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Network Rail approves Bender UK’s RS4 rail signal power protection system

Network Rail has approved Bender UK’s next-generation RS4 Rail Signalling Power Protection system that delivers increased sensitivity for first earth fault location and enables compliance with Network Rail’s insulation-monitoring and fault-location requirements.

Bender RS4 Tier 3.

The new RS4 employs tried-and-trusted Bender technology to deliver the multiple-tier smart cable insulation monitoring. RS4 Tier 3 has increased sensitivity for improved feeder first fault location from the 20kΩ pre‑warning level to 100KΩ or higher, depending on system capacitance. It has improved performance of Bender’s already proven RS systems to offer a holistic picture of cable health, along with a rich data set that meets the requirements of standard NR/L2/SIGELP/27725.

The Certificate of Acceptance (PA05/04750) confirms Network Rail’s acceptance of Bender’s Tier 3 RS4, which makes it simple for new devices and upgrades to be procured. The Tier 1 and 2 versions are also undergoing final testing to achieve certification.

The retrofittable RS4 solution can upgrade existing RS2/RS3 installations in less than an hour without disconnection.  It offers cost-effective continuation for legacy equipment that is compatible with existing Intelligent Infrastructure remote condition monitoring through GSM‑enabled data loggers.

Bender’s Tier 2 solution provides full insulation resistance levels of individual feeders with increased system visibility at minimal extra cost over Tier 3 technology and is fully upgradeable to deliver a Tier 1 solution.

The RS4 Tier 1 provides full insulation resistance levels of individual cable subsections and within FSPs (Functional Supply Points).  It also offers the flexibility to deliver tailor-made solutions on a project-by-project basis. It is fully retrofittable and compact for utilisation within SIN119 remedial works.  No 650V or earth reference connection for FSP installations is required, meaning the 650V power supply doesn’t need to be shut down during installation.  This ensures Bender’s Tier 1 solution is fully class 2 compliant and does not compromise the integrity of Class 2 enclosures or create risk of electric shock injury to personnel.

The RS4 has customised data and communication options, enabling project customisation that can be integrated into existing Intelligent Infrastructure. Trackside equipment can be incorporated into existing FSP architecture and the Tier 1 solution offers remote fault location to FSP or cable length, with precise manual fault finding at 100KΩ.

Alongside enhanced sensitivity for ‘first earth fault’ location, RS4 measures capacitance, voltage and frequency, delivering data within the standard display options to provide more information to help assess the health of the system. 

RS4 continually monitors insulation values to show real-time status of the power system. When the insulation value (IR) drops, the system records the fault and a test current signal or pulse put into the system is pulled to earth at the point where the fault exists.

RS4 Tier 3.

Portable Bender equipment can be employed trackside for measuring and analysing sections of the power network to prioritise installation programmes. Recent improvements to the portable kit include more sensitive clamps and receiver technology to deliver exact fault location up to 100kΩ. Self-powered through connection to the trackside signal electrical network and delivering live monitoring of the system status, the portable fault-location equipment can also provide independent verification of RS system performance.

The RS4 Tier 3 PADs database number is 0086/001406.  Individual PADS have also been applied to Bender components to deliver cost-effective product upgrades.

Bender UK has a proven track record with over 1,000 rail power insulation-monitoring systems installed across UK rail networks over the last two decades. 

For further information contact Tony Edwards, Rail Business Manager at Bender UK, or visit the website.

Crossrail opening goes back to 2021

The estimated completion date of Crossrail, the new railway running under London from West to East, has now been put back to “as soon as practically possible in 2021”. Crossrail is the construction project that, when it opens, will run as the Elizabeth line – a service of full-sized trains from Reading and Heathrow in the West through to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the East.

Nine new stations are being built as part of the new line – Paddington (low level), Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road, Farringdon, Liverpool Street (low level), Whitechapel, Canary Wharf, Custom House and Woolwich. In addition, the existing station at Abbey Wood has been extensively redeveloped by Network Rail to be the major terminus for the Elizabeth line in southeast London and many other stations on the overground sections have been or are being extensively modified and updated.

In April, Crossrail outlined its new plan to complete the outstanding works with an expected delivery window between October 2020 and March 2021 for the start of Elizabeth line services through central London. However, the latest delay was announced on Thursday 7 November in a statement to the London Stock Exchange by Transport for London.

Mark Wild spoke to the Railway Industry Association annual conference.

Crossrail chief executive Mark Wild spoke to the Railway Industry Association’s annual conference the day following the announcement to the Stock Exchange, so Rail Engineer took the opportunity to find out a bit more about the causes of the delay.

The current situation

Mark Wild was remarkably frank. He started by stating that, in his experience, the last five per cent of any major project takes 20 per cent of the time, particularly in the digital era.

“Actually, we’ve achieved a lot,” he said. “If you go back a year, this project was in a state of confusion and difficulty. Now, we’ve really turned the corner on the physical build, which is about to come to the end.

“One of the main challenges was working in the tunnels – productivity is very, very hard, it’s a complex environment where we’re testing one of the world’s most complicated signalling systems at the same time as building it.

“The good news is that, by Christmas, we’ll have finished the tunnel fit-out. It will take until January to get the tunnel ventilation system finished but, broadly, the tunnels will be complete in the very early part of 2020, with all the documentation submitted.”

The tunnels are complete – this is Stepney Green junction.

That’s good news about the tunnels. But earlier information had claimed that Crossrail’s stations were far from complete.

“If you look at the stations, we used to think that Bond Street and Whitechapel were real challenges for us,” Mark explained, “but we’re really grateful for Costain, Skanska, Balfour Beatty and Vinci which have done a wonderful job to get Bond Street and Whitechapel off our critical path – we’ve really turned the corner.

“The other stations are pretty much finished, and by the time we get to January/February, all of our stations will be complete, apart from Bond Street and Whitechapel. It’s been a huge effort building these immense structures, which are typically nine-stories deep and the equivalent of two London Underground stations, because we have a massive station at each end of our platforms – LU do one or two stations a year and we are about to commission 18 of them.”

Bond Street station platform still needs some work.

So, with the physical assets of Crossrail almost complete, apart from the final two stations mentioned, how about the signalling that will control the Elizabeth line trains as they run through the tunnels? Mark was upbeat about that too.

“In terms of software, we’ve converged the software from Siemens and Bombardier for what is genuinely one of the world’s most complex and challenging signalling systems, with the provision of ETCS and CBTC. They’ve done a wonderful job to such an extent that, by 9 December this year, we will drop the software into the central operating section ready for trial running and, ultimately, passenger service.”

Crossrail has therefore achieved a lot in 2019, and the big picture is that, in the next three or four months, it will have completed the physical installation and the functional testing.

Industry support

“When we took over Crossrail, we decided we’d take two stands,” Mark continued. “One was transparency – we’d tell people exactly where we are. The second was what we called ‘owning the whole’ – owning the whole of Crossrail – and everybody has stepped up to the plate. The sponsors have backed us – the Mayor, the Secretary of State, Government and City Hall – and we’re very lucky to have had a supply chain that has come with us.

“For example, one of them is a company called Protec, which is doing all of our fire verification. It’s a very small organisation, maybe 50 to 60 people working on Crossrail, compared to Bombardier and Siemens who have hundreds, but the important thing is that we are all pulling together.

“Ultimately, a project like Crossrail is a creative process. It’s an act of will. It takes courage. It takes collegiate spirit, to achieve something that, on paper, isn’t actually possible to do.”

Whitechapel station concourse is not yet ready for passengers.

Why the delay?

Building and commissioning Crossrail is, without doubt, an enormous project. Mark Wild calls it “undoubtedly, the biggest railway ever built in Europe in terms of complexity”. But, even with the infrastructure practically complete, there is still an awful lot to do.

The outstanding work had been divided into two critical paths, both of which start in the new year.

The first is software reliability growth.

“Although we’ve got good-quality software being installed in the central section in December, we have a period of testing and verification to do, then we have a long period of reliability growth,” Mark explained.

“We took a stand in Crossrail, when we took this over, that we would do a ‘proper job’. When you think about the Elizabeth line generically, there’s a railway in the east that we’re running from Liverpool Street to Shenfield, there’s a railway in the west that we are running from Paddington High Level out to the west – we’ll get to Reading by Christmas and Heathrow in the first half of 2020.

“The missing bit is the bit in the middle and we need to get this third railway running metronomically from Paddington to Abbey Wood. So, we have these three railways, and the middle bit, the tunnel, what people think of as the iconic Crossrail, needs to produce a 12 trains per hour metronomic service.

“Then the magic happens when the operators manage to weave these wonderful railways together. That’s when 1.5 million people suddenly come within the catchment of Central London jobs.

“I recently met a person at Abbey Wood who said their severely disabled young son couldn’t get a job locally. Couldn’t get a job. Well, he will be able to get a job when we open Crossrail because it will be fully accessible through its whole 44-station route.

So that’s why we need to take our time to get that central section metronomically working as a metro.”

Mark Wild points out the progress being made.

More systems than a submarine

While the first critical path will be the integration of the software, and the reliable running of a 12tph service day-in, day-out, the other will be the integration of the critical systems. With the anniversary of the King’s Cross fire fresh in Mark’s mind, it happened on 18 November 1987, he isn’t about to take any shortcuts on safety.

“We have 2.5 million digital assets to verify and integrate together. These are CCTV cameras, fire alarms and so on. We will take no shortcuts on safety. We will do it, but we will do it to the right level of safety and reliability. We will do this carefully.”

“We had thought that Christmas next year, plus or minus three months, was possible,” he continued, “but we now think that the integration of this critical software and systems will take a little bit longer so we will open in 2021 as soon as we can. I know that’s disappointing for people, but we need to be sure that we get it right and don’t take any shortcuts.

“Just so you know, a nuclear submarine will have a million digital assets. We’ve got 2.5 million to install and verify to the same standards of safety as a nuclear submarine or a nuclear power station. So, you’ll have to bear with us while we integrate them all.”

Just thinking about those numbers can make the head hurt. 2.5 million digital assets, effectively 18 new stations (nine stations with two accesses each), 70 new nine-car trains with all the on-board software to run them, signalling software for both CBTC (computer-based train control as used on metros) and ETCS (European train control system – the European standard for main-line railways) as well as the legacy systems still used at either end of the route, fire control, disabled access, passenger flows for short dwell times at stations, safety procedures for evacuating stations, more safety procedures for evacuating and recovering stranded trains, flood prevention – the list is endless.

No small surprise then that Mark says that his team has climbed one mountain in building the infrastructure, but still has another to climb in integrating, testing and commissioning it all. It’s almost a surprise he’s committing to any completion date at all!

KeTech – Connected Driver Advisory System

The November issue of Rail Engineer (issue 179) covered the Network Rail long-term deployment plan for ETCS (European Train Control System). ETCS, however, is only part of the overall digital railway programme, with the other parts including: traffic management (TM) to manage the flow of trains across the network, automatic train operation (ATO) to control a train’s traction and braking systems, telecom networks to provide the backbone to transfer data between the digital systems, and a connected driver advisory system (C-DAS) to support drivers with the delivery of operational performance and energy efficiency.

While full ETCS will take many years to provide, other components in the programme are available now and are delivering results today. This includes C-DAS, which is being provided by KeTech Systems.

As the full Network Rail TM system will not be deployed for many years, the approach taken by KeTech is to utilise signalling and other data sources in order to provide a C-DAS that is truly connected to the underlying infrastructure – this is a key differentiator in the industry.

A driver advisory system (DAS) is an on-board processor-based system that provides a driver with information to achieve the timetable sustainably, by regulating the speed profile and avoiding unnecessary braking. Standalone DAS (S-DAS) has data downloaded to the train at the start of its journey, but connected DAS (C-DAS) is enhanced with a communications link to provide real-time updates of information to the train, including processed signalling and Darwin information along with other information such as temporary speed restrictions.

Darwin is the rail industry’s official train-running information engine, providing real-time arrival and departure predictions, platform numbers, delay estimates, schedule changes and cancellations.

C-DAS is what it ‘says on the tin’ – it only ‘advises’ a driver, so the system does not require a high safety integrity in terms of signalling design and asset management. Safety is ensured by the trains normal onboard control and braking system together with the line side signalling system. This allows more cost-effective C-DAS solutions to be quickly rolled out compared to other safety critical components in the digital railway programme.  

C-DAS calculates and displays to the driver an energy-efficient speed profile to enable the train to meet the timetable, taking into account timing points, line speeds, including speed restrictions, and the train’s characteristics and capabilities. The advisory information helps the driver to achieve the timetable and monitors the train’s progress towards the next timing point to identify any changes required to the speed profile. This is complemented by a suite of reporting facilities.

If the train is behind time and if the line and train speed limits are capable of a higher speed, then this will be advised to a driver, or, if the train is running early, a more efficient speed profile can be advised, both to save energy and wear and tear of the train. C-DAS also helps to ensure a train arrives at any junction in time to avoid timetable conflicts with other trains, and it can avoid the need to brake at adverse signals, therefore reducing the risk of signals passed at danger.

The information is provided to the driver through a user-friendly driver machine interface (DMI). In the case of the C-DAS project currently being rolled out by KeTech, this is via the driver’s updated DMI.

Modular and adaptable

KeTech Systems is based in the UK and has a long history of providing both station and train-borne innovative, high quality and highly reliable real-time information systems. Its products are scalable and modular, ensuring that they can be tailored to the varying needs of clients. KeTech has experienced, industry-expert designers and engineers available to provide innovative solutions to bespoke railway industry requirements for software, electronics and system design. Its C-DAS solution is a natural evolution of KeTech’s unique real-time Universal Information System (UIS) platform, which forms the foundation of all their real-time information solutions.

KeTech was first involved in providing railway station customer information systems (CIS). Originally, these were standalone systems, but, over time, KeTech enhanced their CIS product with real-time data inputs from operational signalling train describers in order to provide accurate train positioning information. When a train leaves a platform, it is important that the display is cleared before the next train enters the platform. KeTech has therefore years of experience with designing systems with the appropriate low-latency requirement.  

For many years, KeTech has also been involved in providing onboard train passenger information systems (a mixture of software and hardware as required) for various train operators. This required systems to be designed to accommodate challenging levels of electromagnetic compatibility (EMC), vibration and power-supply variables from a wide range of rolling stock deployed on the network, with minimum space for equipment.

As a result, KeTech has proven experience in the design and delivery of real-time railway systems linked to operational signalling equipment, together with on board systems involving train driver ergonomics and a safety integrity level. To date, KeTech has real-time information systems deployed with over 50 per cent of UK Train Operators – a mixture on and off train systems. All these systems have to work reliably in the harsh EMC and challenging environmental envelopes.  KeTech is therefore ideally placed to design a reliable user-friendly C-DAS system.

Approached to provide a C-DAS system for Siemens’ Class 350 trains, KeTech designed and developed a system that is now being deployed in several subclasses of the Class 350 fleet and is currently operating in ‘shadow mode’ to gather/verify data – it is expected to ‘go live’ early in 2020. KeTech has designed the system to use an updated version of the current driver’s DMI, but a larger graphical, intuitive and standalone DMI has also been designed for possible use in other classes of train.

Siemens Class 350 train.

The important point is it’s the same flexible C-DAS system that can be tailored to meet the requirements of any train operator or rolling stock fleet. All the KeTech systems are designed in-house within the UK, allowing complete control of all the specialist designs, both for hardware and software.   

The communications link is provided by public LTE telecoms networks. This allows a much higher data bandwidth than that currently available via GSM-R. KeTech’s C-DAS intelligently manages communications connectivity and is able to fallback gracefully to S-DAS mode in the event of comms loss.

KeTech believes its C-DAS will deliver the ‘gold standard driving reference’ that train drivers can rely on. It is the first, and only, situationally aware system capable of dynamically informing train drivers of critical changes on the route ahead of a train. The user-friendly DMI display presents important and useful information, such as route position, optimal speed, and coasting. Any significant events on the track will automatically be passed on to the driver in real-time. The intuitive system intelligently interprets the data and dynamically updates the advice on the drivers DMI.

Resilient architecture

With the capability to be completely connected to the whole rail network, KeTech’s C-DAS intelligently updates drivers and provides advice to facilitate a smoother journey, greater efficiency and significant energy savings. Unlike other C-DAS products, KeTech’s C-DAS does not just rely on Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) receivers, but has access to many other sources of positional and real-time information including signalling data and the train management system (TMS) – a train-borne distributed control information system, which uses data such as wheel rotation counting to ensure a reliable and accurate location information feed. KeTech’s C-DAS uses signalling (train describer) data to identify when a train has been changed from its planned route and reforecasts the revised route that the train will be taking, adjusting the route profile automatically.

GNSS systems, such as the Global Positioning System (GPS), have many benefits for rail, but, for them to work reliably, there needs to be clear ‘line of sight’ from trains to satellites, and trains may be hidden by bridges, tunnels, cuttings and when traveling on sub-surface lines. GNSS alone will not have adequate resolution to determine which line a train is on when several lines run parallel, and neither the infrastructure manager nor the train operator will have any control over the availability of the GNSS signal. Due to these limitations, KeTech uses GNSS as part of their fallback solution and not the prime source of positional information.

As KeTech is also an electronics company used to designing SIL 2 (safety integrity level 2) systems, it has the capability to design any interfaces required to integrate with legacy train fleets, and its C-DAS bespoke design can be provided as a software or mixed technology solution. The flexible design is not limited just to the UK and it can be adapted for any infrastructure manager or train operator throughout the world.

C-DAS, while delivering route and train status information to the driver with fuel efficiency and cost saving in mind, also facilitates passenger comfort and a smoother journey. Passengers can get frustrated with experiencing a fast and potentially uncomfortable journey with hard braking, followed by waiting stationary outside a station for a platform to be available, even if the train still arrives at the platform on time. C-DAS provides a solution to this problem.

So, KeTech’s C-DAS system is flexible and can be adapted to accommodate new and legacy train fleets. It is easy to operate and interpret, giving drivers peace of mind throughout their journey, while providing a better smoother journey for customers. Most importantly it’s here today and is part of the digital railway programme that can deliver results now, and not in several years’ time.

Bringing end users and operators into the design process

Guest writers: Darren King, WSP group director of rail planning and operations, and William Barter, an independent rail operations and planning consultant.

In ‘Rail’, there is a simple eco-system that exists, which should always be respected by the industry’s design engineers. The operator may be the immediate customer; but the passenger, freight user and, in a broader sense, the region in which the railway exists, are the ultimate customers. This means that an engineering design, and its final construction, is only as good as the operation it enables; understanding what that operation is trying to achieve is vital for the engineer to design infrastructure that supports it.

To be effective, consultants need to look through the lens of the ultimate customer, first to those who are going to have to plan, operate and maintain a train service after completion of the project, then to the objectives that the train service aims to meet. In other words, they need to make sure they are helping their clients to put the passenger or freight user first.

Design consultants such as WSP take a user-focused approach. This means providing a service specification that meets the strategic objectives of the project and informs how the railway needs to be operated. In effect, this sets the basis for final engineering elements that will deliver an operation that meets the end users’ needs.

Often, the operator’s detailed requirements are only understood late on in the design process or, even worse, after construction has started. This inevitably leads to costly alterations or a compromised operational performance which fails to deliver. To some extent, this will always be the case, as analysis can only be based on the inputs available at the time; the project development process simply must allow for it, and recognize that there is uncertainty in analysis of potential operations at an early stage, just as there is in engineering estimates.

Good engineering may not be the same as a good project. Operators may well appreciate the need to maximise construction windows and engineers should understand the need to run a railway around construction windows. But ‘efficient’ construction that ultimately hampers the end product, such as sacrificing operating functionality for the convenience of the construction programme, is actually not efficient at all.

Integrated, iterative and collaborative

Building a new railway, or enhancing an existing one, is not a linear, Gantt-chart activity; instead it requires an integrated and iterative process to assure the final design. Time has proven that this is the only approach that enables the right level of evidence to be provided to support a business case that meets all its objectives. Moreover, an integrated design process can identify and highlight the big risks and opportunities in time for action to be taken.

Adopting such a joined-up design process can only occur within a mature and collaborative environment – one which encourages a multi-disciplinary approach. It requires the railway to be seen by all stakeholders as a system which clearly defines and sets rail systems engineering requirements and capabilities – one that ultimately meets the needs of the freight or passenger customer.

It is only once the way a rail system needs to operate to meet its desired performance is fully understood that the type of technology that is needed to achieve that end goal can be defined. This is not always what happens – too often the opposite is true.

Putting the process into practice

‘Operability’ is the term now used to describe the ability of the rail system to provide a train service that meets its objectives. Broadly, this means meeting the sponsor’s specification for journey times, service frequencies and stopping patterns, all while meeting performance targets and without incurring excessive operating costs.

Analysis of the potential operability of a project reflects its specific objectives, for example to increase capacity, reduce costs or encourage modal shift. This analysis has to be staged, just as in engineering design. Fully formed train service plans – plans that match the development of the physical infrastructure as the design moves from broad concept, through alignment and track layout, to comprehensive design complete with signalling schemes and other supporting systems such as electrification and tunnel ventilation – do not ‘just happen’!

The stages of operability analysis can be characterised as:

  1. Initial appraisal based on known precedents;
  2. Theoretical calculation of headways and trains per hour (tph);
  3. Building a timetable with the associated resources plan for fleet and crew;
  4. Performance modelling;
  5. Actual operation.

Operability analysis starts where overriding objective meets binding constraint. This overriding objective might be a tph target, and to efficiently enable it, other areas may have to work ‘inefficiently’, perhaps at less than their full theoretical capability if considered in isolation.

An example may be a station design that is theoretically generous with the track layout and provision of platforms in comparison with the number of trains set to arrive there. But this over-compensation may well allow maximum utilisation of the terminus. This could be even more important if, as an example, the station is subject to minimum infrastructure provision as it is in a space-constrained urban setting.

This is just one example of why each component of a network must be considered part of the system as a whole.

Changing requirements

There also needs to be an iterative process between engineering disciplines and operator as the design matures.

Train graphs are used for single-track line to identify clashes (marked in red) and determine where doubletracking is required to accommodate extra services.

Findings from each stage can lead to revisions of the design, and this must be respected beyond the usual ‘operators changing their minds again’ response. For instance, timetabling analysis may show a need for a major station design to incorporate two platforms in each direction, so as to accommodate the number of trains expected, rather than the one platform in one direction originally scoped. Without an engineering team (in the widest sense) willing and able to recognise this requirement, and the operational issues that led to it, the end user would have had to compromise on stopping pattern, service frequency or journey time.

Similarly, the general requirement for a three-minute planning headway on the approach to another major station seemed reasonable. However, timetabling showed that, as trains would present from three independent routes, each planned around their own constraints, there was a high likelihood that they would coincide, needing a lower headway to avoid extending journey times waiting for a path.

In new circumstances beyond the conventional railway, where the learning curve can be steep, it is important that each engineering discipline interacts with every other, as well as with the operator, to deal effectively with the inevitable surprises.

The position of vents shafts in tunnels becomes a key operational consideration.

These surprises can arise from seemingly innocuous changes. On a recent project, the distance between tunnel ventilation shafts had to be reconsidered when a ‘one-train-between-shafts’ rule was added to the constraints of the original design. In this instance, the solution was to align signalling sections with ventilation shafts. This introduced longer block sections in the tunnels than in the open air, increasing the technical headway, but not beyond acceptable limits – so long as trains are running at speed. In this instance, the final shaft-to-portal section of the tunnel became the ‘binding constraint’ on a headway, as the speed of the train reduces to zero when it reaches the station.

Incidentally, although initial requirements for rescue and evacuation might set a maximum shaft spacing, operations may suggest reducing this spacing to achieve acceptable headways. Ideally, shafts will be located evenly in terms of transit time, not just distance – a revelation the Victorians discovered when locating block posts for Absolute Block signalling.

The same station-approach project threw up another challenge when a late aspiration emerged that, when trains brake in tunnels, they should rely on regeneration-only braking, which is gentler and generates less ambient heat than the friction braking that was originally intended. Designers had to account for longer transit times and headway, caused by trains having to brake earlier to reduce their speed.

Any mitigations introduced at a late stage of design should result in permanent way and signalling layouts which place the minimum possible constraint on train speed, so as not to limit the speed of arriving trains any more than the simple need to stop at the platform.

On railways, whether they are conventional or high-speed, regional or inter-city, every discipline has an input in achieving an operable network that meets its objectives, even those not normally considered as part of the traditional railway infrastructure, such as tunnel ventilation.

Railway design calls for a multi-disciplinary approach, which needs to be set in a mature and collaborative environment as all components of the system are developed together.

Five guiding principles

Broad principles to help engineers interact with their customers during project development:

Understand the strategic and commercial objectives from the outset of the project. What is the ultimate goal? Is it capacity, journey time, connectivity? Establishing this forms the basis for making informed trade-offs as the engineering design progresses and finds problems. Otherwise the temptation is to “spoil the ship for a bucket of tar” when running into trouble, such as descoping the physical infrastructure for the sake of short-term benefits to the construction programme, perhaps by reducing the number of platforms to achieve a one-stage construction.

Operability analysis and development of an illustrative operational plan and timetable is not a rubber stamp! Let the analysis feedback into development of the infrastructure. The surprise should not be that the analysis prompts changes to the original infrastructure specification, but how often it doesn’t!

Operability analysis can increase and reduce costs. For instance, capability of fringe areas of the network may determine how well the core works. It may be more cost-effective to invest in the fringes to ease the task of the core, rather than over-specify the core to mask inflexibility elsewhere.

Operability analysis needs to consider operational performance. But success involves multiple systems working together – not just the broad alignment with gradients and speed limits, but the track layout, the signalling scheme that can be designed onto it, and operational rules and procedures. The data to support this emerges relatively late in the design, and detailed, data-hungry models are pointless until the design can provide a usable level of input detail. Designers need to develop wide-area network simulators that work from minimum relevant data input and so can be applied early in the design development.

Needs will change over time. A rail project’s lifetime can be measured in decades, if not a century or more as it meets new demands. The task is not simply to pour concrete, based on a single solution for the problems posed by one specification, and move on, but to build in choices that our successors can exploit as they see fit in decades to come.

Improving New Train Introduction – the operator’s view

Die Zukunft des Pendlerverkehrs - der komfortable neue Siemens-Zug für das Londoner Thameslink-Netz wurde am 24. Mai 2016 am Bahnhof Blackfriars vorgestellt. Der Desiro-City-Zug der Klasse 700 ist um fünfzig Prozent länger als fast alle anderen Züge der jetzigen Thameslink-Flotte. Er bietet Sitz- und Stehplätze für bis zu 1.750 Fahrgäste – was der Kapazität von 21 Doppeldeckerbussen entspricht – und soll auf zahlreichen Strecken zwischen London und Sussex, Surrey, Kent, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire sowie Cambridgeshire verkehren. On 24 May 2016, Thameslink is set to showcase the future of commuting when it unveils the spacious new Siemens Class 700 Thameslink train at Blackfriars station. Fifty per cent longer than almost every train in the Thameslink fleet, the train can carry up to 1,750 people seated and standing – the equivalent of 21 double-decker buses – and will be running on many routes to London from Sussex, Surrey, Kent, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire.

With an unprecedented number of new vehicles ordered since 2010 – over 8,000 – and with more orders to come, getting them safely, reliably and efficiently into service is a priority. Challenges with testing, acceptance, software, stabling, depot facilities and long fixed formation trains were recurrent themes at a recent IMechE’s Railway Division seminar and, sadly, even new train introduction was not a Brexit free zone.

But the speakers were in an unusually candid mood and the overall conclusion was “could, should and must do better”. No one actually used the word “crisis”, but “late”, “more costly”, “more risk” and “not performing as well as hoped” were all terms that featured in the presentations.

Bill Reeve.

The session was kicked off with a keynote speech from Bill Reeve, director of rail at Transport Scotland. He said he was embarrassed by the record of new train introduction over the last few years and it was an inconvenient truth that the last three rolling stock projects sponsored by his department, and those for Northern and TPE where he is independent chair of the Rail North Partnership, had all been late and had suffered teething troubles. This had led to customer and other benefits – service quality, improved accessibility and introducing retention tank toilets – being delayed.

As an engineer himself, Bill said that he understood that things can go wrong, but emphasised that Ministers do not understand why rolling stock suppliers appear to promise what they cannot deliver. Moreover, Ministers remember these problems when they determine the next round of investment, despite rail’s great advantages in delivering for climate change and economic regeneration.

The rail industry often fails to recognise that it is in competition with other transport modes, and that road in particular is working hard on the key challenge of decarbonisation and the opportunity of autonomous vehicles – “with comfy seats too”, he added.

He said that the industry can and must do better. If it does, it is pushing against an open door in terms of building customer satisfaction, adding that the new sleeping cars are very comfortable and are timely as people are increasingly talking about “flight shame” and “rail bragging”.

Bill cautioned that the current UK rolling stock boom can only lead to bust. The programme represents approximately 50 per cent of the current fleet and, although some of these trains are intended to increase the fleet size, procurement at anything like the current rate would surely lead to a nominal train life of some 14 to 20 years, with a terrible embedded-carbon impact.

Bill moved on to what he called the compatibility challenge – gauging, EMC and power. He did admit that government is at the heart of the challenge, as incentives between the infrastructure manager and the train operators had often been misaligned. He illustrated the problem of misalignment when he talked about gauging, a process that had become unnecessarily complicated, adding delay and cost as Network Rail had been incentivised to measure the gauge but, if non-compliant, was not incentivised to fix it. Scotland’s CP6 high-level output specification required Network Rail to develop a Scotland-specific gauge and, over five years, bring the railway into compliance.

Bill concluded by speculating that the output of current reviews might well recommend simplified processes, aligned incentives and joined up railway undertakings. Such a move would lead to problems and issues falling away as people tackle problems in teams.

Bill’s insightful remarks were in stark contrast to the afternoon keynote from a representative of the DfT, whose bland comments contributed little to the day’s deliberations. As parliament was due to be dissolved two days later, perhaps it was a case of early onset purdah.

New Train Introduction

The main sessions covered the challenges faced by teams introducing new trains onto their parts of the railway, with very different presentations from Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) and Siemens, CAF, Direct Rail Services (DRS), Irish Railways and Abellio Greater Anglia (AGA).

GTR/Siemens Class 700

Dave Hickson from GTR and Hans Benker from Siemens reviewed lessons from the Class 700 fleet introduction onto the Thameslink routes, as seen above. This was the second biggest individual order in UK history, a total of 1140 vehicles made up into 115 trains, in a programme from start of procurement to final delivery lasting over ten years.

The sheer length of the programme brought its own problems. For example, it was only six years after procurement started, and one year after contract placement, that GTR was appointed, and the opportunity to influence important aspects of the train design had passed. Details, such as aspects of the cab design, led to issues with signal sighting that caused additional infrastructure cost.

In his presentation, Dave Hickson also highlighted the lack of retractable shoegear, which was vulnerable on OLE sections not used to seeing trains designed for third-rail use – high ballast and shoes don’t mix well and the track team had to learn to keep the ballast below the lower gauge envelope.

That said, the complex programme was successful in that the last train rolled off the production line on time in 2018 and, by October 2019, the trains had accumulated more than 32.5 million fleet miles.

With such a large fleet, two new depots, many new stabling points and dependency on the Thameslink infrastructure programme, there were a huge number of risks to manage. Offsite testing at Siemens’ test track was highlighted as a key benefit, something noted by others, but it was emphasised that offsite testing was not a substitute for the rigours of passenger operation.

As was seen during the aftermath of the May 2018 timetable ‘challenges’, driver training was a major challenge, both for stock and route learning. Stabling was also a major challenge during the transition process, when there were more trains on the network than usual. Also, Dave Hickson recognised the benefit of fixed formation trains for capacity but they lack flexibility; a defect in a cab cannot be “hidden” in the middle of an eight or twelve car formation.

Hans Benker highlighted the benefits and challenges of a software-driven train, in particular that Siemens can monitor service trains from the depot and improve predictive maintenance by collecting additional data, for example, door currents. The focus shifting from hardware to software does mean that adjustments are needed by both operator and maintainer since every train has a collection of sub-systems, each with their own operating system, application and communications interface.

Keeping software up-to-date is significantly affecting how change control is managed, needing a changed approach from both his organisation and from GTR the duty holder. He also reported that, whilst the configuration management system in use for the Class 700 trains has been superseded within Siemens, the old system has been retained for Class 700 in order to minimise risk.

Caledonian Sleeper.

CAF Caledonian Sleeper

Graham Taylor from CAF described the challenges of introducing the Caledonian Sleeper vehicles with passing reference to other fleets and some of the challenges brought about by the rapid growth of CAF’s business in UK. The Caledonian Sleeper fleet is just 75 vehicles, with four different variants within the fleet. However, they are amongst the most complex trailer coaches ever built and, although the fleet size is small, and there are just two Up and two Down trains per night, it is a complex operation.

Each Down train consists of 16 coaches and splits en route; the Edinburgh/Glasgow Lowlander at Carstairs and the Inverness/Aberdeen/Fort William Highlander at Edinburgh. Similarly, the Up trains combine at the same locations. For the Highlander, some of the carriages from the Up services return from Edinburgh on the Down services. The Edinburgh splitting/joining is particularly complex, with some 22 moves being carried out each night.

Graham outlined some of the challenges that faced CAF as, effectively, a new supplier to UK heavy rail with little background in working with UK processes, particularly authorisation. The client had specified a bespoke and very specific design aspiration which was to be applied to a new vehicle platform. Moreover, some of the required standards specifically applicable to sleeping vehicles had not been used before and they were being interpreted for the first time. Examples were the emergency escape arrangements, and the control of heating and air conditioning to eleven individual compartments to very stringent limits. Finally, the stakeholder group was unusually large.

Some apparently simple activities became complex. In some instances, the vehicles could not be shipped to locations with rails, or their destination was unsuitable for lorry delivery, leading to complex logistics.

Finding space to commission and test the vehicles was a challenge – as an example, space was found for the TPE Mark 5 fleet in the former Manchester International depot built for Channel Tunnel night stock. Although this is alongside the Alstom maintenance facility (Mark 5 carriage maintainers), it was on the other side of a busy main line. Hence, a move from one location to the other could take up to four hours.

Space constraints led to offices being up to a kilometre away from the site of works and even Brexit intervened and some part-finished vehicles were delivered early to avoid 29 March.

Graham highlighted at least one bright spot in that CAF had fewer problems resourcing enough field engineers as they could draw in CAF’s Spanish and other international workforce, which brought both new ideas and some challenges in that the international workers had to learn the acceptable UK practices. He also warned that the impending application of HM Revenue & Customs’ IR35 rules to private sector employers might create some issues for hiring temporary labour.

Testing and commissioning of the Caledonian fleet was very involved, mainly due to the extensive operational network and despite the small train numbers. There was significant testing required, both of the carriages and their integration with the electric and diesel locomotives, and pathing was a significant issue on many parts of the railway.

Developing the test safety case was the responsibility of GB Railfreight (GBRf), which has the contract to be train operator for the sleeper service and so is the duty holder. GBRf, Caledonian Sleeper and CAF staff were all involved in the tests. Fortunately, some of the fault-free running was carried out on Spanish Railways, which reduced the requirement for paths in the UK. Graham was also pleased that CAF’s software philosophy of modular software linked to the train platform’s TCMS software, and a well-established internal software development team, leads to rapid deployment of regression-tested modifications where they are required.

Finally, Graham remarked on the acceptance/authorisation process, which requires a huge volume of soft deliverables, interspersed with different interpretations, sometimes a lack of alignment of goals. Also, signing a train off as safe and fit to run is certainly not the same as having a train fit to offer a high-quality service to demanding customers night after night. Fortunately, the trains are all now in service!

Direct Rail Services Class 68.

DRS Classes 68 and 88

Andy Martlew from DRS talked about the procurement and authorisation of Class 68 and 88 locomotives. His approach was refreshing. He believed firmly in engagement and relationship building with the supplier, with the operating staff and with Network Rail, that assurance is something that needs to be planned as part of the design, development and testing process, and that the customer – the Railway Undertaking (RU) – should be helping the manufacturer to succeed, especially where the manufacturer has limited UK experience.

He said he had been involved in vehicle procurement in British Railways and, as far as possible, had employed the same behaviours.

Andy talked particularly about the Network Compatibility process, emphasising that the RU must deal with this and, whilst elements might need to be done by others, the overall responsibility cannot be sub-contracted. This is particularly challenging for a freight operator that might want virtually nationwide compatibility. Once again, he emphasised engagement with Network Rail.

Using the example of gauging, Andy outlined how he worked with Network Rail to resolve an initial list of nearly 5,500 “tight spots” by prioritising, assessment and, if absolutely necessary, by modifying the locomotive gauge or by fixing the tight spot.

Andy stressed the importance and value of off-network testing. This allows a much shorter testing programme on the UK’s crowded railway; a recurring theme of the seminar.

Placing the locomotive into service involves the engineering-operations risk assessment to ensure everyone understands the residual risks, that they are reduced to ALARP (as low as reasonably practicable) and that those responsible for controlling them understand their responsibilities, especially those exported to the operator from the design and construction phase.

Andy said that train crew and maintenance staff training is a much bigger challenge than many realise, and it is important to hold their hands to help them get the best out of the new technologies; it comes down to engagement once again. He also said that warranty/initial spares lists are only ever a guess and the use of spares should be monitored carefully within the warranty period to prepare for the end of the warranty.

Things can and do go wrong, leading to what Andy euphemistically described as “in field product development”, especially with brand new designs. Which is when the relationship built with the supplier pays off!

22023 crosses the Slaney Bridge at Enniscorthy as it departs the town with the 0940 Connolly – Rosslare Europort. Sat 06.07.13

A view from over the water

Peter Smyth, Irish Rail’s chief mechanical engineer, presented his experience of buying new trains. Irish Rail is state owned but organised into two accounting groups – Railway Undertaking and Infrastructure Manager. Irish Rail is roughly a “medium size TOC”, carrying nearly 50 million passengers per annum with a fleet of 900 vehicles.

It has purchased over one billion Euros worth of rolling stock since 2000 from Europe, Asia and the USA. Two tenders are currently in progress for electric/battery electric vehicles for an expansion of the Dublin Area Rapid Transit network and for additional vehicles for diesel units bought from Hyundai/Rotem.

So new it;s still in the plastic bag!

Peter outlined the process used in Ireland which will be familiar to anyone who works in an organisation that owns and operates its own vehicles; specify, procure, design, develop manufacture, delivery and into service over a period of approximately five years. He emphasised the importance of the specification – “if it’s important to you, include it in the specification”.

He added that the most reliable trains delivered on time and from the shortest specification were those from Japan. He highlighted particular issues he faces in a country with no rolling stock builder, often having to work with suppliers building for Ireland for the first time and the difficulty of getting any significant off-site testing due to Ireland’s unique 1600mm gauge.

Peter always appoints an On-Site Representative (OSR) to act as his eyes and ears on site. He emphasised that the OSR needs to have the engineering and production skills to ensure that manufacturing is carried out strictly in accordance with the design in factories where, perhaps, practices might be “a little different” from those usually seen in Europe. He further emphasised that sub-contractors must be included in the OSR process as many of them are building critical and large sub-assemblies.

He has had great success with the ‘permission to ship’ process, whereby quality control and resolution of snags had to be complete before shipping and that “no permission to ship = no shipping” even if the ship is at the dockside. Shipping trains halfway round the world can mean that a large number of vehicles arrive at once and to accommodate them whilst they are commissioned can be a challenge.

Irish Rail’s trains need to be authorised to enter service by the Irish NSA and Peter, like many others, emphasised planning the process carefully and starting it early.

Training and Stabling

Steve Mitchell from Abellio Greater Anglia presented the scale of AGA’s challenge in getting trains, depots and stabling ready for service and training the drivers. AGA is replacing its entire fleet, but Steve confined himself to the Stadler bi-mode and electric units; 24 four-car and 13 three-car units of the former and 20, 12-car units of the latter. At the time of presenting, the bi-mode trains had started to enter service, operating in diesel mode only.

Starting with depots, Steve explained that plan A had been for a depot at Manningtree, but further work showed that the site was unsuitable to get trains into and out of service, even if the site could have been purchased and developed. Instead, the decision was taken to upgrade the existing Norwich Crown Point depot, which was already a busy place. It was challenging to carry out all the modifications in a working depot and many trains in the legacy fleets were transferred to other depots for maintenance.

Steve also highlighted the challenges of maintaining long trains, especially in a depot never intended for trains of that length. There needed to be changes to AGA’s contract with train suppliers because of the changed plan, and Steve highlighted conflicting requirements hour-by-hour, leading to uncertainty for many people. This was further complicated by there being many different parties in one place, namely AGA’s project team, AGA’s train supply agreement team, AGA’s legacy fleet management team, Stadler’s commissioning and warranty team, and Stadler’s technical support team.

Steve provided a long list of lessons learned, including having the contracts for the depot civil engineering in the franchise conditions precedent, managing changing plans on a stopwatch not a calendar, involving the train manufacturer in the depot design review, and avoiding using a working depot (if possible). Steve also recommended not underestimating the “people piece” and having a very clear structure to deal with arising issues (is your governance fit for purpose?) and avoiding long fixed-formation trains (another recurring theme).

Greater Anglia trains stabled on the Mid- Norfolk Railway. (Mike Page)


Steve turned to stabling. Again, the plan changed 18 months into the franchise. The original plan was for four trains to be in commissioning at any one time. However, this changed to having to store almost all the new fleet, as well as almost all the existing fleet, at the same time. This led to a demand for a large amount of stabling space, which AGA achieved by partnering with the Mid-Norfolk Railway and by recommissioning the Wensum sidings, close to the depot – altogether, about 5km of siding space.

Moves between sites were more frequent than had been expected, the planned-for simple workflow turned into more, and seemingly random, moves. Finding space for 12-car trains was particularly hard and, in order to move trains, there needed to be space to move them into, leading to a requirement for even more space. All the extra movements also required more drivers than had been expected.

Having the entire new fleet in the UK “on standby” was not easy, but led to production not being on the critical path. However, access to the trains needed to be maintained and Steve recommended that stabling sites should be configured so they can also be used as work sites, at least for interior modification/commissioning work.

And then there was driver training…

Steve said that the plan was for Part A – simulator training (three days) starting in October 2018, Part B – stock handling (one day) in February 2019, and PTI, plus use of the in-cab platform CCTV system and train despatch (one day), also in February 2019. This would have delivered 10 to 16 trained drivers per week, enough for the May 2019 timetable while keeping driver training off the critical path and avoiding the “three-month refresh”. AGA planned to use the contractual fault-free running (FFR) process as part of driver training.

Speakers stressed the importance of driver training. Here, drivers learn to drive the new Hitachi Azuma trains introduced on what was then Virgin Trains East Coast.

In reality, there was a delay in having a train ready for driver training, leading to a large number of drivers who had been Part A trained, but who could not do Part B, causing “re-training due to three months”. Even when trains were available for part B, the automatic selective door-opening system was still not available and a catch-up plan was needed. Experience dictated that additional meet-and-greet support was required, leading to the question “is one day’s road handling enough”? Finally, training was sometimes cancelled due to no units being available. As a result, driver training became near critical path.

Steve reviewed the lessons learned on driver training, especially the need for very close liaison between the project and operations teams on train status for driver training. He also said that the notion of using AGAs drivers for FFR was good, but more contingency was needed to make that arrangement truly effective. The plan for efficiency was good, but in practice there were not enough drivers or trains at the right time to make the plan truly effective.

In summary, Steve emphasised flexibility, discussion and contingency – and don’t buy 12-car fixed formation trains!

To follow

This presentation by Steve Mitchell concluded the session on individual train classes that have recently been introduced onto the network by the train operators.

There followed a series of presentations by the Rail Delivery Group, infrastructure owner Network Rail safety organisation RSSB and rail regulator, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR). Malcolm’s report on these presentations will be found in next month’s Rail Engineer (issue 181, January 2020).

The Signalling Profession Bares its Soul

IRSE president George Clark. (prettythings.co.uk)

Every two years, the signalling industry showcases its achievements, innovations and challenges under the umbrella of the Institution of Railway Signal Engineers (IRSE) ASPECT conference, which this year was held in October at the Technical University in Delft, Netherlands.

Founded in 1842, the university has a Department of Transport Operations and Management, where Prof Dr Rob Goverde heads up railway operations and engineering. Resilience engineering and safety management can also be studied – very pertinent with the increase in passenger demand across the world’s railways.

George Clark, the IRSE president, emphasised that engineering, operations, cyber security and skill sets are all part of obtaining resilience. The recent UK power outages, which lasted only 15 minutes, caused train service disruption for several hours, an example of resilience not being effective.

Resilience in many forms

Wim Coenraad, a past president now working for Movares (a Dutch rail consultancy), spoke of the need for ‘business continuity’ as a means of keeping the railway running when large scale disruptions occur.

A power failure in Switzerland, during which back-up supplies and a diesel generator did not function as planned, resulted in delay to 1,500 trains and 200,000 passengers, with compensation of three million swiss francs (£2.3 million) being paid out. It can be an expensive business when things go wrong.

Learning lessons is all important, so companies should try and stabilise the situation, aim for a skeleton service, load share if possible, not overwhelm staff with information and focus on the essentials.

Managers need to try and analyse the risk of unimaginable consequences by understanding the operational, information and signalling technologies. They should try to put these together into a disaster recovery plan based on security and contingency planning, creating a scenario for the predictable that includes a crisis and emergency centre and having staff trained with empowerment to act should be part of the safety culture.

On the same theme, Andrew Love from SNC-Lavalin talked on ‘The approach to planning for things that might not happen’. An example would be a national emergency such as a pandemic flu outbreak where more than 1.13 per cent of the population is likely to die.

Staff absence in any such emergency would be a major problem, so having alternative suppliers on tap for catering and cleaning would be an asset, as would staff being equipped to work from home. Companies must be aware of the power of social media for the communication of information and test the resilience of their systems if possible.

South Ferry station on the New York Subway was flooded 80 feet deep (24 metres) by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

Disney Schembri from Siemens spoke of climate change and the growing risk of extreme wet weather and flooding, of extreme heat and potential rail buckling, of the associated crowd build-up at stations and the general impact on people. With half of all rail travel being commuting to work or education, there is predictable frustration if trains are cancelled or late.

Intelligent monitoring systems need to include drones, cameras and soil sensors, while plans for entry and egress at stations, particularly at peak times, has to take advantage of personalised smart phone technology. Much of this has commercial implications which may be more difficult to solve than the technical issues.

Filling the skills gap is another resilience factor, with 30,000 apprentices required in the UK by 2022. Such a programme will need funding of £206 million per year plus an element of government support, a significant sum for the industry to find.

Rail Operations – Operating Mode. (Jacobs)

Resilience in design

Building ever-larger control centres (ROCs – Rail Operating Centres – in UK speak) is seen as designing-in resilience, according to Victor Abbott from Jacobs Australia. The ability to work in Normal Mode, Degraded Mode and Emergency Mode is necessary to take into account technical, customer, operator and external factors.

A ROC should be able to respond to all situations through a developed framework using a hierarchy of control. These can be different depending on the type of railway – a metro needs a local centre, an intercity railway – something for the entire route, and smaller countries can have just one centre for its entire network. Whichever solution is selected, the controls should be capable of managing track, rolling stock, signalling, telecoms, power, buildings and external factors. Having different control interests in different buildings creates a silo effect and does not stack up, as data and visual integration is essential.

Alexandra McGrath from VicTrack Australia spoke of experiences in Melbourne, where the 1970s city loop now cannot cope with passenger numbers, resulting in bottlenecks and the signalling struggling to perform. A major control centre failure in 2017 resulted in a backlog of trains and took several hours to recover since the crowd build-up prevented staff from getting to the emergency control centre. Lessons learned from this include a twice-daily information update, much improved liaison with other forms of transport, the removal of level crossings and a detailed exercise to compare the conventional and resilience approach to engineering elements.

Keith Upton of Atkins questioned the value of the Network Rail GRIP process (Governance of Railway Investment Projects) as being too project-management biased. The eight stages are output definition, feasibility, option selection, single option development, detailed design, construction test and commissioning, scheme handover, project close.

He suggested that many of the early stages should be a tick box exercise, but was concerned that the present culture leads to prolonged dissent resulting in delays, overruns, budget overspend, contract disputes and cancellations.

While he accepted that capturing requirements is important, he noted that stakeholders are not always obvious. An assurance process made up of ‘technical stage-gates’ would be more applicable and would explain to everyone what is actually involved without it becoming too bureaucratic. Recent project “fiascos” could have been averted.

Resilience in engineering

Can the IoT (Internet of Things) assist the resilience of older technology, questioned Bob Janssen from Siemens Netherland?

A solid-state interlocking imports and extracts lots of data to and from the outside world, and this could be used to monitor performance or potential problems. Taking a shunt signal as an example, measuring voltage and current is easy but how about supplier, wiring, identification, point status and protection?

Such enhancements would allow the data to be enriched beyond the interlocking, enabling a minute-by-minute state of the railway to be exported to a dedicated server, accessible to approved third parties. With clever algorithms, a particular failure could be calculated for the impact on the whole rail route.

Providing resilience whilst upgrading a railway is a challenge. Ian Jones from Siemens UK quoted the London Underground’s Victoria line, the Thameslink transition to ETCS and ATO, the S-Bane refurbishment in Copenhagen and the Riyadh metro. All of these projects introduced complex software that failed to perform as expected.

A soft migration strategy requires regular testing with the ability to go back before finally adopting. Participation by all levels of management helps to give confidence to both in-house engineers and the suppliers. In Riyadh, a dedicated, circular test track facilitated testing of all operational aspects, including environmental controls.

Test Track in Riyadh.

Capacity challenges

Railways worldwide are seeking to increase capacity without having to build expensive infrastructure. The greatest challenge is with metro and suburban lines but additional capacity is also needed elsewhere.

Aaron Sawyer from SNC-Lavalin described the situation at London Heathrow Airport terminal 5. This has a rail link to connect the main terminal building with its satellites at T5A, B and C. Built as a two-track transit system, the initial operation used two trains, one on each track, shuttling up and down.

However, this proved insufficient to handle the number of passengers boarding or alighting from ever-larger aircraft. A four-train operation was therefore devised, with up and down lines and crossovers at each end. It sounds simple, but could be fraught with problems if things go wrong, and how to test it?

Natcha Su and Aaron Sawyer of SNC-Lavalin with their N-gauge model of Heathrow’s shuttle.

The solution was an N-gauge scale model using COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) components, including a Raspberry Pi processor, all connected on an Ethernet backbone. Whilst clearly not failsafe, the operators acted out real situations in an off-site location. It has worked well and built confidence in controlling the full-sized system.

The upgrade of London’s Victoria line using a fixed block ‘distance to go’ radio system to achieve 36 tph (trains per hour) has been a remarkable achievement, but staging the introduction to build up to that level and not trying to achieve it in one go was a sensible precaution.

On the Sydney suburban network in Australia, a 375 million annual ridership is continuing to grow. Increasing capacity includes using ETCS Level 2 with axle counters and a traffic management system, which means a completely new way of working for 4,000 of the network’s 10,000 employees.

To plan for this, studies were made of similar situations around the world. An integrated and collaborative approach between engineers, operators and suppliers was thought to be essential, with configuration of standard products ensuring there would be no bespoke supplier lock-in.

The need to achieve early wins for the customers was important, but getting into the details too early could have led to an unmanageable situation, so services were introduced incrementally on a progressive deployment basis. Maybe that could be something for Crossrail to consider?

Japan has one of the world’s most reliable railways, but it, too, is struggling with capacity challenges. Yoichi Sugiyama from the Railway Technical Research Institute explained that, in the logical sequence of timetable » operations control » train control » signalling systems, managing capacity relies on knowing exactly the time and location of every train (not just at stations) and leads to a speed-control system that matches the operational control. This allows routing and revised timetabling to be calculated constantly, so as to optimise headway.


Every signalling conference must have an update on ERTMS/ETCS. At ASPECT, much was made of the ‘Hybrid Level 3’ concept, whereby existing track circuits or axle counters are retained for trains equipped only with Level 2 equipment. However, full Level 3 trains – those whose train integrity can be guaranteed – would take advantage of Level 3 operation, including moving block and closer movement authorities.

ProRail’s Railcenter in Amersfoort has facilities for testing and training. (ProRail)

Freight trains, which on occasions can become uncoupled, must be proved complete and must operate to Level 2 rules, with more limited movement authorities.

Many railways are considering this solution, including the Netherlands and the UK, but as yet no such system is in operation. Delft University has made some calculations based on a particular route.

Increasing capacity by just increasing the number of trains under the existing legacy signalling system would give 104 per cent utilisation, meaning the timetable could not operate. Switching to Level 2 ETCS would give 90 per cent utilisation, while Hybrid level 3 would bring it down to 84.7 per cent, allowing an extra two trains to run.

The often-mentioned problem with freight trains is proving their integrity. With continuously braked freight trains, it might be thought that this should not be a problem, as a split train would result in an emergency brake application in both parts of the train. However, if the locomotive compressor was able to overcome the resultant brake pipe leakage, the front part of the train would be able to travel some distance from the separated rear part of the train. Although unlikely, such eventualities have to be considered.

ProRail’s Karel van Gils discusses ERTMS.

One might ask why signal engineers should be responsible for proving train integrity, when fundamentally it is a rolling stock problem, but anyone who can invent a train proving system for freight trains that is cheap, safe and practical would become an entrepreneur of note.

The progression to ERTMS seems inevitable, but it will take many years to get nationwide implementation in the larger countries. Karel van Gils, innovations director at ProRail (the Dutch equivalent to Network Rail), says it will not be achieved until 2050, assuming the necessary funding continues – €2.5 billion was allocated this summer. It will need a change on how the railway is managed, with systems needing to be procured on a partnership basis.

Full ETCS Level 3 may not yield the benefits that are predicted according to Maryam Akbari, an MSc student with Mott MacDonald. Eight challenges were listed:

  1. operation of level crossings, stations and different types of trains;
  2. train integrity, as previously mentioned;
  3. optimising the migration path from legacy to Level 2 to Level 3;
  4. recovery from degraded mode working and the different ways of determining train position;
  5. executing maintenance arrangements – possessions, work zones and hand-backs with assurance of clear tracks;
  6. level crossing protection if communication is lost;
  7. life cycle costs and managing train borne kit and software updates;
  8. deployment of ETCS in busy station areas where communication paths may be limited.

