Saffioti: Huawei-built rail data network paves way for 'automatic train control'
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Saffioti: Huawei-built rail data network paves way for 'automatic train control'

A rail communications and data system to be built by controversial Chinese telco Huawei could be used for "automatic train control", Transport Minister Rita Saffioti said in 2017.

Ms Saffioti told an industry magazine the digital radio system to be built by the telecommunications giant would be used as a "platform for a future improved train control system".

Transport Minister Rita Saffioti said in 2017 the system being built by Huawei could be used to automatically control trains.

Transport Minister Rita Saffioti said in 2017 the system being built by Huawei could be used to automatically control trains.Credit:Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg

Huawei has been under scrutiny over its links to China's authoritarian regime and recent reports suggest the federal government is considering banning it from involvement in Australia's 5G networks.

In 2012, the company was excluded from National Broadband Network contracts on national security grounds.

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But the comments by Ms Saffioti just after she was appointed minister in 2017 indicates the $136 million rail radio network to be built by Huawei has the potential be used for safety-critical applications, escalating concerns about the company's involvement.

"Radio systems are critical to train operations – they are used by operational staff carrying out tasks of almost every type, from customer service staff, to train drivers, train controllers, security and maintenance staff," she told Rail Express in relation to the project.

"It will also provide a platform for a future improved train control system.

"However, it is critical in ensuring the Transperth rail network is ready for future expansions – including Metronet.

"This project will help facilitate automatic train control in the future, in line with Metronet objectives."

A government spokesman said Huawei had only been awarded a contract for the digital radio replacement project.

"It does not cover provision of an automatic train control system which can utilise the digital radio platform," he said.

"Should that project proceed, it will be through a separate procurement process and will have different cyber security requirements.

"In other words, it is premature to suggest there could be security concerns over a contract that has not been awarded, for a project that is not yet funded beyond the planning stages."

The spokesman said the Public Transport Authority would monitor and assess the security risks of the project with Commonwealth agencies.

"Cyber security threats will continue to evolve and the PTA will stay abreast of current and emerging security trends," he said.

"The Commonwealth Government agencies did acknowledge the eventual expansion of the digital radio network to encompass train control functionality. Their advice confirmed that this did not involve the transmittal of security classified information."

Acting Opposition Leader Liza Harvey said the government should do more to reassure the public about the security risks of the system, which involves the construction of about 80 communications towers along Perth's rail corridors.

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"There's $136 million of taxpayers money involved in this decision and the minister should be forthright and tell the community exactly how that money is going to be spent, over what timeframe, what it's going to be used for," she said.

"If there are restrictions on expansion, she needs to explain how additional functions such as automated control of the train is going to be managed within the framework that's been put in place by this company.

"You have to question if we're getting value for money if the contract is restricted.

"There's something quite bizarre about the entire management of this project and contract."

Nathan covers state politics for WAtoday. He is a former editor of the Mandurah Mail, where he also covered politics for Fairfax's regional titles.