interlockings

Thales, Alstom selected as part of SNCF signal interlockings innovation program

Proposals from Thales and Alstom have been selected as part of an innovation partnership for next generation signal interlockings organised by French rail network owner SNCF Réseau.

The Argos program was launched in 2018 to develop new computer-controlled signal interlockings and has now announced three groups which will progress to the development phase. Along with Thales and Alstom, Hitachi Rail has also been selected.

The project aims to update old, existing interlocking boxes that are increasingly obsolete and in need of renewal with digital replacements.

The future interlocking boxes will be able to transmit information in real time, reducing failures and maintenance while improving traffic flows. Without the need for immediate relays, the physical footprint of the interlocking boxes will also be reduced, further reducing maintenance and installation costs.

“Our goal is to roll out an efficient, resilient, easily maintainable system that can be installed and tested with minimum impact on traffic,” said Anne-Sophie Naboulet-Larcher, technological strategy and contract award manager at SNCF Réseau.

In the Argos program, each participant will upgrade an existing installation and develop pre-series production interlockings. The first are scheduled for commissioning at the end of 2023.

The Thales proposal is working on the Lyon-Vienne corridor and has worked to reduce installation lead times by 30 per cent through new research and improving change management processes.

“We are proud that the first solution chosen by SNCF Réseau for developing its ‘high-performance network’ is that proposed by the Thales-ENGIE Solutions–Vossloh group for a new generation of computer-controlled interlockings making even greater use of digital technologies. It was 20 years ago that Thales began delivering computerised signalling systems and, over the years, it has built up a strong, trust-based relationship with SNCF Réseau, partnering it in the move towards converting the SNCF network to digital technologies,” said Yves Joannic, vice-president main line signalling, Thales.

The Alstom team has adapted the Smartlock interlocking technology for installation between Paris and Dijon. Reductions in total cost of ownership and deployment time have been part of the proposal.

“With railway systems becoming ever more complex, railway operators need a system that they can count on to guarantee the performance and availability of their system,” said Jean-Baptiste Eyméoud, president Alstom in France.

Alstom results

Alstom first to achieve certification for latest ETCS standards

Alstom is now the first company to be fully certified to the latest onboard and trackside European Train Control System (ETCS) standards.

Issued by independent railway certification and testing organisation Belgorail, the new certification allows for Alstom’s technology to be interoperable with Baseline 3 Maintenance Release 2 for the complete railway system.

“We are proud to have yet again set a new standard in rail. We are on track to gradually replacing all the existing incompatible systems throughout Europe and to optimising and boosting the international freight and passenger transport,” said Jean Francois-Beaudoin, SVP Alstom Digital Mobility.

ETCS is widely used throughout Europe for mainline and high-speed systems. In addition, the technology has been adopted internationally, with ETCS being implemented on Brisbane’s Cross River Rail project and on the Sydney Trains network. Other countries such as India, Taiwan, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia have also adopted the European standard.

ETCS uses a digital radio-based system of train control, removing the need for trackside signalling equipment. Movement authority is transmitted to the cab of the train via GSM-R or GPRS mobile data technology. Train location is determined by balises and sensors and the onboard computer determines the maximum possible speed based on train location and track data.

The deployment of ETCS is marked by sequential baselines, of which Baseline 3 is the latest. The baselines set standards for the interoperability of physical in-cab and trackside equipment and software. The latest standards incorporate specifications for the use of more advanced radio technology such as GPRS, with GSM-R technology to be phased out in the 2030s.

Alstom supplies ETCS equipment via its Atlas solution, which represents 70 per cent of the world’s onboard rail systems in service and 18,000km of tracks wordwide.

9,000 trains globally have been equipped with the Atlas onboard solution, and 1,100 vehicles will be equipped with the Baseline 3 Release 2 solution.

Alstom is the first manufacturer to apply ETCS Level 3 in Germany, which involves a higher level of communication integrity to move to ‘moving block’ spacing.

Hydrogen

Hydrogen train test in the Netherlands meets all requirements

Hydrogen trains have met all four test requirements in a trial conducted in the Dutch province of Groningen.

