Denmark is upgrading its railway signalling systems to increase capacity and improve reliability. British consultants are helping as Damian Arnold reports.
Denmark is to renew its entire mainline rail network with the European Traffic Management System (ERTMS) by 2020.
The system detects the position of a train via radio frequencies to facilitate moving block signalling. This enables operators to increase train frequencies by running trains closer together.
To some observers this is the sort of sensible long-term strategic transport planning that Britain should be doing more of but never seems to. To others it is a big gamble given the fact that the mobile communications technology has yet to be standardised across Europe.
The technology is used on some high-speed lines in wealthier European countries but Denmark will be the first to implement ERTMS nationwide. A standard for interoperability for ERTMS throughout Europe is not expected to be published until 2015.
Lessons from abroad
“People are right to be cautious,” says a spokesman for Network Rail, which is testing ERTMS on the Cambrian line in mid-Wales. “Since the high speed line from Naples to Rome was completed in 2005, the train operator has had to upgrade the ERTMS system because the technology has developed further and that has cost them an awful lot of money. There is always a risk that if you jump too early you will end up with Betamax rather than VHS.”
Denmark is making the leap and consultant Atkins is testing its reputation as one of Europe’s leading providers of rail signalling expertise as client Banedanmark’s consultant. It will oversee the award of the system operating contract.
Under the project Denmark’s existing trackside signalling infrastructure will be rendered obsolete, which is a good job because after years of underinvestment 60% of it will exceed its service life within 15 years, half is more than 50 years old and more than 80% is based on technology dating back to the 1950s and 1960s. Five years ago the system creaked so alarmingly that 2005 has become famous in Denmark as an annus horribilis for its rail network.
“There is always a danger that you will end up with Betamax rather than VHS”
Network Rail spokesman
A political inquest in 2006 into the chaos caused by malfunctioning signalling led to a study in 2007/8 that found a nationwide roll out of ERTMS 2 over 10 years was the best solution. The estimated €3bn to €3.6bn (£2.4bn to £2.7bn) cost would represent excellent value because of the economies of scale in procurement and because there will be fewer interfaces between old and new signalling.
The scale of the project is also expected to attract the best international consulting know-how.
“People working on this project will have expertise to offer the rest of Europe so we expect consultants to bring their A-teams,” says Morten Søndergaard, programme director for Banedanmark, Denmark’s equivalent of Network Rail.
A joint venture comprising Atkins (34%), Ramboll (34%), Parsons (17.5%) and Emch & Berger (14.5%) was chosen as the client’s consultant in 2009.
Global System for Mobile Communications - Railway (GSM-R) technology may be mature but there is no “protocol” for the whole of Europe set by the European Union’s European Rail Agency. This could lead to problems if the European Technical Specification for Interoperability - Operations (TSI-OPE), expected to be agreed in 2015, differs from the system being developed in Denmark. By that point Denmark’s system will be in its testing phase. Such a scenario could scupper plans to run non-stop trains between Denmark and other countries.
“It is difficult that the technical specifications for ERTMS 2 still do not exist,” admits Søndergaard. “This is still a potential barrier to effective interoperability.”
He is banking on the Danish ERTMS effectively becoming the European standard and so is Atkins. It stands to win tens of millions of pounds in consultancy work if that happens. Søndergaard is confident it will.
“We have only one demand of the ERA, which is that when we have a version running that this becomes the interoperable version for the whole of Europe.
“If one of the suppliers fails then we will give our contracts to the other supplier. It will keep both of them on their toes”
Morten Søndergaard, Banedanmark
“Let’s just say at the moment there is more talk than progress. Either the ERA comes up with a protocol or we will do a Denmark protocol. There is great interest in our work from Network Rail and the Department for Transport in the UK and we know that a lot of our colleagues in Europe want to do this in the same way.”
Installing ERTMS on an operational network presents plenty of other risks but Søndergaard insists that they are manageable. A three-year testing period for the systems will iron out any glitches, he says.
Teething problems will be addressed on the “Early Deployment Project” - the Roskilde-Køge-Næstved line in the east of the country and the Frederikshavn-Aalborg-Langa line in the west of the country. This will be operational by 2017 and will run in parallel with existing systems.
ERTMS 2 with Automatic Train Protection Systems will then rolled be out on the rest of the 2,000 km mainline network while the suburban lines will be fitted with a separate wi-fi Communications Based Train Control (CBTC) system.
Once the system is running effectively, the same software will be used to upgrade to ERTMS 3 under which fixed track-release signalling devices are no longer required and the route will no longer be divided into fixed-track sections.
By the end of 2011, four design, build and maintain contracts will be awarded. One will cover the main lines in the east of Denmark and one will cover the west. These contracts will include the Early Deployment Schemes.
“Previous ERTMS contracts have gone for a separate contract to the Early Deployment Schemes but our idea is to build it into the main contract,” says Søndergaard.
“If the suppliers don’t get the safety approvals and reliability on the EDS then we can cancel the contract. It is a big incentive for them to perform.”
The five suppliers to have prequalified are Siemens, Bombardier, Thales and Invesys, Alstom and Ansaldo.
The two suppliers for east and west Denmark will perform to exactly the same specification.
“If one of the suppliers fails then we will give their contract to the other supplier. It will keep both of them on their toes. The politicians like that a lot,” says Søndergaard.
Other contracts will be to supply the rolling stock with the European Train Control System (ETCS) - a train-based computer that receives messages from trackside beacons enabling it to calculate the train’s maximum permitted speed thus allowing services to be run closer together. Siemens, Bombardier, Invesys, Alstom and Ansaldo have prequalified.
The fourth contract will be for fitting the suburban rail network or S-Banen with CBCT. Siemens, Bombarider, Invesys, Alstom and Ansaldo have prequalified.
The contract form has been inspired by BAA’s much-lauded Terminal 5 contract at Heathrow. Risks will be allocated in an open book partnering agreement. Change controls will be written into the design phase and performance incentives will be linked to indicators. Client and supplier will share an office.
The winning suppliers will be well placed to scoop work elsewhere in Europe as ERTMS becomes standard. To stimulate this growth the EU announced last July that it would only fund rail projects that included ERTMS 2 signalling.
There are already lines with ERTMS 2 operating in Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, France and Italy. More than 1,000 trains already have the onboard equipment.
Søndergaard says that another country will soon announce a countrywide ERTMS programme but refused to say who it is. Luxembourg, Sweden and Switzerland have previously said that they intend to implement a nationwide system. They will be watching Denmark with interest.