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02.09.15

BRaVE modelling of notional Wirksworth to Derby community rail scheme

Source: RTM Aug/Sep 15

The Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education (BCRRE) at the University of Birmingham has been using its own easy-to-use railway simulation software in the development and modelling of schemes. The software has proven itself useful and approachable, and has been used by academics to model flows in and out of King’s Cross, for example, and to assess moving block schemes elsewhere in the world. Lead software developer Dave Kirkwood and BCRRE teaching fellow Stephen Kent explain more.

Traditionally, modelling the operation of train services on a given route with all of the complexities of signalling, interlocking, timetabling and train performance would be a challenge. However, a new train simulation package from Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education sets out to simplify the process, using an intuitive graphical interface to design and develop models of routes, signalling systems and timetables. The software is called BRaVE – the Birmingham Railway Virtual Environment.

To see just how user-friendly the software actually is, earlier this year a group of 45 MSc students were given just six hours to build an operational model of a notional community rail scheme running from Wirksworth to Derby. Starting at Wirksworth, the alignment initially makes use of the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway as far as Duffield, then turns south to run parallel to the Midland Main Line, joining it just north of Derby to run into a bay platform at the north end of the station.

Figure 2 - Duffield South Junction - with signalling copy edit

The scenario given to the students was that heritage services would operate at weekends and bank holidays, with commuter services operating during the working week. 

The students started with a ‘bare map’ of the existing infrastructure (i.e. no signalling equipment). They then made the necessary modifications to the infrastructure, split the track, added signals, defined the interlocking logic and a basic timetable – see Figure 1, above. They could then hit ‘play’ and see in real-time (or ‘fast forward’) whether a twice-hourly service was realistic given the constraints of a single line with passing loops and a 50mph linespeed. An animation showing this is available below.

Bearing in mind that most of the students had no prior signalling experience, this challenge could have been rather daunting. So to help them on their way, they were given a beginner’s guide to the software to provide a degree of ‘scaffolding’ for the exercise, with experienced staff on-hand to help out if they got stuck.

All of the groups introduced a passing loop at Shottle, but the number of track sections varied, with some using just six and others having nine or more. They were provided with a model of a typical DMU and by removing the manually operated gates at Wirksworth South and Idridgehay, they all managed to get a return service operating from Wirksworth to Duffield within the hour.
The experimental team exercise had the expected benefit of reinforcing to the students key aspects of the week’s lectures on various aspects of train signalling and control systems in an engaging (almost fun) manner. But there was a further unexpected benefit – the exercise provided the software’s developers with a great deal of useful feedback from this ‘trial by novices’, to further enhance the software’s functionality and ease of use.

It is hoped that with the planned improvements to the software and a bit more ‘scaffolding’, next year’s intake will manage to get ‘further down the line’, extending the service through to Derby.

In the meantime, BRaVE is currently being used to validate signalling design and simulate the Communication Based Train Control system for the new Hefei metro in China.

This video shows BRaVE in action:

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