Local operator Arriva trialled Alstom’s Coradia iLint trains, in partnership with railway infrastructure manager ProRail and energy company Engie over two weeks in March, 2020. The trains were tested on the line between Groningen and Leeuwarden.

The trial had four objectives for the hydrogen-powered trains: authorisation by the Dutch national safety assessor to run on the Dutch railway network; zero emissions in the commercial service of the current timetable; quick and easy refuelling; and familiarising the general public with hydrogen mobility.

On all four objectives, the trains met the requirements.

“The tests have demonstrated how our hydrogen train is mature in terms of availability and reliability, providing the same performance as diesel equipment, and with the benefit of low noise and zero emissions. The Coradia iLint hydrogen train supports the transition towards global sustainable transport systems,” said Bernard Belvaux, managing director, Alstom Benelux.

To meet the commercial service performance requirement, the trains were tested on an all stations service and an express timetable. The trains were tested on fuel consumption, compatibility with infrastructure, acceleration, braking, docking, and maximum speed. All went without a hitch.

During the trials, the trains were found to be significantly quieter than current diesel trains. Drivers were also familiarised with the trains and found them smooth, comfortable, and easy to drive.

Powered by hydrogen produced from renewable energy, refuelling went faster than expected and was conducted safely.

The Netherlands follows Germany in testing Alstom’s hydrogen-powered trainsets.

“After Germany, the Netherlands is the second country in Europe where the Alstom’s hydrogen train has proven itself a unique emissions-free solution for non-electrified lines,” said Belvaux.

Other trails and plans for implementation are being developed in Austria, Italy, and the UK.

Alstom results

Alstom and Bombardier sign agreement for sale with revised price

The purchase of Bombardier Transportation by Alstom has taken the next step forward, with a definitive Sale and Purchase Agreement signed by the two parties.

The sale involves a €300 million ($486m) write-down of the value of Bombardier Transportation from the figure quoted in the Memorandum of Understanding which announced the sale process.

When the MoU was announced in February, Bombardier Transportation was valued at between €5.8 and €6.2 billion ($9.4 to $10bn). The revised price values Bombardier’s transport business at €5.5 to €5.9bn ($8.9 to 9.5bn). Alstom expects the proceeds will likely amount to up to €5.3bn based on post-closing adjustment and obligations.

Henri Poupart-Lafarge chairman and CEO of Alstom said the sale would strengthen Alstom’s presence in the market.

“Bombardier Transportation will bring to Alstom complementary geographical presence to broaden Alstom’s commercial reach in key growing markets, strong product complementarities in rolling stock, strategic scale in services and signalling, industrial capacity in key countries, a leading portfolio offering and additional R&D capabilities to invest in green and smart innovation,” he said.

Éric Martel, president and CEO of Bombardier Inc said the sale would adjust the profile of the business.

Today’s announcement marks a significant milestone towards achieving our near-term priorities and repositioning Bombardier as a pure-play business jet company,” he said. “The proceeds from this transaction will allow us to begin reshaping our capital structure and start addressing our balance sheet through debt paydown, so that we can achieve the full potential of our incredibly talented employees and our industry leading business jet portfolio.”

According to a statement from Alstom, the company expects to find synergies of €400m ($648m) in four to five years after the sale.

The sale is expected to be closed in the first quarter of 2021 with the sale having cleared antitrust processes in the EU as well as Australia.

hydrogen

Hydrogen trains trialled in passenger service in Austria

The next European operator to begin trails of hydrogen trains will be Austrian rail company ÖBB.

In partnership with Alstom, ÖBB will run the hydrogen-powered Coradia iLint in passenger service until the end of November in a trial.

The Coradia iLint has been trialled successfully in Northern Germany and trials in the Netherlands have been conducted in 2020. Agreements with rail companies in Italy and the UK have also been signed in 2020 to progress the delivery of hydrogen-powered rollingstock in those countries.

In the Austrian trial, the trains will be run on unelectrified lines in the south of the country which are geographically challenging.

