Published 7th February 2013
Network Rail has released a set of images showing the latest work to prepare part of the Hertford loop line as a test bed for ERTMS (European Rail Traffic Management System) signalling technology. The company is converting a mid 1970s built Class 313 EMU (Electric Multiple Unit) to test equipment from different suppliers, training signallers at King’s Cross, and building a control centre in Hitchin.
ERTMS is a new signalling and train control system with interoperable technology is being rolled out across operators in Europe. Its key features are automatic train protection, ensuring trains operate within safe limits and speeds at all times; and cab signalling, providing safe movement authority directly and continuously to the driver through a cab desk display.
Testing of European Train Control System kit (ETCS), a sub-section of ERTMS to do with automatic train protection, is due to begin this summer on the northern section of the Hertford loop between Molewood Tunnel (Hertford) and Langley Junction (Stevenage). Bi-directional signalling will be installed on five miles of the northbound down line. It will operate as a normal railway during peak hours, but will be switched out to test the new system at other times.
The switch between the systems is installed in King’s Cross power signal box, with control then being handed over to a laboratory facility under construction in Hitchin.
A WestCAD desk has been installed at King’s Cross to signal the loop, with a duplicate signalling simulator to train staff in its operation. The rest of the King’s Cross area is signalled using a traditional panel, with a mix of solid state and relay interlocking.
The test train will be formed of EMU No. 313121, which has been leased from Beacon Rail. It is being converted at Alstom’s Wembley depot into a laboratory train to test the ETCS technology prior to a roll-out on the mainline network. It has been painted in Network Rail yellow and is being refurbished and equipped with the latest ETCS equipment and a technician’s workstation.
The unit was previously in use with London Overground, but was made redundant with the introduction of Class 378 units. It will also be fitted with a kitchen and seating for passengers and visitors, plus have a toilet – a first for the class which was never provided for commuters!
Rob McIntosh, Network Rail’s project director for ETCS and traffic management, said: “Our facility at Hertford, and the train that will run on it, are further steps towards improving the railway across the country. Vital lessons have already been learned during our trials on the Cambrian Lines and now we are refining our knowledge in preparation for the future installation cab signalling on Great Western and East Coast main lines.”
The test train will also be used to support other projects on Network Rail, including Thameslink. For that reason the unit’s bogies have been sent away for a full C4 overhaul to avoid the need for any heavy overhaul or maintenance during the lifecycle of the testing programme.
Railtrack started the ERTMS/ETCS trial project 15 years ago but these were too ambitious and the technology did not exist for its introduction after limited testing.
A former Class 309 ‘Clacton unit’ was reconfigured with ECTS equipment and the Old Dalby test track fitted with the requisite lineside balises. The tests were unsuccessful and the project was shelved for a decade.
This meant the West Coast Main Line upgrade failed in its 140mph ambition, Virgin renegotiated their contract at Hartwell House near Aylesbury and gained around £300m compensation. Railtrack was bankrupted by the Labour Government under Stephen Buyers, at the time, the Transport Minister.
The Cambrian Coast lines have been a testing ground for the system and the Ansaldo equipment has had many failings leading to the next stage of testing using different suppliers’ equipment. This will establish whose system is best to deliver the contract requirements.