A vision of the railway of tomorrow
Posted on: September 17, 2019 by Mark Ferrer
Digital technologies are integral to the future of rail, enabling train operators and infrastructure owners to safely increase the capacity, reliability and efficiency of their networks and assets whilst increasing levels of passenger satisfaction.
Given the continued growth in passenger and freight numbers, any disruption or failure on a network can have major consequences.
A perfect example of the successful application of digital technology is the Thameslink Program, a c.£7bn UK Government-sponsored program which has transformed north-south rail travel through London.
Operating on one of the most congested parts of the UK rail network (passenger journeys in London and the south east having doubled in the last two decades), the number of peak-time trains at terminus stations had reached its limit, and so a radical rethink was required to help address the ‘capacity crunch’.
Siemens Mobility worked in partnership with Network Rail on the Thameslink High Capacity Infrastructure program to deliver a modern, digital signaling and train control solution to meet the capacity and train frequency targets, with the decision taken to signal the central core section with a European Train Control System Level 2 (ETCS L2) solution overlaid with an Automatic Train Operation (ATO) system for in-cab signaling. The first passenger-carrying train under ATO control ran in March 2018, representing the world’s first application of ATO over ETCS on an operational, high traffic suburban mainline railway.
As a result of this project, Thameslink now has a digitalized connected infrastructure with large volumes of data flowing around it to help meet its operational challenges. And passengers are now benefitting from more connections, faster, more frequent and more reliable journeys, better stations and new trains.
Prediction and pre-emption
Maximizing railway network availability, however, also involves the application of real-time diagnostics and ‘big data’ to predict potential failures and enable pre-emptive interventions to be made. To facilitate this, Data Capture Units (DCUs) can be fitted to a wide range of equipment, providing the opportunity for targeted and preventive maintenance, rough ride/defect detection, improved passenger experience and energy consumption from predictive and efficient journey profiling.
The DCU is a data gateway which enables data, whether it is diagnostic, state of the railway or any other data for that matter, to be securely sent from assets to real-time analytic systems providing greater insight into the health and state of the railway.
Capacity and confidence
Advanced digital control systems enable optimization and increased capacity, with solutions such as C-DAS (connected-driver advisory system) advising drivers of the optimum speed to travel in order to reach a given location at exactly the right time. This helps improve energy efficiency and reduce congestion and delays, in turn increasing capacity.
Following the success of the Thameslink Program, Siemens Mobility is now developing ATO Track Side (ATO TS), one of the projects under the Shift2Rail European research program, with test track operational testing due to begin later in 2019. Using Thameslink as an example, currently, each train has a map of the ATO network stored in its memory. ATO TS would transmit the current map to the train, avoiding the need to update stored maps on each train when the infrastructure or conditions change.
Whilst Thameslink features Level 2 of the European Train Control System (ETCS), a good deal of work has now been carried out in the UK on ETCS Hybrid Level 3, with Network Rail having demonstrated the concept over a year ago. Hybrid Level 3 builds on the existing ETCS level 2 system which transmits secure radio messages to onboard equipment which monitors the safe movement of trains based on trackside train detection. In Hybrid Level 3, suitably fitted trains can move more closely than in conventional signalling, sending accurate position reports directly from the train to the trackside. This allows optimal use of infrastructure at minimal cost.
Effectively drawing together mainline and metro technologies, this solution will unlock greater capacity and flexibility within the existing railway infrastructure, while also reducing trackside equipment. Apart from lower installation cost, fewer trackside assets offers the potential for fewer failures, reduced maintenance requirements and safer working conditions – all of which will deliver increased reliability and availability.
The Thameslink Program is transforming travel through London, with the system designed to operate a timetable of 24 trains per hour, delivering metro-like performance on a mainline service.
Digital Vision for Mobility
This article is part of the Atos UK&I Digital Vision for Mobility opinion paper. We explore opportunities and challenges for transport and logistics providers in this rapidly evolving space, where transport and logistics are leading other markets in digital transformation.