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.

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 The risk of opting for a given provider or technology only to find that months later the previous best has been superseded by something significantly more capable has been lowered substantially.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

Siemens scoops €15m Suzhou metro deal

Siemens is to supply Communications Based Train Control equipment for the extension of Suzhou’s Metro Line 2 in China. The new underground section runs for 15km and incorporates 13 stations.

Siemesns will supply Trainguard MT automatic train control, Trackguard Sicas ECC electronic interlockings and Airlink radio transmission systems for the metro, with commissioning scheduled for 2016.

A Middle Eastern metro renaissance?

The news that Mecca is preparing to build two metro lines follows hard on the heels of Riyadh confirming Siemens as the turnkey contractor for its forthcoming metro network and the success of Dubai’s recently opened metro. In the Middle East, metro networks are rapidly becoming very popular indeed.

Has Dubai's metro been a catalyst for Middle East transport policy?

Has Dubai’s metro been a catalyst for Middle East transport policy?

Despite predominantly low fuel prices for motorists in the region there does seem to be a real appetite for better public transport. Partly this is due to rapidly growing populations and a realisation that only better commuter rail, metro and – possibly – light rail systems can prevent gridlock on the roads. That many of the world’s most successful cities are based on good transport networks won’t have escaped the notice of planners in the Middle East either.

There are questions about the viability of public transport networks in the region given high and rising levels of automobile use but the evidence from around the world is that well planned metro networks in particular will prove popular.

So, with Mecca joining Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, and design work on Abu Dhabi’s planned metro now underway, by the end of the decade, four major metro systems could be in operation in some of the fastest growing cities in the world. That represents a huge endorsement of the technology.


Will main line standards drive innovation to metro signalling?

Back in 1953 the esteemed UK railway manager Keith Grand once made a speech about standardisation, saying: “I believe it [standardisation] may mean standardisation of brains. When you get this it is the end of progress.” With the standards for most main line signalling effectively a choice between European Rail Traffic Management System or Positive Train Control, where can the signalling sector innovate?

It’s untrue, of course, to suggest that there isn’t innovation in terms of ERTMS and PTC – one of the highlights of InnoTrans 2012 was Invensys Rail’s incredibly compact Lyra onboard ERTMS solution – but with the standards laid down, what scope is there for really radical thinking to improve safety and enhance capacity on main lines? For all the benefits of common standards it’s hard to believe that either ERTMS or PTC really represent the ultimate in railway signalling.

Thankfully metro systems have by and large ignored these common standards in favour of a raft of signalling systems from the major providers, and in this sector competition is as fierce as ever, thank goodness. Although the concepts of offerings from the major players – Alstom, Siemens, Bombardier and Thales – are broadly similar the executions are wildly different. And with investment in the global metro sector continuing to soar the pressure is on all of the suppliers to innovate and improve their offerings.

The growth of common standards like ERTMS haven’t stifled innovation in the signalling sector – they’ve merely refocussed it, and the winners of this shift are the populations of cities all over the world.

Is signalling innovation concentrated on metro networks now?

Is signalling innovation concentrated on metro networks now?


All quiet… but there’s plenty happening…

Although so far this year there haven’t been many major signalling contracts revealed, there are plenty of developments to look forward to.

Metro networks in particular seem to be enjoying expansion and enhancement, and the newest Communications Based Train Control (CBTC) systems are offering a quantum leap in capacity. Amongst the most interesting projects expected to complete this year is Singapore’s Downtown Metro, which is expected to begin commissioning next month.

High-speed rail inevitably attracts the headlines, and although there is no doubt that Europe’s construction programme has slowed significantly, projects in North America, the Middle East and China all suggest there is scope for growth, particularly for signalling providers with competitive ETCS solutions.

As ETCS continues to mature its installation outside Europe looks set to grow, with the first installation in Australia under active consideration, amongst other schemes.

There is much to look forward to in 2013, and as ever, will be reporting the news as soon as we hear it.

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.

Invensys Rail wins in Oslo

Invensys Rail has won a £10.6 million contract to design, supply, install, test and provide commissioning support for new and expanded signalling on Oslo’s T-bane metro network.

The biggest project will see Invensys Rail undertake work on the new Lørenbane, which links the Ringbane and Grorudbane lines, with new signalling and modifications to existing infrastructure and the signalling control centre at Tøyen forming the bulk of the work. Completion is due in December 2015.

Invensys Rail is also undertaking enhancements on the Kolsåsbanen between Gjønnes and Aviøs, with these works due to be completed at the end of 2013.

For more information, the press release is here.

Metro upgrades the pain-free way

Alterations and upgrades to metro train control and signalling systems have always prompted rising heartbeats and apprehension in the most experienced signal engineers. It’s hardly surprising given the sheer number of passengers who can be affected by even relatively minor delays.

What’s surprising given the outright complexity and often constrained operating conditions is how well most upgrade schemes seem to go these days – tribute to the expertise of signalling engineers across the rail industry.

Our favourite scheme of the moment? A tough call, but we reckon that for innovation and technical guts that Invensys Rail’s dual CBTC/ERTMS programme on Turkey’s Marmaray Project takes some beating. To see why, visit