“YOU have all the FRMCS experts in this room,” said Mr Jean-Michel Evanghelou, the UIC’s director of telecoms, signalling and digital applications, as he welcomed 300 delegates representing infrastructure managers, operators, suppliers and other bodies from 30 countries to UIC’s headquarters in Paris on June 7.

“They are not talking about it, they are doing it,” he said, and over the next two days the progress that has been made with this ambitious project was plain to see, including obtaining the radio frequencies that will be needed for the new system to replace GSM-R, completion of the FRMCS Version 1 (V1) specification and production of the first equipment prototypes. Field testing is now underway in France and Germany, where standalone 5G networks have been commissioned and the first voice and data calls using FRMCS were successfully made earlier this year.

The 2G-based GSM-R system, first designed over 20 years ago by the UIC, is deployed on over 130,000 track-km in Europe, with 90,000 onboard cab radio systems in use, and around 210,000 track-km worldwide. But as the UIC’s head of FRMCS, Mr Dan Mandoc, pointed out, GSM-R is fast approaching obsolescence, and the inability of suppliers to support the system beyond 2035 poses a risk at a European level to the continuous functioning of ERTMS. “We need an FRMCS that should perform at least as well as GSM-R for ERTMS voice and data applications,” he said. “It is also a significant opportunity to enable and support digitalisation of the railways, and therefore the need to transmit, receive and use increasing volumes of data, which is at the very heart of sustainable transport.”

“If we don’t move we actually face an existential problem for rail, FRMCS will and must deliver much for the future of the railway, but time is running out.”

Keir Fitch, head of rail safety and interoperability at DG Move

By providing the bandwidth required for transmitting increasing amounts of data, FRMCS is expected to facilitate the introduction of automatic train operation (ATO), the Digital Automatic Coupler (DAC) and remote monitoring, with the potential to improve safety, reduce costs, increase capacity and improve service performance. According to Mr Keir Fitch, head of rail safety and interoperability at DG Move, FRMCS is vital to the future of the railway. “Rail now has to move very rapidly to take full advantage of digitalisation and automation,” he said. “Rail must become more cost-effective and more flexible.” But with public 2G networks being decommissioned between now and 2030, just six and half years away, as Fitch pointed out, there is not much time left to get FRMCS ready for production and deployment across Europe’s railways, including fitting the new system to all rolling stock equipped with ERTMS in a very short time period, and successfully migrating from GSM-R to FRMCS.

“If we don’t move we actually face an existential problem for rail,” Fitch said. “FRMCS will and must deliver much for the future of the railway, but time is running out.”

5G Rail tests Version 1

FRMCS protypes built to the V1 specification are now being tested under 5G Rail, a research project coordinated by the UIC, which has received €10m of European Union (EU) funding towards its total budget of €13.3m. As the UIC’s 5G Rail technical coordinator, Mandoc reported that 5G Rail will be completed in December. “Prototypes have been developed, we are finalising the lab tests and field tests have started,” he said. “We are on the right track.”

The UIC is leading Work Package 1 (WP1) of 5G Rail, which includes system definition and functional tests, bringing together test results, and reviewing the specification. WP2 is led by Kontron and has developed the telecoms onboard architecture (Toba) for FRMCS, which is based on the decoupling of telecoms from applications for onboard CCTV, ATO, passenger information systems, the train control and management system (TCMS), cab radio for voice communication, ETCS and remote vision to enable shunting by remote control. Laboratory testing to validate prototypes of the Toba and the applications has been conducted under two separate work packages. WP3, based in Budapest at the Skypark site of work package leader Nokia, has tested the cab radio, TCMS and CCTV applications, as well as the ETCS application developed by CAF.

Keir Fitch, head of rail safety and interoperability at DG Move

The second ETCS application, developed by Alstom, and the applications for ATO and passenger information systems have been tested under WP4, led by Kontron and based in Montigny, France. Both laboratories are now involved in field trials of FRMCS, which are being conducted at two locations under WP5. Nokia is working with German infrastructure manager DB Network which is undertaking testing on a 10km section of its 24km Digital Rail Testbed, a test track running between Schwarzenberg and Annaberg-Buchholz in the Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains) region of Saxony. With the participation of Kontron, French infrastructure manager SNCF Network is conducting field trials at Vigneux-sur-Seine south of Paris.

