Skip to main content

A New Paradigm for Efficient and Modern Rail Signalling

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - LEDVAR-Z (A New Paradigm for Efficient and Modern Rail Signalling)

Reporting period: 2018-02-01 to 2018-06-30

Electrans’ aim is to improve the current rail signalling system and to take a step forward towards the full implementation of the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS).

The current rail signalling system remains shockingly antiquated throughout the world. Firstly, the electronic signal’s messages are fixed during production. This means that customised signals must be designed, ordered and manufactured every time needs change. Secondly, there is a huge amount of cables and interlocking stations that require installation and maintenance and increase operational expenditures. Thirdly, the current railway monitoring system is rudimentary and requires unnecessary energy consumption.

The solution we propose, LEDVAR-Z, is an innovative ITC system that will standardise and modernise railway signalling, making it more efficient. It is composed of high-quality LED signals able to display any type of light or message and software that intelligently monitors and controls what is displayed. Fewer interlocking stations will be needed and they can communicate with signals through fibre optic cables or radio networks. As a result, LEDVAR-Z will drastically reduce costs for railway companies, streamline rail projects and improve rail traffic control management.

The project will have a great impact on our company: we will increase international market share up to 58%, enjoy cumulative profits up to €25M and be able to hire 55 employees by 2024.
We have been able to perform a deep research regarding product attractiveness, customer needs, market drivers, barrier entries, level of willingness to pay, etc. It is, a complete study of the market in order to succeed in our goals.
The interviews performed by several customers were pivotal in this process. We have been able as well to understand needs and benefits of our product that we did not know and to segment the customers according to their needs. Last but not least, we have been able to identify and start working in risks that could jeopardize the execution of our business plan.

All in all we have concluded that we have all the conditioners in our favor to go for the SME Instrument Phase 2: we see a real market willing our product LEDVAR-Z and we do have a technical feasibility thanks to the long and deep experience of Electrans. Moreover, we expect to achieve a new level of company size, in terms of revenues, market position and number of employees, with a real differentiation and new competitiveness in our current market of railway safety signalling systems.

Finally, with the introduction of this product in the market, we are going to support the European Union in order to achieve one of our (as Europeans) most challenging social and economical and goal: to provide a real railway interoperability among European countries.
State-of-the-art train signals are all based on the same electro-mechanical architecture. There is a mechanical modular enclosure with some frontal holes (typically around 200mm) where the LED lights are located inside. Every LED light can represent only one color and due to this technical limitation, the signal need one independent LED light for each color that must represent. Consequently, one signal can represent only one aspect (color, route direction or speed limit).

Because of multiple signals must be installed on the field, every signal must be specifically manufactured for its specific function. Moreover, signals change from one country to another. So, as explained before, every Railway Administration has its own information representation codification: size, position, number of LED lights, information provided.

As a result, suppliers develop signals that are modular: they are composed of basic mechanical elements and, according to train Administration’s needs, they are integrated and adapted for fulfil the required features. This process entails a big cost of integration of parts during the production time (a lot of process and as well a big amount of big screwing elements) and usually to be done by a lot of manual operations.

Electrically, the currents Train Signals are managed very rudimentary, following the same architecture of an incandescent bulb base solution. All the energy to light on the LED lights are send from the Interlocking to the Train Signal with two cupper cables per LED light (several kilometers of distance is usual). It means that a LED light with 5 LED lights will need up to 10 wires with a relevant section because they transport energy for several kilometres.
Electrans’ LEDVAR-Z will provide the following advantages over the current antiquated systems:
- Fewer cables and reduced installation and maintenance costs. 30% less hardware will be needed at interlockings. Less space, fewer cables and fewer metres of cable will be necessary overall. This also means that the distance between signals can be greater. They are also vulnerable to vandalism, tampering/sabotage and theft. We can deliver a 90% reduction of cable links to interlockings, depending on the size and complexity of the installation. Reducing copper cables not only saves money but removes a potential target for theft, vandalism, tampering or sabotage, actions that have been responsible for great inconvenience and safety problems in the past.
- Reduced costs and limitations due to object controllers, as fewer will be needed. There is currently a limitation of some 5 or 6km in the connection distance between elements in the field and their controllers. To get around this, interlockings have object controllers that run all along the tracks. What limits the distance are the track circuits and the signals. In our solution, we use existing fibre optic cables from the interlocking to the signals. This way, it is not necessary to use object controllers every 5 or 6km but rather every 20km. This reduction will save some €20,000 per controller, so savings for an entire train line will be between €4,000-€10,000/km.
In fact, interlockings with a large number of control boards and controls for each signal will not be necessary.
- Greater adaptability, flexibility and scalability. Each LEDVAR-Z signal is able to show any aspect or pictogram, with the desired luminosity and colour, without pre-planning or separate manufacture for each symbol. Our high-quality LED signals reach safety standards that matrix-based signs have not been able to attain in the past and moreover, they can be easily adapted for use in any train system.
- A new supply paradigm: currently, rail companies have to order individual signals to be manufactured near the end of the planning stage of any system changes. Often the waiting time for these signals is long, creating delays and cost overruns. With our solution, rail companies can just order ONE PRODUCT (our adaptable LED signal) that can show any symbol that is needed. A reasonable stock level can be kept according to normal planning methods, as in other industries. This will create indirect but noticeable benefits for railway travellers, as the number of trains, their punctuality, the reliability of the system and the quality of service rely on smooth functioning of the installations.
- Reduced consumption of energy. We use the latest, cutting-edge LEDs and with our control system, the consumption of energy will not have to be artificially increased to match that of incandescent bulbs. Savings will reach 50% of current energy use.