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Elevating Infrastructure | Digital Railway

T001 15606

Our major transport routes, whether they be road, rail or air are all increasingly running at or near full capacity, particularly (but by no means exclusively) during the ever-lengthening peak periods.

And with population growth in most major cities forecast to continue, these transport networks are being placed under unprecedented levels of pressure. In fact, if passenger growth in the next 20 years matches growth in the last 20, there will be 1bn extra passenger journeys by 2030.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in London, with forecasters predicting that 10M people will live in the city by 2030. So how can transport operators continue to meet this demand and continue to move people safely, comfortably, quickly, efficiently and cost-effectively?

Given the land, financial and economic constraints that operators face, it is simply impossible to keep on building new motorway lanes or commissioning new high-speed lines to keep pace with demand. Although new infrastructure projects such as High Speed 2 and Crossrail will be a huge boost, we must also use technology to unlock the latent capacity that exists within our existing infrastructure to improve the way it operates.

Unlocking capacity on London Underground

The upgrade of London Underground’s Victoria Line is a prime example of this. Siemens has been working in close partnership with Transport for London since 2003 to deliver capacity and efficiency improvements on the then 35 year old Victoria Line, the work forming part of an ambitious nine year, £10bn upgrade programme, which has seen the renewal of the whole signalling system and replacement of the entire train fleet.

Now, following the implementation of a new timetable on 22 May 2017, trains are pulling into Victoria Line stations every 100 seconds, enabling 3,000 more passengers to travel every hour during peak periods of the day.

The delivery of this world-class, 36 trains-per-hour service, has been achieved through a digital transformation of the Victoria Line, which is now one of the highest capacity lines in Europe.

The initial upgrade programme saw the introduction of Siemens’ automatic train protection and automatic train operation systems, in conjunction with radio-based signalling. These new train control solutions were overlaid onto the existing signalling systems, allowing the first of the new trains to start running on the live passenger-carrying railway in July 2009, three years ahead of final project completion. As new trains were progressively introduced, the existing and new control solutions operated together, with the new system interfacing with the existing one to determine distance-to-go radio (DTG-R) safe driving profiles for the new trains.

In July 2012, the final major stage of the upgrade programme was commissioned. Completed in time for the London 2012 Olympics, the programme successfully delivered faster, more reliable and more comfortable journeys for passengers. Over the following 15 months, the legacy signalling system was then completely stripped out, with new signals, track circuits and platform equipment installed.

At this stage of the programme, the Victoria Line’s capacity had been increased from 28 to 33 trains per hour in peak hours, with the next stage of the programme introducing the new technology and infrastructure required to increase that figure to enable a 36 train per hour service.

This involved extensive signalling, rolling stock, power, cooling and infrastructure upgrades, with the final project commissioning representing the culmination of a five year programme of work. During this final commissioning, Siemens upgraded signalling and rolling stock systems to reflect extensive infrastructure changes, with comprehensive installation, testing, principles testing and test-train running successfully completed.

Of course, achieving the 36 trains per hour service was a major milestone, but the key to long term infrastructure success is maintaining reliability. This was a central requirement to the Victoria Line’s major upgrade programmes, with exhaustive planning, testing and simulation undertaken to effectively “destruction test” the system in a laboratory environment prior to installation.

Working in collaboration with the software supplier, engineering and operations testing teams were tasked with trying to break the system. If they succeeded, the scenario that caused a failure was carefully examined and the probability of it occurring in an operational environment determined. If there was no chance of this, no further action was required, but if there was any possibility, a solution was developed. This work gave the delivery team enormous confidence during the installation and operational phases.

With ongoing maintenance, there is clearly a need to balance the risk and reward of different approaches. At one extreme is the “fix it when it breaks” option – but this is expensive, disruptive and the least safe option. The other extreme is to have regular planned maintenance – however, this can be wasteful in time and resource if maintenance is unnecessary.

The panacea of maintenance therefore is condition-monitoring, whereby maintenance is undertaken only when required. As the panacea, it is of course the most difficult to achieve, but given the wealth of data we now collect from the control centre, on-board trains and from the infrastructure, it has become a realistic option.  

