Satellite positioning: a game changer for the European Railway Traffic Management System

23 June 2020
GNSS is a key technology underpinning future evolutions of the ERTMS
GNSS is a key technology underpinning future evolutions of the ERTMS

A Work Plan for the European Railway Traffic Management System (ERTMS), published by the European Commission in May this year, lists satellite positioning as one of the game changing technologies underpinning future evolutions of the system and a key element to be included in future Technological Specifications for Interoperability (TSI).

The ERTMS is a major industrial project that aims to make rail transport in Europe safer and more competitive. As a safety system, the ERTMS enforces train compliance with speed restrictions and signalling and consists of equipment installed both on trains and along the railway tracks.

According to the latest Work Plan, the ERTMS will become the backbone of railway digitalisation in Europe, allowing for the introduction of new technologies, including but not limited to automatic train operation, satellite positioning and other technologies capable of optimising rail performance and capacity. 

Positive cost benefits

“In light of the important role that GNSS positioning will play in the system, the GSA recently conducted a cost-benefit analysis for virtual balises, one of the possible technical solutions for the ERTMS,” said Daniel Lopour, Market Development manager for rail. “This analysis showed that there is a positive cost/benefit ratio, both for railway infrastructure managers and for the industry as a whole,” he said. 

Read this: ITT: EGNSS-based rail safety service analysis

The GSA report found that, to make a good economic case, a rail line must be in a location that enables the deployment of a large number of virtual balises, when physical balises have not yet been deployed. The cost of balise maintenance also has an impact on the attractiveness of the project: the maintenance cost per physical balise should be high to allow for more cost savings.

One of the guiding principles for the future evolution of the ERTMS, including the revision of the Control Command and Signalling (CCS) Technological Specifications for Interoperability (TSI) planned for 2022, is to ensure that the TSI will deliver significant business case improvements for the railway sector. For this to happen, and to achieve higher capacity and better performance, the ERTMS game changers should be included in the TSI revision.

Investing in the future

Within the framework of Horizon 2020, the GSA and the Shift2Rail Joint Undertaking have been investing to ensure that Galileo and EGNOS can support localisation objectives within the ERTMS. R&D projects such as ERSAT, STARS and X2RAIL2, for example, have helped to analyse the rail environment, define the necessary architecture of the train positioning subsystem and provide the first operational pilots, transferring early results to European tracks. 

Watch this: EGNOS and Galileo for Rail

To support the ERTMS Work Plan the GSA, together with European Space Agency (ESA), is also actively supporting railway companies, infrastructure managers and the EU railway industry from the technical perspective regarding the different GNSS services needed for fail-safe train localisation. 

The GSA will continue to collaborate with Shift2Rail and the European Railway Agency on the necessary changes to ERTMS and the relevant European GNSS services, with the ultimate goal of delivering GNSS-based localisation-related efficiency benefits to the future evolutions of the ERTMS.

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Updated: Jun 23, 2020