Back to News List

News details

2017 19 Jul

Early Deployment of Digital Signalling and Train Control

Posted in Digital Railway Programme

Here we look back to the origins of the European Train Control System (ETCS) and Traffic Management (TM) in Great Britain – what the early drivers were for its introduction and its subsequent development.

Inquiries and Reviews

When Railtrack started development of its Train Control System (TCS) for the West Coast Mainline in 1996, it was based on the concept of ETCS Level 3 and was targeted to deliver enhanced capacity and higher running speeds by May 2005. Following a programme review in December 1999, it was determined that the development risks were significant and as a result, it was decided to implement a conventional arrangement and halt any further development work on TCS.  This had a significant impact on Railtrack from both a reputational and financial perspective.

The roots of the current ETCS implementation in GB date back to 1999 when, following fatal train collisions on the mainline network at Southall and Ladbroke Grove, a statement from the then Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, called for the best train control system to be installed across the GB network. At the same time, the move towards European harmonisation among the then 15 member states was beginning to gather pace.

A joint inquiry into train protection systems followed, its brief being to identify the most appropriate system for the GB network and develop a plan for its implementation. The final report was published in April 2001, with the conclusions of the inquiry being that the Train Protection Warning System (TPWS) was a good short-term solution and appropriate for the majority of lines, but that ETCS was the preferred long-term option.

In November 2006, following a long consultation, including detailed business case analysis, it was agreed that ETCS implementation primarily aligned with major signalling renewals programmes, provided a cost effective and affordable migration plan. However, the alignment with signalling renewals programmes resulted in the full migration taking in excess of 35 years and it was not necessarily optimised to deliver other business opportunities, such as increased capacity and greater reliability.

The Cambrian Line Pilot

In 2006, the decision was taken to proceed with a pilot project for ETCS and, after considering a number of candidate schemes, the Cambrian Line in Wales was selected.

Covering 215km and with a mixture of features including a depot, terminal stations and mixed traffic operation (albeit in a rural location), the Cambrian Line represented the perfect scheme with a high benefit/cost ratio. The core objectives of the project were to inform and de-risk the subsequent national roll-out of ETCS, as well as improving line capacity, operational safety and performance.

Work on the first stage of the project between Machynlleth and Pwllheli was completed in 2010. The whole route between Shrewsbury and Aberystwyth/Pwllheli, operating in ETCS Level 2 without lineside signals, was introduced in March 2011 according to the requirements of the Railway Interoperability Regulations.

At this point, 24 passenger trains and three locomotives were operating under ETCS on the line, with the control centre at Machynlleth controlling the whole route. The route itself was fitted with axle counters and electronic interlockings.

Although on the face of it, Cambrian is a rural route, it provided a huge amount of invaluable information for the design, delivery and operational teams – and continues to do so. Arguably, it still has the most functionality of any railway in Europe, if not the world.

Among a number of GB ‘firsts’, Cambrian was the first project to operate axle counters over the Fixed Telecommunication Network (FTN), the first to provide train control over Global Systems Mobile for Railway (GSM-R) and perhaps most importantly, the first for ETCS to be commissioned and used on a passenger railway.  And whilst we continue to share a wealth of detailed knowledge and experience with European and world-wide railway operators, Cambrian remains the one project that is top of every ‘must visit’ list, and we regularly host visitors who are keen to learn from our experiences.

Following the success of the Cambrian pilot and the mass of data, knowledge and experience that it delivered, the decision to build a dedicated ETCS test facility was taken. The new ETCS National Integration Facility (ENIF) and associated dedicated ETCS Test Train were initially developed to be used both for ETCS trials and as a test facility for the Thameslink Programme, although the remit for the ETCS Test Train has subsequently been extended to cover testing for the planned Great Western installation at Heathrow.

Once commissioned, ENIF proved to be a major benefit for the programme, with suppliers working closely together to prove their technology and capabilities – individually and in combination.

Enhanced Benefits of ETCS and Traffic Management (TM) Integration

Whilst much of the focus on ETCS was based upon the safety benefits following the publication of the joint inquiry into train protection systems, it was recognised that capacity and performance could be enhanced by integration with a TM System. Recognising this, in 2014 Network Rail’s Strategic Business Plan was published which outlined the benefits that ETCS and TM could deliver through CP5 and beyond. In 2016, when David Waboso joined the programme, it was recognised that due to the alignment with major signalling renewal schemes, ETCS was not necessarily being targeted to deliver additional capacity in the right areas and passenger benefits. David’s early messages then were equally clear, saying that the programme should not fixate on these renewal programmes, but that cases should be built for ETCS and/or TM where they could most deliver capacity, performance and passenger benefits.

As a result of the work carried out on the Strategic Outline Business Cases, a range of system solutions have been identified to address particular business needs on particular routes. Some involve integrated ETCS and TM solutions, whilst others can deliver benefits through implementation of TM only.

As a result of TM being a core system in the Network Rail 2014 Strategic Business Plan, it was determined that prior to national roll-out, experience should be gained from early deployment of the system.  As with Cambrian, the early deployment of TM has provided many valuable lessons – not only in terms of system functionality, but also process, with the installations at Romford and Cardiff continuing to be a rich source of learning. A great deal of knowledge has already been gleaned from both projects, across all areas of design, development, specification, procurement and installation.

What’s next?

Thameslink is the next major project to feature ETCS and is another first; it will also feature Automatic Train Operation (ATO) to help achieve 24 trains per hour. Working closely with the supply chain, we researched how ATO could operate over ETCS, proved it in the laboratory and it was subsequently successfully trialled at ENIF and the Thameslink core section by the Thameslink Programme team. It is anticipated that by December 2018, ATO in conjunction with TM will be fully operational to facilitate 24 trains per hour services on the Thameslink Core section.

Crossrail services will use a combination of ETCS, Communications-Based Train Control (CBTC) and conventional signalling. CBTC will operate in the new tunnel section, with ETCS being deployed on the Western Section, where the line comes on to the mainline network.