it was still under construction. Looking at the offices that had already been done, and the lime feature walls that had been painted in the works in progress, it’s going to be a beautiful, inspiring space, quite different to any other control centres I’ve seen before. We wound through the construction warren, being distracted by promising signs (below) and were instructed to wait in a room, “make yourselves at home and take off your clothes”!


We were given the opportunity to look at the train controllers through some glass and had an explanation of the roles of the staff who sit in the control room. The most noticeable difference from the Mayne Control Centre is that everyone looks very happy and relaxed and casual, in their bright coloured hoodies and jeans, though I think that this might be a general Scandinavian quality, not just limited to train control staff.20130917-225952.jpg

We then headed down a spiral staircase to the “cellar” where all the interlockings are kept. Our tour guide even admitted that this wasn’t best place to keep them as it had flooded before – they still keep photos as a reminder:


We posed for some photos with the racks with flashing lights and received an explanation of the interlockings and their cloud connection. The most fascinating thing that I saw was a hardware independent interlocking which had a Red Hat Linux platform.




We then returned to the hotel for a presentation about the Malmö City Tunnel Project. Malmö was originally the station at the end of a line that travelled through some residential areas. The tunnel project allowed a new alternative route to be created underground, adding some additional stations as well. The underlying principle of the underground tunnel option was that travelling underground must be as safe as travelling in the open air. To achieve this, there are 5 emergency exits on the line and for the whole length of the tunnel, there is a small platform that allows passengers to detrain at any point if there is an emergency. 100% of the tunnel is covered by cameras, applying the technology from a South African giraffe counting system to detect trespassers. We also discovered that the Swedish acronym that covers railway infrastructure equipment is “BEST”. How appropriate!

For lunch, we were served a traditional buffet, featuring the tastiest mushrooms I’ve ever eaten, in a rustic dining hall in the conference centre:

In the afternoon, we had more presentations from Trafikverket and Bombardier, revealing how Sweden has been a leader in the early adoption of a lot of modern signalling equipment. One interesting fact that I learnt the reason why the Swedish Railway Rules and Regulations were written in English. In 1856, the Köping Hult Railway imported British drivers and other staff because they wanted to use experienced people to make their railway a success in the beginning. I was also surprised by the protection breakdown for the level crossing in Sweden where 35% don’t even have passive protection. However, on the other end of the scale, their use of obstacle detectors with full booms has meant that there has never been a collision at a level crossing with this combination of protection.

This evening, after some initial confusion about the meeting place, which we sorted out by looking at my photos from yesterday, I met up with some of the other younger members for dinner. It was almost like being in a joke because I was with an Englishman, Irishman, Scotsman and a fellow Aussie…

20130917-232719.jpg (The Irishman was taking the photo.)
Dinner was incredible. Everything we ate was brilliant. I had carpaccio, Danish cider, Swedish meatballs and beautifully foamy hot chocolate.


I’m so glad I went out for dinner and got to have a gossip with like-minded signalling fans but it has meant that it’s now quite late and past my bedtime. To sleep, perchance to dream (about level crossing obstruction detectors)!


Originally posted here on 17 September 2013.

Throwback Thursday – The Great Debate


I was thinking about gender targets/quotas this week after a signalling colleague in the Hunter Region made me aware of ARTC’s exemption from the Anti-Discrimination Board of NSW which allows them to advertise, specifically, for female track workers:

ARTC has the same gender target, 30% women, as my own organisation, Aurizon.  Earlier this year, on International Women’s Day, the Diversity team at Aurizon organised a debate discussing this particular issue and like most interesting things that happen to me, I blogged about it.

Please enjoy the re-blog below!

Many of you didn’t have the pleasure of attending the inaugural Aurizon Great Debate at the annual Aurizon Women’s Conference, as I did, last Thursday, which means that you may have missed me opening the debate as the first speaker for the affirmative team arguing that gender targets don’t work.

Some of you may even be wondering what on earth one would say against gender targets, given that it is a truth universally acknowledged that gender targets improve gender diversity.

So, although I have definitely been convinced by the negative team (the winning team), the diversity team and our CEO & MD that my arguments are flawed, and I am definitely 110% in support of Aurizon’s suite of diversity initiatives (which include targets), I have included my speech text below as some food for thought:

Mr Chair, Ladies, and Gentlemen,

I have a dream that women will be treated as equal workplace contributors in terms of representation, capability and respect.

No… I have a dream that women will ride the wave of affirmative action to the top, with no man able to stand in their way.

No… I have a dream that women will dominate the top of the corporate ladder, digging their stilettos into the faces of the unfortunate men below them, smashing through the glass ceiling with the tattered remains of their self-dignity and toasting their success at the expense of everyone else’s misfortunes.

No!  That dream sounds more like a nightmare!

Mr Chair, Ladies and Gentlemen, the topic of our debate today is:

That gender diversity targets don’t work.  You can’t force equality

Let’s take a look at what this is really saying.  Allow me to define the topic.  There are five key words…

First of all, let’s examine gender…

We recognise that this can be complex social concept but for the purposes of this debate, we’re going with a really simple definition. Gender is the state of being a woman or a man.

Now, diversity…

Diversity is a reality created by individuals from a broad spectrum of demographic and philosophical differences, and, of course, it’s in our blood.

