IT is now two-and-a-half years since ERTMS first went into operation in Britain, with the launch of ERTMS Level 2 on the Cambrian Lines from Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth and Pwllheli. ETCS Level 2 replaced the legacy Radio Electronic Token Block (RETB) system on this self-contained 218km network, which serves a largely rural area of central and north Wales.
The £95m project had its fair share of early problems. Drivers had difficulty seeing Driver Machine Interface (DMI) screens in bright sunlight and found them too bright at night. There was confusion over displayed release speeds and movement authorities, resulting in a spate of signals passed at danger (Spads). The radio block centre was confused by certain types of train movement, and the 40km/h speed limit for degraded mode operation meant trains were often running slowly for long distances before reaching a block marker.
Now that these teething troubles have largely been overcome, performance is improving and Network Rail is keen to build on what it has learnt. "While there have been issues with software, things have gradually improved and [train operator] Arriva says the latest version has alleviated a lot of the issues," explains Mr Gary Porter, Network Rail's project director for ETCS and traffic management. "There is a lot of enthusiasm from drivers now, they like the way it operates, and performance is certainly a lot better. We have learnt a great deal from Cambrian about how we work with the train operators, and we understand that we need to bring them along with the process and ensure they understand that they will reap the benefits from ERTMS."
This experience is feeding into Network Rail's national strategy for ERTMS deployment, and two main lines are currently earmarked for ERTMS:
• the Great Western Main Line (GWML) from London to Reading, Newbury, Oxford and Bristol. This route is currently being electrified and will be equipped with ETCS Level 2 as an overlay on the existing Train Protection and Warning System (TPWS).
• the southern section of the East Coast Main Line (ECML) from London to Peterborough, which will be equipped with ETCS Level 2 without lineside signals.
In addition, the Thameslink north-south route across London will be equipped with ERTMS, with Automatic Train Operation (ATO) on the central section. The new Crossrail link will also be equipped with ERTMS at the western end of the route, where it uses the GWML. Crossrail will employ CBTC on the central section, fringing with the standard British TPWS system on the Great Eastern Main Line east of London.
The national ERTMS programme is being implemented alongside Network Rail's train control strategy, which envisages consolidating all operational control functions on just 12 rail operating centres (ROCs). Around 80% of the network is due to come under ROC control by 2029.
"First and foremost, the ERTMS rollout is a business change programme facilitated by new technology," says Mr Simon Whitehorn, ERTMS national operations client for Network Rail.
"The Cambrian project was approached largely from a technological research and development perspective, but it didn't engage with the operational part of Network Rail as early as it could have. There's a big focus now on the impact new technology will have on the way in which rail staff across the industry do their roles in future. The technological development, the system capability development, the operational impact, and the impact on personnel are all coming together in an integrated programme, whereas on the Cambrian staff and operational impacts weren't considered until quite late in the implementation of the project."
The programme entered a new phase last month with the start of testing at the ETCS National Integration Facility (Enif), where an 8km double-track section of the Hertford Loop off the East Coast Main Line north of London has been equipped with bidirectional signalling. This allows the line to function as two parallel single-track routes so ETCS Level 2 can be tested on one track outside the peaks. During ETCS testing the block section is switched out, with control passing from the signalling centre at King's Cross to a purpose-built laboratory at nearby Hitchin.
The main purpose of Enif is to validate the performance and compatibility of equipment from four framework contractors:
• Ansaldo STS
• Infrasig, a joint venture of Bombardier and Carillion
• Siemens Rail Automation (formerly Invensys Rail), and
• Signalling Solutions (SSL), a joint venture of Alstom and Balfour Beatty.
SSL has fitted out a dual-voltage class 313 emu (pictured) with Alstom onboard equipment, which is being used as a testbed to study the interface between lineside ETCS infrastructure and onboard systems. The train is equipped with batteries to power onboard equipment and Alstom ETCS DMIs in the cabs. Images from the DMI and forward-facing CCTV cameras can be viewed in real time by engineers on the train on a 42-inch plasma screen.
Interface testing with SSL equipment has now been completed and as IRJ went to press Network Rail was due to begin tests with the second supplier at Enif. The first round of testing is expected to last 3-4 months, after which the four suppliers will put forward proposals to Network Rail for the second phase of testing.
As well as demonstrating the interoperability of competing technologies, Enif will also play a key role in validating the operation of ETCS under British conditions. "Suppliers rightly point out that their equipment works well in Europe but the British rollout is different because of the volume of legacy equipment, because we're installing equipment on different types and age groups of vehicle, and because on some routes we're installing an overlay on existing signalling," says Whitehorn. "It's not the same as what they have delivered in Europe or on the Cambrian."
