INTRO: ETCS Level 2 worked faultlessly when Murray Hughes rode Train 9607 from Roma to Napoli over the 205 km high speed line that opened last December. The number of services was stepped up in March, and more will be added in June
MICHELE ELIA, Technical Director of Italian infrastructure manager Rete Ferroviaria Italiana, receives daily reports on the performance of ERTMS equipment on the Roma - Napoli high speed line. In service since last December, the line and its equipment is being constantly monitored at the highest level.
Elia is only too well aware that RFI and sister company Trenitalia are the pioneers with ETCS Level 2 at high speed. ’No-one had this experience before us - we are the first’, he says proudly at RFI’s head office in Roma. Freely conceding that there have been problems, Elia nonetheless insists that from design to implementation has taken just four years. ’We are tuning the system every day to overcome the problems’, he says, ’dealing with every failure, finding the cause and then the way to prevent the same event happening again.’
This has entailed many versions of software and new hardware, and ’now we only have small problems’. Using diagnostics tools, ’we are advised before the failure occurs’, he says, noting that many failures relate to conventional equipment such as the 350 track circuits on the line. ’These are very sensitive’, he explains.
The equipment testing process is intense and demanding. Every day up to 10 test trains are run and ’every night we update the version of the software’, Elia says. ’This work cannot stop until we have a complete level of confidence in the system.’
Since January 23 Trenitalia has been operating two trains in each direction over the new line in commercial service. Following Elia’s briefing on March 8, RFI has arranged for me to travel to Napoli to see at first hand how ERTMS is working. The rendezvous is the Alta Velocità lounge at Roma Termini station for the 10.25 departure next morning.
RFI’s ERTMS specialist Nazzareno Filippini finds me outside the modish new lounge with Trenitalia’s AV branding at 10.05. We walk to the platform and board the leading passenger car of Train 9607, a dual-voltage ETR500 set with 12 trailer vehicles resplendent in the latest AV livery of silver and grey.
As we stow our bags an identical ETR500 pulls in on the adjacent track - platforms 8 and 9 are dedicated to AV services. The other set is an empty test train which is available as a back-up should problems prevent our train from departing. According to Trenitalia this has not been necessary yet, although the company has even gone so far as to test how long it would take to transfer a trainload of passengers from one set to another across the platform.
My watch still shows 10.24 as we slide out of Platform 9, bound non-stop for Napoli Centrale, where we are scheduled to arrive at 12.00. As the train eases over the pointwork outside Termini station Filippini escorts me through the power car to the cab.
It is 10.27, and the driver and his fully-qualified co-driver are observing our progress through the deep windscreen of the E404 power car. On the driver’s control console are four screens, the one directly in front of the driver being the ERTMS Driver-Machine Interface.
In the centre of the screen is the speed display, and on the left is a Level 0 indication, showing that we are running on conventional signalling.
At 10.31 Filippini points out the icon showing that the train is trying to connect to the Roma radio block centre, one of three which will control our progress to Napoli. A minute later ’Level 2 announced’ appears on the screen, indicating that we will shortly transfer to Level 2 control. We are now passing through the outskirts of the capital, and our route takes us through a number of new but unused stations where future suburban services will run on the tracks we are using. To our right is the formation of the high speed tracks that will take AV services almost to Roma Termini from 2007. Construction work is still in hand, and for the moment we must run on the historic infrastructure.
A green signal appears ahead - the last we shall see until the approach to Napoli. At the same time the DMI informs the driver that we shall be changing from 3 kV DC to 25 kV 50Hz in a further 2000m. The changeover process is automatic, and the only requirement for the driver is to flip the traction supply switch on his desk as we coast under the transition point with the pantographs down. The 25 kV pantograph is raised automatically, and I am told that the train must run with only one pantograph raised on the new line - a 25 kV train line links the two power cars.
At La Rustica we leave the old alignment and switch to the new line. Instead of the lineside signals, there are marker boards at the end of each track circuit, together with location signs every 200m. The DMI display shows our connection to RBC1, with the Level 2 indication on the left. We have a movement authority to proceed at line speed, which is 300 km/h.
A steady upward grade holds us back as we start to leave Roma behind. Ahead on the left are the Albani hills, through which we shall pass in a 6 km tunnel. Just before we enter the double-track bore at 10.41 we pass over a level crossing access for emergency vehicles; this is now a requirement for all long rail tunnels in Italy.
Speed has now risen to 180 km/h but we are still climbing - the uphill grade is shown by a light grey colour on the information display on the right of the DMI. This information is advisory - the rules in Italy say that the only mandatory instructions on the DMI are the actual and permitted speed indications.
The light grey band soon changes to dark grey, indicating that we are now on a downhill grade, and speed rapidly climbs past 200 km/h to 250 and more. We reach 300 km/h at 10.45.
Glimpsed in the track ahead are pairs of yellow Eurobalises. As Train 9607 passes over each balise, an antenna under the leading power car interrogates the balise and the on-board equipment generates a position report from the Last Relevant Balise Group. This is transmitted to the RBC by GSM-R, which Filippini confirms is ’the only information channel from the wayside equipment to the train’.
The RBC receives this report, and according to the train’s position and the status of the line ahead, the gradient and any other relevant data, it sends back a movement authority. The on-board equipment then calculates a braking curve to the end of the movement authority, which can be, say, 12 km ahead (8 sections/track circuits). The process is repeated each time the train passes a pair of balises.
At 10.47 we are passing the first of the line’s maintenance yards with overtaking loops and a substation at Frosinone. Immediately afterwards we come to the first junction, which allows trains to rejoin the parallel conventional line to Napoli serving intermediate stations such as Cassino and Caserta.
