Australia faces a real dilemma when it comes to next generation signalling on its busiest routes, with two systems competing for dominance – European Train Control System (ETCS), and Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Train Management System (ATMS).
Following the example of Auckland, New Zealand, a host of Australian cities are either installing or considering ETCS for their commuter networks. Adelaide is already installing ETCS on around 120 route-km with Siemens Invensys Rail equipment, and the first ETCS fitted trains are due to run in Sydney this year, covering around 600 route-km with Alstom equipment. Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth also have aspirations to fit ETCS to increase capacity and improve safety.
However, elsewhere in Australia, particularly on the busy Hunter Valley network which is largely dedicated to freight, Australian Rail Track Corporation has opted for Lockheed Martin’s ATMS, which works on similar principles and has similar benefits in terms of potential capacity enhancements.
While the commuter and Hunter Valley networks are separate, having two different signalling systems is not a major issue, but when interstate routes – particularly those with frequent passenger services – are resignalled, there could a problem. A single signalling system would potentially allow greater journey opportunities and would certainly offer better integration and traffic management, and require fewer control centres. Bear in mind that at present, ETCS and ATMS are not compatible.
A further potential issue is Australia’s proposed high-speed rail network, which will run between Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne. Again, if operated in isolation whether it runs under ETCS or ATMS is irrelevant, but if trains run beyond the HSR network to classic routes as they do in the likes of France, compatibility issues could pose a huge problem. Although trains can be fitted with both signalling systems, this increases maintenance requirements and operational complexity and can be easily avoided by opting for just one system.
It is early days for modern Communications Based Train Control signalling in Australia, but with two different standards already in prospect, the country’s rail managers need to seriously consider whether a single signalling system would outweigh the potential operating headaches that lie ahead if ETCS and ATMS are both in operation.