Porter adds: "Enif has to prove that by the time we remove lineside signals on the ECML we're not going to bring the railway to a standstill. Our suppliers will have to prove their capability under far more stringent conditions than when we embarked on during the Cambrian deployment."
The testing programme with the four framework suppliers will have access to Enif for 18 months before it is handed over to the Thameslink programme, but it is already looking at options for continuing ERTMS testing at another location as further operational and engineering testing will need to take place. An alternative site will be required for the so-called first-in-class programme, which will evaluate the installation of onboard equipment to a variety of different locomotive and rolling stock types. The process will begin this month with the launch of tenders for equipping class 43 HST power cars and then subsequent fitment to class 66 freight locomotives.
With pressure on rolling stock resources, Whitehorn says the biggest challenge facing first-in-class is securing donor vehicles. Another issue concerning Network Rail is fitting 'one-off' vehicles such as on-track plant, where there is huge variation within a relatively small and specialised fleet. "We have people looking specifically at how we equip these vehicles, and it's a major challenge because it's a 'go-anywhere' fleet," says Whitehorn. "We had the same problem with the GSM-R programme. You have to prioritise equipping these vehicles because they can't be limited to specific parts of the network."
The nature of the deployment on the GWML means Network Rail has already identified preferred suppliers for this project. "Because it's an overlay, and we already have the interlockings in place with Siemens and SSL, it makes sense to continue with these two suppliers," says Porter. "We're working closely with SSL and Siemens to identify the potential risks in this project."
Beyond GWML, Network Rail is eager to maintain a healthy supply base to ensure competitive bidding for subsequent rollouts. "It's important to be conscious of how many suppliers we have in the market, because what we decide in the next few years will shape the supplier situation for the next 15-20 years, so we need to get it right," says Porter. "We want a competitive market, but we accept that there won't be massive volumes up for grabs in 2014-2019. This means the reputational risk is high for the amount of money being spent, so alliances and partnerships may be the way to go."
Porter explains that the procurement strategy for the ECML deployment might have to be adjusted if the completion date for the project is pushed back into the 2020-2024 funding period, known as Control Period 6 (CP6). "If ECML continues into CP6 we will need to consider what volumes are out there for the supply base," he says. "One difficulty with such a long programme is that if you cut out one or two suppliers it means there's no work for them for a number of years, especially if they are not part of the current signalling framework. We're still looking at the strategy for ECML and all four framework contractors, and the risks involved, but we still have time to consider how best to proceed."
Network Rail estimates that ERTMS will have a direct impact on around 55,000 people working in Britain's rail industry, including its own staff and contractors, and will fundamentally reshape the operation of the railway.
"We need to be sure that our people are ready to receive this," says Whitehorn. "There is a major focus on skills development and training and we have a joint project team looking at everything that is required in this area. We can have the best technology and equipment, but if our people aren't ready to adapt it won't be worth the investment. We need to involve the people who have already gone through this experience on the Cambrian, involve our own operational staff and maintenance staff, and make sure the equipment is fit for purpose."
With such a far-reaching impact, establishing the desired outcomes of the ERTMS programme for all parts of the railway is an essential part of the planning process. "It can sometimes be taken for granted how we run the railway, so we've done a lot of work within Network Rail and with the train operators to establish what we do today and how we can develop an operational concept for the future," says Whitehorn. "For the ECML we held industry workshops to gather this information, which fed into a set of operational requirement specifications. Recently we started a similar exercise on the GWML."
The Railway Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) is currently conducting an industry-wide consultation on Network Rail's operation concept document for ERTMS, and the feedback from this exercise will be used to further refine the operational concept. "This is a massive piece of work that will take a lot of effort by the industry to get right, but this is crucial because it's the foundation of the rollout," Whitehorn says. "It's also vital to ensure that the technical and operational requirements fit together. It's no good buying the technology if it doesn't do what you want to achieve operationally."
Whitehorn stresses that Network Rail does not consider ETCS Level 2 to be an appropriate technology for all parts of the network, and the infrastructure manager is looking at other solutions. Trial implementation of ETCS Level 3 is being discussed for the Moorgate branch in north London, although with the baseline for Level 3 still to be finalised this looks to be some way off. "As we migrate towards ROCs, new traffic management technology, driver advisory systems and ETCS, we will start to see real global business benefits," Whitehorn says. "We need to keep all options open and exploit new technologies as they emerge."
Having overcome the difficulties of early implementation, Network Rail is moving decisively towards large scale ERTMS rollouts on complex mixed-traffic lines, where the technology promises to deliver operational flexibility, enhanced safety, and lower whole-life costs. But equally, it does not underestimate the challenge of adapting the organisation to such a fundamental change in the way the railway operates, and preparing the industry's people for the transition ahead.