STRETCHING almost 2000km from its southern tip to the shores of the Barents Sea, Norway is challenging territory for rail operations with its mountainous topography, extreme weather, and low population density. The 4114km network is largely single track with significant variation in traffic density between the periphery and the core of the system around Oslo.

ERTMS NorwayIn this context, Norway might not be the most obvious candidate for a national ERTMS rollout. However, with signalling and telecommunications failures accounting for 40% of delays and obsolete equipment posing an increasing threat to the operational performance of the rail network, total renewal of the signalling infrastructure offers the prospect of a step-change in reliability while delivering improvements in capacity, maintainability, and life-cycle costs.

Norway's current signalling infrastructure has developed in a piecemeal fashion over the last 50 years and investment in renewal has been inadequate. Relay-based systems have become difficult to modify or expand to cope with rising traffic, while the skills required to maintain older systems is gradually being lost. Around a third of signalling systems are now obsolete, a proportion that will increase significantly over the next few years, and the ATC system is approaching the end of its design life.

"Eighty per cent of signalling in Norway is relay-based equipment dating back to the 1950s and 1960s," explains Mr Sverre Kjenne, director of signalling and telecommunications with infrastructure manager Jernbaneverket. "Not only do we have old equipment we have a burning platform because our relay supplier has closed its factory. There is a definite sense of urgency when it comes to the issue of renewal, which is why we have got government backing for the programme."

The ERTMS programme was recently given the all-clear in an external quality assurance review, which is mandatory for large public investment projects in Norway, and on May 11 the Norwegian government endorsed the financial plan for the ERTMS rollout as part of its revised 2016 national budget. Parliamentary approval of the budget was granted last month.

Under Proposition 126 S (2015-16) Jernbaneverket is permitted to enter into contracts covering the entire cost framework and scope of the NKr 26bn ($US 3.2bn) programme, which will see the complete renewal of signalling systems across the network with ETCS Level 2 Baseline 3. The programme - Norway's largest ICT project - will be implemented in phases (see map) with the Oslo area migrating to ETCS by 2026 and the remainder of the network by 2030.

The origins of the ERTMS programme can be traced back to 2008, when Jernbaneverket formed a project team to investigate the viability of introducing the technology on the Norwegian network. In November 2012 the government decided that ERTMS should be adopted as the country's future standard signalling system and instructed Jernbaneverket to begin developing detailed plans for both trackside and onboard deployment. Objectives of the ERTMS programme include:

  • enhancing safety and reliability
  • reducing maintenance and life-cycle costs
  • improving the availability of signalling and interlocking infrastructure
  • improving customer satisfaction
  • reducing the number of traffic control errors, and
  • facilitating future growth in traffic with higher utilisation of capacity through automation.

The first trials began in November 2013 with a pilot deployment on the Mysen - Sarpsborg section of the 80km Ski - Sarpsborg Østfold Line. Lineside signalling was removed and the line was equipped with Bombardier's Interflo 450 ETCS Level 2 solution. The remainder of the route migrated to ETCS Level 2 (SRS 2.3.0d) in September 2015 and the line is controlled from Jernbaneverket's Oslo traffic control centre, with a single radio block centre replacing seven standard interlockings. Nine Norwegian State Railways (NSB) class 74 EMUs have been equipped with ETCS to operate passenger services on the line.

A number of problems were identified in the pilot deployment, which Jernbaneverket is keen to avoid in the national rollout. "We had issues with axle counters and also with onboard software - we expected this to be more mature than it was," Kjenne says. "Solving bugs in the onboard software often took a lot longer than we expected."

Three contracts

Procurement for the national rollout is divided into three contracts covering trackside infrastructure, onboard equipment, and the traffic management system (TMS).

Renewal of trackside signalling infrastructure is driven principally by the need to replace life-expired interlocking systems and the need to introduce centralised traffic control (CTC) on lines where it is not already installed (around 70 stations).

Outside the scope of the main trackside contract, a separate contract will be awarded for preparatory civil works, signalling systems, telecoms services, including fixed-transmission and GSM-R, and removal and disposal of redundant class B signalling equipment. The telecommunications element of the trackside deployment involves completing the fibre network and improving coverage and capacity of the GSM-R network. This work will be carried out by Jernbaneverket under the supervision of the ERTMS project team.

A new TMS covering the entire network will be integrated with both the legacy signalling system and ETCS level 2, replacing three existing CTC systems. This will also need to be integrated with existing electrification, route planning, and passenger information systems. Under Jernbaneverket's proposed traffic management system, control of the network will be divided into three regions: east, southwest and north.

