Rail engineering is developing a sophisticated level 3 ETCS, the European Rail Traffic Control System that will reduce infrastructure costs and improve the capacity of the machine Could avionics and satellite technology be the keys to the future of conventional and high-speed line signaling? Aerospace technology is not usually associated with railways. But this may be about to change. Signaling technology for conventional and high-speed next generation lines -ETCS, for its acronym in English, or European Rail Control System, level 3- will be based on the know-how of sectors outside the traditional railway to provide a change in security, capacity and reliability.
Towards greater automation Applied for the first time more than 25 years ago, the ETCS is designed to promote cross-border mobility in rail traffic by providing a single interoperable signaling system. There are three levels of ETCS. Currently, 1 and 2 are widespread in Europe. The first, the basic version, provides protection in rail traffic to trains and speed monitoring. With the second, the continuous communication by radio from the track to the train enables the elimination of lateral signaling and improves performance.
The next step is the migration to the ETCS level 3. This represents a breakthrough with respect to traditional signage. Instead of using track infrastructures to determine the position of trains - the basis of signaling for more than a century - the level 3 ETCS specifies that the trains themselves be located. Positioning and integrity monitoring is carried out on board the train.
This last level is important for several reasons. One is that it reduces the costs of the infrastructures, because the detection of the train on the ground is no longer necessary. The second is that it improves capacity, since ETCS level 3 is a technology with separation between trains -controlled by speed and distance-, instead of fixed geographical sections. It also paves the way for greater automation, an important point given the great rise of driverless technologies for cars and trucks. If you want the railroad to have a competitive advantage over the road, you will have to follow a similar path.
Start-up of level 3 Thales is committed to developing a Tier 3 ETCS solution and is adjusting the necessary technologies to make it a reality. Moving towards on-board systems centered on the train is an essential aspect of the entire system design. The company also actively participates in the development of the standard. Thales has led the installation of ETCS since its inception. In 1999, the company delivered the first commercial level 1 project in the world. It also implemented the first cross-border ETCS.
Today, Thales level 2 solutions are installed in the largest and most prestigious international rail traffic projects, including the Lotschberg and St. Gotthard tunnels in Switzerland. Experience and knowledge The success of Thales with the delivery of complex ETCS projects is based on its mastery of the mainline signaling technologies.
These include communications, electronic interlocking and on-board systems for the trains themselves. The experience with urban railways is equally important. The level 3 ETCS will be the first major signaling system on the main line using the mobile canton. Thales is an expert in both mobile cantons and ATO (Automatic Train Operation).
The company perfected these capabilities through Communications Based Train Control (CBTC), a technology devised by Thales more than 30 years ago. Thales' position is unique in providing a system that works. It is not just about his long career and experience in signaling and rail traffic, but also his knowledge in fields such as avionics or satellite positioning and inertial.
Overcome obstacles Offering the level 3 ETCS requires engineering expertise beyond the scope of conventional mainline signaling. One of them is to be able to locate trains as they move through the network, without the help of ground systems. Although satellite positioning can be used for this, problems arise when trains enter a tunnel.
Odometers, which measure the distance traveled by the wheels of the trains, are not reliable instruments because often the wheels slide on the humid roads, especially when the trains leave the tunnel. To solve this problem, Thales signaling experts are using sensor fusion in order to combine the positioning data of a series of inputs. They are also taking advantage of the group's knowledge in general, including those of the space division and avionics.
Thus, for example, they could use an inertial positioning system of an aircraft and put it in a train as they are doing in land vehicles. Thales is using its DNA and corporate knowledge of its Research activities, to provide the best solutions to clients. In this way, level 3 ETCS will change the rules of the game. In addition to increasing capacity and performance, it will reduce life cycle costs because there will be less ground equipment to maintain. And since it is based on radio, since it uses GSM-R or high-capacity LTE, it will offer a high degree of reliability. It will also generate room to save energy and better manage traffic.
The strategy of Thales is to offer all these benefits in the form of a standardized and interoperable solution. The ETCS level 3 is on your agenda and, with all your knowledge, the company can offer its customers a clear path for migration.