Jörg Nikutta, Alstom’s CEO in Germany and Austria said the trains would fill a gap in the decarbonisation of rail.

“The train’s emission-free drive technology offers a climate-friendly alternative to conventional diesel trains, especially on non-electrified lines.”

Andreas Matthä, CEO of ÖBB-Holding AG said the company was looking at new technology that could make rail more environmentally friendly.

“As the largest climate protection company in Austria, we are actively shaping the mobility of the future with technological alternatives.”

The Austrian trial comes as the UK rail sector looks to fully decarbonise, with hydrogen-powered trains to play a key role. The Interim Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy, put together by Network Rail in partnership with the rail industry, sets out which lines will be electrified and where alternative traction technologies will be used to meet the net zero carbon emissions target.

The strategy identified 11,700 kilometres of track where electrification would take place, battery operation on 400km and hydrogen on 900km. To do this, between 150 and 200 battery and hydrogen trains would be required.

Berejiklian criticised for NSW train manufacturing comments

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has been criticised for comments that local manufacturers of rollingstock are not up to scratch.

On Wednesday, August 26, Berejiklian said at a media conference, “Australia and New South Wales are not good at building trains, that’s why we have to purchase them.”

The comments drew immediate push back from the NSW Labor party, with deputy leader Yasmin Catley saying that NSW should be investing more in locally manufactured public transport vehicles.

“Instead of running down our local industries at press conferences, Gladys Berejiklian should be giving them the opportunity to build our new ferries and trains,” Catley said.

Minister for Transport Andrew Constance backed his leader’s comments, reportedly estimating the cost difference at 25 per cent more for locally manufactured trains, due to higher energy, labour, and raw material costs.

“I think most people know the car industry, the train industry, in terms of manufacturing here in Australia; we don’t have it, and there’s a reason for it,” said Constance.

Following these remarks, the NSW Labor leader, Jodi McKay announced that Labor would introduce a NSW Jobs First Bill, which would require tenderers on government contracts to support NSW jobs and industries.

The dispute has come as NSW puts the first of its second order of Chinese-manufactured Waratah Series 2 trains into service. The Korean-made New Intercity Fleet, which are replacing the Western Sydney-made V-Set and allowing the Newcastle-made H-Set to enter suburban service, are also in the early testing stage.

CEO of the Australasian Railway Association Caroline Wilkie said a national procurement process would enable locally-built trains to become more competitive with their overseas counterparts.

“The NSW Government’s procurement choices have eroded the manufacturing sector and make it harder for local operators to compete,” said Wilkie.

“Better coordination with their counterparts in other states and territories would see more trains manufactured locally and improve efficiencies and cost profiles across the life of the asset.”

Wilkie noted that only looking at the upfront cost of purchasing rollingstock ignored the cost of lifecycle support, and a whole of life cost approach should be taken.

In 2019, the Western Australia government signed an agreement with Alstom to manufacture 246 railcars in Bellevue, in eastern Perth. The contract will see at least 50 per cent of the railcars built locally and 30 years of maintenance. Announced in December 2019, the contract was $347 million under the $1.6 billion budget.

Wilkie said that with overseas trade and travel limited due to COVID-19, the value of local manufacturing was greater than ever.

“A nationally consistent procurement process would benefit both state government purchasers and the rail manufacturing industry itself,” she said.

“The NSW government says it is open to working with other state governments and industry to strengthen and standardise procurement processes – it’s now time for them to act.”

HealthHub

What’s under the bonnet?

Alstom are using the deployment of HealthHub on the Sydney Metro network as a showcase of what’s possible from an OEM when it comes to condition monitoring.

The level of technological sophistication on the Sydney Metro system is most easily seen when looking up and down the train. When straight, one can see from the front window to the back, without any barriers in between. The lack of a separate driver cabin, and the all-in-one nature of the train point to the cohesiveness of the connection between, train and remote operator.

What the passenger looking out the front or rear of the train cannot see, is the technology ensuring that these trains are running at their most optimum condition, while limiting the disruptions caused by trains having to be overhauled or pulled out of service.