By now we are nearing the end of the Roma control area, and the DMI shows a second RBC icon. This indicates that the train is trying to establish contact with RBC2. A few moments later the icon shows that we are connected - and the handover begins as we steadily head south with the speed display showing 298 to 300 km/h. Safety protocols are exchanged during a process that lasts a couple of minutes - we probably cover 10 km while the handover is being carried out.
Suddenly the speed display turns red, indicating that we are in ’an overspeed situation’. Nothing happens provided that we do not exceed the permitted speed by more than 3 km/h. Should we exceed the limit by 5 km/h, however, maximum service braking will be applied automatically, taking us back to the permitted speed, which in our case is 300 km/h. If the speed limit is exceeded by 15 km/h, full emergency braking is applied and the train is brought to a halt. Our speed drops back below 300 km/h, and the display returns to its normal white colour.
Once again the DMI display changes, indicating that there is a temporary speed restriction of 250 km/h ahead. A bar on the left of the display shows the distance in metres to the start of the limit, and the speed display turns yellow. The driver reacts at once, and we slow to about 240 km/h.
Filippini informs me that the line is checked at weekly intervals by the Archimede infrastructure inspection train. After each inspection TSRs are imposed wherever problems are detected until they can be checked and dealt with. ’There are fewer and fewer restrictions as time passes’, he says. Asked about both tracks being available for bidirectional working, he confirms that this is the case. The full line speed of 300 km/h is permitted on both tracks in both directions. ’We also tested parallel running’, he adds.
I ask if all trains operating on the new line have two drivers. They do, I am assured. A key issue with a possible move to a single driver is the continued use of a driver vigilance device consisting simply of a deadman’s pedal which the driver must push down at least every 30s. Touch-sensitive controls, now common on other railways in Europe, are to be introduced ’in a few years’. This is a delicate topic with the trade unions, and a trial is currently underway on the line from Roma Termini to the airport at Fiumicino.
Ahead of us the surrounding countryside looks misty and the hills are shrouded in cloud. We are soon back at full line speed, having in the meantime passed the San Giovanni maintenance site and passing loops, about 100 km from Roma. Already we are fast approaching the point where RBC2 will hand over to RBC3, and at 11.05 two icons again appear on the DMI, indicating that the train is connected to both. Each RBC covers around 70route-km, and again some time elapses as the safety checks are made by the RBCs using a two-out-of-three voting procedure. The Cassino junction to the parallel main line appears, and we are soon under the control of RBC3.
At any time the driver can request a position report using the touch-sensitive DMI. The location and time appear immediately on the screen.
Train 9607 is now passing through frequent tunnels where the radio signal has to be strengthened by repeaters inside the bore. We streak through Tora-Piccilli about 150 km from Roma. The passing time shown on the driver’s paper working timetable on the desk is 11.11 - we are already a few minutes early.
We run into rain at 11.12 and there is an overspeed alarm with a warning bleep as the DMI speed display changes to red. Speed is quickly reduced and the display returns to white. We enter a tunnel and the windscreen dries before we emerge.
We are due to pass the junction at Caserta at 11.21, but our actual time is 11.15. Ahead of us lies Gricignano, the temporary end of the high speed line pending completion of the final section approaching Napoli. This will take trains such as ours to a new station under construction at Afragola, which is due to open in 2008.
The DMI now shows that we shall shortly be transferring to Level 0, and speed drops rapidly as we approach the junction. As we leave the future alignment on our left, the first conventional signal appears on the chord that will take us back on to the old line for the final run into Napoli.
As we pass the green aspect, the DMI continues to show the train speed - the conventional speedometer does not function when the train is running in ETCS mode. When running on conventional lines, the ETCS provides speed supervision, but otherwise the train is operated using the lineside signals and Trenitalia’s train protection system Ripetizione Segnali Continua.
As we are running early, we are held at signals outside Napoli Centrale, but we still draw up in the AV platform a good 10min ahead of schedule.
CAPTION: ETR500 sets operate frequent test trips between Roma and Napoli as RFI hones the performance of the ETCS equipment. On-board equipment is supplied by Alstom
CAPTION: The screen directly in front of the driver is the ERTMS Driver-Machine Interface
CAPTION: The southern end of the Roma - Napoli high speed line is currently at Gricignano; the two tracks at the left will open in 2008 when the final section to Afragola is completed
CAPTION: Graph showing a test run (top) in November when there were still several problems with ETCS on the new line. The lower graph shows a run in January which was very similar to the author’s trip in March. No problems are evident, although a 250 km/h temporary speed restriction is clearly shown
CAPTION: The high speed line has several junctions with the existing Roma - Napoli route to allow intermediate stations to be served
CAPTION: The conventional speedometer does not function when ETCS is being used, with the driver relying solely on the DMI display
’We are tuning the system every day to overcome the problems’
Michele Elia, Technical Director Rete Ferroviaria Italiana
Confidence grows as Level 2 beds in on Roma - Napoli
Infrastructure company RFI is closely monitoring the performance of the ETCS Level 2 equipment on the new Roma - Napoli line, but it worked faultlessly when Murray Hughes rode Train 9607 between the two cities in March. The number of services over the 205 km route was stepped up from March 26, and Trenitalia plans to add more trains in June when further ETR500 trainsets have been modified for Level 2 ERTMS.
La confiance s’accroît tandis que le Niveau 2 s’installe sur Roma - Napoli
RFI, la compagnie gestionnaire de l’infrastructure contr