Nippon Signal scoops Sao Paulo Metro deal

Nippon Signal is to supply Sao Paulo Metro Line 6 with signalling and train control equipment. The Japanese company will install its SPARCS Communications Based Train Control (CBTC) equipment on the 15km, six station route, which is expected to carry 630,000 passengers a day. No value was disclosed for the contract.

Nippon will also provide Automatic Train Supervision and electronic interlockings for the line. The company says it plans to ‘accelerate its overseas business expansion’ in Asia and South America in conjunction with industry partners.

Alstom/Thales win €330m HK CBTC deal

A consortium of Alstom and Thales has won a €330 million contract from MTR Corporation, Hong Kong, to resignal seven metro lines with Communications Based Train Control (CBTC) signalling.

The companies will provide Automatic Train Supervision, interlocking and Automatic Train Control in the control centre, trains and station. Thales’ SelTrac CBTC system will be installed, reflecting its role as technical lead in the partnership, while Alstom is responsible for project management and supply of remote trackside equipment controllers.

Good year or bad year? Here’s our 2015 signalling predictions…

As 2014 draws to a close, it’s that traditional time to make some predictions about what developments the signalling sector might see in 2015. 2014 has seen major projects completed and others move closer to fruition. European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) and Communications Based Train Control (CBTC) have continued to expand their capabilities and geographical coverage, and in cities and countries around the world rail is increasingly seen as a vital aspect of transportation networks. So, what does think will happen in 2015? Here’s our top five predictions:

Our fifth and light-hearted prediction: technology to allow legacy steam traction to run under ETCS will be developed in the UK or Germany. Credit: Andrew Roden.

Our fifth and light-hearted prediction: technology to allow legacy steam traction to run under ETCS will be developed in the UK or Germany. Credit: Andrew Roden.


  1. ERTMS Level 3 will be announced for a major main line resignalling project in Europe in the hope that by the time work is ready to start issues about end of train detection and other issues have been resolved.
  2. Consolidation in the signalling sector will continue with the acquisition of Ansaldo STS but Chinese suppliers will increase their presence – as will Hitachi Rail, which will win a major European contract.
  3. Positive Train Control will remain contentious in the United States, with railroads continuing to complain about costs. However, its installation will prevent an accident that would have otherwise occurred, leading to renewed faith in the technology…
  4. However, elsewhere a major accident will be caused by a contractor (probably not involved in the signalling sector) inadvertently interfering with crucial lineside signalling equipment, bringing into focus the interfaces between track authority, train operators, and maintenance staff.*
  5. And finally, a bit of fun: in Germany or the United Kingdom technology will be developed to allow legacy steam locomotives to run under European Train Control System (ETCS) signalling.

Those are our top five predictions, but what are yours? Let us know via the comments form…

*This is a prediction we hope we get wrong.

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.

Alstom and Siemens scoop signalling deals

Siemens is to upgrade the signalling and depot operations control centre of Buenos Aires’ Subway Line C in a €30 million contract. The company will also install a new passenger information system on the 5km route. Automatic operation is provided via Trainguard MT Communications Based Train Control (CBTC) while the Controlguide Vicos operations control system monitors trains. Radio transmissions are handled by Siemens’ Airlink technology. The upgrade will take place without interruption of normal service and commissioning is planned for the end of 2016.

A further contract for Siemens will see it supply signalling and train control systems for Korean Rail’s 23km Sosa to Wonsi line in a €20 million contract for Hyundai Information Technology. The route, which is under construction, is part of the Northern Orbital railway around Seoul and will serve 13 stations. It will diverge from the existing Seoul to Incheon line at Bucheon. As with Buenos Aires, Trainguard MT will provide Automatic Train Operation and the route will also be fitted for European Train Control System (ETCS) Level 1 operation to allow mainline and commuter trains to share the same tracks.

Completing a week of major signalling contracts, Alstom is to supply ETCS onboard equipment to Belgian National Railways (SNCB) and German Rail (DB). The Belgian contract is worth €70 million and will see the company supply and maintain Atlas 200 equipment on 449 trains of five types. SNCB will install the equipment from 2016. In Germany, Alstom is supplying onboard ETCS equipment for 40 ICE 1 trains in a €23 million deal with an option to fit a further 19 sets.

InnoTrans shows maturity of railway signalling

InnoTrans continues to grow - and it confirms the increasing confidence of the global rail industry. Credit: InnoTrans

InnoTrans continues to grow – and it confirms the increasing confidence of the global rail industry. Credit: InnoTrans

A short-notice family commitment meant that was sadly unable to attend InnoTrans in Berlin this week – but we’ve been keeping an eye on the events and stories. What seems striking is that while there were rolling stock and infrastructure developments galore, game-changing innovations in signalling were few.

Of course the major companies, including sponsor Siemens presented their latest innovations and contract successes, but whereas six years ago advances in the likes of European Train Control System (ETCS), Communications-Based Train Control (CBTC) and Positive Train Control (PTC) technology were plentiful, this year it could almost be considered a case of ‘business as usual’.