“Prototypes have been developed, we are finalising the lab tests and field tests have started, we are on the right track.”

Dan Mandoc, UIC’s head of FRMCS

The field trials have been testing prototypes of the Toba box, the single onboard FRMCS gateway developed by Kontron and Alstom under WP2, and delegates were able to inspect a Kontron prototype at the conference. “It’s real, it exists,” said Mr Farid Bazizi, WP2 leader at Kontron, who outlined the key Toba design principles of decoupling telecoms hardware from applications, resource sharing and bearer flexibility, so that any changes to telecoms systems will not require the applications to be modified. At present, separate radios and modems are required for voice and ETCS transmissions on GSM-R - “that is not affordable,” Bazizi said - while there is insufficient bandwidth on GSM-R to accommodate other applications such as CCTV, ATO and TCMS, which use 4G or Wi-Fi. The Toba specification has been developed to make it as future-proof as possible, taking into account migration from GSM-R to FRMCS and future telecoms development beyond 5G. “We can’t install something on a train and replace it in two years,” said Mr Massimiliano Rizzato, head of the Toba working group at the UIC.

Alstom and Kontron have also developed the virtual FRMCS trackside gateway to receive transmissions made via the Toba onboard gateway using 5G FRMCS or 4G Wi-Fi. The onboard applications are being developed by a range of companies. Teleste is responsible for CCTV, while Alstom is developing the ATO application as well as one of the two ETCS applications. The second is being developed by CAF, also responsible for TCMS. Thales is overseeing the passenger information systems application, and Siemens the cab radio. SNCF Network is providing the application for remote vision. The matching trackside applications are being developed by the same companies, with the exception of cab radio where Nokia is developing its trackside equivalent for dispatcher stations in control centres.

Functional end-to-end testing of the applications under WP5 has required the commissioning of standalone 5G networks in both France and Germany, the first to use the 1900MHz frequency band that has been specifically allocated for FRMCS. In its implementing decision EU 2021/1730 of September 28 2021, the European Commission (EC) requires member states to designate and make available by January 1 2025 the frequency band from 1900 to 1910MHz for Railway Mobile Radio (RMR). To enable parallel operation of GSM-R and FRMCS over what it expects to be a 10-year migration period, the EC has also safeguarded for RMR the paired frequency bands of 874.4 to 880MHz and 914.4 to 925MHz.

With the telecommunications infrastructure in place at both test sites, Mr Bernd Holfeld of DB Network and Mr Nazih Salhab of SNCF Network were able to report that WP5’s achievements include successfully making the first voice call using FRMCS on 5G, as well the first data call for ETCS, ATO and TCMS. During the remainder of the 5G Rail programme that runs until the end of this year, the CCTV and remote vision applications will be put through their paces, while cross-border scenarios will test the ability to transition from FRMCS to GSM-R, and from one 5G network to another. Bearer flexibility concepts will also be tested, including moving between 4G and 5G and between different frequencies in 5G.

From V1 to First Edition

“There is a complex and challenging amount of work to be done, but we can say that FRMCS introduction is on schedule, with the V1 specification finalised and the first prototypes being tested in operation on trains,” Mandoc said.

Finalising the V1 specification marks the completion of the first phase of the implementation plan to produce by the end of 2026 what the UIC is calling the FRMCS First Edition, the first system that will be available for infrastructure managers to start national trials. The second phase is now underway, and Mandoc reported that work had started to develop the V2 specification, covering the known gaps and open points in V1 and building on the results of the 5G Rail field trials. This is expected to take nine months to complete, which Mandoc noted is “a very short period of time.”

The telecoms onboard architecture (Toba) for FRMCS was developed under WP2, led by Kontron. Photo: UIC

V2 is intended to define a complete FRMCS system that will be subject to a European testing programme that will need to start in June 2024 in order to be completed by September 2026. The testing programme is known as Morane 2 after the original Mobile Radio for Railway Networks in Europe (Morane) project that developed and tested fixed and mobile GSM-R equipment between 1996 and 2000. Morane 2 will mark the third phase of the FRMCS implementation programme and will combine laboratory testing with field trials, on both conventional and high-speed lines and at border crossings. “By the end of 2026, with Morane 2 testing completed, we plan to deliver the FRMCS V3 specification that will define the FRMCS First Edition,” Mandoc said.

