Another step forward for ERTMS

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Aug/Sept 2014

Richard Tomlin, business development manager for signalling at Hitachi Rail Europe, discusses how the company will implement its European Train Control System (ETCS) technology on two Class 37 locomotives.

Network Rail has awarded Hitachi Rail Europe a contract to implement its European Train Control System (ETCS) technology on two Class 37 locomotives.

West Coast Railways’ locos will be retro-fitted with Hitachi’s technology for operational use on the Cambrian Line in Wales, which has been the early adopter and testbed for European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) technologies in the UK.

To run rolling stock on this stretch of track, from Shrewsbury into Wales down to Aberystwyth and up to Porthmadog and Pwllheli, all trains have to be fitted with ETCS Level 2. The system replaced the legacy RETB (Radio Electronic Token Block) system on the rural, largely self-contained line.

At the moment there are 24 passenger trains fitted with ETCS that run on the line and there are three of Network Rail’s ‘yellow fleet’ NDS (National Delivery Service) locomotives.

Richard Tomlin, business development manager for signalling at Hitachi Rail Europe, told us that there is no fall-back signalling on the Cambrian Line. But it is demonstrating, very effectively, to the UK industry and operators that ETCS is here to stay and Network Rail has a programme to drive this going forward.

ETCS is a common signalling system which has been developing over the last 15 years to enable train services to cross frontiers and boundaries between different countries without the need to change signalling systems or locomotives.

Following on from the first UK ERTMS scheme on the Cambrian Line in 2011, Network Rail is now embarking on a phased trackside and associated train fitment implementation programme, to realise the benefits of a radio-based in-cab signalling system with less trackside infrastructure.

Significant start

Tomlin said: “Landing this contract is quite a significant start for us, as it is the first formal contract that we’ve won for our ETCS on-board signalling system.

“It will be a huge benefit for West Coast Railways as an operator, as they will have two vehicles that can come out of the platform at Shrewsbury that can then transition from ETCS Level 0 onto ETCS Level 2 (see box out) and receive all the signalling data going down the line. I’m sure they’ll be capitalising on that from next year onwards.”

Prior to being awarded the contract, Hitachi held a successful ‘proof of concept’ demonstration of its ETCS on a Class 97 Locomotive, known as the Verification-Train 3 trial.

Tomlin said that trial (discussed in detail in the August/September 2013 edition of RTM) was “really significant” as the company, with Network Rail and DB Schenker, conducted it to demonstrate that Hitachi was capable of delivering ETCS signalling in the UK.

During that project, locomotive 97301 was also successfully retrofitted with the Hitachi on-board system to prove interoperability with other systems currently in use.

“We demonstrated that we could work with another supplier’s groundside equipment [Ansaldo-STS in the case of the Cambrian], which is going to be imperative going forward when you have a multi-supplier procurement process between groundside and on-board equipment,” he said.

Tomlin added that Network Rail could actually see first-hand that the Hitachi system was working, interfacing correctly and was compatible to the European specifications on interoperability. “It was an absolutely key trial for us.”


Compared to traditional signalling systems, ETCS brings the signalling into the driver’s cab, so it is a fully automatic train protected (ATP) system.

Conventional ATP transmits permitted speed information to the on-board device via analogue signal sent from the ground equipment. In digital ATP, the ground equipment sends stopping point information by radio signals.

“With ETCS, if you have all trains fitted on the line you can actually remove conventional signals and put up block marker boards (signposts, effectively) by the side of the track, which is exactly what the Cambrian Line has done in Wales,” said Tomlin.

Those markers tell the driver where the train must come to a stand when a ‘stop’ indication is shown on the DMI (drive machine interface), known as a ‘closed’ block marker. When the DMI indicates a movement authority past a block marker, that marker is ‘open’ (more detail on how trains’ positions are detected in the box out).

Tomlin said reducing the amount of lineside infrastructure brings “huge benefits” in terms of safety and maintenance reduction for Network Rail and the wider industry.

Additionally, the ETCS mode is said to be much more efficient than the current system. “The fact that the driver has got all the information provided to him dynamically in his cab on a screen is a huge benefit and it is something that has been delivered in Europe for the last 10 to 15 years,” said Tomlin. “There’s a huge amount of experience already out there and the UK is now ramping up its national programme to bring in those benefits and efficiencies.”

ETCS Levels

There are different levels of ETCS (see box out), which is one of the main components of ERTMS, along with the mobile communications standard (GSM-R) and traffic management.

Network Rail has established a programme to roll out ETCS Level 2 GSM-R (Global System for Mobile Communications – Railway). Tomlin said: “ETCS Level 1 is a discrete balise intermittent ATP system but it is something that we’re not going to go for in the UK, so Level 2 is the way forward.”

He added that Level 3 is effectively a moving block system, again using the radio system but with an increased reduction of trackside infrastructure so “you’d actually remove your track circuits and fully remove your signals”. 

