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Engineers explore the future of signalling

01 Mar 2006

Signalling professionals will probe the latest developments in signalling and train control technology at Aspect 2006, an international conference organised by the Institution of Railway Signal Engineers on March 16-17

Jacques PoréPresident, Institution of Railway Signal Engineers, 2005-06

ENGINEERS, technicians, managers and other professionals with an interest in signalling and telecommunications will meet at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in London on March 16-17 for the Aspect 2006 international conference. An Introduction Day on March 15 is intended for those delegates who are new to the industry or who wish to broaden their horizons.

Since 1995 the Institution of Railway Signal Engineers has organised three Aspect conferences which have proved invaluable to the signalling and telecommunications profession. Aspect 2006 will deepen understanding of the latest signalling techniques, but it will also provide essential information for railway infrastructure managers and operators, suppliers and consultants, certification experts and notified bodies, and universities.

Until now Aspect conferences have taken place at four-year intervals. These have been three-day events, usually followed by a programme of technical visits. To focus on the needs of today's professionals, the IRSE has decided to move to a two-year interval with presentations of papers over two full days - we believe that this will still allow plenty of opportunity for attendees to ask questions, to meet the speakers and to network informally. Aspect 2006 will have 23 papers by authors from 13 countries stretching from Australia to Canada.

'Quality of Service through Signalling and Communications' has been carefully chosen as the theme of the conference to reflect the most important issues facing the industry today. Building on the work already published by the IRSE International Technical Committee in its seventh report on Quality of Service, the conference will feature five sessions. Topics will include Quality of Service, Modelling and Service Performance, Technology Solutions, Main Line Solutions and Mass Transit Solutions.

The speakers in each session have been chosen to give the conference a truly international flavour. Authors from many different railway administrations have a wealth of experience to share, and there will be opportunities to meet suppliers and to see exhibits of new equipment and systems. All in all, this promises to be a first rate event offering good value for money - IRSE is a professional but non-commercial body.

A taste of debate

Permit me to highlight four significant presentations. Tan Yih Long, Deputy Director (Signals, Communications & Control) of Singapore's Land Transport Authority and Didier Dupré, Core Competence Network Leader at Alstom Transport, will present a paper on the Singapore metro's automated North East Line. Since commercial service began in July 2003, valuable experience has been gained, and this may prove helpful to other heavy metro operators.

Among the topics to be covered will be the response time for inserting or removing trains from service, the time taken to recover from failures and plans for future integration of electronic subsystems.

The need for resignalling may stem from obsolescence or from a desire to improve service quality, or both, but resignalling while a line is in revenue service presents particular challenges. These will be covered by Dr Corinne Braban, Amirse, and Rémy Pasquer of Siemens Transportation Systems who will cite experience from the Canarsie Line in New York, from Line 2 in Budapest and RATP's Ouragan project. The paper will suggest that each migration strategy is unique and will highlight the need to team up with the transport authority.

Three authors from Westinghouse Rail Systems will suggest ways to cut the cost of safety enhancements to level crossings. This has recently become extremely expensive as prescriptive standards and higher safety requirements have spread across much of the world. The company has explored ways to couple the latest technology with lean engineering and management techniques and so develop more affordable methods.

The paper outlines how level crossing predictor technology, commonly used in North America and Australia - where there are around 30 000 installations - could be applied in the UK and in Europe. Analysis has shown that the highest proportion of cost associated with installing or upgrading level crossings lies in the management of the processes involved rather than in systems and equipment, and challenging traditional UK practice may prove a fruitful area for cost reduction.

A CBTC application in South America will be described in a paper by six authors from Alstom in São Paulo. Smart Management System is a train management product designed for freight railways and used by CVRD in Brazil. It combines management of crew, rolling stock and consignments with conflict detection, train and maintenance planning, dispatching and traffic control with high-level functions such as planning and decision support.

The benefits include lower energy consumption and automatic scheduling for preventive and corrective maintenance. Its main architecture covers an integrated control centre linked via a communications backbone to interlockings, trackside object controllers, onboard computers and automatic train controllers. Radios, transponder readers and GPS receivers are part of the onboard equipment, and in terms of train management and control, traditional CTC functionalities and train identification are provided, as well as moving block capabilities accomplished by virtual and physical track circuits. The migration strategy towards communications-based signalling is also presented.

Customer-oriented vision

I should like to share with readers some personal views of a vision for rail transport in the future.

Taking 2025 as a date that is not really far ahead, I would like to think that by then all members of the railway profession will be truly customer-orientated. Railways will be globally managed like airlines are today, with several major hubs of operation and management centres that interconnect signalling and information systems with people and rolling stock management, freight dispatching and guidance for passengers so that their complete door-to-door journeys are made easily.

More mergers will have brought further change to the supply industry so that there are fewer large groups, perhaps just three or four.

On main line railways, ERTMS/ETCS will be in service on all busy lines in Europe. On other continents there will be intelligent derivatives such as the Chinese Train Control System. Most of the present train detection products such as track circuits and axle counters will have been removed and replaced by ERTMS/ETCS Level 3 and CBTC with onboard train integrity products. Those track circuits and axle counters that remain will have been replaced by more modern types that are more reliable.

I predict that more than 50% of existing metro networks will have moved to driverless operation or be in the process of doing so. Most new metro networks will start with automated lines.

So let us at least be optimistic for the future of railways. Rail transport has many advantages that are self-evident to the profession, but it is important to remember that the task of promoting them is a challenge that involves us all.

Picture captions:

  • TOP: Seen from the cab of a QR tilting train, the Rockhampton - Brisbane line is equipped with ATP; balises provide overspeed protection and prevent signals being passed at danger
  • Hong Kong's Kowloon-Canton Railway is equipped with Alstom's TBL automatic train protection system; the blue aspect tells the driver that the ATP is working and lineside signals do not apply

Registration

Are you planning to attend Aspect 2006? A registration form for the conference can be found on the IRSE website: www.irse.org