Simon Belet, however, does see this side of the system, as he monitors the data which provide real time information of the status of the train, track, and systems, all the way down to the status of the ventilation vents.

The dashboard that Belet, OCC and HealthHub support officer for Alstom, is looking at, is Alstom’s HealthHub system. Taking data from sensors located throughout the train and on the track, HealthHub enables Sydney Metro’s operator, Metro Trains Sydney (MTS) to optimise their maintenance and ensure that the operational life of the trains is maximised.

Nicolas Thiebot, Alstom’s services director for Australia, described how the condition monitoring system works.

“The train subsystems are continuously monitored by the engineer on the ground, so we can have a real-time overview of the health of the train and we can make an informed decision for what to do with the trains when things do happen, or prevent an issue before it actually happens.”

Thiebot sees three primary ways how a condition monitoring system can benefit a rail operator.

“On subsystems like doors, HVAC, traction, and brakes, we usually estimate that depending on the system, 30-40 per cent of the faults can be mitigated before they create a service affecting failure by having someone like Simon monitoring HealthHub on a continuous basis.”

Sensors are condition logics are set up to send an alarm back to the HealthHub engineer and the operations control centre when a component goes beyond its normal operating range, and then the operator is able to make a decision as to how to respond, said Thiebot.

“The engineers get notified and they can say, ‘This one can run until the end of the day.’ or, ‘This one needs immediate attention. Let’s bring it back to the depot and inject a new train.’”

Preventing a failure which would otherwise lead to a disruption not only helps to ensure an optimal customer experience but also avoids delays to service and ensures a predictable and reliable service.

The second area where condition monitoring can find value is through the optimisation of the life of subsystems, particularly those that are exposed to wear. In Perth, where Alstom will build and maintain 41 electric and 2 diesel train sets, Alstom will install prognostics and health management or predictive maintenance sensors on systems such as doors and HVAC to guide maintenance over its 20-year contract.

“This will make sure that we have the best approach in terms of maintenance,” said Thiebot. “For something as simple as HVAC filters replacement, how do we measure the pressure drop differential before and after the filter to optimise the whole of life cost of those filters? Those filters typically can be around 3-4 per cent of your total lifecycle costs in terms of material cost. If we can extend them by 20-50 per cent from a nominal replacement frequency without any performance degradation, we can make significant savings – both financial and environmental.”

The final area is reducing the frequency of overhauls of entire train.

“The ultimate goal for me is the relaxation of maintenance overhaul,” said Thiebot. “Typically, we have maintenance overhauls based on mileage or based on time based frequencies. What we realised is that most of the OEMs tend to be a bit conservative, and if we can make informed decisions on when the overhaul is due based on the condition of the asset, we can potentially defer that overhaul by 1-3 years, sometimes even more.”

KEEPING A SYSTEM’S HEALTH IN CHECK
On the Sydney Metro system, Alstom’s Healthhub not only covers the trains but also catenary, track, and critical point machines. By having a comprehensive picture of the way that a system operates, Belet can direct maintenance personnel to conduct their upkeep most efficiently.

“When the train comes back to the workshop, we can give the information to the maintenance teams to maximise the number of operations that they could do and this could have big benefits for the reliability and the availability of the rollingstock,” said Belet.

Developed at Alstom’s Centre of Excellence in France, the web based, graphical user interface is then customised for the local network. In Sydney, the system has been deployed under trial for much of 2020.

With the Sydney Metro line operated by MTS, data is shared between Alstom and MTS to localise and maximise efficiency. One example of how this occurs would be in the case of a broken rail. Train-mounted sensors can identify the break in the rail, and cameras take an image of the area where the fault is thought to be. An email will then be sent to track maintenance manager and the operator of the line.

“The content of the email will be the position and the picture of the defect to let them analyse as quickly as possible if it’s a real defect or a false positive and what is the best move in terms of safety to take the best decision,” said Belet.

In testing, the system has achieved a time of just minutes between the time of detection to email reception.

Another area where the system can deliver value is in the wear profile of the carbon strip of the pantograph, where it connects with the catenary. By incorporating data from the train and the catenary, maintenance can be precisely located to a particular section of track.

