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RIA Signalling and Telecoms Group

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With 350 companies as members, the Railway Industry Association (RIA) represents the UK rail supply community in a number of ways. RIA’s activities include representing the rail supply interests to government, politicians, regulators, media, and provide a forum for dialogue and networking between industry colleagues. The April Signalling and Telecoms Member Interest Group saw a range of panellists, including the Network Rail professional heads of discipline for Control, Command and Signalling (CCS) and the European Train Control System (ETCS) technical expert, taking part in an RIA-moderated interactive ‘ask me anything’ session.
The panel consisted of James Dzimba, Network Rail’s chief CCS engineer; Jerry Morling, professional head of signalling; Jonathan Evans, professional head of level crossings engineering; and Nicola Furness, engineering expert Europe CCS ETCS. Unfortunately, Fraser Allan, professional head of telecoms was unable to attend, and the afternoon was chaired by David Clarke, technical director of RIA.

The session starts

David started the session by asking the panel to introduce themselves to the RIA members and to explain what their Network Rail roles are.

James explained that he has the overall accountability for the strategy of signalling, telecoms, and level crossings engineering. To deliver this he leads the professional heads, who hold the individual technical accountability for their discipline, and James emphasised that the group works very closely together as a team and that this includes the engineering experts in the company such as Nicola. The challenges faced by the group include managing an ageing infrastructure along with developing safe and sustainable CCS assets for the future.

Jerry is accountable for signalling engineering. He started his career on London Underground and enjoyed working there for 11 years before seeking a change when he moved to join Railtrack and the West Coast Route Modernisation project. Now, as the professional head of signalling, Jerry owns all the company standards for signalling, along with the strategy for signalling in areas such as technology, sustainability, competency, costs, and obsolescence.

One of the challenges faced by CCS engineering is protecting the public, especially at level crossings. The general public does not always fully appreciate the risks of trains and level crossings, and can behave differently when faced with trains compared to road traffic. Network Rail recognises the significance of the risks associated with level crossings and providing the appropriate level crossing engineering to manage those risks is the role of Jonathan Evans. The role is essentially the same as Jerry’s, but wholly focused on level crossing engineering and making sure the right technical solutions are available. Jonathan and his team work very closely with the head of public and level crossings safety’s team who are responsible for the operational safety risk management framework of level crossings.

Key challenges

One challenge Jonathan and his team experience is providing cost effective and safe active warning and protection systems for passive level crossings. Despite much investment over the years, 70% of level crossings on the network are still passive and, at best, only have a telephone to assist a crossings user. In many cases telephones only marginally reduce the risk and transfers the risk from the crossing user to the signaller. Level crossing behaviour is also very difficult to predict and manage.

David Clarke, Technical Director, RIA.

While James, Jerry, and Jonathan are largely focused on today’s railway, Nicola’s role is to look into the future for signalling, in particular ETCS and making sure Network Rail is developing the right things at the right times to support the business. She explained one of her drivers is to make ETCS ‘Business As Usual’ but as the first UK ETCS route went live 12 years ago on the Cambrian route, there is much to do to make this a reality, such as focusing research and development, delivering things such as ETCS competency, and making sure the right skills are there for the future.

Nicola stressed the importance of looking and learning from other railways in Europe and around the world, and that it is essential that the industry moves away from providing bespoke signalling systems. Are we looking around the world for the right things to adopt? Are we doing enough to attract the engineers of tomorrow to CCS? Are we doing enough to create a sustainable future railway?
Areas of concern
David asked the panel to explain something they are working on at the moment that they find exciting, as well as the things they are working on that they find challenging or concerning and which the supply industry could assist with.

Two areas of concern are obsolescence of signalling equipment and competency with regards to maintenance testing when restoring failed items to service. However, creating a sustainable ETCS future is exciting and ways of making ETCS deployment easier must be found, said James. He explained that the benefits of ETCS in terms of safety and performance are well known, but the poor delivery of ETCS due to cost and other concerns needs to change, and that the industry needs to adopt new processes and apply new technology in novel ways. A momentum for the deployment of ETCS needs to be instigated and maintained, and the signalling industry must not be held back by being too risk adverse and fearing the worst possible outcomes, James added.