What about targets…

Some may have you believe that targets are very different to quotas, that quotas mean that we enforce hiring a particular number of women but targets are just a goal, just a noble dream.  But let’s be real, in practice, targets and quotas differ only in the way they are spelled.  When your CEO gets up in front of the world and declares that we are working towards a target, you don’t sit there and say to yourself, “Yeah, we’ll just see how we go with that”.  We know that this number is important, this number is measurable, this number is reportable and we become single-mindedly focused on getting this number.

Now, Force…

When you force something you take an action that is in opposition to the natural state of things, that is met with resistance or ambivalence.

Finally, what do we mean by equality?

We believe that equality is more than just having the same number of skirts as trousers on seats in an office, on a train or in a depot.  Equality encompasses all aspects of a worker’s contribution and workplace experience, particularly the way they are treated by their colleagues.  True equality is about so much more than just the numbers.

So wrapping up all of those definitions, we on the affirmative team have taken the topic to mean that:  You can’t impose a culture where women and men are fully accepted as equal workforce contributors by reserving “jobs for the girls”.

Mr Chair, Ladies and Gentlemen, we believe that when it comes to equality, targets don’t hit the mark.

As the first speaker for the affirmative team, I am going to demonstrate how targets don’t work at an organisational level.  Sarah Dearman, our first rate second speaker, will be telling you of the negative effects that gender targets inflict at an individual level.  And our fearless leader on the side of right, Scott Riedel, will sum up our case and leave you with no doubt in your minds that when it comes to equality, targets don’t hit the mark

So why do we even bother with diversity, other than because it’s the right thing to do?  We bother because we want our organisation to reap the benefits of a diverse workforce, celebrating the differences of individuals to become more than merely a sum of our parts.  But is enforcing gender targets going to deliver us to our desired destination?  Not likely.  Gender targets don’t hit the mark for Aurizon because they prevent us from hiring the best people for the job and they stifle advancements in cultural change.

First let’s examine how targets stop us hiring the best people.  Targets are inconsistent with a merit based system where people are judged on skills and talent rather than the number of legs on their 46th chromosome.  We go to a lot of trouble to get the best person for the job.  We recognise that by hiring the best people we will get the best business outcomes.  But if this is the case, why are we pursuing gender targets?  Why would we rob our decision makers of the right to pick the applicant who is the best fit for their teams?

In a 2014 study commissioned by leading business magazine, Forbes, it was found that when a job advertisement mentions that leadership positions have been earmarked for women, 25% of potential male applicants don’t even bother applying.  Perhaps that’s not surprising.  But this study also reports that 13% of female applicants react in the same negative way.  But, why would that be?  Because tokenism not only has a negative effect on those it disadvantages, but makes those it “helps” feel like frauds.  But I’ll leave that for Sarah to explain later.  So your gender targets are evaporating your pool of quality men and women.  And the pool of women was probably only a puddle to start with.  This doesn’t sound like the right start to recruit anyone competent, let alone that best person for the job.

Mr Chair, ladies and gentlemen, we’re not only missing the mark.  We’re shooting ourselves in the foot.

In a similar way, jumping on the gender target bandwagon is a sure-fire way to derail an organisation’s journey to cultural maturity.  Research tells us that successful businesses have more women at the top.  Deloitte, one of the big four professional services firms, has produced a report called the Gender Dividend.  This report states that the Fortune 500 companies who have the most women on their boards out-perform those with the least women on their boards by 53 percent.

So we hear this and all rush to add some token women in leadership roles.  But this is like drawing spots on yourself with a marker and expecting to get chicken pox.  Gender targets deal with the symptom, not the actual disease.  We shouldn’t be asking, “How do we get more women?” but, “Why don’t we already have more women?”

When a business has an inclusive culture, it attracts and retains a diverse group of people, including women.  Having a diverse group of people leads to balanced teams, open minds, more creative problem solving and new ideas.  New ideas lead to business improvements and measurable organisational success, and that’s just what Aurizon needs to be world class!

But enforcing gender targets short circuits the process by trying to get the outcome without putting in the hard work and ultimately, it distracts us from fostering a culture that self-sustains improvement and achievement.

Mr Chair, Ladies and Gentlemen, we’re not only missing the mark.  We’re aiming at the wrong bull’s eye.

I have a dream that women will be treated as equal workplace contributors.  But my dream will never come true if we force organisations to give up their right to hire quality people and if we distract them from fostering long-lasting cultural improvements.

When it comes to equality, targets miss the mark entirely.

And now after all that seriousness, some photos:

Me on stage, using theatrical tactics to distract from ridiculous arguments (according to the negative team)

Me on stage, using theatrical tactics to distract from ridiculous arguments (according to the negative team)

Getting ready by matching my nail polish to my UN Women ribbon

Getting ready by matching my nail polish to my UN Women ribbon

Commiseratory pork buns and wine with my debating team mates

Commiseratory pork buns and wine with my debating team mates

Making some well-dressed connections at the networking function

Making some well-dressed connections at the networking function

My colleague and I at the IWD Business Lunch the following day

My colleague and me at the IWD Business Lunch the following day

Happy International Women’s Day!

Oh, and also, any menfolk out there, sign up to this pledge: “a movement for gender equality that brings together one half of humanity in support of the other half of humanity, for the benefit of all”.

If you’re reading my blog, and/or know me, you’ve probably been supporting me and my ideas for years, so why not make it internet official?  Also, Hermione Granger says you should…

Originally pressed here: