Rail Industry Focus


Interoperability in action

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Aug/Sept 2013

The widespread roll-out of in-cab signalling in the UK is fast approaching, but currently it is still only the Cambrian line in Wales where the infrastructure for ETCS is in place and operational. Hitachi recently completed a successful test of its on-board equipment, proving it could communicate properly with the lineside infrastructure installed by another supplier. RTM spoke to Hitachi Rail Europe signalling project manager, Richard Tomlin, about the V-Train 3 project.

Hitachi Rail Europe’s ‘Verification Train 3’, or V-Train 3, completed a series of successful trials this summer, proving that its ETCS Level 2 on-board equipment could communicate with the lineside infrastructure on the Cambrian Line.

That is despite the fact that the existing lineside equipment was installed by another company, Ansaldo-STS, headquartered in Paris. 

Richard Tomlin, signalling project manager at Hitachi Rail Europe, told RTM: “This is an important milestone, not only for Hitachi but for the UK, because there are two different suppliers working together in terms of technology. For Hitachi, it’s fantastic for us to bring our technology into the UK and demonstrate its reliability and safety.” 

On-board equipment 

Hitachi’s on-board equipment is fitted to one of Network Rail’s Class 97s (pictured). The core technology is based on the technical specifications as agreed under the Europe-wide ERTMS framework, but aspects have been developed by Hitachi in its own way.

Tomlin explained: “We’ve taken those specifications and developed our systems, and have gone through the European approvals system to verify and validate our system such that we can demonstrate safety integrity level 4. There’s a whole tranche of work that’s been happening at Hitachi over the last six years, since we started working on this project, to actually design, develop and achieve this. 

“We’ve had a number of key elements happen in Europe, such as independent technical testing of our system. An accredited Test Laboratory (Multitel) has taken our on-board equipment and performed a defined sequence of tests to ensure that we are compliant with those specs and will therefore work with another system. 

“That’s been a big part of the background to this. 

“Hitachi’s technology isn’t yet in working use in wider Europe, but we do have a version of the system that is currently working now in China – Chinese Train Control System (CTCS), with other European suppliers.” 

The V-Train 3 project is managed from Hitachi Rail Europe’s London office, with assistance from engineering development and signalling system support staff at Mito Works in Japan. 

Interoperability between suppliers 

Hitachi Rail Europe has no contractual relationship with Ansaldo-STS, the groundside supplier on the Cambrian. Instead, it has been working through Network Rail, the owner and manager of the infrastructure. Tomlin explained: “We needed to ensure firstly that there is a defined radio interface – the radio communication is so important, because the movement authority and other key data is sent over the GSM-R radio system and delivered to the train. 

“It’s very important to get your radio protocol interface correct, and we’ve done that over the last year by analysing some of the existing data that is produced on the existing groundside system. 

“We’ve had our technical experts looking at that, so we know what to expect over the radio waves. That’s a key thing for any supplier coming to the UK or Europe, when you need interoperability between different suppliers.

“In terms of technical clarification discussions, we’ve had telephone conferences with the groundside system specialists in Paris, and they’ve been very supportive and provided assistance through Network Rail. We worked collaboratively with Network Rail to make sure we got everything right before we actually turned on our equipment. We knew how it was going to perform, to avoid unforeseen problems.” 

Testing and driver training 

Hitachi kept its protected night-time paths for its testing until the end of July, plus still expects to offer demonstrations to senior people in the industry so they can “experience the Hitachi operation and system reliability”. 

Tomlin explained: “We’re at the mid-point at the moment and we’ve had some fantastic success with the connection and operation through the radio network.” 

He also praised the quality of the balise communication and said the air-gap interface is working well. “We’re very much looking forward to finishing off our testing over the coming weeks.” 

Network Rail has a contract with DB Schenker for the ETCS drivers required for this type of locomotive, Tomlin said. “It’s been a case of collaboratively working with Network Rail to ensure there are drivers at the right time to deliver our test programme. 

“We’ve had good engagement with DB Schenker, who have been feeding operational and driveability comments back to us. 

“This is the first time the drivers have actually seen a different system in the cab, as well. We’ve got a separate driver acknowledgement button to acknowledge any safety-related data on the DMI screen. That’s been a new thing for the drivers to learn, and it’s been accepted very well.” 

Risk mitigation 

The night-time tests have ensured there is the least possible risk of any impact on passenger operations. Tomlin said: “That’s been an important part of the test programme with Network Rail, to understand what the risk is of bringing another supplier onto the network and ensuring those risks are mitigated correctly. 

“You could get drop-outs – system failures or crashes – but we haven’t experienced any of that as part of this testing, which Network Rail are pleased with. The entire Cambrian line system has operated very well and remained stable during the testing.” 

ERTMS roll-out 

The potential customers for Hitachi’s technology include the owners and operators of virtually every rail vehicle on the network, Tomlin said: ROSCOs, freight operators, Network Rail and its National Delivery Service (NDS), heritage companies, and so on. “There’s a whole wave of engineering and tendering coming up as we speak, and we’re actively engaged with some of that at the moment.” 

He added: “For us, the success of this project feeds into our rolling stock projects – for instance IEP – and potentially other projects that we’re working on at the moment. 

“But also, the future of V-Train 3 is to retain the equipment on the train. The end goal is to finish the trial and to achieve the safety approvals that we need.” 

Tomlin discussed the national programme to roll out ETCS/ERTMS, firstly on the Great Western Main Line and the East Coast Main Line – the two lines that Hitachi’s new rolling stock under the IEP will be running on, in fact. 

The GWML system is to be overlaid, retaining traditional signals for unfitted trains, by 2018, while parts of the ECML are to undergo a full ETCS groundside conversion with the signals removed, necessitating in-cab signalling. 

“That is from 2019,” Tomlin said, “therefore, any rolling stock wanting to run on the portion of fitted line will need to have on-board ETCS. 

“Hence the reason that, over the last year, there’s been a lot of communications and people waking up to the fact that ETCS is becoming the day-job.”

Tomlin said the potential benefits are huge, from train operation and reliability to reducing lineside infrastructure and so both cost and the potential for theft and vandalism.

 “It’s about transferring systems on board the train and reaping the benefits of that,” he said.


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