Network Rail ponders Automatic Train Operation extension

British track authority Network Rail is considering installing Automatic Train Operation under European Train Control System (ETCS) Level 3 signalling on one of its busiest routes. The possibility is contained in the Wessex Route Study, which is undergoing consultation.

Network Rail's Wessex Route Study asks whether ATO under ETCS is a viable solution on one of its busiest routes.

Network Rail’s Wessex Route Study asks whether ATO under ETCS is a viable solution on one of its busiest routes.

The Surbiton to London Waterloo section of the Wessex Main Line, which serves a large commuter area and cities including Southampton, is operated more densely at peak times than any other route in the United Kingdom and to meet predicted demand by 2043 37 train paths per hour are needed.

While conventional capacity enhancements such as grade separation of junctions and additional tracks are being considered, Network Rail argues that installation of ETCS and ATO are likely to ‘have a significant positive impact on capacity in the inner area’ and could help boost the number of train paths to 34 per hour at peak times. It plans to study the implications of accelerating its ETCS programme to cover the route from London Waterloo to Woking, a key junction on the main line as a matter of priority.

Network Rail is already pioneering the use of Automatic Train Operation with ETCS in the short central section of the Thameslink route, which will provide a north-south link across London, in a bid to provide reliable operation and sufficient capacity.

Siemens wins Chinese metro signalling contract

Siemens is to supply Trainguard MT Automatic Train Operation equipment to China’s Xi’An Metro Line 3 in a €28 million contract. The 39km long route has 26 stations and will link the northern and western areas of the city.

The company, which sponsors, equipped the city’s Line 1 for automatic operation last year. Data is transferred between signalling centre and train by Siemens’ Airlink radio transmission system.

Trainguard is amongst the most widely used Automatic Train Operation systems in the world, with successful installations in Beijing, Guangzhou, Suzhou, Chongqing and Nanjing. Metros under construction in Qingdao, Dongguan and Fuzhou are also set to use Trainguard MT.

London Underground proves its metro ambitions

London Underground’s decision to seek expressions of interest for the supply of Communications Based Train Contro (CBTC)l systems for for more of its routes – the Waterloo & City, Piccadilly, Bakerloo and Central lines – is yet another sign that the metro sector is booming.

Having pioneered automatic operation on the Victoria Line in the 1960s, London Underground has gradually introduced it on routes such as the Jubilee Line but this latest decision represents a step change in its operations. With passenger numbers growing this a very definite statement of intent that it intends to increase capacity as much as possible.

It seems a reasonable assumption that the introduction of CBTC will be phased with the introduction of new trains – those on the Piccadilly Line, for example, are set to enter service in around 2022 – and by then the already busy services will be operating almost at capacity.

It’s a bold decision from London Underground, which has had mixed experience with resignalling of its routes in the last 20 years or so, but one based on absolute confidence in the technology and the ability of the signalling sector to deliver on time and on budget.

Now it’s not so much a question of whether cities will convert to automated operation with CBTC: it’s a question of when. For passengers squeezed into crowded trains in cities around the world, the extra capacity modern signalling systems can create simply cannot come soon enough.

Thales breaks into Japanese CBTC market

Thales is the first foreign company to enter the Japanese signalling market after winning a new contract to develop a Communications Based Train Control (CBTC) system for JR East’s 30km Ayase-Toride ‘Joban’ line.

JR East's Joban line is set to be upgraded by Thales in a groundbreaking new deal.

JR East’s Joban line is set to be upgraded by Thales in a groundbreaking new deal.

The route has 14 stations and uses 70 trains and Thales is set to replace the existing automatic train control system with its latest technology. Eliminating track circuits is a key aim for JR East, and Thales’s CBTC systems promise to require less lineside equipment and cut maintenance requirements. Outside Japan, Thales CBTC equipment operates on more than 1300km of track, carrying around three billion passengers per year.

Announcing the deal, Thales Country Director Jean-Louis Moraud said: “With this contract Thales becomes the first non-Japanese company to enter the Japanese signalling market, via the city of Tokyo, home to the world’s busiest railway network. Thales is pleased to bring its latest signalling technology and experience in urban rail systems modernisation to a country that already benefits from great advances in the transport sector.”

