Having just won a challenging new railway project in Belgium, a German manufacturer needed local support in the form of experienced and competent people to implement a new signalling system using Belgian interlocking principles.
Interlocking forms the heart of a safe railway signalling system, giving clearance for trains to proceed. They ensure protection against the risk of collision and derailment by route reservation, track switch driving and controlling, and line side signaling.
The project is a country-wide rollout of new interlocking for Belgium – a mammoth task and hugely complex. The design and testing phases alone would take years of concentrated effort, on top of which there would be decades of maintenance and upgrades.
The contractor therefore turned to Altran to strengthen its software development teams. Altran already had significant knowledge about interlocking in general, but it would still have to expand its expertise as country-specific interlocking principles are generally only fully known and understood by the country’s own railway operator.
Implementation is also an important topic as traditionally interlocking is based on a big decision matrix hosted in a central computer. In our case, geographical interlocking is being approached differently. Every element/node in the network has its own state-machine that is exchanging messages with all adjacent elements/nodes. This splits a single grid into a cluster of hundreds of small computers talking to each other. Making the shift from centralization, into the domain of distributed computing. The latter is much more elegant and cost effective on big networks, but is also more complex to test and configure…
Altran established a dedicated team to assist in this process, first starting with a couple of experts and then bringing in talented young engineers, to end up with a design and verification team that could assist the contractor. The main functions of the team were:
- Learning the specific interlocking design;
- Continuous testing of existing elements via full simulation of interlocking rules on a proprietary platform, according to the customer’s principles;
- Developing new designs alongside dedicated training, organised initially by the customer;
- Organisation of internal training, both in testing and design, in order to expand the team to meet new project developments.
Altran’s strength lies in its capacity to train newcomers into capable and outstanding signaling engineers. Our young designers, had no prior experience in railways or signaling, are now confirmed design engineers. They started with the eagerness to accomplish things and were passionate to learn about railways. Altran gave them the opportunity to develop themselves in a structured and knowledge-sharing environment.
Through this combination of experienced signal engineers and enthusiastic team, Altran has accomplished many of its goals:
- Verification of new interlocking functional design, with several test specifications, test cases and test reports;
- Interlocking design corrections from problems detected during the functional testing phase;
- Integration of several different implementations of Belgian interlocking principles into the main contractor’s standard equipment.
Today, Altran is extending the service into new areas, taking on the challenge of more complex systems. This allows it to participate in high-level tendering, building on the experience the team gained over the last few years.
Altran’s centre of excellence in railway signalling allows the company to offer great outsourcing capabilities, both for railway infrastructure and on-board equipment, a role formerly only undertaken by a few major manufacturers.
Guest writers: Emmanuel Bonnard, Railway expert; Sven Meynckens, Solutions manager; Audry Vekemans, Senior portfolio manager – Altran Belgium.