There are over twenty different signalling and speed control systems for railway transport in Europe. Although expensive, the locomotive on-board systems, fitted with current system selection devices which react to the ground-transmitted signals, are necessary for both safety and traffic management.
The large scale utilization of the GSM-R technology, part of ERTMS, a radio-communication system based on GSM-R standard (used for mobile phones), but using railway-specific frequencies In Europe, will increase the interoperability of European railways and will facilitate cross-border traffic.
We have discovered details about the importance of the GSM-R system and its role in ensuring interoperability and the well-operation of the railways from Mr. Dan Mandoc, Senior Advisor & Project Mana-ger within UIC, Chairman ERIG (EIRENE Radio Implementation Group)
Railway PRO: Can you tell us what the most acute challenges that the majority of European countries are (still) facing in the implementation of the GSM-R communication system are?
Dan Mandoc: The GSM-R mobile communication system, part of the Single European Traffic Management System (ERTMS), offers voice applications (for the so-called Train Radio – voice communications between train drivers and traffic controllers) and data applications for ETCS, as well as for a series of specific applications. GSM-R is the railway radio system which mandatory has to be installed by the European railway infrastructure managers, for the moment on high-speed and conventional lines, interoperable in Europe, according to CCS TSI.
In my opinion, the potential questions – from the operators or from the infrastructure managers – if this solution is technically viable or not for Europe, have no sense. The GSM-R system operates perfectly.
Of course, this system implementation and functioning is confronted with a series of challenges.
Currently, one of the most critical challenges for the GSM-R is the interference with other communication systems. I am talking about the new 4G “digital dividend” technologies that were also introduced in Romania and which are currently being installed in frequency areas close to the GSM-R frequencies (800 and 900 MHz), as it is already the case in Sweden and soon in the Netherlands.
As they are very close to the GSM-R frequency bandwidth, these 4G technologies are causing interferences to GSM-R if the two communication systems are not properly and early engineered and coordinated, so that the two systems can coexist.
At the moment, UIC, as technical body, ERA and the European Commission strongly cooperates, looking for viable solutions that will enable the coexistence of the two systems.
Members of the UIC Frequencies Management Group, together with GSM-R equipment manufacturers partners have identified a number of possible technical solutions, and have already developed a number of test campaigns last year and this year, on one hand to propose, based on the results, technical reference values (e.g. out of bad emission, noise level, etc.) needed to achieve the coexistence of the two systems and on the other hand, to validate these possible solutions.
If ETCS Level 2 is already in operation and the GSM-R radio-communication equipment installed on board of the train is interfered with, this will stop the train, and then restarting the traffic will heavy delays, hence much higher costs. The non-availability of the radio-communication system on board the train to operate can block issuing a Railway Emergency Call, which can lead to dangerous situations.
This issue – interferences to GSM-R – is wished to be rapidly solved; the European Commission – DG MOVE, considers it as a priority and works to find solutions as rapid and efficient as possible. UIC, together with the GSM-R Industry Group and other industrial partners, actively supports ERA and the European Commission (DG MOVE and DG Connect) and also with the support of CER, EIM as well as ECC/CEPT and the GSM Operators Association (GSMA) are working together to eliminate rapidly and efficiently this hindrance, that of interferences.
Specific technical solutions will be relatively soon be acknowledged in Europe – we believe that they will be available in a relatively short period of time (maybe one year) – but they have to take several steps, including a standardization process, before being included in the European legislation. It is important to mention one of the basic conditions for the validation of such solutions (which will likely encompass technical solutions both for the railway GSM-R operators as well as for the public operators as a set of reference values for coordination), is that these solutions have be to be ”Future Proof”.
Railway PRO: Can you tell us what the current stage of GSM-R implementation in Europe is, what the GSM-R “coverage” percentage is on the European network?
Dan Mandoc: From the data we currently possess, from almost all infrastructure managers except from Serbia and Montenegro and Latvia and Estonia, among the Baltic States, of the 220,172 kilometres of railways in Europe, we have approximately 154,294 kilometres of railways scheduled to be covered with the GSM-R system. We can thus talk about a 69.6% scheduled to be covered with the GSM-R system of the whole European railway network that has been considered.
Currently, there are 70,211 kilometres of railways in Europe covered with GSM-R, which means less than half, but at the end of this year this figure will improve by at least 25%.
Railway PRO: To what extent the ERTMS can support performance improvement and freight transport efficiency?
Dan Mandoc: It is well known and understood that the railways don’t target the latest and most performing telecommunications systems in the world, the railways have to carry freight and passengers in maximum performance and safety conditions. However, the railway telecommunications system is an increasingly important element which facilitates the development of transport operations much more efficiently, and therefore improving its performance – within reason – has become extremely important. When the train driver and the traffic controller or the On Board computer (EVC) and the Fixed Radio Block Center (RBC) dispose of all necessary data, about the condition of the train, of the locomotive, and line occupancy and capacity, then railway traffic can occur without problems, in maximum performance and reliability conditions. To this situation the benefits of an interoperable system in Europe are added.
Railway PRO: What are the advantages of the GSM-R and of the entire ERTMS system in ensuring the competitiveness of railway transport as compared to its competitors, especially road transport and short-distance air transport?
Dan Mandoc: ERTMS system has a series of advantages. First of all, it is a unique solution in Europe, neither trains nor infrastructure have to be fitted with several signalling systems or several radio devices. The ERTMS is a very modern system which first of all protects the safety of railway transport. It is a harmonised solution in Europe and, the fact that at European level the actors are currently discussing its Europe-wide scope extension by 2030 proves its importance.
It is also important to mention the economic benefit of the GSM-R and we can here refer to reducing maintenance costs and improving the life cycle of components.
Besides these advantages, GSM-R, which is actually a GSM system, can enable the implementation of a useful set of railway applications. An example – perhaps not the most relevant – such as using GSM-R/GPRS in data transmission required for public information in train stations. The advantage of this solution is that no cables are needed between the central computer and these panels sending the data thus maintaining the system is reduced to the simple replacement of a module in case of malfunction.
The development and implementation of such applications – measure actively supported by UIC – is constantly growing in Europe.
As a final argument, GSM-R is used or is in the implementation stage outside Europe also – for example in China, Australia, India, Turkey and other countries.
I personally believe in this system: GSM-R is an efficient, trust-worthy and perfectly interoperable system.