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.

Algerian JV scores double-tracking contract

A joint venture of Algerian National Railways (SNTF) and Siemens – ESTEL RA – has won a €95 million contract to upgrade the 90km Beni Mansour to Bejaia line with double track and European Train Control System Level 1 signalling.

Siemens will supply its Trainguard 100 train protection system, Vicos automatic operations control system, nine Simis W electronic interlockings, GSM-R radio and RailCom Manager communications management system. Siemens will also provide equipment for a control centre in Bejaia and training for Algerian Railways staff.

Siemens has provided ETCS for Algeria in the past, as well as Line 1 of the Algiers Metro.

Siemens consortium wins €510m Spain signalling deal

A Siemens/Thales consortium has won a €510 million contract from Spanish Track Authority ADIF to install and maintain signalling, train control and communications systems on the 340km Olmedo-Ourense high-speed line.

Siemens will provide interlockings, Spain’s ASFA train control system and control centres, with Thales supplying European Train Control System Level 2 equipment, LED colour light signals, wheel detectors and axle counters, and fixed communications equipment.

The route connects with the Madrid to Valladolid high-speed line at Olmeda and forms part of a corridor connecting Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria, Castile and Leon with Madrid.

Alstom supplies ERTMS to Romania

An Alstom led consortium is to supply European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) equipment for Romanian National Railways (CFR)’ 170km Sighișoara-Coșlariu-Simeria route.

Alstom’s Atlas 200 ERTMS Level 2 signalling will be installed and linespeeds on the line will rise from 120km/h to 160km/h as part of the ongoing modernisation. Alstom will also supply a dual-mode Coradia Polyvalent train to test the installation. Work is due to be completed before the end of 2019.

The consortium includes Alcatel Lucent Romania and Pas 97 Impex and although the total value of the contract has not been disclosed Alstom says its share is worth around €100 million. Alstom’s ERTMS projects now cover 12,500km of track and it has fitted more than 4,600 vehicles with its onboard equipment.

Bombardier wins Ethiopian ERTMS contract

Bombardier Transportation has €36 million contract to provide European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) signalling for Ethiopia’s 400km Awash-Weldia line, which is due to open in 2015.

The contract was awarded by Yapi Merkezi, Turkey, which is designing and construction of the project, and will see Bombardier supply Interflo 250 systems for the route. Using ERTMS will provide the railway with proven off-the-shelf Automatic Train Control and train management systems and represents one of the first uses of such technology in sub-Saharan Africa.

Bombardier has already supplied signalling equipment for the Gautrain Rapid Rail Link and Durban’s Main Corridors in South Africa.

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.

Railways should focus on crash prevention rather than cure

More than half a century after many regional and secondary routes in the UK and Europe closed due to poor usage there are growing calls to reopen them to provide an alternative to automobiles. The big stumbling block, inevitably, is cost.

Whether it’s land acquisition, rebuilding track formations and structures or acquiring trains, there’s no question that building or reopening a railway is a formidably expensive exercise – but in civil engineering terms it is seldom more so than an equivalent road. It’s when it comes to acquiring trains that issues arise. With an approximate cost of €2.5 million per Diesel Multiple Unit vehicle, funding new trains to run on these routes (assuming no other vehicles are available) is simply far too expensive.

Surely it must be possible to provide the comfort and performance of a modern vehicle in a lighter train – and if you can achieve that, you can have lighter track and simpler structures. Part of the railway’s problem is that crashworthiness requirements add weight and complication to every passenger carrying vehicle, and this goes against the fundamental principles of railway operation – that the signalling system should prevent trains crashing in the first place.

If it were possible to do, passengers travelling in a 1930s express train running on a European Train Control System (ETCS) or equivalent route would be far safer than if they travelled in a modern train on a 1930s express route with no train protection systems because accidents are that much less likely to happen at all. Such is the difference a signalling system can make.

So, at the risk of being controversial, why don’t authorities relax rolling stock crashworthiness standards to perhaps those of the early 1990s (how many lives have really been saved by improvements since?) and allow railways to focus safety investment where it is needed most? Automatic Train Protection systems, continuing to eliminate level crossings and better suicide prevention techniques would save more lives.

The rail industry should focus on preventing accidents happening in the first place rather than trying to protect passengers after they do so. That would improve safety, bring costs down and make it more viable than ever – but what do you think? Let us know via the contact form.

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.