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Signalling initiatives from Plymouth

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Bombardier is a name now well established in the rail industry, but that was not always the case.

Joseph Bombardier started the company in Canada to make snow mobiles during the 1930s, and this was the mainstream business for many years. The company entered the rail sector during the 1970s, with its first major contract being to build subway cars for the Montreal Metro and soon after for New York City Transit. Aerospace activity started in 1986 with the acquisition of Canadair and the company has expanded on a worldwide scale to become a leader in the transport arena.

In the UK, Bombardier is best known for its purchase of the former Derby Carriage Works of British Rail, where it has manufactured hundreds of carriages for many of the UK train operating companies as well as London Underground. Less well known is its acquisition of the former ADTranz signalling company. Now known as the Rail Control Solutions Division of Bombardier Transportation, it has an engineering centre in Stockholm, design and manufacturing facilities in both Plymouth and Poland, and a company presence throughout Europe and the world.

The rail engineer was recently invited to visit the Plymouth facility. This was first established in the 1960s by ML Engineering who settled at the current site in Estover when they won their first big contract for Stoke Power Box as part of the West Coast Line electrification. ML was later acquired by ASEA Brown Boveri and, following a merger with Daimler Chrysler Rail, became part of ADTranz.

After yet another takeover, it became part of Bombardier in 2001.

The story of change does not end there. Recognising that the key to on-going success is to have an installation and testing capability, Bombardier has entered into a partnership with Carillion to form a new project implementation company named Infrasig.


Bombardier has been a manufacturer of signalling equipment for many years. It designed its own solid state interlocking known as EBILock, which has been widely used worldwide. Nevertheless, adapting the early version of this to UK signalling and operating principles proved difficult and a contract for the re-signalling of the Horsham area had to be abandoned. This was a disappointment for the company, forcing it to rethink how it would supply the UK market into the future.

Engineering expertise in the UK is now concentrated at the Plymouth facility where, in addition to manufacturing traditional signalling products, the company also produces various components of its ERTMS portfolio for global export. This wide mix of products has necessarily resulted in a flexible production arrangement. Automated testing facilities are integral to the process and every item of equipment that leaves the factory will have undergone a full test for both mechanical and electrical integrity.

The most famous product manufactured in Plymouth is the TI21 Track Circuit, now known as EBITrack 200. This was originally an all-analogue device using different frequencies for adjacent jointless track circuit operation on multiple tracks. However, it now comes with a digital receiver and transmitter.

Additionally, the latest version can have the equipment frequency set by the insertion of programmed electronic “keys” (akin to a memory stick) which, along with automated track setup, reduces the track circuit setup time considerably. The use of configurable units also has benefits of reducing maintenance stockholding requirements, as it negates the need to hold spares for all eight frequencies of equipment.

Recent developments

A more recent development is the EBITrack 400, which is a fully digitally- coded track circuit, allowing each installation to have a unique code. This is the logical successor to the EBITrack 200 and is now under trial on Network Rail and other railway networks worldwide.

Another variant is designed specifically for metro applications. The EBITrack 300 is similar in principle to EBI Track 200, but incorporates a coding overlay for ATP purposes.

In addition, the EBI Lock interlocking has been redeveloped to operate on a COTS (Common Off the Shelf ) platform with the capability of controlling up to 4000 objects, whilst still maintaining a SIL4 specification.

Having mentioned that the Plymouth site also manufactures a wide range of products, other items manufactured by Bombardier in the UK include:

• Impedance Bonds, used to ensure the safe passage of traction return current on both AC and DC railways without adversely affecting the operation of track circuits;

• Signal heads of the classic lens and bulb type;

• Point machines, both motor driven and clamp lock;

• Axle counters, as an alternative to track circuits;

• Telemetry products which are also deployed in the oil industry;

• Electronic timers.


No world-class signalling company can afford not to be involved in ERTMS – the European Rail Traffic Management System. Bombardier is one of the few supplier organisations to have a full complement of ERTMS Level 2 products, which includes both trackside and train borne equipment. As well as the radio block centre and integral interlocking, the company produces the track mounted balise and line encoder unit, and the on board EVC (European Vital Computer) equipment including under train antennas and balise readers. Odometry equipment, for positional information updates, is bought in from specialist suppliers.

The Infrasig partnership is one of Network Rail’s approved suppliers for its impending ERTMS programme. Having a rolling stock capability may give the firm a competitive advantage when both resignalling and train provision is part of a project.

Of great equal significance is the equipment supplied by Bombardier for the recently commissioned ERTMS Level 3 system in Sweden (see issue 82, August 2011). This application (known as Regional ERTMS) is designed for lightly used lines and avoids the need for lineside cabling or conventional train detection equipment. The installation near Borlange, is attracting much international interest, and Bombardier is hopeful that the system will be extended to other similar lines in Sweden and beyond. Ultimately it is expected that Level 3 will become acceptable for busy main line application and, with its established experience, the firm will be well placed to be a market leader.

