“RADICAL,” “pioneering,” and “landmark” were all words used to describe Banedanmark’s national signalling programme as plans took shape in the mid-to-late 2000s and early 2010s.
The Danish infrastructure manager had set itself the enviable task of becoming the first European infrastructure manager to install ETCS Level 2 Baseline 3 on its entire 2132km mainline network. The DKr 20bn ($US 2.94bn) programme also included the installation of CBTC on the entire 173km Copenhagen S-Bane with a target completion date of 2021.
The scale of the programme was borne out of necessity. Around a third of the mainline signalling systems in use at the time of the project’s inception were installed in 1969 or earlier; one system originally designed in 1912 and installed in 1927 is still in use today and will remain so until end of 2025. Increasingly poor reliability and difficulties with sourcing spare parts led the infrastructure manager to conclude that a complete network-wide renewal was the only solution to its problems.
Keen to foster competition in the market, Banedanmark split its mainline network into two contracts covering the east (800km) and west (1200km) sections. Only one supplier could win a single contract, with Alstom prevailing in the east in a €300m deal, and Thales and Balfour Beatty (now Strukton) securing the €400m west contract in December 2011. Alstom also won the €100m contract to equip up to 789 legacy vehicles with ETCS in February 2012 while Siemens won the €252m CBTC contract for the S-Bane in September 2011.
However, by autumn 2017 the mainline signalling programme had run into trouble. Banedanmark originally hoped to align the ETCS rollout with steady electrification of the network. The goal was to avoid additional costs of immunising legacy Class B signalling against electromagnetic interference (EMC) with upgrades to ETCS on the horizon. While there were problems with stabilising the new signalling system, major issues with equipping the IC3 fleets with ETCS ultimately proved the original plan’s undoing. Simply not enough trains were able to operate on the upgraded lines within the desired timeframe.
This situation sparked a major rethink of the programme.
In November 2017, the Danish government announced that it was pushing back completion of the ERTMS rollout from the revised deadline of 2023 to 2030. It would instead prioritise electrification and align ETCS deployment accordingly. With many of the trains used on branch and low-traffic lines considered easier to equip with ETCS, Banedanmark and its partners would prioritise rollout on these lines. This offered Banedanmark and its suppliers the advantage of learning how to stabilise the system effectively while minimising disruption to existing operations.
Major structural changes also took place within Banedanmark, including the personnel heading up the initiative. Mrs Thilde Restofte Pedersen was appointed programme manager in May 2017. She was joined on almost the same day by Mr Janus Steen Møller, who transferred from within Banedanmark to become director of signalling systems. Together they are now leading the programme towards completion at the spearhead of the new Signal department.
When Pedersen and Møller began working on the programme, execution of the signalling rollout sat outside of Banedanmark’s everyday activities. Møller says this was not necessarily the wrong approach at the time because Banedanmark did not have the scale to carry out a programme of this magnitude. However, it meant that the programme had developed a life of its own, and by 2017-18 it was clear that it needed to be brought inside the organisation.
The Signal department was founded to cover both project execution as well as daily operations. Møller says what has transpired is effectively a merger of the signalling programme and the operational IT department.
“The reason being that we see the new signalling as an IT system,” he says. “This is IT. Our colleagues in the signals division have backgrounds in the railway, but some of our other colleagues come from telematics, some of them from computer science and the financial sector. This is very much a merger, which is bringing digitalisation to Banedanmark.”
Was it possible for Banedanmark to prepare for such a change in approach?
“We probably just thought we could replace the old components with the new components,” he says. “The thing is we were replacing pen and paper with a computer. It requires something totally different from the organisation, from your suppliers, from your customers, and your traffic department and so on. No, you can’t say we were prepared, and I don’t think we were able to be prepared.”
Pedersen says she has worked to improve delivery from the programme’s management and teams. The most significant element has been to encourage and lead these employees to think beyond the signalling programme’s engineering requirements to include all other management disciplines in the decision-making process.
Staff training is inevitably a key element of this process, and an extensive programme is now underway. Møller says as part of the signalling programme, Banedanmark is delivering a new set of operational rules for both mainline ERTMS and the S-Bane CBTC system. Already 2500 of 5000 Danish railway sector employees have received the necessary training. Banedanmark itself employs more than 2500 people, emphasising the scale of this task.
