There is no shortage of articles on ERTMS (European Rail Traffic Management System) and its component parts of ETCS (European Train Control System) and GSM-R, the radio transmission medium. The ongoing work of system design, software verification, resolution of problems, fitment challenges and operational performance all need to be recorded and made available to infrastructure providers and train service operators for the greater good of all.
With the supply base within Europe having been consolidating for some years, it is unusual and refreshing to record a new manufacturer entering this market. This is Hitachi which has emerged as a potential significant contributor to the ongoing business.
Hitachi and its history
The company is well known as a Japanese supplier of industrial and commercial electronics and, more latterly, as a builder of traction and rolling stock. In the UK it has built the high-speed Javelin trains for the domestic services on HS1 and has won the contract to supply the new Intercity Express Programme (IEP) rolling stock for the Great Western and East Coast main line high speed services.
It may surprise some to learn that the company has been developing an ETCS-type product for the past eight years. Predominantly this has been for the Chinese market, the system being known as CTCS 3 (Chinese Train Control System). It is equivalent to ETCS Level 2 but without some of the sub-set requirements. The product combines both infrastructure (including the all-important Radio Block Centre – RBC) and on-board equipment.
To date some three RBCs and 40 on-board systems are in use. Hitachi’s equipment is interoperable with that from other ERTMS suppliers which have also entered the Chinese market, both Ansaldo and Bombardier competing against the CTCS specification.
One might ask, “Well, what about Japan?”
The Japanese railways do not use ETCS, having recently developed their own digital ATP (Automatic Train Protection) system for high- speed lines. They also have a system known as ATACS, which is broadly equivalent to the elusive ETCS Level 3, and does not require traditional train detection equipment such as axle counters or track circuits.
At present only one route of 30km and 16 trains is in operation, this being commissioned in 2011. JNR and Hitachi jointly own the design, but it is not until 2017 that the next line will be equipped. Europe may well look at this system as an incentive to regenerate interest in Level 3 since little progress has been made over the past 20 years that the concept has been around. The proving of freight train integrity (train completeness) has been a stumbling block but in Japan only passenger trains will operate on the initial routes, thus not overcoming this difficulty.
Hitachi is therefore far from being a new boy in the train control and communications business and believes that it can bring a useful contribution for the benefit of all.
Entry into the UK
As many suppliers know, entering the UK rail business is not easy. Prospective organisations have to demonstrate technical capability, quality of product, financial stability, safety compliance and that the offering is fit for purpose. Often this involves demonstrating the system on a test track or designated section of railway.
To date, the Cambrian line is the only commissioned ERTMS system in the UK so it was logical for Hitachi to use this route for product evaluation. Concentrating firstly on the on-board side, a Class 97 locomotive has been fitted with Hitachi equipment including the EVC (European Vital Computer), odometry, balise readers and GSM-R radio communication.
The work was carried out by RVEL at Derby before the loco was moved to Machynlleth for the trials. Network Rail insisted upon testing being done at night so as to minimise the risk of new equipment detrimentally affecting day-to-day operation. The ‘start of mission’ and ‘establishing a session’ were successful and a number of test runs have been made that proved the integrity of the onboard system as well as testing interoperable compatibility with another supplier’s ETCS infrastructure.
The next step has been to move the locomotive to the ENIF (ETCS National Integration Facility) on the Hertford loop where four suppliers are testing their infrastructure designs for interoperability (issue 117, July 2014). The first phase of testing only employed one type of on-board equipment, supplied by Signalling Solutions Limited, on the Class 313 test train. Thus, having the opportunity to see how another manufacturer’s train equipment will perform is welcomed by all. Comparisons can also be made on the size and construction of the on-board configuration. These collaborative industry tests are ongoing.
Expanding usage and the IEP factor
Hitachi has its longer-term sights on bringing its complete portfolio of products into the European arena but, for the moment, the emphasis will be on the on-board equipment. Getting one locomotive fitted is an important starting position but expanding this to other traction units is essential.
