Space4Rail: From innovation to implementation

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05 April 2019
Satellite technologies can provide scalable positioning solutions to increase rail safety, and boost capacity and efficiency.
Satellite technologies can provide scalable positioning solutions to increase rail safety, and boost capacity and efficiency.

The first Space for Innovation in Rail conference in Vienna on 18 and 19 March brought together stakeholders from the rail and space sector in a unique event to discuss the important role of satellite-based positioning technology for the future of the European rail sector. The event highlighted a portfolio of research, innovation and deployment projects being funded by the GSA and the Shift2Rail Joint Undertaking that demonstrate how satellite technologies can provide scalable positioning solutions to increase rail safety, boost capacity and efficiency, and deliver global success for advanced European technologies.

In an increasingly digitalised world, the European Global Navigation Satellite Systems Agency (GSA), the European Union Agency for Railways (ERA), and the Shift2Rail Joint Undertaking (S2R JU) are working together to explore the role of satellite technology in future railway systems. Both GSA and S2R JU have a key role in leading innovation and engaging with stakeholders, while ERA orchestrates the process from a regulatory point of view within the framework of the European Railway Traffic Management System (ERTMS).

Over the two days of the Space for Innovation in Rail event in Austria a range of projects looking to integrate satellite technologies with the rail system were presented.

Leading EU rail innovation

The STARS project (Satellite technology for Advanced Railway Signalling) was described by Peter Gurnik of AZD Praha, who was the project coordinator at the start of the project and Jose Bertolin from UNIFE who took over for the later stages. The positioning performance of GNSS is directly affected by environmental conditions that impact on the localisation function and, therefore, the overall performance of a train control system. STARS’ major objective is to fill the technology gap to allow a full implementation of GNSS in safety critical rail applications.

The project has developed a universal method for field measurement and characterisation of the rail environment including a yearlong measurement campaign. “A set of open tools has been developed that can assist rail companies to evaluate identified environmental factors,” said Bertolin. The project also links with economic aspects of GNSS within an enhanced ERTMS.

Massimiliano Ciaffi from Italian rail infrastructure manager RFI said that Italy, a pioneer in adopting ERTMS for high speed lines, has a plan to extend the ERTMS over all lines (about 16 800 km) including regional and local lines for which the ERTMS will likely be the first application in Europe.

The ERSAT (ERTMS on Satellite) initiative started in 2012 is targeting a solution to integrate GNSS positioning and public telecommunications over the ERTMS platform and consists of a portfolio of projects as the pillars of a roadmap to allow RFI a step-wise operational deployment.

The core ERSAT deployment is on the Pinerolo – Sangone line close to Turin that is representative of operational scenarios on regional lines in Italy. “The ERSAT architecture being developed is designed to be upgradable and also backward compatible to allow a fast deployment without prejudging the adoption of the latest satellite technologies,” said Ciaffi. The programme had effectively developed and verified in field satellite technology for ERTMS on a test bed in Sardinia and the objective now is to activate a first commercial line by the end of 2020. Further developments are ongoing to reduce the total cost of ownership and to use the virtual balise concept to achieve a Zero Staff Responsible Time, which will improve safety and efficiency.

Not only signalling

GNSS can also contribute to rail asset management as was demonstrated by the SIA project (System for vehicle- infrastructure Interaction Assets health status monitoring) presented by Wolfgang Zottl of ÖBB-Infrastruktur AG. The initiative is developing four ready-to-use services to provide information about the health status of four of rail’s most demanding assets in terms of maintenance: the wheels, the rails, the overhead pantograph and catenary (power wires). These new services could help to substantially reduce overall railway maintenance costs, unscheduled maintenance and derailments. Location and positioning are important data components for the system.

All four services have some common features being web-based applications using real-time information to make the ‘health assessments’ and able to integrate with current and future operational systems. “Full testing will commence in June this year,” said Zottl. “And will be based on the use of low-cost sensors to provide a cheap system that could be used on all trains.”

EGNOS leverage

A European Space Agency (ESA) funded project STEMS (System Suitability Study for Train Positioning using GNSS in ERTMS) was described by Mike Hutchinson of NSL. The project will examine how to leverage EGNOS for use in the rail sector.

“We will assess the suitability of Satellite-Based Augmentation Systems (SBAS), such as EGNOS, for acceptance by railway authorities,” said Hutchinson. “And propose a methodology for building the safety case for use in ERTMS applications.“

The project will leverage the existing investment and vast experience from the aviation sector and is based on the legacy SBAS configuration of augmenting GPS L1 signals (EGNOS V2 and V3.1).

The X2RAIL2 project aims to refine and develop four selected key technologies in the field of railway signalling and automation systems to the level of technology demonstrators. The four technologies are: Fail-Safe Train Positioning using a multi-sensor concept, where GNSS is one of the preferred technology; On-Board Train Integrity to allow the application of new signalling train separation concepts based on the train self-localisation rather than on traditional train detection systems such as balises; Formal Methods to innovate and standardise processes and interfaces as signalling systems evolve to reduce time-to-market costs; and Traffic Management Evolution that will improve standardisation and integration of Traffic Management processes to achieve flexibility and scalability.

“The project will provide new technical capabilities by combining innovative technologies,” explained Salvatore Sabina of Ansaldo STS. “We are looking to move signal intelligence from trackside to on board the train.”

Next steps

Summing up the project presentations, Daniel Lopour, Market Development Officer at GSA said that “European R&D on GNSS for rail signalling is fully synchronised between GSA, Shift2Rail and ESA.”

Lea Paties, Programme Manager for the Shift2Rail JU agreed that the key element is a high level of coordination to achieve inclusion of GNSS in ERTMS. “We aim at satisfying all the market needs,” she said. “The final system should be stable, fully interoperable, and overall offer reductions in both capital expenditure and operating expenditure for implementation of advanced ERTMS, while improving the flexibility and attractiveness of ERTMS for users in Europe and beyond.”

Lopour outlined some of the next steps to potential wider implementation of a GNSS-based ERTMS. “An analysis of European GNSS performance in the rail segment is available and will feed into a definition of a system architecture within Shift2Rail X2RAIIL2 project,” he said.

There is ongoing work on the cost-benefit of GNSS and further work is required to confirm how appropriate certification for system components might be achieved working with ERA.

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Updated: Apr 05, 2019