All of these are real constraints, plus they don’t answer the question of what to do about GSM-R. This is a problem that is perpetually overlooked by signal engineers and operators, but it is a major challenge and will involve significant expense. The future radio options must be considered right now.

Proposed Japanese level-crossing detection system.

Level crossings

Maarten Bartholomeus of ProRail. (prettybright.co.uk)

Level crossing design and operation remains a controversial subject. Maarten Bartholomeus from ProRail believes that ETCS can improve crossing performance simply because, as the position and speed of trains will be better known, which will improve calculation times for when barriers have to close. Enhanced pedestrian information could also be added, by providing a display screen showing an illuminated approaching train image with a yellow light indicating a risk to cross.

When things go wrong, failures can close the barriers for long periods and cause significant disruption. With ETCS, it should be possible to keep the barriers up but restrict any train movement authority to that point and show a ‘Not Protected Crossing’ indication on the driver’s display. Once at the crossing, extending the movement authority under a caution approach would be possible.

Most major cities have eliminated level crossings over time. However, while London still has 13 and Berlin 46, 620 still remain in Tokyo’s inner city, causing both road and rail challenges.

Measures to decrease accidents are succeeding through improved crossing protection and activation systems. Conventional obstacle detection using laser and LiDAR is expensive (€120,000 per crossing) and LiDAR cannot always detect low level objects.

As an alternative, high level infra-red cameras with a dual vision processing unit are giving encouraging results, according to Ryuta Nakasone from Japan Railways. The system retains an image of the crossing in ambient conditions that is compared with the real time image when a train is due. The technology is proven to work in rain, snow and in the hours of darkness without artificial lighting.

The proliferation of level crossings on Japan’s non-Shinkansen lines has led to modularising the analysis, design and operation. Known as the Functional Resonance Analysis Method (FRAM), it involves devising software logic for different crossing scenarios, all aimed at improving workability and maintenance.

Three basic elements exist – train detection layer, train tracking layer, warning layer – all of which are adapted for individual crossings.

Human Resources

Human factors were a major influence on the introduction of ERTMS on the S Bane network in Copenhagen, according to Amanda Elliott from Innovace Design in the UK. The project was complex and needed new operational rules, a changed safety management system and proof of confidence to deliver operational performance.

Human component mapping. (Innovace)

Human factors testing was necessary to check whether staff could handle both normal and unusual operating conditions. 240 test cases were devised, based on real life scenarios in class room conditions. Observers watched how staff reacted, with results marked as P = Pass, D = Difficult, F = Fail (also TF = technical fail, if the equipment did not perform as expected).

The tests were followed by an improvement cycle with debrief and feedback, the collation of findings, improvement actions, re-testing and closure. While initially suspicious, staff came to appreciate the usefulness of the exercise, learning that, in any degraded mode operation, they should not focus too much on ‘the rules’ for a pragmatic solution.

Undertaking even simple projects where all parties need to reach agreement can be fraught. The provision of a multi-duct cable route in Melbourne was an example described by Alexandra McGrath. Establishing an organisational structure is vital to identify conflicting interests and who specifies what. Many contradictions appear, as actions that are forbidden by one person are required by another.

Empowering a key person from each stakeholder is a key requirement. The management team needs to map the problem, ask the right questions, listen and watch reactions, don’t contradict or override and be aware of national and workplace regulations appertaining to safety and legal issues.


Is innovation the key to unlocking performance and capacity challenges?

Distinguishing between ideas that have a realistic outcome and those that are never likely to see the light of day is important. ASPECT yielded some novel thinking, but readers must decide for themselves whether these ideas and concepts are worth pursuing.

Jeong-Ki Hong from Rail Research Korea described the KRLYNX concept, which links interlockings with outstation subsystems entirely by IP communications using a closed network and an internal ring around the interlocking.

An IP control unit, that replaces the conventional relay interfaces, would have the capability of communicating to points and signals up to 40km away while the system has to be capable of verifying safety and reliability requirements.

The IP interfaces would use a maximum telegram length of 1023 bytes, including the header and payload, and an IP address for each device would need to be allocated.

Interoperability testing with three manufacturers’ products on a dedicated test track has been undertaken in 2019. Standardisation, improved life cycle cost and protection against a supplier going bankrupt are the benefits claimed.

Joāo Martins from EFACEC of Portugal saw IP and the maintenance of safety standards as a challenge where formal verification of SIL 3/4 software systems to EN50128 has to be maintained. Initial testing, using standard verification techniques on a Frauscher axle counter within a high-level signalling system, looked promising.

Cloud computing system architecture. (CPC Systems)

A controversial concept by Matthew Slade from CPC Systems is to create virtual control centres using cloud computing. The control centre hardware would be provided by a third party (Amazon?) to which applications such as TMS, SCADA and signalling controls would be connected, either by a dedicated fibre, if sufficiently close, or by the internet. The railway would benefit by having less hardware to maintain.

However, such a significant cultural shift would mean thinking through lots of issues. Would it be more reliable, would the comms diversity be robust enough, could the cost of maintaining the interfaces outweigh the cost benefit, cyber security and service level agreements could be troublesome? Above all, would the business case stack up, even if renewing out-of-date control centre hardware?

Virtual coupling. (TU Delft)

Virtual Coupling of trains keeps cropping up as the ultimate in track utilisation, whereby movement authorities to one train are sent to subsequent trains at the same time, thus all trains move simultaneously.

Egidio Quaglietta from Delft Technical University has researched this and recognises there are significant factors involved. Different train characteristics, diverging junctions, no operational principles, proving the technology and safety would all be major challenges. With ETCS Level 3 and moving block, the separation of trains on a high-speed line would be about four kilometres, and virtual coupling would improve on this. However, for lower speed lines, the advantage of coupling compared to Level 3 becomes minimal, so perhaps an idea best forgotten!

More hopeful is the idea of Vehicle-Based Train Control, whereby train movements are initiated and controlled by the trains rather than a manned control centre, so says Ying Lin from HollySys in China.

Aimed primarily at the metro market, each train would have provision for Automatic Train Supervision (ATS), Objective Controller Server (OCS) and a VOBC (Vehicle On-Board Controller) comprising Automatic Train Protection (ATP), Automatic Train Operation (ATO) and its own communication management.

The system relies on a digital map, showing where every train is at any point in time, enabling communication with every other VOBC every 250msec. Trains generate their own movement authority for the intended route and direction.

Other innovation papers included:

  • Valise – a virtual balise system based on comparing real forward-facing images with retained digital images of the track ahead – a separate article in Rail Engineer on this concept will be written during 2020;
  • Electronic Track Relay – being designed to improve track circuit performance, where leaves, bad insulated joints and limited rail running area can cause failures – Harm van Dijk from Movares in Holland believes that an electronic relay can improve monitoring and diagnostics and thus make failures less disruptive;
  • EULNYX – this project has existed for some time, aimed at standardising the interfaces in signalling architecture to allow subsystems to be ‘uncoupled’, in other words to prevent ‘lock in’ to any particular supplier. The vision, according to Bob Janssen from EULYNX Netherlands, is a standard set of data preparations to achieve automation of tedious design tasks, easier simulation of a signalling system including ATO and formalised testing.
TU Delft Faculty of Civil Engineering and Geosciences.


In any review of a three-day conference, it is impossible to report on every paper and discussion. In addition to the topics reported, many improvements to how signalling projects are designed and implemented emerged, including automated verification of signalling data (Systra UK), point condition monitoring (Balfour Beatty), how to manage transition staging during a project implementation (Shard Group Australia) and off site testing when disparate systems are employed (Siemens UK in connection with Crossrail).

Cyber security, and the factors that can influence it, featured in a number of sessions, but this subject deserves a separate conference.

The one disappointment was the absence of any telecom or radio presentations especially when the T in ASPECT refers to telecommunications (ASPECT = Automation, Signalling, Performance, Equipment, Control and Telecommunications).

Hopefully, this review will provide a flavour of the topics while sufficient descriptions are given to enable a drill down into the organisations and suppliers mentioned if further information is needed.

Well done the IRSE for staging this truly international event!

Who needs rails?

Rhomberg Sersa’s exercise in lateral – and longitudinal – thinking.

For the last twenty years at least – and maybe more – the railway industry has been receptive to ideas from other industries. Railway engineering is undoubtedly specialist, but far less specialist than many traditionalists may think.

In this article, Rail Engineer looks at how ideas, seemingly outrageous in the rail context, can solve the management of difficult engineering sites, many of which have been forever wearily shunted into the ‘rather difficult’ pile.

For example, driving a tunnel in a mine poses a few basic and obvious problems. One problem is “How do you excavate the material ahead of you?” and this leads to the next which is “What on earth do you do with the spoil once it’s been dug?”

The reason why the latter is of interest in this article is because a tunnel is linear and it’s confined.

There’s a similar scenario in our industry and it, too, has the same basic problems. This time, think of a single line railway. It’s linear and it also is confined. Digging out the formation ahead is fairly straightforward. Managing the transportation of the material through the linear site and disposing of the spoil is not.

The dustpan and brush – Rhomberg Sersa ITC-BL4.

The dustpan and brush

The tunnel industry came up with a simple solution. It developed a compact machine that ran on caterpillar tracks and which had an excavator at the spoil end, a chute between its crawlers and a conveyor belt that raised the spoil up to the level of other conveyor belts in the rear.

