European GNSS means safer, more efficient rail travel

Next Generation Train Control  workshop participants
Next Generation Train Control workshop participants

On 7th of July, the Next Generation Train Control (NGTC) project, coordinated by UNIFE and supported by GNSS experts from the European GNSS Agency (GSA) and the European Space Agency (ESA), held a user-oriented workshop to present the main outcomes of the work package related to the future use of European GNSS for train control.

The Virtual Balise concept took centre stage at the workshop. Currently, in the European Train Control System (ETCS), the positioning of a train is based on a ‘balise’ – a physical element mounted at specific intervals along the railway track. The GSA is working to ensure that, wherever possible, these physical balises are replaced by virtual ones. Virtual balises expand on the cost and efficiency benefits stemming from their integration of GNSS technology into the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS). Furthermore, there use does not pose any operational or safety implications on the ETCS.

During the workshop, the GSA presented its roadmap for the introduction of European GNSS in railway safety relevant applications. The roadmap is the result of a series of consultations that has seen the GSA working together with rail and space industry stakeholders in order to enable the use of satellite-based positioning for railway signalling.

Safety first

NGTC was introduced as one of the lighthouse projects of Shift2Rail, a major European R&D Joint Undertaking paving the way for key technologies to enter into the railway domain, including European GNSS. The E-GNSS related work package contains an analysis of the ETCS operational scenarios and the underlying safety analysis, identifying the preliminary requirements needed from GNSS to allow proper functioning of the signalling system. The outcomes of the preliminary safety analysis, demonstrating the viability of the Virtual Balise concept, were discussed, along with other possible applications of GNSS technology in the rail domain. These discussions involved participants from the potential end-user communities, including European rail transport operators and infrastructure managers.

The data provided by NGTC is the cornerstone on which other projects, such as the GSA funded H2020 project Satellite Technology for Advanced Railway Signalling (STARS), will build from. Together, this work will advance research activities dedicated to achieving the integration of European GNSS into ERTMS.

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