By providing this information to the operations centre, when something does occur on a system, solutions can immediately be communicated.

“When trains do fail and you have a subsystem failing, usually the driver is under immense pressure to resume service as soon as possible, which can be quite debilitating,” said Thiebot.

“What we can do is when they have an issue, they ring the OCC, we connect real time and we have a display of what the system is showing so we can guide them over the phone as to what needs to be done. It’s the difference between managing a door fault in 30 seconds or one minute or compared to a 10- or 11-minute delay.”

A FLEXIBLE AND INTEGRATED SOLUTION
Today, Healthhub is deployed across Alstom’s operations on every continent. Although originally developed to monitor Alstom’s own fleet and equipment, around the globe, the system is able to incorporate data from third party components, and the central algorithm is constantly being updated with information based off these sources. In Sydney, the point machines have been supplied by Alstom and a third party and both have been successfully integrated in the HealthHub system.

When working with rollingstock manufactured by another car builder, Alstom employs the talents of its subsidiary Nomad Digital to instrument non-Alstom equipment to be able to leverage data out of the system. In Sydney, Alstom is potentially looking to extract data from non-Alstom light rail vehicles using this technology.

At the other end of the system, Healthhub can connect into an operator’s enterprise asset management system to interface with maintenance planning and scheduling.

“We can convert data coming from HealthHub into a service notification in an ERP system that eventually gets sent to the mobility tablet that the maintainer is using to do the work,” said Thiebot. “So you have the end to end automated process that takes something that happens on the network and creates a meaningful action for the customer.”

For Thiebot, the kind of intelligence that the system offers, and the ease of use, demonstrates how far condition monitoring has come, and the potential of the system.

“I was maintaining trains myself 10-15 years ago, and it was very tedious to go through the data mining and analysis phase. With very limited training, anyone who’s got a fairly broad understanding of the system can really make sense of the data and have meaningful action out of it.”

manufacturing

WA funds local manufacturing and maintenance of railcars

The Western Australian government will ensure more rollingstock maintenance and manufacturing happens in WA, with a $40 million investment and a new focus on building iron ore cars in the state.

$40m will go towards the maintenance of Western Australia’s new Australind fleet with the construction of an expanded Metronet Railcar Manufacturing and Assembly facility in Bellevue.

WA Premier Mark McGowan and Minister for Transport Rita Saffioti announced that the Bellevue site will be grow to include the maintenance of the new diesel multiple units (DMUs), manufactured by Alstom, which will replace the current Australind fleet.

The Bellevue facility will also service the Prospector and AvonLink railcars, WA’s infrastructure diagnostic vehicle, and track maintenance and rail shunting locomotives.

WA had previously brought railcar manufacturing back to the state with the announcement that 246 C-series railcars will be built with 50 per cent local content, said McGowan.

“One of my Government’s key election commitments was to return railcar manufacturing back to the Midland area,” he said.

“We’re delivering on this and now we’re doing what we can to ensure we’re removing interruptions in supply chains and allowing local businesses to take advantage of the great manufacturing opportunities in our State.”

Transport Minister Rita Saffioti said the scale of the project will provide opportunities for local workers and suppliers.

“Around 250 railcars will be produced at Bellevue over the next decade, while it will also serve as a permanent maintenance facility for the expanded METRONET fleet,” she said.

“This new $40 million diesel maintenance facility will be a new key element to the services provided at Bellevue and will provide local job and training opportunities for local Western Australians.”

In a joint statement, McGowan and Saffioti said that an “action group” will be created to investigate the viability of manufacturing and maintaining iron ore railcar wagons that service the iron ore rail network in the Pilbara. This manufacturing could occur in the Pilbara or other parts of WA. Currently, manufacture of iron ore wagons often happens in China.

The study will look at how initiatives can support the steel fabrication industry in WA, and maintenance opportunities for new and existing ore wagons.

A contract for the construction of the diesel maintenance facility will be awarded next year.

Construction of the main manufacturing site is underway and is expected to be completed later in 2020. Local manufacturers are now able to register to supply components to the railcars.

