BELGIUM's infrastructure manager Infrabel achieved another major milestone in its plans to rollout ETCS on February 10 when ETCS Level 1 went live on a 15km section of railway between Hever and Wijgmaal on the Mechelen - Leuven line, the latest mainline section on its network to adopt the technology.

Further installations will follow on the north-south Corridor C between Antwerp and Athus throughout this year until 2015, as a 10-year objective to rollout a combination of limited supervision ETCS Level 1 and Level 2 across the entire Belgian network by 2022 steps up.

Belgium is following in the footsteps of Denmark, Luxembourg, Switzerland and Sweden as another European country that is forging ahead with plans to upgrade signalling on its entire network to Europe's standardised system. Speaking at InnoTrans in September, Infrabel CEO Mr Luc Lallemand said adopting ETCS will bring various advantages to Infrabel ranging from improving driver ergonomics and network safety to capacity enhancements provided by the system's moving-block technology.

"In Belgium we have a block time between sections of three minutes," Lallemand says. "The purpose is to improve this block time to two minutes so we can improve capacity on about one third of our core network."

Lallemand added that another important component of the ETCS rollout strategy is an improvement in reliability. He says that signalling failures and problems are currently the leading source of infrastructure-related delays in Belgium.

etcs-belgium"We hope with the implementation of ETCS to have an important improvement in the second strategic priority which is punctuality," Lallemand says. "Reliability is particularly important to us because Belgium has a central position in Europe, and we are approaching the point where we want to be considered as a transit country."

Already Infrabel has successfully operated ETCS Level 2 with a fallback ETCS Level 1 system on high-speed lines between Liège and the German border since June 2009, and from Antwerp to the Dutch border since December 2009. ETCS Level 1 is also in use on the line from Brussels Nord station to Louvain, between Schaerbeek and Mechelen, and on the Diabolo rail link towards Brussels Airport which began operations in June 2012.


Infrabel's ETCS Masterplan consists of three technical pillars. However, the first of these does not relate entirely to ETCS, but is the accelerated installation of its Transmission Balise Locomotive Driving aid system (TBL1+), the Belgian national automatic braking and signalling system which is an evolution of the 1980s TBL1 system. The new technology was developed in 2006 and has been in operation at all major junctions since the end of 2012. ETCS-compliant equipment including Eurobalises, which are positioned in the centre of the track directly below the signal and 300m before, are utilised by the system which automatically stops any train that passes a red signal, and in instances when the speed exceeds 40km/h, 300m from a red signal. This means TBL1+ will prevent accidents like that at Buizingen in February 2010, Belgium's worst railway accident in 50 years. 19 people died after a train which did not have any kind of automatic protection system fitted passed a signal at red and collided with an oncoming train.

Initially TBL1+ was scheduled for rollout on all the major junctions on Infrabel's network by the end of 2013, but in mid-2010 this was accelerated to the end of 2012. Already the system is providing efficiency of 90.7% at locations where it is installed, which is 3.7% higher than foreseen at this stage, and it provides an accelerated decrease of risk of 75% on the railway network. Lallemand says that 99.9% of Infrabel's network will be covered by TBL1+ by the end of 2015, and while the technology is not ETCS, TBL1+ hardware is compatible with ETCS Level 1 following a straightforward software upgrade procedure.

These network-wide upgrade procedures will begin after 2015 to fulfil the objective of rolling out a combination of ETCS levels 1 and 2, and limited supervision on the entire network by 2022. ETCS Level 1 version 2.3.0d, which is described by Infrabel as the most stable proven product currently available on the market, will be installed on 60% of the network, while the remaining 40% will be covered by ETCS Level 2 version 2.3.0d. The rollout will include ETCS limited supervision and be will compatible with Baseline 3, as outlined in the Copenhagen agreement signed in 2012.

Lallemand says the savings to Infrabel, and the Belgian taxpayer, by adopting Baseline 3, which offers a risk level of 9.6% and is costing €2bn to implement, rather than full supervision, which would have provided a risk level of 8.5% but cost €4.6bn, were too substantial to ignore.

"To reach a remaining risk level of 9.6% through utilising a combination of a limited supervision pillar, we can reduce the budget by almost 60%. It's quite considerable," he says. "When we are speaking throughout Europe about ETCS and we are speaking about money, I think that it is possible to fine tune between the level of protection that can be considered, and the tax money that you will invest in the project. We have found a level of risk that is acceptable and we are paying €2bn, which is considerably less than the €4.6bn it would have cost to apply full supervision."

Lallemand says the final phase of the masterplan is to upgrade all rolling stock operating in Belgium to be compatible with ETCS 2.3.0d by 2025. The overall cost of this is estimated at €1.7bn to Belgian National Railways (SNCB) which includes €340m on migrating existing rolling stock to the system, and €1.35bn on new rolling stock that will be purchased up to 2023.

Beyond 2025, Lallemand says the intention is to upgrade the entire network to ETCS Level 2. However, he says that due to the cost and scale of the combined levels 1 and 2 rollout, attention remains firmly on this element with detailed plans for subsequent developments to follow at a later stage.

Procurement strategy

The TBL1+ rollout contracts have been shared between Siemens for infrastructure equipment, including Eurobalises and signals, and Alstom for onboard equipment. Siemens won a €105m contract in 2006 to install and maintain TBL1+ and ETCS Level 1 equipment at 4000 signals, while Alstom won a contract in 2007 to supply onboard equipment for 866 trains, which was followed by a further order in 2008 for 956 sets. The total order was worth €27m.

Mr Jo De Bosschere, programme manager for ETCS, says the ETCS Level 1 contract will serve as an upgrade of the already installed TBL1+ infrastructure. Alstom secured the upgrade order in January 2012 and will equip and configure 4000 signals with its Atlas 100 ETCS technology as well as install TBL1+ equipment. The contract includes a 15-year maintenance deal and is worth €29.5m, with deliveries set to start this year and continue up to 2018.

Bids for the contract for the ETCS Level 2 rollout, which will encompass the limited supervision element, are currently being considered with further announcements expected this year. However, De Bosschere is keen to stress that Infrabel is not following the Danish example and splitting its contracts into regions which has resulted in multiple suppliers rolling out the system.

"There will be only one supplier in Belgium," De Bosschere says. "We conceive having two or three Level 2 pilot sites and after completion of the pilot site we should be in a position to award the contract. Belgium is a very small country and we think doing two different contracts with two suppliers in parallel would create problems. So during this period of 10 years we will pick one supplier, and afterwards, although it is not decided yet, when we come to do a second round of ETCS Level 2 we will launch a new tender and open the market again for all possible suppliers."

Testing will become an increasingly important element of the project as it progresses in the next few years, and Infrabel displayed the self-propelled vehicle that will carry out much of this work at InnoTrans. Built by Geismar, France, it includes equipment to test and measure the performance of the ETCS and TBL1+ equipment.

The vehicle began operations at the end of 2012 and has already completed dozens of tests of Infrabel's blossoming mainline ETCS infrastructure. And as the network continues to grow, it will continue to play a key role as Belgium increasingly hooks itself into ETCS and strives for complete coverage on its infrastructure by 2022.