Siemens wins major Guragon metro extension deal

Siemens is to build a 7km, EUR 70 million extension to Guragon’s metro network near Delhi, India, in a comprehensive turnkey contract. The company will supply rolling stock, power supplies, signalling and system integration with the new route opening at the end of 2015.

A Guragon Metro train.

A Guragon Metro train.

The seven 80km/h metro trains will run at minimum headways of two minutes at peak periods, providing passenger capacity of more than 30,000 passengers per hour. The metro will run in Automatic Train Operation mode using Sicas ECC electronic interlockings, LZB 700 M Automatic Train Control and Vicos OC 501 Automatic Train Supervision systems.

The contract follows Siemens’ success in 2010 in building the initial metro system, which connects Guragon – a city with a population of 500,000 – to Delhi’s metro network. The new Southern extension will serve six additional stations and bring the total route length to around 13km.

Automatic HSR – the debate continues…

In yesterday’s first part of the discussion about automated operation of high-speed rail, commentators considered some of the technical issues around introducing the technology, and Bombardier Transportation Manager for Functional Integration Despina Ziaka calls for “a more consolidated international ‘Concept of Operation’ for fully automated metros, high-speed rail, and other operations.” The argument is that with a set of globally defined criteria the possibilities of widespread ATO would have a clear picture.

Nick Fotis, a regular commentator on Railgroup, highlighted some potential technical pitfalls which could handicap ATO on high-seed rail: “A HSR system is not as well isolated from environmental intrusions as an underground and isolated Metro system. Even worse, it may connect to the conventional rail system. Also, you cannot transfer quickly and reliably the situation to a central console from a 300+ km/h train. Have you attempted to transfer video via wireless from such a quick-moving train (which may lose the signal due to tunnels, bridges and whatnot) to a control station 500+ km away?”

Phillip Barker, meanwhile, pondered the commercial and societal aspects: “While technically possible, it comes down to a commercial requirement. One is improving availability of the assets – you can run the trains when needed not based on driver availability, as in Singapore. Reliability of services also increases – drivers are subject to fatigue, boredom, and inconsistent application of skills especially in close headway operations.

“On passenger acceptance of an empty driving cab at high speed, I think we too quickly assume that it wouldn’t be accepted. There are enough driverless operations around the world now that show passengers are happy to sit up front and enjoy the view where a driving cab should be – look at Kualar Lumpur, London’s Docklands Light Railway etc. Even the terminal people mover at Hong Kong airport can be concerning to some but acceptable as it hurtles along and seems to leave braking to the last moment even as the dead end platform looms into view. But drivers do have a place as they offer the flexibility that machines may not offer. System failures occur and a train driver one of the better forms of redundancy ensuring a train can at least continue to its destination in a degraded mode.”

The final word, however goes to Hendrik Kassebohm, Managing Director & Chief Consultant at HK Railconsult CC, who had followed the discussion for almost two weeks before concluding his considered response with something all rail professionals hold dear: “What is the purpose of full automation, and does it have the best interests of the paying customers in mind?”

And with that, for the moment at least, we’re going to close the debate on automation. Next week we’ll take a slightly different tack and examine some of the challenges metro operators face, and how developments in signalling and train control systems might be able to help them.

Siemens and Invensys Rail win £50m Crossrail signalling deal

Siemens and Invensys Rail are to design, manufacture, supply, install, test and commission the Communications Based Train Control (CBTC) signalling system for the central section of London’s massive £14.8 billion Crossrail project.

The deal is worth £50 million, with Siemens the major partner in the joint venture and Invensys Rail contributing its considerable local knowledge and experience. Once operational the CBTC system will allow 24 trains per hour to run between Whitechapel and Paddington using Automatic Train Operation. This could be increased to 30tph should demand require it.

As part of the deal, Siemens will be required to create around 20 apprenticeships and new job start roles for individuals who are long-term unemployed or out of education or training for six months or more during the life of their contract, adding to the regeneration benefits of the scheme.