Signalling trends for InnoTrans 2014

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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 www.intelligentsignalling.com 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…

Norway launches first ERTMS pilot scheme

Our friends at International Railway Journal report that Bombardier is to install Norway’s first two European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) installations on 20km of the Ski-Sarpsburg line between Iske and Rakkestad.

The section has been chosen, according to IRJ, because it has just two passing loops between seven stations and 14 level crossings, presenting a significant operational challenge for ERTMS to pass before wider deployment in Norway.

Just two passing loops between seven stations will present Norway's first ERTMS installation with a significant operational challenge.

Just two passing loops between seven stations will present Norway’s first ERTMS installation with a significant operational challenge.

Most of Norwegian track authority Janbaneverket’s level crossings are on private roads and do not have barriers, potentially removing one of the current challenges of remotely operated crossings – obstacle detection.

Subject to successful completion of the trial – which will use two trains – it is hoped to roll out ERTMS to the entire Ski-Sarpsburg line by the end of 2015.

Level crossing fine raises safety stakes

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The decision to fine a UK signaller £1,750 for his part in a fatal level crossing accident in 2010 once again raises the issue of how best to manage level (or for North American readers, grade) crossings safely. The UK track authority, Network Rail, was fined £450,000.

The accident was caused by the signaller raising the barriers of the level crossing as a train approached. The signaller claimed that a telephone call from a farmer seeking to cross his sheep over an occupation crossing disrupted his concentration.

Most level crossing accidents are caused by road users misusing the crossing – often on half-barrier crossings by weaving around the barriers. However, the human factor in this case surely emphasises the case for increased automation – doesn’t it?

While barrier activation is relatively easy to achieve via proximity devices such as treadles activated by approaching trains, preventing the barriers closing on vehicles or people is proving somewhat problematic. Although huge strides have been made in object detection systems, discerning the difference between, say, a football or a small animal such as a fox and a child or pushchair is proving worryingly inconsistent. (Larger objects such as road vehicles are, admittedly, much easier to detect). Monitoring level crossings via CCTV has long been used but is a partial solution at best – particularly given that the operator’s attention will invariably be divided between a number of screens.

So what is the best solution for ensuring the safety of road and rail users at level crossings? Intelligentsignalling.com is interested to hear your views….

Queensland Rail innovates on level crossings

Level crossings are one of the major risks to rail safety.

A major new level (grade) crossing safety system is being installed by Queensland Rail, Australia, in a bid to cut the number of accidents at high-risk sites.

Called Valet, it uses flashing lights embedded in the road to alert motorists to oncoming trains, mimicking the effect of airport taxiways. With level crossings one of the main risks to rail safety, this could be an important innovation in Queensland. The diagram below shows how it works.

Queensland Rai’s Valet system promises to alert motorists to oncoming trains earlier.