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An update on the progress of the European Rail Traffic Management System.
The European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) was introduced in March this year, over two years late and seriously over budget. The system controls from Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth and Pwllheli and is controlled from the Machynlleth signalling centre.
Every train that runs west of Sutton Bridge just outside Shrewsbury, has to be fitted with ERTMS cab equipment. Network Rail has provided three ERTMS fitted former class 37s renumbered as class 973xx to provide motive power for all traffic other than Arriva Trains Wales (ATW) class 158 services which are fitted with the requisite in-cab signalling equipment.
The system works using a balise located between the rails in the ‘four foot’ which communicates with a transponder on the locomotive or train. This in turn communicates with axle counters fitted to the rail and determines the location of the train and makes sure every axle is counted into a section and out of it again.
Using a GSMR radio system, the ERTMS system then knows the exact location of every train as indicated by the balise and is able to regulate traffic accordingly. There are no fixed signals and the driver uses his cab equipment to determine how fast and how far he can drive the train. If the distance or speed is exceeded, the system brings the rakes on and the train sops.
In simple terms, if the ERTMS speed or movement authority supervisory system is breached, a solenoid opens the brake pipe and the brakes are applied - similar to a tripcock on London Underground.
These yellow liveried class 97s are not fitted with an electric train supply which meant with just hours before the July 16 Spitfire charter train from Euston to Aberystwyth ran, a Generator Van had to be added to the air conditioned train. Yet again questions are being asked about Network Rail’s procurement policy in so far as these locomotives are concerned. They have an intended life of 10 years which will make them 60 years old when due for replacement.
Given that these engines were designed to be the pilot engines for charters as well as non-passenger services, whoever was in charge of the project procurement policy several years ago obviously forgot basic operating requirements such as the electric train supply (ETS).
Charter train operators now have the choice of supplying an engine to provide the ETS or a Generator Van to carry out the same function. Either way, it all costs Network Rail money as they have to pay for this and causes the planners more work.
The Ansaldo devised system is not recognised by the European Train Control System, (ETCS) the main European signalling system, and is not compliant with EU standards so questions have to be asked as to why the Italian company were given the contract given their poor record on the Manchester South area of the West Coast Route modernisation a decade ago.
The project’s current operational management has improved operating matters demonstrated by the Spitfire Railtours Charter on July 16 from Euston to Aberystwyth which ran without a hitch on the ERTMS section west of Shrewsbury. This built on the experience of the Statesman charter train that ran in late May which ran but with several timing issues, since resolved.
The bad news is that the franchise operator, Arriva Trains Wales has just put out a statement saying that performance has dived to an all time low on the line since implementation on March 11.
Despite this the ERTMS Network Rail team went on a celebratory midsummer event on the Thames with Ansaldo, the Italian signalling company that installed the system. Sources understood this to have been celebrating their success in getting the new system working and this was put to the Network Rail media team.
The Network Rail Press Office had to be reminded of the query and was highly reluctant to talk about the day out. When they did, the day out was variously described as “a team building course, a get together and a farewell to Ansaldo staff who had come to the end of their contracts and were leaving following completion of commissioning. The session was our gesture to thank their efforts and to wish them well in their next endeavours.
It also wasn’t a cruise [on the Thames], instead it was held at one of the boat pub/restaurant moored along the Thames” the Network Rail spokeswomen said. Not much of a difference really from being on a cruise really, but this was not accepted by Network Rail.
ERTMS was authorised in 2003 and the contract awarded to Ansaldo three years later and finally commissioned around two years late on the Cambrian routes on March 11 2011.
The anticipated performance was 95% of trains running on time and pre ERTMS, it was 92% and since the switch on, has dropped to 62%. The length of time, cost overrun and subsequent poor performance has led to nervousness amongst train operators about further introduction of the system.
The Office of the Rail Regulator (ORR) has asked the independent reporter Halcrow to carry out a review of delivery to date to establish learning points and provide a basis for assessing future roll-out plans. ORR do not often carry out such an action which points to the fact that it has all gone terribly wrong.
Network Rail virtually refuse to speak to journalists about the scheme and the ERTMS Sponsor Jim Morgan hung up on me when asking a few questions in April and Deputy Head of the Press Office P. J. Taylor started making light of the system when the questions were not being asked.
Head of Media Kevin Groves failed to return the calls. Mavis Choong in Swindon for Network Rail at least attempted to communicate announcing a technical briefing planned for a date in May. When asked in late May what had happened to the briefing, Ms. Choong said it had been cancelled ‘due to a lack of diary time’.
Following Ansaldo’s perceived failure Network Rail has started a review of companies that claim to operate the system in Europe and this will form part of the future ETCS procurement programme.
These companies are likely to receive an Invitation to Tender (ITT) from Network Rail which will be part of a more complicated procurement process which will include optioneering and implantation plans.
The next areas to be resignalled using a version of ETCS are a test bed at Langley Junction between Stevenage and Hertford North plus the Thameslink through central London section and the Great Western Main Line.
The ETCS is a scheme demanded by the European Commission who has provided another €100 million into the scheme funded by the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) programme. This appears to be extra money outside the declared budget.
This is all part of the European Interoperability railway plan which is based on open access for all operators who can comply with safety standards. There are currently several ETCS suppliers but it seems their equipment is not yet interoperable with each others equipment.
It’s all a bit of an expensive European driven muddle at the moment!