The CRC for Rail Innovation recognises the importance of investing in the future of collaborative research.

To date, the CRC has awarded 77 CRC Research Scholarships to PhD and Masters Candidates across our seven partner universities to enable post graduate students to carry out further research in topics that span all of our themes. Many of the student topics are aligned to our CRC projects.

To gain an appreciation of the breadth of this research, click on the names below to learn more.

Climate & Environment

Chao Wang - Rolling stock contributions and controls for curving and rolling noise.

PHD Candidate - University of Wollongong

This research is to investigate rolling stock contributions to rail noise generation and to develop a comprehensive set of knowledge on methods of noise mitigation related to rolling stock. To reach this aim, the modelling of the vehicle system dynamics, wheel/rail interaction, and the noise contribution of rolling stock to whole rail noise are pursued as the first step. Work in field testing and theory modelling of available rolling stock based noise mitigation techniques are followed.

Aligned to project Enhanced Noise Mitigation

David Spriggs – Rail Branding

PhD Candidate – Southern Cross Univerisity

This research investigates the rebranding phenomenon in Australian rail at both organisational and national industry levels. The theoretical foundation of this research is informed by two distinct academic discourses: rebranding and corporate branding theory.

An understanding of why, how and the outcomes of Australian rail rebranding will provide a significant contribution to the gaps in knowledge by assisting to identify stakeholder perceptions underpinning rail and how rebranding modifies these perceptions. This will contribute to corporate rebranding theory and provide practical insight for rail entities considering rebranding in the future. The following benefits for Australian Rail Organisations are envisaged:
• A greater understanding of why Australian entities undertake rebranding decisions.
• A greater understanding of the processes Australian entities undertake to implement rebranding decisions.
• Whether Australian rail entities have methods and processes in place to measure the impact of rebranding strategies on brand equity (in terms of enhanced stakeholder perceptions).
• The outcomes of Australian Rail rebranding, in particular whether it enhances positive stakeholder perceptions.
• An understanding of the effects of ‘evolutionary’ (incremental) vs ‘revolutionary’ (substantial) rebranding.

Dr Nattawoot Koowattanatianchai - Promoting technological investment in the Australian rail freight sector: Evaluating the feasibility of accelerated depreciation

PhD Thesis Abstract - Southern Cross University

Although regulation for emissions, pollution, etc is becoming stricter, the Australian rail freight industry is still locked in to using large numbers of existing rolling stock, eg locomotives and wagons. Much of this rolling stock is no longer efficient. Largely as a result of infrastructure constraints, it is not feasible for operators to dispense with their old technology at regular intervals, even though they will need to pay more to use older technology if a carbon price eventuates.

This thesis seeks to ascertain the viability of promoting investment incentives for newly acquired locomotives, wagons and other equipment. It analyses the impact of an accelerated depreciation scheme on the investment behaviour of above-rail operators and offers a comparison with alternative incentives or mechanisms. These schemes, if their efficacy is demonstrated, could potentially provide tools to encourage re-equipment of the ageing rail fleet and facilitate the provision of sustainable rail freight growth in Australia.

A three-stage sequential mixed methods approach was designed to investigate the investment implications of accelerated depreciation in the rail freight sector. In the first stage, an in-depth interview technique was employed to contextualise the rolling stock replacement decisions among rail freight firms. In the second stage, an extended asset replacement model exclusively was developed to examine whether accelerated depreciation and other tax concessions could significantly reduce the optimal time to replace rolling stock in the Australian rail freight industry. In the final stage, a focus group technique was applied to examine the findings from the first two stages and provide in-depth expert assessments of their implications.

This thesis concludes that acceleration depreciation alone is unlikely to be sufficient to assure a desired level of investment in cleaner technologies. The scheme should be part of a whole suite of initiatives to stimulate investment, and should not be the primary mechanism. The main obstacle is the incompatibility between the existing below-rail infrastructure in Australia and the modernised above-rail equipment. This implies that even though accelerated depreciation successfully offers them the incentive to replace their old fleets with newly acquired rolling stock, it is impossible, for example, to run the new train on the existing track.

Improving the below-rail infrastructure therefore has been identified as the only way to ensure the ongoing sustainability of the rail freight sector in terms of overall energy efficiency. Nevertheless, upgrading the infrastructure is a difficult task. To encourage greater energy efficiency within the rail freight sector in the short term, some other instantaneous initiatives should be provided. A two-pronged approach to energy efficiency in the rail freight sector has been proposed. In particular, some incentives to buy new equipment combined with a ‘cash for clunkers’ scheme with a refurbishment option in the short term. Incentives aimed at buying new equipment are particularly crucial for regions where the rail networks have already been upgraded to suit modern energy-efficient equipment, whereas programs targeting the refurbishing of older assets are necessary for track that is not suitable for modern equipment, which is generally heavier than the older equipment.