Reliability, though, is not just a function of the infrastructure’s performance, with some delays being caused by human factors: people falling ill, luggage trapped in doors etcetera.

Planning for these apparently random events is more difficult, but the Victoria Line upgrade work enabled short periods of operation at 38 trains per hour and in some circumstance even 39 trains, enabling the operator to return to the timetable quickly and efficiently.

This application of world class technology is leading to a change in human behaviour on the underground, such that people are becoming less likely to run for trains, or risk being trapped in closing doors to catch one. The regularity of the service means people now know they do not have to rush, because as one train departs the next one is less than two minutes away.

Unlocking capacity on the main line

In 2018, the government-sponsored Thameslink Programme will transform north-south rail travel through London, with passengers set to benefit from more connections, more reliable journeys, better stations and new trains. In peak times, train frequency will increase from 16 to 24 trains per hour in each direction through the core area from Blackfriars to St Pancras.

As a key route, Thameslink was already a busy railway and so implementation of the programme was carefully phased to ensure that a reliable service was maintained as the new signalling and control system was introduced.

Londonbridgetracknov crop

Londonbridgetracknov crop

The Thameslink Programme will transform north-south travel across central London

As part of the overall project, Siemens has helped deliver the high capacity infrastructure programme, which provides the European Train Control System (ETCS) and enhanced signalling control systems needed to support automatic train operation (ATO) and timetable management. These systems are crucial to the programme being able to reliably achieve the 24 trains per hour service.

Thameslink will be the first operational application of full Automatic Train Operation (ATO) over ETCS in the UK and among the first in the world, and represents Siemens’ first operational application of ETCS in the UK.  

The introduction of this system means that every train runs at the optimised speed profile, performs accurate stopping, and maintains a strict adherence to station dwell times. Siemens’ continuous automatic train protection (ATP) system, provided as part of the ETCS, means that it will do all of this with a high level of safety protection.

When deployed across the Thameslink core and London Bridge areas, the enhanced control system and ETCS protection will enable the on-board ATO system to drive trains at optimised intervals, enabling the throughput required to support the 24 trains per hour timetable.

The Siemens solution is “vertically integrated”, which means that Siemens is providing the trains, train control and signalling systems that will allow safety, reliability and capacity to be increased.

ETCS will be at the core of this, increasing capacity and energy efficiency through more effective train control.

What’s Next

To consider what the next key technologies are likely to be for railway operators, we need to re-adjust our focus, and think not in terms of moving trains around a network, but more broadly about how we safely, efficiently and reliably move people around cities. And the answer to this lies in part in the availability, acquisition, aggregation and then analysis of data which will support a wide range of decision-making and communication processes, for example, helping to communicate tailored information to travellers at the most appropriate points in their journey.

The creation of condition-based maintenance systems ensures efficient reliability is achieved, with the integration of other data such as that from car parks, road traffic, buses, trams and so on, enabling the development of intelligent solutions to facilitate faster, more efficient end-to-end journeys.

For example, data is already being used to advise travellers in real time where there are spaces in car parks; which train carriages have seats available; and where there are delays in their onward journey.

By joining this up, passengers can be guided seamlessly through their journey, enabling them to make smart and  informed decisions.  

In Europe, the effective integration of traveller information is already a reality, with Siemens’ SiMobility Connect platform providing an interface for transport operators and mobility service providers. The system allows real-time passenger information, journey planning, booking, e-ticket purchase and payment to be communicated across various modes of transport. Constantly updated traffic information can be used to optimise route recommendations in real time.  

Swiss rail operator Schweizerische Südostbahn is now using the SiMobility platform to provide travellers access to information about transport services across the entire country.

Other areas of operation are also being examined, with energy performance and storage and efficiency a major focus.

Hydrogen fuel cells, kinetic energy recovery systems and electric car charging points linked to the railway’s power network are all current research projects that are at varying stages of development.

When added to the work that is already underway to improve the passenger experience, all this will combine to make transport networks more efficient and more effective, and will underline the vital role that metro systems play in connecting people across a multi-modal network.

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