Alstom results

EU clears Alstom’s acquisition of Bombardier

The European Commission (EC) has approved the acquisition of Bombardier Transportation by Alstom, subject to commitments made by Alstom.

Since the acquisition was announced in February 2020, discussions have been ongoing to determine how the merger of the two major rail manufacturing companies would satisfy EU merger laws.

Last month, Alstom proposed a range of measures to get the deal over the line, unlike the previously deal to merge with Siemens, which fell foul of EU antitrust laws.

In a statement, the EC accepted Alstom’s proposal, noting that the two companies compete in areas such as very high speed, mainline and urban rollingstock, as well as mainline and urban signalling.

With the acquisition approved, Alstom will sell its Coradia Polyvalent range of mainline trains and the associated production facilities in Reichshoffen, France. Bombardier’s Talent 3 train series will also be sold, and part of the production facilities for these trains in Hennigsdorf, Germany.

To satisfy EC concerns in the area of high-speed rail, Alstom will divest Bombardier’s stake in the Zefiro V300 joint venture with Hitachi.

In the field of signalling, Alstom will allow competitors access to some onboard signalling units.

EC executive vice-president Margrethe Vestager said the acquisition would enable continued competition in the European rail market.

“Going forward, a stronger combined Alstom and Bombardier entity will emerge. At the same time, thanks to these remedies, the new company will also continue to be challenged in its core markets to the benefit of European customers and consumers.”

In a joint statement, both companies welcomed the decision of the EC.

“The divestitures will comply with all applicable social processes and consultations with employee representatives’ bodies,” the statement read.

“The transaction remains subject to further regulatory approvals in several other jurisdictions and customary closing conditions.”

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has an ongoing review of the merger, which commenced on May 11. August 20 is set as the provisional date for the announcement of the ACCC’s findings.

When the acquisition is complete, expected by the first half of 2021, Alstom will be the second-largest rail-equipment firm, behind Chinese manufacturer CRRC. The combined Alstom and Bombardier Transportation company would have revenues of €15.5 billion ($25.58bn) and would create the European rail champion, which was proposed when Alstom attempted to merge with Siemens.

First hydrogen filling station to power emissions-free trains

Rail manufacturer Alstom has joined with gases and engineering company Linde to build and operate a hydrogen filling station to support hydrogen trains on the Elbe-Weser network, in the German state of Lower Saxony.

The hydrogen filling station will provide the fuel for the operation of Alstom’s Coradia iLint hydrogen-powered trains, which completed a test phase in February.

While operating passenger services, the trains were able to replace diesel-powered services, and only emit water vapour and condensation.

Completion of the filling station is expected in mid-2021 and 14 hydrogen trains will be utilising the facility by the beginning of 2022.

Once filled at the station, the trains will be able to run for up to 1,000km, meaning they only require one tank filling. The station has room for expansion to produce hydrogen on site through electrolysis and regenerative electricity.

Hydrogen is a key fuel in the decarbonisation of rail where electrification is not possible, facilities such as the filling station will enable emissions-free transport and support Germany’s goal to become carbon neutral by 2050.

“The construction of the hydrogen filling station in Bremervörde will create the basis for the series operation of our emission-free hydrogen trains in the Weser-Elbe network,” said Jörg Nikutta, managing director Germany and Austria of Alstom.

Mathias Kranz, responsible at Linde for the onsite and bulk business in Germany, said the switch to hydrogen would improve environmental outcomes.

“The introduction of hydrogen as a fuel for trains will significantly reduce the burden on the environment, as one kilogram of hydrogen replaces approximately 4.5 litres of diesel fuel.”

According to Andreas Wagner, head of local rail passenger transport and signatory of the Elbe-Weser Railways and Transport Company, the introduction of hydrogen trains has promoted interest in rail from passengers and motivated drivers.

“Our passengers were very curious about the trains and their technology from the very beginning. In addition to the very low noise level, the hydrogen train impresses with its zero emissions, especially in times of climate change. For our train drivers, the operation of iLint was a very special motivation,” he said.