Industry 4.0, marked by the adoption of the new conditions of the digital economy, gave rise to Railway 4.0 and Digital Railway. Digitalization includes signaling and traffic management. The benefits of digital railway or Unattended Train Operation (UTO) include:
- Capacity improvements – Digital railway integration improves capacity and performance earlier and at a lower cost than conventional enhancements. London alone will require 180,000 more seats and standing room and almost 50% greater capacity by 2043.
- Better connections – Digital Traffic Management (DTM) uses modern analytics to create greater flexibility in services. DTM can supply more effective routes and flexible timetables to respond to daily, weekly, and seasonal travel demands.
- Greater reliability – Traditionally, railway planners had a tough job getting trains on time and delivering efficiency. DTM systems can identify and carry out real-time tests on possible new train routes, create rapid-response alternatives resulting in more efficient and effective timetabling.
Many leading operators are using auto timetabling to control the railway network and enhance reliability. For example, on London’s Jubilee Line, the digitized signaling increased train frequency to 30 per hour, with capacity increase up to 12,500 additional passengers hourly, increasing reliability by 50%.
- Decreased operational cost – Factoring in operating expenses, studies indicate, automation halves operational costs, especially when driver and signal department functions are abolished.
It can decrease energy costs with the adjustment of acceleration and deceleration patterns and maximize energy recovery. While maintenance costs marginally increase, there is a positive overall balance in personnel and energy costs.
Evolution of Signaling Technology
One of the first innovations, the communications-based train control (CBTC) system, deployed a protected block for a specific distance behind the train, cutting distances between trains and facilitating automatic and driverless operation.
Before CBTC, London Underground’s Victoria Line in 1968 pioneered the Automatic Train Control (ATC) with a driver present in a supervisory capacity. Japan’s Port Kobe line in 1981 and France’s Lille in 1983 had driverless urban transport systems.
CBTC debuted on Vancouver SkyTrain in 1986 and London’s Docklands Light Railway in 1987. They were based on inducted loop technology developed by Thales and introduced as an alternative to track circuit-based communications.
While CBTC is optimal for metro and subways, the many interfaces and varying operation speeds make its implementation on mainline networks complicated to realize the benefits.
Automatic Train Protection (ATP) systems based on electronic interlockings was developed as a transition to in-cab rather than lineside signaling. The dawn of Japan’s and Europe’s high-speed in the 1960s and 1980s, respectively, led to cab-based signalling.
Then, the European Train Control System (ETCS), the signaling component of the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS), in the 1990s, superseded national in-cab systems by providing an interoperable signaling system permitting cross-border operations. ETCS is the foundation of French and German semi and full automation projects on the mainlines.
Then, London’s Thameslink deployed Automatic Train Operation (ATO) over ETCS using systems supplied by Siemens. While Siemens followed up with the deployment of GoA2 on Sydney’s metropolitan network, Thales followed up with GoA2 projects in France and Germany.
In 2018, Alstom worked with Netherland’s ProRail and Rotterdam Rail Feeding to implement GoA2 on freight trains, and France’s SNCF demonstrated telecontrol.
Automation is underway outside Europe also. GoA3 is already in place in the Moscow Central Diameter railway, and work is underway on GoA4 applications, expected completion by 2022.
China is embracing GoA 2 with the opening of the world’s first automated high-speed line, 174 km long. Japan’s JR East is set to introduce ATO on the Loban Line. It is working to implement in on Shinkansen network.
The railways met the deadline of implementing the inter-operable Positive Train Control (PTC) in the US after spending billions to meet the required safety standards.
The major players in the global signaling market include Alstom SA, Cisco Systems, General Electric, ABB, IBM Corporation, Hitachi Ltd., Bombardier, Huawei Technologies, Indra Sistemas SA, Seimens AG, Alcatel-Lucent, and Ansaldo STS.
Further evolutions of the current generation of ETCS concern work on satellite-based positioning, improvements to cybersecurity, and the development of digital interlockings, including cloud-based solutions.
Seimens deployed its first cloud-based interlocking at Achau, Austria, using its Distributed Smart Safe System (DS3). Thales Ground Transportation Systems is working on a similar approach to increase the scope of control over signaling functions, like a central control center to oversee greater proportions of the overall network.
Digitalization includes the rollout of the Internet of Things (IoT) and the collection of data from sensors and touchpoints to improve efficiency. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is also set to play a role in aggregating data.
AI-based on deep learning and machine learning algorithms forming a neural network are already present in predictive maintenance, video analytics, and operational support and decision making. Integration with signaling needs to comply with standards for mainstream implementation.
The complicated part of ATO is not controlling trains; it is the sensor package required to work in all weather conditions. Enhanced obstacle detection is already pioneered in light rail vehicles. Many of these concepts and technologies require enhanced telecommunications for effective functioning.
Additionally. the successful GSM-R on which most signaling systems work is in 2G. The 5G-based Future Railway Mobile Communications System (FRMCS) is encouraging. Japan, France, China, and Germany are trialing the capabilities of 5G.
The new communication and signaling will involve using additional cellular or low-earth orbiting satellites to boost coverage in areas out of reach of cellular coverage, effectively creating a dedicated private network.
With a small portion of funding available, reaching targets will not be easy. While the European railway market must develop capabilities, the deficiencies must be offset by streamlining and simplifying processes and hiring people from software-related industries.
Draup’s analysis of the European railway signaling market focuses on the investments and programs in the European region. The report details collaboration initiatives in Europe, key investments and programs, top clients working on software, and service provider analysis for players who want to collaborate to push innovation and technology.
Draup is a sales intelligence platform that provides sales teams with information on funding distribution, R&D, and executive movements. Its insights on emerging opportunities in railway-related software could be helpful to vendors. It helps them devise a value proposition to explore trending use cases for quick decision-making.