Apart from its implications for managerial practices with in the rail freight sector and implications for policies pertaining to rail freight operation, another major highlights of this thesis is the derivation of the extended asset replacement model under taxation, inflation, and technological progress environment. The novelty of this model is its comprehensiveness. The effects of technological advancement, taxes, and inflation have been analysed by previous replacement studies. The literature, however, indicates that these three factors have not been incorporated into the replacement model simultaneously. This thesis also makes a significant contribution to the research methodology in finance. Combining a qualitative method and a quantitative approach, or in other words, using mixed methods in finance has not proved to be very popular. This thesis shows that it is justifiable in instances where the likelihood of a policy being useful to stakeholders is being assessed, and where the context of the policy and the context for the area in which it is applied are important.

Koowattanatianchai, N (2011) Promoting technological investment in the Australian rail freight sector: Evaluating the feasibility of accelerated depreciation (Doctoral dissertation, Southern Cross University, 2011). Retrieved from Trove.

Aligned to project Accelerated Depreciation

Suman Sen - Distance-based road pricing in the context of urban Australia: An econometric analysis.

PhD Candidate – Southern Cross University

This research focuses on Road User Charging in urban Australia, and to be precise, the potential impacts of a distance-based charging (DBC) on urban travel behaviour. DBC is a fairly new road pricing mechanism designed to include all costs related to road usage. Its practical application to date has been limited to the freight sector in countries such as Germany, Switzerland, Czech Republic and Austria. It charges road users based on the actual distance travelled, and therefore, is different from conventional pricing mechanisms (fuel tax, congestion charge, tolls, parking fees, etc.) that are implemented for a particular route or location. While this justifies the inapplicability of price-elasticity studies undertaken in the past, findings from the few available studies on DBC in an urban context are also of limited relevance since they were conducted in regions that are markedly different in terms of their urban form, land-use patterns and public transport network in comparison with Australian cities. Hence, there is little or no evidence to demonstrate that such a mechanism would lead to the achievement of broader urban transport objectives such as higher public transport usage, lower congestion and a cleaner environment in Australia.

This study will provide a more holistic view of the potential impacts on urban mobility and travel behaviour. Governments and policy-makers will be provided with a clearer picture of the outcomes of DBC in terms of achievable net modal shift, reduction in transport deficits, and demand for road infrastructure. Public transport operators and rail in particular, will gain a more nuanced understanding of the impacts that a DBC might have on the industry. They will be aware of the road users (including commuters and students) who are more likely to use public transport and will have the opportunity to customise their services (e.g., frequency, routes, timetable, etc.) for these potential customers rather than wasting resources to meet the expectations of all. Furthermore, if governments decide to proceed with this mechanism, the industry will be able to participate in shaping the scheme in such a way that it can encourage a meaningful shift to more sustainable transport modes such as rail, without merely resulting in increasing capacity issues during high-use periods.

The applicability of the research findings could even extend to other areas. For example, the justifications for selecting travel modes might assist governments in identifying investment priorities, with potential benefits for the public transport sector. From a rail perspective, the same information could be useful to serve a broader range of road users through better coordination with bus operators. Most importantly, this could lead to higher off-peak patronage (where there is spare capacity) and more efficient use of existing infrastructure.

Wenxu Li - Separation of rolling noise components

PhD Candidate - University of Wollongong

General rolling noise is generated by wheel and rail interactions. Small undulations on the wheel and rail surfaces excite the wheel and rail to vibrate with each other and the vibrations of wheel and rail radiate noise. It is now well understood that both the wheel and track are important components of rolling noise. It is therefore important to separate their contributions if a cost-effective measure is to be developed. Theoretical models have been developed for the prediction of rolling noise. However, those models require the operators having a good knowledge of sound and vibration. This has limited the application of those theoretical models to universities or research institutes. My study is to develop a separation method suitable for the application of rail industry. This method will be based on the rail vibration and wayside sound measurements. The acquired data will be processed in a software package which transfers the measured sound and vibration into separate wheel and track radiations. The method will allow the access of any potential user.

Aligned to project Enhanced Noise Mitigation

Xiaogang Liu - An Investigation on Curve Squeal Noise Prediction.

