TCMS – Train Control and Management System – is often nicknamed ‘brain of the train’. Yet, ironically enough, TCMS is far behind the standards of smart technology. Existing solutions are complex and costly, and vary considerably from one train manufacturer to another. The truth is that, whilst electronic hardware and software keep evolving at an ever-increasing pace, TCMS is a niche market, and this makes the uptake of novel technology much slower. “We’re looking at a very fragmented market with high system complexity. Combine this with the long development time necessary to come up with ‘service-proven’ solutions, and you can easily understand why railway transportation systems are suffering from a limited adoption of novel technological advancements,” says Arjan Geven from Austrian company TTTech. In 2018, most trains are still very much made of a huge spider web of systems and applications barely talking to each other. Historically, each individual subsystem in a train has used its own electronic architecture to make the certification process easier (the same goes for computation where each application runs on its own computer with very limited interoperability). Whilst signals are being progressively integrated into a variety of bus protocols and communication systems, compliance with national regulations and the cost of deployment remain the priority, at the expense of maintainability and upgradability. The SAFE4RAIL (SAFE architecture for Robust distributed Application Integration in roLling stock) project, which Geven is coordinating on behalf of an 11-partner consortium, aims to resolve this issue with a focus on convergence. “Our objective is to remove the need for all those custom island solutions and integrate the train functions in one common platform,” he explains. This common platform is called an Integrated Modular Platform or IMP. It consists of two main parts: computation software and a communication platform, both open and interoperable. The consortium’s ultimate goal is to make the IMP a cornerstone of the next-generation TCMS, able to host the most critical applications of the train to the highest certification requirements. Besides the IMP itself, SAFE4RAIL also develops specific technologies supporting the virtualisation of the testing process. “Testing on the track and with real hardware is complex and expensive,” Geven says. “One must transport all the equipment to a physical location, rent the facilities, mount expensive test equipment, and so on. Our set of communication emulators makes it possible to connect virtual and real components together, enabling Hardware-in-the-loop (HIL) and Software-in-the-loop (SIL) testing with both real and simulated hardware components and applications. The technology can connect different test sites together and simulates their physical presence in the same place.” SAFE4RAIL is also developing a test bench for train-to-ground communication, to help in the testing of train-mounted and ground equipment and make sure that implementations of different manufacturers are interoperable. Such tests are currently being conducted in close cooperation with four manufacturers. With the project still having four months to go before its completion, it is still difficult to predict its future success. As Geven points out, the value of the IMP directly reflects the number of stakeholders who support it. “Since it is the joint interest of the manufacturers to save costs, they have united in CONNECTA, which is SAFE4RAIL’s sister project. The strong collaboration between CONNECTA and SAFE4RAIL is a key enabler for this uptake.” Once SAFE4RAIL is completed – and provided that it fulfils its objective of developing the IMP blueprints – the next step will consist in implementing the solution in hardware and software prototypes and demonstrators. “We want to develop these prototypes within the two years following SAFE4RAIL, and then perform interoperability tests. These prototypes can then be further developed into products within the following two to five years and be commercialised by 2022-2024,” Geven concludes.
SAFE4RAIL, rail, TCMS, train, integrated platform, brain of the train, communication, computation