“Working together is the way we have built GSM-R and how we need to build FRMCS. We have to make sure our colleagues from the manufacturing sector are able to supply what we need at an affordable price.”

Mr Jean-Michel Evanghelou, the UIC’s director of telecoms, signalling and digital applications

“We must all understand that if we do not quickly put FRMCS in place, for which Morane 2 is an absolute must, in 12 years from now we will have a huge problem in Europe,” Mandoc pointed out. Morane 2 is planned to be carried out within the System Pillar of the Europe’s Rail Joint Undertaking (ERJU) and he reported that discussions had begun with both the ERJU and the EC for setting up Morane 2. “We will need to agree a method and find finance to build and make available FRMCS chipsets for Morane 2,” Mandoc said. “These are issues at the European level, so we do look to the commission to help finance these activities.”

Meeting in Paris on July 7, the UIC general assembly later approved a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with ERJU on FRMCS. According to the UIC, this will enable strategic and operational alignment between the two organisations and is also an important step in facilitating potential European financing for Morane 2.

The legal anchor for future FRMCS testing and deployment within the EU will be provided by the recast Control-Command and Signalling Technical Specification for Interoperability (CCS TSI), part of the 2023 TSI revision package that was adopted by the EC’s Railway Interoperability and Safety Committee (Risc) on March 30, and which is expected to enter into force later this summer. The key changes to the CCS TSI were outlined in Paris by Ms Begoña Domingo and her colleague Mr Juan Hernández, both project officers at the European Union Agency for Railways (ERA). CCS TSI Appendix A setting out mandatory specifications now includes the FRMCS V1 specification, while the CCS TSI text has been prepared for the inclusion of the V3 specification that will form RMR Baseline 1.

To accommodate the transition from GSM-R to FRMCS, the recast CCS TSI also introduces new versions of ETCS. Introduced under Baseline 4, System Version 3.0 is ready for FRMCS and will be backwards-compatible as far as onboard equipment is concerned. The new trackside System Version 2.3 applies to infrastructure where both GSM-R and FRMCS are available, with Version 3 applying trackside once GSM-R has been decommissioned.

Perhaps more importantly, the recast CCS TSI also requires infrastructure managers to notify operators a minimum of five years in advance that GSM-R will be taken out of use and then only doing so when FRMCS is in service. A shorter notification period is allowed if agreed between the infrastructure manager and operators on the line in question, and five years’ notice must also be given when installing FRMCS on a line not already equipped with GSM-R. For both GSM-R replacement and installing FRMCS from new, advance notification can only be given after the FRMCS specification has been completed and published as an amendment to the CCS TSI, lending further urgency to the task of finalising the FRMCS V2 and V3 specifications. In his keynote address to the conference, ERA executive director, Mr Josef Doppelbauer, said that completing V2 by March 2024, in time for the next CCS TSI revision in 2026-27, “will require sustained effort and very dedicated support.”

“There needs to be investment to upgrade trackside and onboard equipment. It will become a resourcing issue if everyone transitions at the same time.”

Mr Josef Doppelbauer, ERA executive director

This view was shared by Mr Wawrzyniec Perschke, an EC policy officer for railway interoperability. Speaking from the conference floor, he stressed the need to complete V2 and V3 as soon as possible. “This is the last call,” he said, adding that the specifications were needed “ASAP in capital letters.”

“We need to have in place very robust specifications in the TSIs, [which are] tested very quickly,” said Fitch. “Some infrastructure managers and operators are getting very nervous about FRMCS. We need to tell them how there will be a smooth and easy transition from GSM-R to FRMCS without losing interoperability benefits,” he said, adding that in the next two to three years “we must all focus on a clear, credible migration plan across the industry.” But he warned against expecting the EC to provide “a pot of gold” that would help ease funding concerns. “That’s not how it works,” he said.

Doppelbauer also stressed that migration will not just be a technical issue. “There needs to be investment to upgrade trackside and onboard equipment. It will become a resourcing issue if everyone transitions at the same time.” And in sourcing FRMCS components such as chipsets, wider concerns had to be taken into account. “We should not make Europe too dependent on suppliers outside Europe,” he said.

