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SAtellite-based Signalling and Automation SysTems on Railways along with Formal Method and Moving Block validation

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New train tracking technologies improve European train control system

European railway management systems are moving towards automation. New technologies bring this closer.

Transport and Mobility icon Transport and Mobility

Since many European train lines cross national borders, the EU has been developing a single European control system, called European Rail Traffic Management System/European Train Control System (ERTMS/ETCS). This system is a cornerstone of European transportation policy; it creates total signalling interoperability and enables a certain amount of automation. Rail signalling is intended for train safety, by directing railway traffic and keeping trains clear of each other at all times. The position of trains is continuously tracked, thus preventing accidents and permitting a better utilisation of lines. The roll-out of ETCS levels 1 & 2 has already started at European level. Additional functions need to be developed and deployed in order to further improve the system (including ETCS Level 3 or automatic train operations). The Shift2Rail Joint Undertaking S2R JU is working on those aspects and the project ASTRail was contributing to the research in this domain. ASTRail addressed several technical objectives concerning train position monitoring and automation. The team also reviewed the modelling and verification tools used in all project applications.

Satellite positioning for trains

Researchers studied the potential use of satellite positioning (GNSS) technology in the railway sector, to be applied to the moving block signalling system (MBSS). The MBSS is a key component of the ERTMS. It tracks train positions and controls the signals that instruct train drivers about speed. This allows trains on different segments of the same track to maintain safe distances from each other. In regard to potentially adding GNSS positioning to the MBSS, the project team developed a proposal for Minimum Operational Performance Standards. This included documentation of the initial settings required for GNSS usage. ASTRail researchers also surveyed automated driving technologies from other transportation domains. Automation minimises chances of human error, while also improving efficiency. The team evaluated the suitability of each candidate technology for deployment in the railways. The automation study also examined MBSS safety as well as hazards likely to affect the system. To support the project’s study, the team also prepared a model suitable for analysis of the system. This defined typical train usage cases to be analysed.

Strong potential

Based on the project’s investigations, project coordinator Riccardo Scopigno notes: “We believe that satellite positioning has the potential to play a pivotal role in the future of rail transport, especially for MBS. It just needs to be carefully verified experimentally, possibly reinforced with auxiliary technologies.” Certain ASTRail results, especially the formal methods analysis, are ready for immediate exploitation. Although others will require further investigation prior to full implementation, these topics are much further developed than they were before the project. “The eventual implementation of the project’s MBSS results will mean a more efficient utilisation of railway tracks,” says Scopigno. “This will mean more trains per track, increasing the capacity of the network.” This will help grow the rail sector, increasing its usage in Europe while also taking the freight load off the road network, as per the European Commission’s rail goals. ASTRail’s technology evaluations are ready to contribute to the studies on ETCS level 3. That will mean more automation, plus safer and more efficient services.


ASTRail, automation, railway, ETCS, GNSS, ERTMS, European Rail Traffic Management System, European Train Control System, ETCS, Shift2Rail, S2R JU, moving block signalling, rail research innovation

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