Tomlin said: “You wouldn’t have any overlay mode, as the train is reporting its integrity because you haven’t got track circuits anymore to prove that, and therefore you get a full moving block scenario – which is very similar to some of the modern metro CBTC systems around the world.”

Level 3 is being discussed in Europe, and Hitachi has experience of Level 3 equivalent projects – such as ATACS in Japan, with the East Japan Railway Company. In fact, the world’s first passenger service for a radio-based train control system without track circuits on a main line commenced in March 2012.

ETCS fitting

For the Class 37 locomotives contract, Hitachi has been awarded a full turnkey package which includes the design, vehicle modification, ETCS installation, testing and commissioning. The scheduled date for completion is August 2015.

“We’re going do the installation at Barrow Hill Roundhouse, a private depot that has been used before for some of these modifications, so there’s some experience there,” said Tomlin.

“We will then be doing some static testing in the depot to make sure everything has been interfaced and installed correctly.

“We will then take the vehicles to the line for full dynamic testing under specific modes to demonstrate to West Coast Railways and to the client, Network Rail, that we have a working system – and to basically enable handback to the operator.”

RTM asked what difficulty there is in retro-fitting trains with ETCS, compared to designing ETCS-compliant vehicles from the start, as with Hitachi’s own IEP ‘Super Express’ Class 800s for the Great Western and East Coast main lines.

Tomlin told us the retro-fit isn’t a major problem. “It is an interface issue,” he said. “We have to put a new screen into the cab, which is the driver’s screen and shows the speed and what’s coming over the next 8km or more.”

He added that there are some “minor” cab modifications needed to put the new screen in. There is also some electronic equipment that goes under the frame to read the balises, which shows the position of the train to the system.

“We also have some roof antennas to pick up the radio signalling from the GSM-R network,” said Tomlin.

“The cubicles which go on board basically monitor and calculate the braking curves against the data received. If they need to, they will intervene with the brakes on the vehicle and bring it to a halt. That’s the key interface there: the Safety Integrity Level 4 (SIL 4) system.”

ETCS roll-out nationally

ETCS development continues on the Hertfood Loop, but the upcoming major implementations are the Great Western Main Line (London to Bristol), the south end of the East Coast Main Line (London to Peterborough) and Thameslink in its central section, with ATO (Automatic Train Operation). The box out shows Network Rail’s current timeline.

ETCS is going to become ‘business as usual’ on the UK railway. Tomlin added that Hitachi has vast experience with ETCS integration interface.

Although the Cambrian Line contract is the first win in the UK for its technology, the company is hopeful “many others” are in the pipeline for the future.

ETCS Levels

The ERTMS/ETCS application “levels” define different uses of ERTMS as a train control system, ranging from track to train communications to continuous communications between the train and the radio block centre.

• ETCS Level 1: Is designed as an add-on to or overlays a conventional line already equipped with line side signals and train detectors. Communication between the tracks and the train is ensured by dedicated balises located on the trackside adjacent to the lineside signals at required intervals, and connected to the train control centre. Receiving the movement authority through Eurobalises, the ETCS onboard equipment automatically calculates the maximum speed of the train and the next braking point if needed, taking into account the train braking characteristics and the track description data. This information is displayed to the driver through a dedicated screen in the cabin. The speed of the train is continuously supervised by the ETCS onboard equipment.

• ETCS Level 2: As opposed to level 1, level 2 does not require lineside signals. The movement authority is communicated directly from a Radio Block Centre (RBC) to the onboard unit using GSMR. The balises are only used to transmit 'fix messages' such as location, gradient, speed limit, etc. A continuous stream of data informs the driver of line-specific data and signals status on the route ahead, allowing the train to reach its maximum or optimal speed but still maintaining a safe braking distance factor.

• ETCS Level 3: Still in its conceptual phase, allows for the introduction of a moving block technology. Under ERTMS level 1 and 2, movement authorities are determined using fixed blocks - sections of tracks between two fixed points which cannot be used by two trains at the same time. With ERTMS level 3, accurate and continuous position data is supplied to the control centre directly by the train, rather than by track based detection equipment. As the train continuously monitors its own position, there is no need for fixed blocks – rather the train itself will be considered as a moving block.

Source: The European Rail Traffic Management System – Factsheet

Network Rail’s timeline

2017 – ETCS Level 2 overlay solution installed on Western from Paddington to Heathrow, allowing Crossrail ETCS to run

2018 – ETCS Level 2 overlay from King’s Cross to Wood Green area (signals removed in 2020)

2018 – ETCS Level 2 with no signals from Moorgate to Drayton Park

2019 – ETCS Level 2 overlay complete on Western from Paddington to Bristol (signals removed by 2025)

2020– ETCS Level 2 full solution (signals away) on the East Coast Main Line from King’s Cross to South Doncaster 

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