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Boosting Capacity to the MAX

Discover how ETCS Hybrid Level 3 MAX can boost the capacity of your main line network.

Main line operators want to run more trains. They want to do this efficiently and safely. And they need everything to be cybersecured. How can all of this be achieved?

Closing the gap

To boost capacity, you need to shrink the gap between trains. On metros, this is already done: “moving block” signalling, now standard on metros, yields capacity gains of up to 40% compared with traditional fixed block signalling. In fact, the technology that makes this possible was pioneered by Thales more than 30 years ago.

So why can’t you use the same technology on main lines?

In theory, you can. In practice, it’s complicated. Freight trains are the main obstacle. Because it’s technically difficult to prove the “integrity” of a freight train (what if wagons become detached?), you need to provide a fail-safe system of track-based train detection, using axle counters or track circuits. Fixed block sections are mandatory. This imposes a finite limit on capacity for both freight and passenger trains.

Add more passenger trains safely and efficiently with ETCS Hybrid Level 3 MAX

To solve the main line capacity problem, Thales has developed a proof of concept called ETCS Hybrid Level 3 MAX. This is a signalling and train control solution that combines both fixed blocks (for freight trains), and shorter “virtual blocks” (for passenger trains). This makes it possible to run more passenger trains on the same infrastructure. So how does it work?

With Level 3 MAX, fixed block sections and train detection are retained. Freight trains continue to operate according to the rules of fixed block operation – only one freight train can occupy a block at a time. 

Passenger trains are managed differently. Because most modern passenger trains are capable of “proving” their integrity, and because they are capable of generating accurate train position reports, it is possible to reduce the gap between these trains based on their speed and position relative to each other. 

So instead of having just one passenger train per block section, you can have several. This is achieved by digitally slicing each conventional block section into a number of virtual blocks (or subsections) which can be as short as 30m in length. 

How easy is it to deploy Level 3 MAX?

The beauty of Level 3 MAX is that it combines signalling and train control in a single solution. 

The clue is in the name: MAX stands for Movement Authority Interlocking. This not only takes care of route control (i.e. interlocking and points), but also generates movement authorities – radio commands that give permission for a train to move to a specific location with supervision of speed. 

Integration of train routing and train control reduces hardware complexity. And because there is only one set of configuration data to manage, rather than two, the system is easier to adapt and maintain. It also makes the solution highly resilient.

Infrastructure managers can take advantage of Level 3 MAX in two ways:

1. As a new signalling system:

you can use Level 3 MAX to replace your existing signalling system. Like ETCS Level 2, you get all the benefits of a radio-based signalling system that does not require any lineside signals. The difference is you get far greater capacity thanks to virtual blocks with Level 3 MAX.    

2. As an upgrade to your existing ETCS Level 2 system:

if your network already operates under ETCS Level 2, converting to Level 3 MAX is straightforward. In fact, it can be as simple as upgrading software in the interlocking to cope with virtual sections. In most cases, there will be no requirement to add extra hardware – and therefore little or no disruption to revenue services.

Level 3 MAX is the technology bridge between ETCS Level 2 (radio-based fixed block signalling) and ETCS Level 3 (radio-based moving block signalling). In short, it offers the best of both worlds: a radio-based signalling solution combining both virtual and fixed blocks.

As well as allowing operators to run more trains, Level 3 Max is designed to be futureproof. Indeed, the migration to full ETCS Level 3 (moving block) will be primarily achieved by upgrading software rather than replacing hardware, further enhancing and protecting your investment today and in the future.