Trends: Advanced Rail Control Systems

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Dec/Jan 2013

Automated train control and signalling technologies are an area of increasing interest and investment in the rail sector worldwide. With systems such as European Rail Traffi c Management System (ERTMS) and communicationsbased train control (CBTC) scheduled for deployment, Matt Phillips, head of Interfl eet Technology’s Advanced Railway Control Systems (ARCS) division, explores this technology area and both the benefi ts and potential pitfalls of delivery.

Industry trends

Plans to introduce new railway control systems such as ERTMS, CBTC and state of the art Traffi c Management Systems (TMS) present the biggest shift that the UK rail network has seen for decades. In the UK alone, the shift to these ARCS solutions will play a major role in many important rail programmes – including Thameslink, Crossrail and HS2. It will also impact upon metro system improvements such as the London Underground and Glasgow Subway, which are both considering a move to more automated options with the aim of improving capacity and flexibility.


Implementing ARCS technologies brings several benefi ts, including:

Safety: The implementation of ARCS will see marked safety benefi ts, as the technologies deliver higher levels of automatic train protection, providing more control and reducing hazards. In addition, operators hold a greater amount of data on their trains, providing increased levels of control over the railway in case of accident or emergency. When faced with an issue, immediate access to all data allows greater visibility and the ability to make informed, effective decisions. Problems can be more rapidly resolved, meaning less network downtime and fewer delays.

Capacity: Higher levels of automation deliver signifi cant increases in capacity, as improved effi ciencies result in more throughput. Real-time technology also allows for better planning and timetabling, as well as a more rapid and targeted response to disruption.

Ease of maintenance/reduced whole life costs: The switch to onboard technology also reduces the need for installation, maintenance and power supplies for a growing proportion of line-side signalling equipment. This is particularly the case with CBTC systems in metro environments but also true to a lesser extent with ERTMS solutions.


The largest and perhaps most challenging aspects that the roll-out will face is the integration of onboard signalling systems with the vehicles themselves.

This is particularly relevant where a large amount of retrofi tting is required, such as for Network Rail’s ERTMS roll-out programme across the UK. It is less of an issue with CBTC systems, as the fl eet will usually be designed to be integrated with in-cab signalling from the outset.

The movement of information presented to a driver into the train cab, as opposed to the lines on which the train operates, allows for a much greater throughput of traffic.

However in order to remove line-side signals, all vehicles wishing to use this line must be fi tted with the onboard system.

This often means that retrofit will be required, rather than phasing in through the use of new trains. Therefore, with reference to the UK, a signifi cant proportion of the work associated with the successful migration to ERTMS involves overcoming the challenges that retrofi tting existing trains presents, from the operational headaches associated with taking a train out of action to more prosaic challenges such as fi nding space on the train to fit the kit.

This must be achieved for not only the passenger fleets, but also the freight and ontrack machinery along with heritage and open access trains.

With the many differing makes, models and varieties of trains operating on the network, signifi cant expertise is required to safely and effi ciently fi t each train type with onboard ERTMS systems. Each model of train has a different cab – few of which were designed with hosting the latest technology in mind – meaning that every cab type must be assessed to determine a suitable location for the technologies, with small cab sizes contributing to the difficulty.

Retrofit also subjects signalling equipment to a number of atypical stresses including suboptimal power supplies, EMC noise, vibration and moisture, so ensuring that it functions correctly is a signifi cant challenge.

Key industry programme spotlight – ERTMS

Key ARCS-based schemes currently being progressed are the delivery of ERTMS across the East Coast and Great Western main lines; Interfl eet’s team is currently working with industry to establish delivery plans for these complex and challenging major schemes. Although the Great Western Main Line will initially keep its line-side signals in place, allowing non-ERTMS fi tted vehicles to still run, the East Coast Main Line will be implemented with ERTMS Level 2 without lineside signals, meaning that every vehicle using this line will need to be retrofi tted with ERTMS technology by the proposed scheme completion dates, 2018-2020.

As freight trains run all over the country, a significant proportion of the UK freight fleet will need to be fitted before the first stage of East Coast in order to maintain this flexibility.

With major schemes including Thameslink, Crossrail and HS2 all reliant on ERTMS, an estimated 2,500 rail vehicles in the UK will need to be retrofi tted with ERTMS in the next 15 years.


ARCS-based solutions and technologies stand to revolutionise UK rail – from increased capacity to improved safety – and their successful roll out is essential to the future of UK rail. Signifi cant investment is being made right across the industry – from mainline rail to metro systems – and it is crucial that delivery is expertly assessed and executed.

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