National rollout challenge

The scale of the challenge now facing infrastructure managers across Europe as they plan for the transition from GSM-R to FRMCS was made clear by Mr Achim Vrielink, head of telecom platform development at DB Network. GSM-R is currently in service on 30,000km of Germany’s national network, with 87,000 mobile users, 3300 fixed line terminals and 4000 radio base transceiver stations (BTS). DB Network is proposing a series of pilot projects for its transition to FRMCS, increasing in complexity as they progress from the current 5G Rail trials on a self-contained section of its network to a regional line currently equipped with analogue radio where the processes for planning, building and operating the different elements of FRMCS would be developed.

The next step would be a regional line equipped with GSM-R, to evaluate FRMCS and GSM-R operating in parallel, and then a long-distance main line with heavier traffic, higher train speeds, a larger number of operators and a wider variety of rolling stock types. The most complex pilots would involve a cross-border route equipped with GSM-R, where international roaming and interworking of telecoms networks would be tested as well as FRMCS operating procedures. This would be followed by a major hub with international traffic using GSM-R, where ATO at Grade of Automation 2 (GoA2) would be tested as well as interworking and roaming with public telecoms networks.

DB Network’s preliminary schedule for migrating from GSM-R to FRMCS, which awaits both funding and board approval, would see the six pilots undertaken between the start of 2026 and the end of 2028. FRMCS would be rolled out across the network from mid-2027 until 2035, operating in parallel with GSM-R during the migration period. If the FRMCS V3 specification is completed on schedule by the end of 2026, DB Network would be able to give operators the five years’ notice required by the CCS TSI and then decommission GSM-R on a line-by-line basis from 2032 until the current radio system reaches its expected obsolescence in 2035.

“It is a very ambitious strategy,” Vrielink said. “I think the industry needs to wake up. We have to push everywhere as much as possible. We urgently need to get the standards ready and secure funding, otherwise we won’t be able to do it.” As well as the technical, organisational and funding challenges, the introduction of FRMCS will also require a large number of railway personnel to be trained to operate and maintain the new system. To help its members provide their staff with the new skills that they will require, the UIC has set up the UIC Rail Academy in partnership with Wray Castle, a specialist provider of telecoms technology training based in Britain. The academy was launched at the conference in Paris and its first courses will be in telecoms, covering FRMCS and the latest developments in the specification for the new system, legacy rail radio engineering including GSM-R, and foundation courses in telecoms technology.

“UIC’s ambition is for the first FRMCS test networks to go live in 2026,” Evanghelou said, “and this partnership fulfils our role to facilitate the realisation of this ambition by delivering effective training programmes, available now, to help member organisations upskill their workforce.” Basic and advanced FRMCS training modules were first due to be offered online in July, followed by advanced classroom-based courses at UIC headquarters in September.

Amongst the speakers from the supply industry was Mr Olivier Eudes, a member of the Unitel committee of the European Rail Industry Association (Unife) which represents suppliers of railway telecoms products. He pointed out that Unitel members had in 2021 reaffirmed their commitment to support GSM-R until at least 2030, and beyond that on a per-contract basis.

“Beyond 2030, the ability to maintain replacement hardware components, source equipment and maintain the GSM-R skillset represents an increasing challenge,” he said. In giving the keynote closing address, Unife director general, Mr Philippe Citroën, reminded the conference that 2030 is not that far away. “There is time pressure and seven years will go by very quickly,” he said, particularly given the work still remaining to be done to develop FRMCS to the point where national trials can begin as a prelude to rolling the new system out across Europe’s railways.

“We remain convinced of the need for a full-scale testing programme for V2 and to develop V3,” Citroën said, before turning to the issue of EU funding for projects such as FRMCS and associated initiatives to further deploy ETCS and roll out the DAC. “We do hope a significant budget will be allocated to rail,” he said, calling for all European rail stakeholders to work together towards this aim and lobby member states.

“Working together is the way we have built GSM-R and how we need to build FRMCS,” said Evanghelou. “We have to make sure our colleagues from the manufacturing sector are able to supply what we need at an affordable price.”