The process for maintenance testing when restoring failed items to service – the Signalling Maintenance Testing Handbook (SMTH) – is relied upon by technicians to safely repair faulty signalling equipment every day. Following a number of incidents which could have easily resulted in a train collision such as at Clapham, there is a need to improve SMTH competency. The Clapham Junction railway collision occurred in 1988, when a crowded passenger train crashed into the rear of another train that had stopped at a signal just south of Clapham Junction. This was also hit by an empty train travelling in the opposite direction. A total of 35 people died in the collision with 484 injured. The collision was the result of a signal failure caused by a wiring fault, when new wiring had been installed, but old wiring had been left in place and not adequately secured.

To some, a collision occurring 35 years ago is history, but the signalling equipment and risks are largely the same today. The signalling system is only ‘fail safe’ if it is maintained and installed correctly by people who have the right skills and behaviours, and who do not take short cuts when under pressure.

Both Jerry and James explained the concern that, with technicians under too much time pressure to restore service, SMTH could be too much of a ‘box ticking’ exercise. So, the training, processes, and the support provided to technicians to prevent mistakes occurring need to improve. Good progress is already being made with non-technical skills training and briefings to improve behaviours, but more needs to be done.

Technological obsolescence

Equipment obsolescence is another concern for the professional heads. Solid State Interlocking (SSI) is 40 years old. It is a good system, but it is old for electronic equipment. How many people have a computer they still use which is 40 years old? And when did you last replace your mobile phone?

Much is being done to design and provide replacement SSI modules and it is interesting and exciting engineering. Point machines and other assets can quickly become obsolete and replacements can be quickly needed. The Cambrian route ETCS has already received three iterations of software and many of its component parts are obsolete. It’s not just technical obsolescence either. There are still many installations of relay-based signalling, for example, which will need to be redesigned and modified before they are replaced. So, design and testing competency must also be maintained for such technologies. These are all things the supply industry can help with, but Network Rail needs to be clear on what it needs to avoid inappropriate industry R&D and to support the supply industry R&D initiatives.

Jonathan explained that adopting new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) for level crossing stewardship of risk is one interesting area his group are involved with. Traditionally, checks and surveys at level crossings, such as monitoring road traffic volumes, patterns, and behaviours, are done at set periods of time and typically for only a short period of time. This is something that AI could monitor via inexpensive CCTV continually, or for a longer period of time, and provide intelligent reports on level crossing risk to the public which must be managed.

With around 5,500 level crossings and 400 manual controlled barrier crossings remotely operated via CCTV, equipment obsolescence and integration of replacement equipment with bespoke level crossing designs can be a challenge. Jonathan had only been in the role a short time when the supply of level crossing CCTV cameras became unavailable and a solution had to be found in a short period of time. Given the bespoke designs, safety requirements, and that level crossing types differ around the world, the cross acceptance of systems is not easy.

Nicola added that there are many exciting technology challenges ahead for signalling. In order to drive the cost down of signalling, the industry must move away from manual to automated standard processes using techniques and technologies from other industries. Some of the systems used in other industries have been proven and in place for many years. Network Rail needs to adopt these to take signalling out of the dark ages.

The challenge Network Rail faces is to convey to people that we do want to change, said Nicola, and not to be stuck with old manual verification and validation processes. She encouraged the audience to be brave when challenging standards or introducing new ways of working from other industries or other railways. “Too many people think that the only way is the traditional old-fashioned ways,” she said. “This will not be affordable. Network Rail can be slow to change and we need the help of the supply industry to move on with new tools and techniques.”

Old fashioned railway signal box and rail tracks

Pertinent questions

Questions from the industry experts present included: Why does the High Level Output Specification (HLOS) for railway control period seven include ETCS with the exception of Scotland? And what are plans for ETCS Level 3 or Hybrid Level 3, which could help to reduce the cost of ETCS?

