London, Thanasis Gavos

British railways in recent years have been undergoing a process digital modernization with the aim of better performance and greater security.

The changes mainly concern in the part of the external marking as well as her “visibility” of train drivers in their cabins.

However to this day more than half of the network in Britain relies on trackside signage with machinery over 30 years old. The signals tell the train driver how close he is to an oncoming train and at what speed it can move.

Many of these signals are now electrically operated, but some are still fully mechanical and controlled with levers by trained railway traffic controllers, essentially stationmasters, who monitor traffic from their local station offices. In order to better monitor the movement of trains, they have been placed on the tracks many more axonometers in recent years, which send a signal to the station offices (or now to the regional operations centers) about the presence of a train at the point.

The changes to the signaling system have to do with its digital transformation, with signals now increasingly controlled electronically by these 12 Rail Operating Centers (ROCs) which between them cover the whole of Great Britain, gradually replacing the local station archives.

In a first stage this digitization of the signaling system has been integrated into the old infrastructure and uses data from the equipment located on the tracks and in the local station archives.

In this way, the projection of marking data inside the driver’s cabin has already been achieved on some lines and on some wires, which thus acquires better “visibility”.

However, the ultimate goal of the so-called Digital Railway program, which began to be implemented systematically in 2011, is the extensive replacement of trackside markings by modern control and data display systems inside the driver’s cab.

The original planning stipulated that the Digital Railway would be widely implemented from 2027 onwards, leveraging advanced wireless signaling and control technologies on the country’s railway network.

These technologies include the European Train Control System (ETCS). This telematics system allows a train to move safely keeping a shorter distance from the train in front, adopting the optimal speed on a case-by-case basis, while facilitating centralized traffic surveillance.

Alongside CDAS systems are adopted (which enables ‘communication’ between trains running in the same area), ATO (which helps the driver make decisions for the best possible performance and maximum safety at all times) and the GSM-R (Global System for Telecommunications) and data technology of Mobile Communications – Railways), which allows continuous and uninterrupted communication between train driver and stationmaster, even in tunnels or “dumb” points of the network.

In terms of rail system performance, the digital Traffic Management (TM) program allows increased train flow from a specific point on the network and enables flow adjustment in response to real-time traffic data.

An older but defining safety system already in use on British rail since the late 1990s is the TPWS (Train Protection and Warning System).

With placement of transmitters on the rails (near the marking points) and accepted in the wires, this system automatically applies the brakes of a train found to have passed a danger signal without authorization or to have exceeded the speed limit for that particular control point.

Network Rail, the parastatal responsible for the maintenance and operation of the country’s rail infrastructure, i.e. tracks, signalling, stations and operations centres, is responsible for the digital modernization program for Britain’s railways.

The railway companies providing the routes and serving the public have all been privately owned since 1997 and now number 28.

It is noted that there are a number of organizations and bodies involved in the pursuit of the greatest possible safety on Britain’s railways. They are either a partnership of private companies in the sector, or a government initiative.

These include the Rail Delivery Group which co-ordinates the implementation of safety rules by rail companies, Rail Partners with a similar remit and of course the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) which has responsibility for the transport safety regulatory framework.

The independent Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB), which was established in 2003 after the train accident at Ladbroke Grove in west London, also plays an important role in the area of ​​safety.

In the accident that October 1999 there was a near head-on collision between two passenger trains when one ignored a red danger signal. It was a result the death of 31 passengers and the 417 injury.

The accident was attributed to incorrect positioning of the signal, possible reflection that limited the visibility of the train driver, but also to the inexperience and lack of training of the train driver, who was among the dead. The investigation’s finding also highlighted the unclear protocol for issuing an emergency distress signal by traffic controllers-station masters, but also the absence of an automatic train protection mechanism – which led to the widespread adoption of the TPWS system.

RSSB chief executive Mark Phillips issued a statement of condolence over the Tempe accident. “Our thoughts are with the rail workers and passengers who lost their lives in Tuesday’s catastrophic accident in Greece, as well as the rescuers and those beginning to investigate how this happened.” said Mr. Phillips.

He added that the agency he leads will closely monitor the developments and will make sure to apply in Britain any lessons learned from the Greek investigations into the causes of the accident.

THE Vaibav Puri, director of the Strategy Sector of the RSSB and executive of the Intergovernmental Organization for International Transport by Rail (COTIF) told SKAI that the security situation in Britain is indeed constantly improving. “This cannot be done without a combination of better technology and improving the skills of the people in the space. This is what we point out and as an independent organization you have listened. We see that industry players and companies are actively trying to work together for better security. So the question should always be: ‘Is safety a priority?'”

The Director of Security Systems at RSSB is Ali Ceghini, who also serves as chair of the International Union of Railways (UIC) Safety Platform. Speaking to SKAI, he pointed out that the good level that Britain has reached in terms of train safety is the result of political and industrial decisions to strengthen the ability to “learn from suffering”, that is, as he pointed out, both from accidents and from ‘ few accidents.

“This has created a pervasive safety culture, an intent to understand errors, identify causes and implement practical solutions. There is a security maturity that comes from the collaboration of the sector’s players”added Mr. Cegini.

In Britain, finally, there is the Rail Accident Investigation Unit (RAIB), which examines the circumstances of incidents with the aim of deriving conclusions and knowledge and prevention.

The RAIB has been operating since 2005, also following the recommendations of the Ladbroke Grove accident inquiry, and has a full complement of 43 inspectors and administrative staff.