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 The risk of opting for a given provider or technology only to find that months later the previous best has been superseded by something significantly more capable has been lowered substantially.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.

Will train integrity issues stall ETCS Level 3?

Ensuring that train consists remain intact is a cornerstone of signalling. Accidents have happened (and doubtless will continue to do so) when trains split unintentionally – but for signalling engineers across the rail industry, providing the planned radio based, moving block ERTMS Level 3 system with sufficiently robust train integrity measures is proving a real headache.

Years ago it was simple – tail lights on the last vehicle of a train would prove to a lineside signaller that the train was intact and that the preceding section could be cleared. Track circuits and axle counters provide the same functionality for today’s centralised control centres. But how do you prove a train is intact when there are no fixed block sections and no lineside infrastructure?

In theory, when a train splits accidentally, brakes are automatically applied and the vehicles come to a stand, usually not too far away from each other. But no signalling designer in the world would rely on that for ERTMS Level 3: the old axiom that anything that can go wrong will applies particularly to signalling – who would really guarantee that all the vehicles in a formation would come to a halt relatively close to each other? And what if an unbraked train (perhaps a failed high-speed train being towed to a depot) splits? How could ERTMS Level 3 deal with it?

Perhaps we need to look at radio transponders on each vehicle that communicate with the control centre – any significant variation in speed between vehicles in a consist would be spotted and the appropriate alerts given. That would be viciously expensive though, and what about freight trains that are marshalled en route? Could there be some sort of ERTMS ‘tail light’ that provides confirmation that the end of the train is where it’s supposed to be? As with tail lights on existing trains, how could relocating the equipment to the rearmost vehicle be guaranteed?

These are all questions that are going to have to be answered before ERTMS Level 3, with its potential for absolutely maximising route capacity, can go forward with confidence. To judge from the experience of railway history, a solution will be found and it will probably be conceptually very simple. The question is – with sufficiently intelligent design, can ERTMS Level 2 deliver most of the benefits of Level 3 without introducing yet another layer of complexity to a signalling system which is beginning to match the expectations of its designers? Perhaps the exhibits at InnoTrans in Berlin will shed some light on this fundamental issue…

Rail market “set for growth”, says Bombardier

Despite the continuing global financial uncertainty, Bombardier says it is confident that the overall rail market will continue to grow.

Speaking at the company’s keynote press conference at InnoTrans, Bombardier President Andre Navarri said: “The trends for the rail market are strong. Road congestion is now driving rail growth, and… although obtaining finance is not getting easier given the demand we are confident a solution will be found.

The company believes that North America offers significant opportunities for growth, particularly in the light rail and inter-city passenger sectors. Major investment in capacity at its Plattsburgh, USA plant worth €20 million is set to consolidate Bombardier’s position in the rolling stock market.

In terms of signalling, Bombardier is promoting its Cityflo 650 solution, which is claimed to have the potential to increase metro capacity by up to 30%. Driverless monorail and metro systems are also becoming increasingly important, says Mr Navarri.

InnoTrans breaks records on opening day

Visitors enter InnoTrans via Messe Berlin’s North Entrance on the show’s opening day.

With more than 2,500 exhibitors from 49 countries, 26 halls filled to capacity and 3.5km of tracks occupied by 115 rail vehicles, InnoTrans 2012 has broken all records, according to the exhibition’s organisers at the Messe Berlin showground.

A packed agenda saw major launches of rolling stock from major manufacturers, and a host of innovations from suppliers large and small. In total, 147 product launches are scheduled, and more than 100,000 visitors expected. As predicted, developments in signalling technology appear to be confined to incremental but nonetheless significant improvements from the major suppliers, with massive interest in ERTMS, ETCS and CBTC systems from visitors.

Invensys Rail receives Royal visit

HRH Prince Abdul Aziz Bin Meshal Al Saud (centre) meets Invensys Rail Regional Director Middle East, North Africa and Turkey Ala Ghanem (right) and Invensys Rail Dimetronic Export Area Manager Oscar Martinez Marchante (left) at InnoTrans in Berlin on September 18 2012. Credit: Paul Bigland.

Invensys Rail received a special and prestigious royal visit on the on the opening day of InnoTrans in Berlin on September 18 2012. His Royal Highness Prince Abdul Aziz Bin Meshal Al Saud met representatives of Invensys Rail on their stand and was give a personal demonstration of the company’s European Rail Traffic Management System equipment, which is being installed on the Haramain high-speed rail project between Makkah and Madinah.



Intelligent Signalling – live @InnoTrans

The world’s biggest railway exhibition is opening today and will be reporting live from the Invensys Rail stand at InnoTrans (Hall 4.2, stand 205) on all the latest developments and news.

We’ll be updating twice a day at lunchtime and at the end of the day, and you can follow our live Twitter feed – #railsignals – for the latest updates.




Gearing up for InnoTrans

Crowds at InnoTrans 2010

InnoTrans 2012 is set to be the biggest and most spectacular rail exhibition yet.

With less than a week to go the whole world’s rail industry is gearing up for InnoTrans in Berlin, and signalling and train control are set to play a major part in the show.

As ERTMS/ETCS and Positive Train Control are now at a much greater level of technical maturity than even at 2010’s exhibition, it seems likely that the focus of signalling and train control suppliers will be on incremental improvements to existing product ranges, and on their mix of services. We can also expect progress on the latest and most challenging metro, conventional and high-speed rail projects to play a major part in company presentations.

As one would expect, the world’s major companies are there – including sponsor Invensys Rail – all showcasing their latest developments. A larger than ever array of Asian exhibitors will be there too, capitalising on the strong growth in rail services across the continent. will be blogging live from InnoTrans throughout the show to highlight the best in signalling technologies: keep abreast of developments via the webpage, or our twitter feed at railsignals.