As well as working with new, more sophisticated equipment and systems, Banedanmark staff are having to alter their approach to working with suppliers, a situation Pedersen admits has not always been easy.
The supply contracts include a 25-year maintenance component, which will commence when the final section of ETCS is commissioned. This is very different from past agreements for the legacy equipment both in length and the role of these companies. Pedersen says they are now much more involved in handing over the systems and the safety work required, with supplier staff closely integrated with Banedanmark employees, a potentially difficult situation. Indeed, Pedersen adds that her managers are always aware of this partnership and there has been adaptation on both sides.
Møller says it is essential that this partnership operates effectively because a lot of the expertise about specific systems is now the domain of the suppliers, which are multinational organisations. “The guy knowing the most about the traffic management system (TMS) is in Bologna,” Møller says adding that while different from what they are used to, this is helpful when it comes to tackling new challenges and harnessing the supplier’s capability in emerging fields such as cybersecurity.
“The suppliers are saying let’s work together to harden our systems,” Møller continues. “They are not saying that it is not part of the contract because no-one was talking about it in 2007. Of course, that comes with a price tag. But we are not being taken hostage by our suppliers, which shows me that it is a partnership.”
Equipping the vehicles remains the project’s major challenge. It is also arguably the biggest test of the client-supplier relationship. Pedersen says this huge and complex task has not become any easier with time and is simply the result of each of the trains being so different.
Pedersen points out that it takes just as long to retrofit a train as it does to approve a new train. “You are also working inside a train that does not even belong to Banedanmark,” she says. “It’s the railway company’s train. You need to find a way to take it out of operation, keep it in the workshop for as short a period as possible and hand it back. At the same time, we have a very thorough approvals process, covering both the interoperability and the EU legislation on that, as well as railway safety. It is really, really difficult.”
Notable progress has been made over the past year or so with infrastructure deployments and activation of ETCS.
“The suppliers are saying let’s work together to harden our systems,” Møller continues. Of course, that comes with a price tag. But we are not being taken hostage by our suppliers, which shows me that it is a partnership.”Janus Steen Møller, Banedanmark’s director of signalling systems
Following the installation of ETCS on the Lindholm - Frederikshavn line in October 2018, the Roskilde - Køge line in 2019, and the Thisted - Struer line in April 2020, ETCS was activated on another three lines in 2021: the Langå - Struer - Holstebro line in March, the Køge - Næstved line in August, and the Mogenstrup - Nykøbing Falster section of the Ringsted - Femern line in December.
In 2022, the infrastructure manager plans to install ETCS on the Copenhagen - Ringsted line, and the Vejle - Holstebro and Herning - Skanderborg sections in Jutland, as it slowly begins to cover busier sections of the network. While Pedersen describes 2022 as a year of consolidation for the ETCS element of the project, 2022 will mark the culmination of the CBTC rollout on the S-Bane.
CBTC is now in use on more than half of the network after it was activated in central Copenhagen on the Nordhavn - Copenhagen Central - Sydhavn section in January. This followed activation on the Farum and Ringbane lines in January 2021, and from Hillerød to Jægersborg in 2016, and the Jægersborg - Klampenborg and Svanemøllen - Ryparken sections in 2019. CBTC will be activated between Sydhavn and Køge, and from Carlsberg to Høje Taastrup and Frederikssund by the end of 2022, completing the rollout.
However, this is not the end of the story for CBTC on the S-Bane.
DSB is responsible for overseeing the safe integration of a range of technical, operational and organisational aspects for the project, including the rollout of a new fleet, which is expected in 2026. The programme requires significant organisational changes, including the transition of infrastructure and operational staff from Banedanmark to DSB. Ultimately a new organisation will be formed, which is currently referred to as the Future S-Network, to oversee the migration period and ongoing operation.
Ricardo was subsequently selected last month to support DSB by acting as the assessment body for the project. This will involve performing independent assessments and compiling safety assessment reports and supporting documentation for inclusion in the project’s application to the National Safety Authority for phased approval of the automated system. The plan is for the first lines to be automated by the end of the decade and the complete network by 2037.
