Rail Sector Looks towards Space Technology for Safety


In the rail sector, GNSS systems are primarily used for non-safety critical applications. But as was made clear during the GSA hosted European Space Solutions 2014 conference, European GNSS has a unique value proposition, opening more possibilities for advanced GNSS applications in the rail sector.

The consensus is that European GNSS technology is becoming one of the instruments for ensuring future viability of the rail sector. According to a panel of industry experts speaking at the European Space Solutions conference in Prague, both EGNOS and Galileo can provide continuous and highly reliable positioning service – allowing rail to remain competitive with other forms of transportation.

“EGNOS and Galileo are very important to rail, with EGNOS playing a key role in supporting the adoption of the future ERTMS evolutions,” said Francesco Rispoli of Ansaldo. “We want to use E-GNSS for train localization because satellites offer more efficient train control systems, which are crucial to the modernization of local and regional lines.”

The European Railway Traffic Management System (ERTMS) is a major industrial project that aims to replace the different national train control and command systems in Europe. The deployment of ERTMS will enable the creation of a seamless European railway system with aligned signalling and increase European railway's competitiveness.

“We want to exploit space technology to replace the physical balises,” said Rispoli. “But to do this we need to combine space technology with ERTMS requirements – a move that is well-supported by costs benefit analysis.”

In comparison to other technologies, the advantage of using E-GNSS is very high. In fact, research shows a substantial cost benefit to European low density line operations. Translated into possible new markets, this means a potential for many new opportunities, comparable to the aviation sector’s integration of GNSS technology into its operations.

Lessons from Aviation

Within the rail sector, we are aware of the procedures and standards used in the aviation sector to demonstrate the safety of GNSS, and even though they differ significantly from those typically used in the rail sector, they have to form the basis of our own application of GNSS,” noted Bernhard Stamm from UNISIG. “We do not believe that requiring the GNSS providers to demonstrate safety with procedures in the railway sector is a good way forward.”

There are still many challenges to translating the GNSS safety case from aviation to rail, most relating to different limitations and regulations. For example, one important difference is that in rail the process of controlling the train tends to be fully automated, meaning that the train control system must be able to stop the train in case of an emergency due to positioning system malfunction  without a necessary interaction with the train driver. In the aviation setting, on the other hand, the pilot is always in the loop when it comes to localization.

Having EGNOS adapted and thus certified for the rail sector could further bridge this gap. And of course when Galileo will be ready, it will significantly increase the performance of the train localization.

“The rail sector is expecting a lot from Galileo,” said Petr Kačmařík from AŽD Praha. “The introduction of fully fledged dual constellation system will enable a fail-safe location detection of the train on the track.”



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More information:

The European GNSS Agency
EGNOS Portal
European Space Solutions 2014