James explained he considered that the long-term signalling strategy for Scotland would be ETCS, but that the current cost of ETCS for Scotland was unaffordable and could not be justified. It was not due to a lack of interest in Scotland and the problem of the cost of signalling applies to the whole industry, and solutions are needed to reduce the cost of ETCS and all signalling. Otherwise, if the industry can’t reduce the cost of signalling, routes will have to close, he said.

Nicola added that ETCS Level 3, with far less track side equipment and train detection, should reduce costs and the Hybrid Level 3 trials carried out in 2017 were well received. Level 3 ETCS is being included in tenders for new schemes in Europe, such as Paris-Lyon for SNCF, in Germany, and at other locations throughout the world including Australia. Countries who plan to have their entire network equipped with ETCS by 2040 include Belgium, Czechia, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland.

Deployment of ETCS Level 3 had been held up due to lack of some modules in the CCS TSI, but this has now been resolved and TSI 2023 for CCS will include the required safety modules and safety analysis for ETCS Level 3.

T190plus is a Network Rail programme focused on reducing costs for ETCS deployment with an objective to reduce the current whole life cost of signalling from a unit rate of £419,000 to £190,000 or lower. Implementation of Hybrid Level 3 will help with this and application standards for this are due for issue by March next year. EULYNX is also included as part of this work to support standardisation and introduce open interfaces, and some standards to enable implementation have already been published.

EULYNX will enable the move away from bespoke interfaces and will increase competition and assist in driving down the cost of signalling. Another key area of work mentioned was looking at design and validation processes and how to automate them, and a synthetic environment is being developed to enable this with collaboration from the supply chain. Finally, the key role of sponsors in developing remits for cost effective ETCS deployment has not been forgotten. The programme is developing a new app – the Signalling Option Selection App (SOSA) – to enable the benefits for the different ETCS deployment options for a route to be explored and to enable the best outcome for a route.

Constructive conversation

Challenging, intelligent, and well-informed questions were put to the panel, including concerns with cyber security, contracting mechanisms, clear Network Rail challenge and problem-solving statements, and product approvals. The appreciative audience welcomed the open and constructive well explained answers from the panel.

Competency, sustainability, and obsolescence management came up again during the positive, collaborative, and non-adversarial debate. An industry ‘system’ approach to ETCS deployment tackling things such as driver training, fleet deployment, and overlay was identified, and the need for regions to have confidence in providing ETCS schemes. That the industry must work collaboratively to reduce costs and risks, and must deliver to time and budget, was one conclusion.

The point was also made that rolling out ETCS on every route, even over a number of years, will not be affordable or possible with the industry resources available; therefore support, design, testing, maintenance, and asset stewardship for traditional signalling will still be required for many years to come. However, innovative, creative engineering, and new ways of doing things will still be very much required. ‘We need to change’ said Network Rail, and there will be many interesting, exciting, and challenging things which the CCS supply industry can help Network Rail / Great British Railways with in CP7 (2024-2029) and beyond.

Paul Darlington CEng FIET FIRSE
Paul Darlington CEng FIET FIRSEhttp://therailengineer.com

Signalling and telecommunications, cyber security, level crossings

Paul Darlington joined British Rail as a trainee telecoms technician in September 1975. He became an instructor in telecommunications and moved to the telecoms project office in Birmingham, where he was involved in designing customer information systems and radio schemes. By the time of privatisation, he was a project engineer with BR Telecommunications Ltd, responsible for the implementation of telecommunication schemes included Merseyrail IECC resignalling.

With the inception of Railtrack, Paul moved to Manchester as the telecoms engineer for the North West. He was, for a time, the engineering manager responsible for coordinating all the multi-functional engineering disciplines in the North West Zone.

His next role was head of telecommunications for Network Rail in London, where the foundations for Network Rail Telecoms and the IP network now known as FTNx were put in place. He then moved back to Manchester as the signalling route asset manager for LNW North and led the control period 5 signalling renewals planning. He also continued as chair of the safety review panel for the national GSM-R programme.

After a 37-year career in the rail industry, Paul retired in October 2012 and, as well as writing for Rail Engineer, is the managing editor of IRSE News.


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