PhD Candidate - University of Queensland

The main task of my current work is to investigate the effect of some factors, including angle of attack, rolling speed and humidity, to the sound pressure level of squeal noise. Part of it is to measure and predict the lateral force in the rolling contact, which can excite the vibration of the wheel; another part is to investigate the dynamic characteristics of the wheel with Finite Element Method, modal test and analytical method. Basing on previous results about lateral force and wheel vibration, the prediction of sound pressure of squeal noise will be modelled. Moreover, a two disk rolling contact test rig, modified to simulate a wheel passing the curve of rail, will be applied to validate this model.

Aligned to project Enhanced Noise Mitigation

Yongqing Li - Impairment of carbon-intensive assets: Evidence from the Australian Industry and AXS 200 Companies

PhD Thesis Abstract - Southern Cross University

In November 2011, the Australian Parliament approved legislation to introduce a carbon emissions reduction plan in Australia. The plan will be implemented from July 2012. This impending plan provides an ideal setting to investigate the impact of this legislation on Australian corporate entities. This study is one of the first accounting studies to investigate the potential financial impacts of this plan on the Australian rail industry and on companies listed on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX).

Australian Accounting Standard AASB 136: Impairment of Assets suggests that, it is inevitable for an entity to consider carrying out an impairment test where significant adverse changes have occurred or are expected. This focus is on changes to aspects of an entity’s operating environments, such as its technological, economical or legal contexts. The Australian carbon emissions legislation will be a significant change in legal and economic environments for Australian entities, and the effects of such a change on emissions-related asset values cannot be underestimated. In accordance with AASB 136, this change has the potential to affect asset values in two aspects: future cash flows and the cost of capital.
Asset-pricing theories also support the argument that the emissions reduction plan and entities’ emissions information can affect asset values. Stock and bond holders evaluate the operating risks of entities using all available information. The emissions reduction plan and entities’ emissions information are therefore significant factors for decision-making. This plan and entities’ emissions information are priced by the capital market. With a high level of information risk (e.g. pre-exposure to the legislation and a high level of carbon emissions), stock and bond holders will demand a higher return premium (e.g. cost of debt and cost of equity) on emissions-related assets and this, in turn, will impair the values of these assets.


Note: for brevity, the term “carbon” will be used instead of “carbon dioxide” throughout the text.


By using AASB 136 and relevant accounting literature, this study develops hypotheses and economic models to test whether the Australian carbon emissions reduction plan will have a significant effect on the value of carbon-intensive assets.

Using data on Australian rail operators for the period 2001-2010 and incorporating the unique characteristics of the Australian rail industry, this study finds that the value of carbon-intensive rail assets (rolling stock) will be impaired if the Australian carbon emissions reduction plan is implemented.

In specific terms, this study finds that the book value of rolling stock will decrease if rail operators are recognised as carbon emissions-liable entities. Furthermore, the book value of rolling stock is found to be negatively associated with rail operators’ carbon emission levels. The study also finds that operating cash flows will be adversely affected for emissions-liable rail operators. Moreover, the operating cash flows are found to be negatively correlated with rail operators’ emission levels. The study further demonstrates that costs of equity will increase if rail operators are considered to be emissions-liable. In addition, costs of equity are positively correlated with rail operators’ emission intensity. From this study, there is limited evidence to support the expectation that rail operators’ costs of debt can be significantly affected by the emissions reduction plan.

The study used ASX 200 indexed listed companies as a sample (2006-2010) to explore the impacts of this plan on Australian listed companies. This study finds that values of long-lived assets will be impaired if listed companies are covered by the emissions reduction plan. In particular, the study reveals that the book value of long-lived assets will decrease if listed companies are regarded as emissions-liable.

The book value of long-lived assets is further found to be negatively associated with listed companies’ emission levels. The study also demonstrates that operating cash flows of emissions-liable companies will be adversely affected. However, this study does not find a relationship between operating cash flows and companies’ emission V levels. In addition, the study finds that the costs of capital will increase for emissions-liable companies. Finally, empirical results show that the costs of debt are positively correlated with companies’ emission intensity. However, little evidence is found to support the hypothesis that emission intensity will affect companies’ costs of equity.

The empirical findings from the rail industry and listed companies provide evidence that the Australian emissions reduction plan will adversely affect entities’ asset values, including, book values, operating cash flows, and costs of capital. The results further indicate that the magnitude of the impact will be proportional to the entities’ emission levels. The implications of these empirical findings for the rail industry, for listed companies, for the accounting profession, and for carbon emission regulators are also discussed.

Li, Y (2012) Impairment of carbon-intensive assets: Evidence from the Australian Industry and AXS 200 companies (Doctoral Dissertation, Southern Cross University, 2012) Retrieved from Trove.