DENMARK's landmark signalling renewal programme will achieve a major milestone in January 2016: the start of supervised live trials on the first section of Copenhagen's S-Bane network using communications-based train control (CBTC).
In total 61 trains have been fitted with onboard systems for the trials on the 25km early deployment line between Hillerød and Jægersborg which will provide the testing ground for Siemens' Trainguard TM train control, and Sicas electronic interlocking and switch machines.
Siemens secured a €252m contract for the complete 170km network rollout including 25 years maintenance in September 2011. Despite delays with security safety approvals pushing back the start of the trials from the end of October, the sight of trains utilising semi-automated train operation based on CBTC will provide further physical evidence that Banedanmark's bold programme is finally bearing fruit.
Discussions over the most effective strategy to replace Denmark's ageing and piecemeal signalling network date back to 2005-06, when the decision was made to tear up the rule book and start again by replacing the network's entire signalling infrastructure.
Mr Morten Søndergaard, the signalling programme director at Danish infrastructure manager Banedanmark, says this radical decision was extremely uncommon in the signalling industry and has resulted in much of Europe keeping a close eye on what Banedanmark is doing.
Inevitably the Danish government, and taxpayers, have been paying similarly close attention, particularly during the early stages as the tendering procedure progressed. In addition to the S-Bane renewal, the project includes the complete upgrade of Denmark's 2132km main line network to ERTMS Level 2 Baseline 3 with the total project budgeted at DKr 24.9bn ($US 3.75bn) at 2009 prices.
The scale of these projects is not lost on Søndergaard, who describes the signalling contracts as the single biggest that Europe, and probably, the world has ever seen. As a result, he says there was significant emphasis on developing a tender that was informed and transparent and would provide Banedanmark with the best opportunity to deliver value.
"There were a lot of talks with the industry about what we would like to do," Søndergaard says. "We were clear from the beginning that we need to specify within what is available because the problem lies that if you specify something that does not exist you get into development and we wanted to avoid that."
The project offers an obvious opportunity to deliver economy of scale yet Banedanmark was keen to avoid a situation where only one or two companies were capable of bidding. While the prestige of winning such a large ETCS rollout would keep suppliers interested, Søndergaard says it soon became apparent that only two were capable of realistically delivering a nationwide rollout. Competition was critical to keeping the tender viable and costs down. As a result the ETCS element was divided into two separate contracts covering east (800km) and west (1200km) sections of the network, with only one contractor able to win a single contract.
The approach was a success with five bidders coming forward for the CBTC and onboard deals and six submitting firm offers for the ETCS contracts, including four suppliers with no previous references in the Danish signalling market. Two of these ended up securing the ETCS contracts including 25 years' maintenance in January 2012; Alstom netting the east section in a €300m deal, and a joint venture of Thales and Balfour Beatty Rail securing the €400m west contract. Alstom is also supplying its Atlas system for 789 rail vehicles used by 41 operators in the onboard systems contract worth €200m which was awarded in March 2012, while two operations control centres are under development for the east and west networks.
Søndergaard says this approach to stimulating intense competition helped Banedanmark to secure contracts that came in DKr 5bn under budget, with particular savings on the mainline deals, and reinvigorate a market which had traditionally been dominated by Bombardier and Siemens.
"The novelty is not really anything to do with signalling," Søndergaard says. "We are not doing anything out of the ordinary, we are buying the latest version of ETCS, but other than that it is pretty standard. The novelty lies in the way we packaged it and the way we bought it. The signalling industry is an uncompetitive industry which is tied up by rules and regulations so suppliers who are active in a specific market have a tie-in with the buyers. We managed to unleash that tie and get a real market situation."
Søndergaard reports that progress on the projects is steady. He says that with the plans for the projects now two to three years old some things are inevitably happening in a different order than previously thought. In addition, some suppliers shortened the timeframe to complete certain elements of the project and are now struggling to meet their revised timelines due to the new EU directive on Common Safety Methods and Risk Assessment (CSM RA) that came into effect in 2013. However, he says that the S-Bane deployment remains on schedule for completion by 2018, two years earlier than planned at the start of the project, and the main line contracts by 2021.
The current emphasis of the project is on equpping the early deployment lines. While Siemens is in the final stages of preparing for S-Bane trials, Alstom and Thales-Balfour Beatty are in the process of installing equipment on their respective early deployment projects.
For the east contract this consists of the Roskilde - Køge - Næstved line on Zealand, with supervised trial operations currently on schedule to begin in May 2016, and full operation to start in the second half of 2017. In the west, the Langå - Frederikshavn project in northern Jutland will be delivered in two phases: the single-track Lindholm - Frederiskhavn section by the start of 2018, and the Langå - Lindholm section by April 2018. Supervised trial operation will commence in October 2016.
Søndergaard says that the early deployment lines are the testing ground for the suppliers' systems with subsequent rollouts much more straightforward. They are also critical to Banedanmark's approach to rolling out ETCS. Unlike projects in Sweden and Britain where ETCS has been installed on an initial pilot project before tendering for further lines, the pilot is in effect part of the contract.