Level Crossings

With TPWS (Train Protection and Warning System) having largely overcome the Signal Passed at Danger (SPAD) problem, one of the biggest remaining safety risks is level crossings, particularly for pedestrians and road vehicle users. Recent RAIB reports have revealed a continuing occurrence of accidents at user worked crossings, where over-familiarisation and minimal warning equipment have contributed to many incidents and a number of fatalities.

Something has to be done and a level crossing improvement framework contract is in the offing.

Bombardier has been separately developing new equipment for use at footpath or farm track crossings. Designated the EBIGate 200, it features an integral equipment cabinet with two lights and a push button displayed to the user. The lights are normally unlit, but on pushing the button either the green (safe to cross) lamp will be lit or the red (train coming) will display together with a two tone warning sound.

The red lamp circuitry is activated by strike-in treadles positioned at maximum line speed distance from the crossing on every approach track. This will give a minimum time of 40 seconds before the train arrival. If trains are slower, then a longer time period will elapse. For a multi-track railway, should a second train approach before the first has cleared, a verbal message ‘second train coming’ will be broadcast.

Treadles beyond the crossing, operating on the last-wheel principle, clear the warning cycle and enable a green light to be displayed. Reversion to the no-light condition will occur after a time unless the push button is reactivated. A dual digital judicial recorder is incorporated such that if an incident occurs, both Network Rail and the police can extract identical evidence. The judicial recorder will normally store ten days worth of crossing activity.

An additional feature which Bombardier are keen to promote is an interlock system with either a full width road or wicket gate, that would be prevented from opening if the red light is displayed. Further, the whole set up is capable of being powered from a solar or wind energy source if no local power supply is available.

The high cost of providing automatic half barrier (AHB) crossings has attracted much criticism from within the rail industry. In an effort to combat this, Bombardier has designed a new AHB package using a standard programmable logic controller (PLC) for the logic functions. Branded EBIGate 2000, it is hoped that the reduced cost will lead to a resurgence of AHB schemes.

Metro applications

In addition to main line signalling activity, Bombardier is well established in the metro signalling business. Its most recent projects have been the conversion to CBTC (Communications Based Train Control) of Metro Madrid, where the new system was installed, tested and commissioned without any loss of revenue service, and the equipping of the Shenzen Metro in China.

Closer to home has been the winning of the London Underground Sub Surface Lines resignalling contract in 2011 – the largest single signalling contract ever awarded by LU. This work was described in issue 95 (November 2011) and Bombardier are under no illusions as to the complexity of the work to be done.

A joint project team has been set up with the Bombardier engineers working alongside their LU equivalents in the same office near to Victoria station in London. The fact that Bombardier is also the supplier of the new S Stock trains is a big factor in ensuring effective integration between trackside and on board equipment.

Future positioning

Bombardier is realistic enough to know that the signalling business is a global market. Competition is intense and, in the longer term, there may be only enough room for perhaps five main suppliers. The Plymouth operation is very much part of the company structure, for whilst it is away from the main UK railway centres, its dedicated workforce has a lower than average staff turnover. Acquiring and retaining the right skills base is very important in these days where engineering knowledge is at a premium.

With this strong local and global structure, it forms a solid foundation for the company to succeed with its visions for the future.

Clive Kessell
Clive Kessellhttp://therailengineer.com
SPECIALIST AREAS Signalling and telecommunications, traffic management, digital railway Clive Kessell joined British Rail as an Engineering Student in 1961 and graduated via a thin sandwich course in Electrical Engineering from City University, London. He has been involved in railway telecommunications and signalling for his whole working life. He made telecommunications his primary expertise and became responsible for the roll out of Cab Secure Radio and the National Radio Network during the 1970s. He became Telecommunications Engineer for the Southern Region in 1979 and for all of BR in 1984. Appointed Director, Engineering of BR Telecommunications in 1990, Clive moved to Racal in 1995 with privatisation and became Director, Engineering Services for Racal Fieldforce in 1999. He left mainstream employment in 2001 but still offers consultancy services to the rail industry through Centuria Comrail Ltd. Clive has also been heavily involved with various railway industry bodies. He was President of the Institution of Railway Signal Engineers (IRSE) in 1999/2000 and Chairman of the Railway Engineers Forum (REF) from 2003 to 2007. He continues as a member of the IRSE International Technical Committee and is also a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists. A chartered engineer, Clive has presented many technical papers over the past 30 years and his wide experience has allowed him to write on a wide range of topics for Rail Engineer since 2007.


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