For infrastructure owners, train operators and governments this is a hugely important shift in emphasis. Whether for metro, conventional or high-speed rail, signalling technology in all of the key areas is now of a high level of technological maturity, safety and reliability. The risk of opting for a given provider or technology only to find that months later the previous best has been superseded by something significantly more capable has been lowered substantially. The organisations who plan, fund and build railways can now have total confidence that the system they choose is genuinely going to be capable for its expected lifespan. Removal of that element of doubt (however slight) means that the focus can be on delivering the best possible transport systems for passengers and freight customers.

And this matters a great deal. The ongoing expansion of InnoTrans speaks volumes about an industry with growing confidence in its products and services, and of its increasingly important role in solving the world’s transportation problems. After more than a decade of development and innovation, the signalling and train control systems that will run our railways for the next generation and beyond have reached technological maturity. 2014 could go down as a landmark year in railway history for that reason alone.

What innovations stood out for you at InnoTrans? Let us know via the comments form and we’ll publish the very best of them in a future update.

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.

Signalling trends for InnoTrans 2014


August usually sees the rail industry go fairly quiet in terms of new announcements, but every two years the apparrent lack of activity is deceiving because companies around the world are busy gearing up for InnoTrans, which takes place as usual at Messe Berlin, this year on September 23-26.

Of course, for the signalling and train control exhibitors are of most interest, and while we await final confirmation of what the major players will be exhibiting, we can infer quite a lot from recent trends in the industry.

First of all, expect an even greater focus on European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) and European Train Control System (ETCS) solutions from suppliers around the world. With installations outside Europe – in North Africa, the Middle East, Australasia and elsewhere it is becoming a genuinely global signalling system that’s unsurprisingly attracting the attention of the world’s major manufacturers.

Its North American stablemate, Positive Train Control, is also finding favour outside the USA and Canada, and for long-distance heavy-haul railways in particular it offers an increasingly attractive way of increasing route capacity and improving safety where interoperability is less of a concern.

The growing metro sector is enjoying a boom, driven in large part by the increasing availablity and efficiency of Communications-Based Train Control (CBTC) options, and development is rapid here, helped by intense competition and rapidly evolving technology.

Improvements to conventional signalling will not be forgotten either – better and more efficient interlockings and train detection systems are likely to form a major aspect of companies’ exhibits, as will the latest developments in lineside signals and allied technology such as level crossing systems.

We’ll be previewing the exhibition in more detail closer to the event – but what do you think will be the standout trends at this year’s show? Let us know via the contact form…

Passengers can dictate train times as much as signalling

I’ve been doing some research into the Thameslink and Crossrail projects in London recently, and they are both really good examples of how visionary thinking can combine with pan-industry co-operation to transform urban transport. Both have high-frequency automated operation in their central section with very tight headways (ETCS on Thameslink, CBTC on Crossrail) – but there’s a big elephant in the room: station stops.

It only takes an unexpected surge of demand at a station, or a passenger struggling with heavy luggage to eat into recovery margins and cause late running – and there is very little a railway can do to cater for the unexpected situations short of providing extra waiting times, which of course eats up valuable capacity.

Pleasingly, it’s nothing new. As part of other research for a book being prepared, I found an account from the 1920s by the engineer W.G. Thorley about concerns that a particular locomotive was losing time on a fairly tightly timed commuter operation. The inference was that the locomotive’s operation or mechanical condition were at fault. However, when Thorley investigated timekeeping, he found that the Working Timetable was wildly unrealistic. A time of two minutes including station stops to serve two halts over 1.2km didn’t appear impossible, but when the actual time taken for passengers to board or disembark was studied, the railway – the old London Midland & Scottish – realised that especially on Saturdays, keeping time was impossible. The timetable was soon revised.

Which just goes to prove that you can have the best performing trains, the most advanced and efficient signalling and dedicated and motivated staff – but at times its the passengers themselves who dictate how punctually a train can run. Sometimes, a marginally less attractive service on paper can be more useful and dependable for the people who rely on it…. what do YOU think? Let us know your views via the comments form.

France clears GE/Alstom power and signalling deal

Alstom is to acquire GE Transportation’s signalling business for $800 million as part of a complex deal which sees the American giant gain most of Alstom’s energy assets.

Since GE made its bid around two months ago Siemens and Mistubishi Heavy Industries have pushed hard with a counter-offer, but following the agreement of French construction company Bouygues to loan 20% of Alstom shares (it holds 29.3%) on June 22 the way is clear for GE to conclude its deal. Bouygues will surrender its two board seats, effectively making the French government the main shareholder. The government is being loaned the shares for 20 months, during which time it can buy the shares at a 2-5% discount if the stock market price is €35 or greater.

GE Transportation’s signalling portfolio is comprehensive, with ERTMS, CBTC and Positive Train Control systems and a range of associated equipment including interlockings, train detection and operational control centres.

From Alstom’s point of view, while it loses much of its energy business it retains its system-wide capabilities in rail, and will have a much greater presence in the North American market. It also means that concerns about France’s flagship TGV trains being built by a foreign company are in abeyance. Subject to regulatory approval the deal with GE is expected to be concluded early next year.

It is another deal which shrinks the number of suppliers in the signalling sector, however. How will it affect the market? Let us know your thoughts…