E-GNSS key to increasing capacity, efficiency and sustainability in European rail networks

Published: 
02 April 2019
Space for Innovation in Rail highlighted the important role of satellite-based positioning technology for the future of the rail sector.
Space for Innovation in Rail highlighted the important role of satellite-based positioning technology for the future of the rail sector.

Stakeholders from the space and rail sectors joined with regulators and government representatives to review the benefits and make a point on the way forward for European Global Navigation Satellite Systems (EGNSS), Galileo and EGNOS within railway applications in Europe. The two-day Space for Innovation in Rail event on 18 – 19 March 2019 in Vienna was jointly organised by the Austrian Ministry of Transport, Innovation and Technology, the European GNSS Agency (GSA), the European Union Agency for Railways (ERA), and the Shift2Rail Joint Undertaking (S2R JU) and highlighted the important role of satellite-based positioning technology for the future of the rail sector.

This first of a kind event was designed for participants to learn from a unique line up of speakers and experts, be inspired by space solutions for a safer, more efficient and sustainable rail in Europe, connect with the entire rail community, and share challenges and success stories.

Opening the meeting on behalf of Norbert Hofer, Minister of Transport, Innovation and Technology, Ingolf Schädler, Deputy Director General for Innovation and Telecommunication at the Ministry emphasised the importance of the rail system and rail industry to Austria and praised Galileo describing it as “a true European success story!”

Elisabeth Werner of European Commission DG MOVE said that “It was high time for a rail space conference.” She thought GNSS has the potential to make rail systems less complex, cheaper, safer and more responsive. But the big question is how to implement? There was a need to define future system architecture and accelerate the move from laboratory to track. A sound business case was required, and the right incentives put in place. “We can really reshape the railway system with Galileo and EGNOS and enhance the added value,” she concluded.

“You can count on GNSS in Europe to provide concrete global opportunities for products and services,” said Matthias Petschke from European Commission DG GROW. He reassured the listening rail community that both EGNOS and Galileo systems were here to stay for the long term saying: “With the ICAO (the international civil aviation organisation), we committed to at least 20 years, as these technologies become an essential part of our industrial and economic structure.”

He was also clear on governance with respect to EGNSS. “EGNOS & Galileo are and will stay 100% in public hands: the EU funds them, the Commission is responsible, and we delegate tasks to the European Space Agency and the GSA to upgrade the infrastructure and make sure we meet the user needs,” he stated. “Space technology reduces cost and enhances performance.”

Agency viewpoint

These themes were continued by the agencies that had organised the event. Josef Doppelbauer, Executive Director, ERA stressed the need to decarbonise the transport system and saw the adoption of space-based technologies as a “unique opportunity to take cost out of the industry and simplify infrastructure.” He also noted that innovation was more quickly absorbed in other transport sectors such as automotive. He saw interoperability and standardisation as the preconditions for true pan-European innovation in the sector.

Carlo des Dorides, Executive Director, GSA said that the questions was “not if GNSS will provide a solution, but rather ‘how’?” He noted that over 50% of road tolls in Europe were now enabled by GNSS and that the European GNSS Galileo was increasingly becoming the benchmark system with its promise of multi-frequency services enabling one metre or better accuracy.

EGNOS is already a global success providing services for aviation and could deliver the same for rail. However, questions such as who will certify the services needed to be answered. Des Dorides thought that bringing the experience from other sectors could ease adoption in rail. “The commitment of the GSA to supporting the rail sector is clear and it is reassuring to see all stakeholders eager to discuss how to leverage the potential of Galileo and EGNOS for the future of rail transport in Europe. Like space, the next generation of rail operations will know no borders!” he stated.

Carlo Borghini, Executive Director of the Shift2Rail JU praised the ongoing collaboration with the GSA. He mentioned that the key to increasing capacity and efficiency is boosting the quality of train localisation. He emphasised the need to look forward and accelerate results and implementation, while ensuring safety.

Over the two days of the Space for Innovation in Rail event participants learnt about the EGNSS experience in the aviation sector, the experience with GNSS use for the Positive Train Control system being deployed in the USA where some 20,000 locomotives are being equipped with GNSS receivers, and how GNSS can be integrated in other safety critical transport modes. Two panel discussions examined the business challenges for GNSS railway positioning and how to accelerate the move from development to deployment for satellite technology in the rail sector.

Results and prospects from a range of research, innovation and demonstration projects were also presented.

Challenges and next steps

While GNSS could be a game changer for rail in terms of connectivity, cost efficiency and safety, any implementation has to also ensure interoperability of national networks. In addition, all new rail systems must be certified and there was a question about who would do this and how the new electronic systems might be financed. Carlo des Dorides noted that the GSA has supported projects that co-financed avionics updates.

Opening the second day, Mark Topal, Chief Technical Officer of ÖBB Holding AG though that the “key success factors for successful and rapid implementation would be willingness to pioneer, global collaboration, passion, enthusiasm, and optimism.” He saw the challenges as reducing rail system costs by a factor of ten, increasing system capacity with smart technology and meeting the mixed traffic challenge where slow freight and higher speed passenger services shared tracks. A particular issue was to solve the train integrity challenge. If all the challenges could be solved, he concluded: “That’s one small step for rail, and one giant leap for mobility!”

Josef Doppelbauer gave the regulators perspective. He saw the integration of GNSS technologies as a major part of rail’s contribution to saving the planet by providing sustainable mobility and transport essential for our society and economy. He noted that in terms of CO2 emissions per passenger kilometre train travel was already ten times better than air travel.

“Satellite based technology can contribute a massive saving for rail signalling systems, GNSS can remove the need for track side infrastructure, while delivering massive data redundancy, which will influence the safety case,” he said. “GNSS has the potential to revolutionise the European Railway Traffic Management System (ERTMS).

Taking the global perspective on GNSS adoption for safety critical railway applications, Jean-Pierre Loubinoux, Director General of the International Union of Railways (UIC) welcomed the event initiative and the developments outlined, while emphasising the need to the keep elements of cybersecurity and standardisation.

A wide-ranging panel discussion on the second day sought solutions to accelerate deployment of GNSS technologies and included contributions from rail operators, equipment suppliers and GNSS experts. Thomas Petraschek from OBB noted that his company is testing GNSS solutions for multiple non-safety critical applications with a main focus on asset management and predictive maintenance and confirmed that this future solution will benefit also from Galileo signals.

Within the discussion, Michel Ruesen of EEIG EUG, a group of large railway companies working to deploy ERTMS, pointed out the reference Command Control and Signalling (CCS) architecture as one of the main tools for future development and inclusion of new technologies into the European Train Control System (ETCS).

An ongoing debate within the rail community relates to solutions based on the virtual balise concept or a multi-sensor positioning platform approach. The panellists agreed that the focus should be on including the virtual balise concept in ETCS as a non-intrusive solution that can facilitate interoperability as a first step. The more advanced multi-sensor positioning platform should be further developed to potentially gain greater benefits from GNSS in the future than with only emulation of the current physical balise system through GNSS.

Closing the event Josef Doppelbauer reiterated the case for space-based systems in the rail sector saying: “We have a massive opportunity. Let’s grab it and ensure that rail is the sustainable backbone of our future transport system.”
Carlo des Dorides fully agreed and hoped the event would become “the first of a series enabling greater sharing of experience.”

Carlo Borghini supported this view saying: “Space technology is about collaboration across sectors.” He looks forward to the development along the joint GNSS in Rail Signalling roadmap over the next 18 months and a second SpaceInRail event to review progress.

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Updated: Apr 02, 2019