So, job done! Keep feeding the conveyor belts and the spoil problem is sorted – a bit like a large dustpan and brush.

The seeds of the idea were taken up by the railway industry in Europe, which looked for a solution for relaying single lines, but, because this is the railway and because there are rails involved, matters were a little more complicated.

Happily, two items of kit have now been introduced to the UK by Rhomberg Sersa to allow a very elegant solution. Both items make use of caterpillar-type tracks to free them from the strictures of the rails. The tunnel-derived machine – the dustpan and brush unit – is known as the ITC-BL4. A companion machine is the MFS+ (a type of On-Track-Machine) and both of them, along with a UMH (Universal Materials Handling wagon), form the basis of Rhomberg Sersa’s ‘Machine Group’.

The MFS+ machine is an audacious bit of engineering that allows what is basically a standard MFS (Materialförder- und Siloeinheit, or ‘mineral conveyor and storage unit’) high output conveyor/hopper wagon to lift itself clear of the running line and then to wander off into an excavation. It then snuggles up to the ITC-BL4, which is busy scooping up spoil, assisted by conventional dozers, dispatching it into its chute and then off onto its conveyor belt. This spoil is taken back by the MFS+ conveyor and into its 60-tonne hopper.

The MFS+ then travels back to feed a rake of conventional rail-mounted MFS wagons which can either store the spoil for later discharge or, in conjunction with the third member of the Rhomberg Sersa machine group – the UMH – discharge it to other wagons for removal from site.

Rhomberg Sersa’s Machine Group in action at Furze Platt station, Maidenhead, Berkshire.

The ‘difficult’ sites are always with us

Before further detail, it may be useful to understand the background to this ‘Machine Group’ and how it came to be in the UK. About five years ago, Rhomberg Sersa entered into a joint venture as part of the S&C North Alliance with a view to using some specialist equipment from Europe in UK work sites in CP5. 

It had been recognised that there are some sites on the network that pose a real problem when it comes to relaying and reballasting. The obvious sites are single lines, although single lines don’t just exist between centres of population. They also exist in multitrack sections of a railway.

Consider, for example, an island platform. There are two lines of way, but where they diverge around the platform, they are single lines. Where lines lead up to a flyover, these again are single lines. Locations with very wide wide-ways – again, these are effectively single lines, even though the parallel line is within sight and then, of course, there are single line tunnels. All these locations have been difficult to reballast/relay. They are not impossible, but efficient relaying has always been a challenge.

Laying ballast outside Barrow-in-Furness.

Even more challenging

Less obvious, but maybe even more challenging, are large switch and crossing layouts. In the past, it has been necessary to relay half a layout at a time in order for the spoil to be loaded to an adjacent track. This causes problems with ensuring a precision fit of the two weekends’ work, both for the main running lines and for the crossover road as well.

The Rhomberg Sersa group of machines allows an element of unfettered lateral thinking – quite literally. No longer are engineers confined by where the rails used to be. There is a clear playing field over which both the ITC-BL4 and the MFS+ machines may wander. They don’t have to be in line. They don’t have to be parallel with the railway.

The MFS+ machines can be manoeuvred in various ways throughout the site to allow for the efficient loading by the ITC-BL4. These wagons, even loaded with 60 tonnes of spoil, are surprisingly nimble, with skilled operators performing a slow-motion ballet between the ITC-BL4 and the main line of rail-mounted MFS wagons. Taking under five minutes to discharge their loads, the MFS+ machines can be back in position to receive subsequent loads without interrupting the ITC-BL4’s output.

The operation uses minimal operators – each machine has a dedicated operator, supported by additional multiskilled staff that can undertake operator or assistant-operator duties as needed, and all operations are supported by qualified fitters.

All the machinery is self-sufficient with on-board lighting and are fitted with the latest dust suppression developments. There are no onerous cant or gradient restrictions that would preclude the equipment from anywhere on the national network and it can negotiate curves as tight as 150-metre radius.

The Rhomberg Sersa squadron

Rhomberg Sersa was allowed the use of Kingmoor Yard in Carlisle by Network Rail to import, assemble and trial the machinery on siding roads before going live on the national network. The site had pits for maintenance and was well suited to the extensive experimentation needed to check the performance of the machines.

From around February 2018, testing had been completed and the machines could be planned to work throughout the network.

There are six machines that can travel throughout the UK. There is the ‘OTP’ (on-track plant) ITC-BL4 which is transported by haulage contractors by road. It does not need movement orders as it is not over-length nor over-width.

The rail mounted ‘OTMs’ (on-track machines) are made up of two MFS+ units. These are recognisable as conventional standard MFS vehicles but with the addition of retractable caterpillar track assemblies. Finally, there are the three UMH wagons, all of which are transported by rail throughout the network.

Detailed planning

David Hardy is the project manager for the system. He has seen the transition from fledgling experimental plant to trial certification. He heads up a team of 16 staff in the UK which undertakes all of the planning, compliance, operation and maintenance and includes machine operators, supervisory staff and skilled mechanical engineers, who know all the intricacies of the hydraulic, mechanical and electrical components.

It is his job to ensure that everything – machines and staff – arrives on site in full working order, having been transported to, and stabled at, one of the major railheads in the UK. These include Sandiacre, Whitemoor, Basford Hall in Crewe and Miller Hill in Scotland, as well as several others. Not the least of his tasks is to ensure that the kit arrives in the correct formation and the right way around!

Having been lodged originally at Carlisle, the equipment now travels throughout the UK to locations as varied as Inverness, Llandavenny in the Newport area of South Wales and the Cumbrian Coast – all in the space of a few weeks. This is coordinated from project offices in Doncaster and Wigan.

When the S&C North Alliance contract ceased at the end of CP5, Rhomberg Sersa took the machine group in house and has become a main contractor and a stand-alone sub-contractor to the larger clients – such as Balfour Beatty, Babcock and Colas. In fact, Rhomberg Sersa has a plant hire contract with Network Rail’s Supply Chain Operations (SCO), so a relaying contractor – the client – books Rhomberg Sersa’s machines and then David’s team liaises directly with the client to work through the fine detail and planning.

Audacious innovations

If there’s one thing to be taken from this review of Rhomberg Sersa’s project, it is that, just when you thought that all the new ideas from unrelated industries had been exhausted, someone comes up with an audacious new way of working.

Taking rail wagons off the track and allowing them to roam freely in an excavation is one such innovation. All the confines of a railway line vanish. Network Rail’s Brian Paynter, programme director track, has called it a ‘game changer’. This idea, backed up with some simple, but chunky, bolt-on engineering, will lead to yet more ideas, because something has been shown to be possible.

So, what next?

RIA launches RAIL 2050 Manifesto for the rail industry

As the UK heads towards a general election, the Railway Industry Association (RIA) has launched its RAIL 2050 Manifesto, setting out the industry’s key asks. The Manifesto, which looks at how the UK can develop a long-term, sustainable rail industry over the next 30 years, calls for the political parties to provide:

  • Development of a long term, 30-year strategy that promotes private investment;
  • The smoothing of ‘boom and bust’ in rail infrastructure and rolling stock investment, and improvement to the visibility of upcoming enhancement upgrade projects;
  • A better balance in the train fleet between new and upgraded trains;
  • Decarbonisation of the railway, through a rolling programme of electrification for intensively used lines and by using battery, hydrogen, bimode and trimode technology for other lines;
  • Digitalisation of the railway through deployment of modern digital signalling technology;
  • Commitment to major rail projects including HS2, TransPennine Route Upgrade, Northern Powerhouse Rail, East West Rail, Midlands Rail Hub and Crossrail 2, amongst others;
  • Government to work with the rail industry to set priorities for innovation and collaboration between rail organisations;
  • Government to consider the role of the rail industry as a key UK exporter, when developing new trade agreements.

Darren Caplan, chief executive of the Railway Industry Association, which represents over 290 companies in the rail industry, said: “As the UK heads to the polls on 12 December, transport, and in particular, the future of rail, is one of the issues the political parties need to consider if they want to build a country with a world-class economy and best in class connectivity.

“RAIL 2050 – the Railway Industry Association’s Manifesto – has been developed with the input of our rail supplier members, to set out our vision for a long-term, sustainable, rail network that works for customers, taxpayers and the wider economy.

“Our call to the next Government, whatever its political hue, is clear: we need a strategy not just for the next electoral cycle but for the next 30 years, which ends ‘boom and bust’ in rail funding, balances the train fleet with both new and upgraded trains, and which digitalises, decarbonises and delivers the range of major projects we need to increase capacity. This strategy also needs to help promote greater innovation and collaboration in the sector, whilst developing rail as a key part of the UK’s exports and overseas trade offer.

“Whilst we look forward to seeing each of the political parties’ manifestos as they are published over the coming weeks, all of us in the railway industry need to make the case for building world-class rail at home and abroad both before and then when a new Government is finally elected in December. With the Williams and Oakervee Reviews reporting soon too, and Brexit continuing the uncertainty, now really is a crucial time in the development of rail policy for the years ahead.”

£500 million for Beeching-reversal

The growing movement to reverse some of the infamous 'Beeching cuts' of 1963 has received a £500 million boost from government.

Leeds: Growing pains