Completion of the project will establish the Copenhagen S-Bane as one of the world’s fastest and largest automated transit systems, which will offer metro-style frequencies.
Significant adaptation is required for operation of the automated system as it is for CBTC in general. Møller recalls early trials of CBTC where drivers activated the emergency brake when the train was in the programmed braking curve because the trains were travelling at higher speeds and at shorter headways than they were used to.
“I think it’s a perfect picture of what the new system is,” Møller says. “It’s not only a new system, it needs a transformation in the way you work, and the organisation needs to adapt to that.”
Pedersen says the biggest risk to achieving the expected benefits is using CBTC and ETCS in the same way as the old system. In fact, she says that to do so might see the system perform even worse than before. “We are sometimes discussing with our communications department that this is not a simple story to tell. We are not “just” moving the physical signals into the cab,” she says. “It’s so much more. Otherwise, it would not cost DKr 20bn, and it would not take 20 years.”
Reliability has already noticeably improved on lines where CBTC and ERTMS are active, according to Møller, due among others to fewer mechanical items at the trackside. However, at first ERTMS is unlikely to offer major improvements in capacity. The existing network based on the national ATP system introduced in the 1990s offers high capacity on many of the network’s key lines. The real benefits will be found in the introduction of a new TMS concept, which will offer a completely new way of operating the network.
The TMS system is effectively an overlay of both suppliers’ ETCS systems. Each contractor was invited to submit a bid to use their system across the network, with Alstom coming out on top. The solution was developed in cooperation with the University of Bologna and is based on similar intelligent diagnostics systems used in Switzerland albeit on a much larger scale. Indeed, every train and every component are included so the TMS system knows exactly what is happening across the entire network.
“We are sometimes discussing with our communications department that this is not a simple story to tell. We are not “just” moving the physical signals into the cab, it’s so much more. Otherwise, it would not cost DKr 20bn, and it would not take 20 years.”Thilde Restofte Pedersen, Banedanmark’s signalling programme director
Møller says the TMS will run traffic, setting the routes and providing the movement authority. Critically it can do this far more efficiently than human operators: rather than the four or five factors that might be considered by a human controller, this system is able to consider thousands, optimising the decision-making process and offering a more stable system. The improved efficiency of this approach is reflected in the reduction of train operating locations from 30 to two control centres and two satellites. As well as being fewer in number, the role of humans is also changing. Armed with an advanced toolbox, the focus is increasingly on planning traffic and monitoring the system, only intervening when necessary.
“This gives us the possibility to start discussing with our suppliers, especially Alstom and Hacon [the Siemens subsidiary and provider of the smart trip planning system], of how we want to use that capacity,” Møller says. “Do we want to use it to run more trains at the same time? Do we want to run the trains faster and closer together? Do we want to look into some of the new features that our suppliers are working on to offer a more sustainable way of running the trains and so on. We have a totally new take on how to run the trains and how to utilise the capacity with the capacity being the main product from Banedanmark.”
Work is underway on “interface 43,” which will deliver the advanced capabilities offered in the Alstom contract to the Thales ETCS system. Other upcoming projects include future telecoms upgrades to FRMCS and Banedanmark is closely monitoring the upcoming update to the TSI, which will include the first reference to FRMCS.
Banedanmark is also engaged with the wider European signalling sector. Møller represents Banedanmark on the EU ERTMS User Group, where best practice is shared between members with Denmark’s experience proving invaluable to other European countries pursuing similar national ERTMS rollout programmes as deployment finally begins to speed up. From his experience, Møller says flexibility is critical to success.
“Of course, you need to have a plan and you need to have a direction,” Møller says. “But you need to be much more agile because the systems are much more complex than the old ones. Whereas before problems might have been within a single line block, with the track or the train, now it might be something that happened on a server on the other side of the country three days ago. This is a nationwide IT system that simply requires a more agile approach to both delivering, developing and operating the railway.”
There certainly have been more bumps than was foreseen at the inception of the programme. But with progress now steady, Banedanmark appears on course to meet the revised schedule and to provide a more refined and attractive offer to its clients.