The UK opportunities in the short term are limited but recently a contract has been won to equip two Class 37 diesel engines owned by West Coast Railways based in Carnforth. The raison d’etre is the intention to run dining car trains on the Cambrian line for which an ERTMS- fitted locomotive is required. Since the Class 37 is essentially similar to the Class 97, much of the design work will have already been done. The actual work will be carried out at Barrow Hill locomotive heritage centre, where a useful expertise is being built up in equipping of trains with electronic equipment.
The provision of the new IEP trains for Great Western and East Coast is a major contract for Hitachi and will have many spin-off implications. One obvious one is the provision of on-board ETCS equipment for the fleet and Hitachi will supply this via the Agility Trains facilities contract. The first of these trains is about to arrive in Britain and, as part of the testing programme, it will run on the Old Dalby test track. By 2016, this line will also be equipped with ERTMS Level 2 infrastructure, thus enabling testing of the complete ETCS package.
Much more main line testing will be required before the trains enter service and this issue of Rail Engineer describes some of the logistical challenges when rolling out ERTMS.
Mobile equipment packaging
One adverse criticism from the Cambrian line equipping of Class 158 diesel units was the considerable space requirement needed for the ETCS equipment. Providing 19” racks on a train where space is limited was something of a challenge, with the result that passenger and luggage space had to be reduced.
The Hitachi package does require the same overall cubic area but the various modules are capable of being split up and distributed along the train wherever space is available. Thus some components may be under seats, others in overhead racks, as well as the driver machine interface (DMI) in the cab.
For a locomotive, only a single ETCS equipment cabinet is required, the two cab units being wired into that.
Equipment configurations are able to be adapted to the particular rolling stock constraints and this is important for the forthcoming retrofit programmes. These cover the National Joint ROSCO Programme (NJRP) for passenger trains, the freight fleet, the engineering ‘yellow fleet’ trains and also charter and heritage trains that are allowed to operate on the national network.
The GSM-R data radio is part of the ETCS provision and will need to be procured for any retro-fitting of rolling stock in the UK. These will work alongside the existing GSM-R voice radios. Data radios will be obtained from one of the usual train radio suppliers. It is anticipated that GPRS (packet switching) will be in use by the time Hitachi-fitted trains are in fleet service.
Operational demonstration and training
At Hitachi’s London office, a full demonstration facility is available. Driving a train under ERTMS conditions is surprisingly easy and follows the now-familiar presentation of a speedometer with the maximum speed displayed as a coloured band around the outside edge and the movement authority shown on the screen ‘planning’ area.
The simulator retains lineside signals, primarily to demonstrate a typical ETCS overlay environment. Encountering a double-yellow aspect will therefore prepare the driver to slow down as the speed ‘band’ reduces on the ETCS DMI.
The trains will be capable of working in Level NTC (National Train Control) with existing AWS/TPWS (Automatic Warning System/Train Protection & Warning System) installations. It is likely that the cab console design will incorporate a screen for a driver advisory system as trains will not necessarily be driven at the maximum permissible speed if pathing conflicts ahead are to be avoided.
Obtaining system approval
Achieving all the necessary safety and performance verifications can be a slow and complex process but Hitachi is making good progress in this respect. To date, the Network Rail System Review Panel has given approval for testing of Hitachi ETCS equipment under controlled conditions and this opens the way for the retro-fitting of equipment to passenger stock, which will be managed by the ROSCOs (Rolling Stock Companies).
On the freight side, Hitachi is pre-qualified, along with five other manufacturers, for the 1012 freight locomotive retrofit tenders covering 20 different classes. The contracts will be let via Network Rail with the work being carried out at approved contractor premises.
Still to be agreed are i) how the National Supply Chain ‘yellow plant’ on-track machines will be equipped, there being many different types and ii) how to equip the charter and heritage trains for which the scope has yet to be published.
Internationally, discussions are ongoing for Hitachi to join the international UNIFE and UNISIG consortia as a European supplier. The main design resource remains in Japan for the present but application design teams will be created in countries where contracts are won. The UK team is currently expanding because of this.
As the international roll-out of ERTMS builds momentum, so the supply base will both consolidate and expand. Hitachi, as a new signalling player, is now delivering and inputting its technical expertise and knowledge back into the industry. This is all part of the process and is to be welcomed for the efficiencies and new thinking that can be brought.