The TMS tender places strong emphasis on proven technology, calling for a high degree of automation and an intuitive, flexible human-machine interface (HMI). Implementation of the TMS is divided into two phases, with the first phase covering lines with conventional signalling (replacing existing CTC systems) and the second covering routes equipped with ETCS.

The installation of onboard systems is being managed through the ERTMS National Implementation Onboard (Enio) programme, a common project where vehicle owners are being invited to participate. Enio's role includes:

  • coordinating the rollout of onboard equipment in accordance with the National Signalling Plan
  • financing the development, testing, and approval of a generic application
  • secure compatibility between trackside and onboard systems, and
  • leading the establishment of agreements between the vehicle owners and the onboard supplier.

Jernbaneverket takes overall responsibility for onboard implementation, including project management, acquisition of a general application, systems integration with trackside equipment, and the coordination of the rollout. A single supplier will be appointed for the onboard deployment with two separate contracts, one covering overall coordination and rollout, the other covering system development of the generic application including testing and authorisation, and testing of the equipment on trains. Vehicle owners, as the formal contractual partner, will be able to purchase equipment for specific vehicle types through the framework contract negotiated by Jernbaneverket.

Kjenne says this approach to procuring onboard systems generates economies of scale and ensures all operators pay the same price for the equipment they are purchasing.
Vehicle owners will be responsible for acquiring ETCS systems for their fleets and will enter into a design-build-maintain arrangement with the supplier. This will cover any necessary vehicle modifications, installation and integration as well as documentation, testing and approval, training, and maintenance. The Norwegian government will cover up to 50% of the cost of onboard equipment and owners of freight and passenger vehicles will be able to apply for financial support through a scheme administered by Jernbaneverket.

The onboard rollout involves 15 vehicle owners, 50 first-of-class installations and a total of 550 vehicles. The onboard programme is due to be completed by 2026.

Prequalification for the trackside, TMS and onboard contracts began earlier this year and Jernbaneverket plans to conclude deals with its chosen suppliers by the end of next year. All three fixed-price contracts are being procured on a design-build-maintain basis.

Throughout the development process Jernbaneverket has sought to draw on experience from other infrastructure managers currently engaged in ERTMS deployments. Advisors on the programme include Mr Morten Søndergaard, who until December 2015 was programme director with Banedanmark for the Danish national ERTMS programme. Kjenne says studying best practice elsewhere has highlighted a number of potential pitfalls.

"ERTMS makes infrastructure less complex but it can transfer costs to the operator," he explains. "This can be a challenge so the government has adopted a financial support plan for operators that commit to following the rollout schedule. We also found that quite a few infrastructure managers have struggled with organisational interfaces. Denmark shows the advantages of dealing with fewer suppliers and we have adapted the Danish model for Norwegian conditions."

Jernbaneverket is also working internationally to coordinate its ERTMS programme with those of neighbouring countries. "There is very close cooperation and we are meeting regularly to align our plans," says Kjenne. "We have formed a group to monitor cross-border issues and this reflects the organisational structure already being used for Øresund link between Denmark and Sweden."

In contrast with the Danish programme, the rollout of ERTMS in Norway will not be accompanied by a complete overhaul of the operating rulebook. "We carried out an analysis of the rulebook and one option was to copy-and-paste the Danish rules, but there are big differences between the two networks," Kjenne says. "Our network is 95% single track and the analysis showed that we would lose capacity if we didn't keep Norwegian operating rules. I would prefer to have common rules for the whole of Europe, but often geography dictates what the requirements will be at a national level."

While operational changes in Norway might not be as extensive as those planned in Denmark, the organisational impact of the ERTMS programme will be considerable both for the infrastructure manager and operators. "Internal processes and internal issues are number one on the risk list, Kjenne explains. "We are trying to keep the programme as close as possible to real-world operations and the existing line of command, and we have set up organisational teams to design new work processes."

Jernbaneverket estimates around 75% of its workforce will require some degree of training to work with ERTMS or adapt to the changes triggered by the new technology. The organisation will need to manage a reduction in the number of train control centres - with inevitable staff impacts - and ensure it can retain the expertise needed to keep existing systems operational until the programme is completed in 2030. "This is a challenging topic because we are changing the way we do business to a more centralised model of operation," Kjenne says. "The reaction has basically been positive but so far this is largely a theoretical exercise and it will become more of a challenge as the reality hits."