"When they finish they say let's do some more, and then go out to tender again and face the risk of someone else winning the contract, he says. "If that happens where did all the experience go? Of course the infrastructure manager has the experience, but that's only half of it. So we said that if you win the contract you have to do the early deployment line first and you have to prove that it works before you do the rest."
He adds that in the case of the east and west contract awards, Banedanmark has avoided a situation where the project will stall if the contractor comes up short. Alstom and Thales-Balfour Beatty both have an option on the corresponding contract, and Søndergaard says that both are now watching each other closely to make sure this does not happen.
"It was probable that if one of the bidders was cheaper on one contract, they would be cheaper on the other," Søndergaard says. "We decided that the cheapest offer would secure the east contract and the next cheapest would secure the west. So in Alstom's case, they won the east contract but would have to provide a price for the west as an option. If Thales does not succeed here, we now have the option to immediately call in Alstom. And it is the same for Thales. It is a good idea because if one contractor fails, you always have the problem of what to do."
With multiple contractors assigned to deliver what is in effect a single signalling system it is essential they guarantee that their respective systems interface with one another. Inevitably all decisions have a knock on effect and Søndergaard says this is the major challenge of delivering this project.
"It is not as easy to say, you do this, I'll do this, and then we can do this," Søndergaard says. "A decision taken in the west can suddenly change the time plan for educating and re-educating all the train drivers in Denmark. If you look at what is difficult, it is not the technical solution. The safety approval is difficult. The approval process is new to us and new to the supplier, and we will get there, it just takes a lot of time."
Another challenge is delivering the onboard systems. The first version of Baseline 3 is currently at Banedanmark's test lab and several infrastructure items are going through safety approvals. However, installation on some of the trains is proving more difficult because the variations between each train are greater than initially envisaged. There is also the problem of the limitations of the system to deliver what Banedanmark is demanding. While Alstom has been assigned to deliver Baseline 3, what Banedanmark requires is more akin to the outline of Baseline 3.5 such as online team management and GPRS.
Denmark was a late adopter of GSM-R for onboard communications with the wayside infrastructure recently completed following the award of a contract to Nokia Siemens Networks and Ramboll in 2010, and onboard system deployment currently underway. However, unlike early deployments on high-speed lines with few stations where a single channel was adequate, using this solution in urban areas at large stations is unsustainable because of capacity constraints. GPRS is considered the solution although Søndergaard admits this is not ideal as it is now old technology. "The problem is that the ERTMS specification uses that," he says.
While ETCS will offer greater reliability and punctuality by eliminating the failures and breakdowns associated with the old infrastructure by an estimated 80%, Søndegaard admits that the operational benefits are negligible. The existing national ATP system is largely based on Siemens' ZUB 100 platform from the 1990s and offers high capacity on many of the network's key lines.
Instead the true benefits are found in the new system's capability to support an advanced scheduling system.
This is effectively an overlay of both suppliers' ETCS systems with each contractor invited to submit a bid to use their system across the entire network. Banedanmark chose Alstom's solution which was developed in cooperation with the University of Bologna and is based on similar intelligent diagnostics systems used in Switzerland.
However, unlike these small-scale applications, every train and every component is included so the signalling system knows exactly what is happening across the entire network. The system will benefit Banedanmark by allowing it to prioritise traffic and offer greater driving efficiency, which will reduce energy costs and improve service punctuality. The system is able to immediately recalculate the timetable in the event of a failure or problem, providing drivers with a very precise driving curve which is constantly updated as new information becomes available.
Søndergaard says this is one of the upsides of changing the entire system and will establish Banedanmark as the first railway in the world to have an intelligent link to all of its components.
"When our traffic planners understood what was possible from this system, all their dreams came true," Søndergaard says. "The point is that a human being can maybe handle four or five factors at a time, and that is considered a lot. This system can handle thousands of factors and can even come up with different suggestions of what you may want to do."
Søndergaard says that deploying a mature version of the scheduler on the early deployment projects makes little sense and the plan is to ramp up its capabilities as the project progresses.
While it is designed to sit on top of Thales' system and take an imprint, the scheduler will not be used for the S-Bane. As it is utilising moving-block CBTC the network will effectively become a semi-automatic system with drivers only responsible for opening and closing doors, Søndergaard says a similar concept was not considered a priority for this project. He also ruled out complete automation at this stage.
"Driverless operation on the S-Bane would require a lot more investment in the infrastructure and would probably require new trains," Søndergaard says. "The Siemens system has something like this, automated catch up, but it is not as sophisticated as the scheduler because operation on the S-Bane is much simpler."
While the signalling project is certainly proving challenging, and even daunting, for Søndergaard the alternative to a complete renewal is not even worth considering. The finishing line may still be six years away but Banedanmark's continual work to patch up its existing signalling network offers a stark daily reminder of how difficult any alternative policy may have been.
With the emphasis now on mending and not replacing the existing network, Banedanmark, armed with its meticulous approach to planning this huge project, believes it is on the right path to delivering a more reliable and better performing network. And with testing now just around the corner, the first real signs of this will be evident next year.
"There is not a single moment when we say we should have done it differently," Søndergaard says. "Everywhere we go we talk with people and they are trying to build a new system on top of an old interlocking system. They are running into the same issues as us but are not getting the same benefits."