Intelligent Rail Summit 2019

Challenges and possible solutions on the way to ATO

Nearly all European railway companies are working on introducing a form of Automatic Train Operation (ATO) in the coming years. This includes a complete move over to the European Railway Traffic Management System (ERTMS). During the Intelligent Rail Summit in Paris, various organisations gave an insight into their approach and solutions around the introduction of ATO.

In Denmark, rail infrastructure manager Banedanmark is currently installing ERTMS level 2. The motivation for this is similar to in other European countries; according to chief engineer Jens Holst Møller, the current Danish system is really dated, will reach its maximum lifetime in the next four years, and many of those who know the system inside out have already retired. 50 per cent of all the country’s rail delays are caused by defects with the signalling system.

Complete replacement

Banedanmark assessed that making the current system interoperable would not be economically viable, as parts are difficult or impossible to source, which is why complete replacement was deemed the best option. In 2009 the political decision was taken to begin a renewal programme, fully financed by the government. The first tests were conducted in 2014 and at the end of 2017, the first trains with ERTMS Baseline 3 began running, on two different routes.

The new Danish system communicates via radio signals, and the signalling itself works with a fully centralised Traffic Management System (TMS), area interlocking with axel counters and ETCS. To implement this, Banedanmark worked with various suppliers. Alstom delivered the systems on the track in eastern Denmark, while in western Denmark the suppliers were Thales and Strukton. All apparatus on board the trains is from Alstom, the STM was made by Siemens and the GSM-R communication system was manufactured by Nokia.


Although the first trains with ERTMS came into service in 2019, Banedanmark does not envisage completing the network until 2030. Causes for the delays include problems with retrofitting the existing fleet and the fact that the political decision to go ahead with the extensive hardware replacement took longer than anticipated.

One of the reasons for working with ETCS was to prepare for ATO at the same time, says Horst Møller: “With the roll-out of radio-based signalling and a modern TMS, we can realise online DAS and ATO. Now we must wait for a standard for ATO via ERTMS, which will come by 2022.” Banedanmark believes that ATO has the potential to deliver double the energy savings that a Driver Advisory System (DAS) does on its own. In the best-case scenario, this means a 7.5 per cent reduction in energy use per journey. Furthermore, by planning and monitoring train journeys online, it will be possible to increase the number of trains running in each direction by two or three per day.

Conclusive business case

According to Horst Møller, Denmark’s total investment in converting the entire rail network to ATO is 430 million Danish kroner. This investment will deliver an energy saving of between 11 and 45 million kroner, based on the existing fleet. Furthermore, an extra 25 to 40 million kroner will be generated from increased revenue for usage, and between 6 and 9 million kroner will be saved through a reduction in delays and the consequences thereof.

The installation and application of a DAS is often seen as the first step on the road to ATO. The International Union of Railways (UIC) is working on an international communication standard for these systems, termed SFERA. Bart van der Spiegel, who alongside being Energy Manager at Infrabel is part of the UIC project group working on this standard, explained the intentions behind it.

Entire chain benefits

“Having the DAS, and investing in a standard, benefits rail operators, infrastructure managers and their suppliers”, says Van der Spiegel. With the help of a DAS, both passenger and freight train operators can reduce operational costs, use energy more efficiently, make themselves more competitive and improve punctuality. Alongside this, with SFERA they can use products that are widely available on the market and they do not get tied into working with one supplier (the so-called ‘vendor lock’).

For infrastructure managers, Van der Spiegel envisages that a DAS will mean better use of the network, more punctual and well-flowing traffic, and less maintenance of the track and energy infrastructure. The advantage of SFERA is that all operators using the infrastructure will communicate using the same standard. Suppliers can offer their products to a bigger pool of potential customers, and SFERA ensures a large, open market with identical requirements.

Energy saving

UIC can see a lot of potential in a DAS in terms of energy savings. According to the organisation, European rail operators spend a total of six billion euros a year on energy. With a DAS they will reduce energy consumption by up to twelve per cent per train journey. Alongside the benefits of a DAS itself, a European standard can help with the promotion of these systems, asserts Van der Spiegel. “There are increasing numbers of Driver Advisory Systems on the market, but there is no or little harmonisation to allow interoperability. Yet interoperability makes our lives easier and is crucial for the success of the DAS. When more operators use the DAS, infrastructure managers can be sure they will receive unambiguous data.”

With SFERA, UIC wants to secure the technical harmonisation of Driver Advisory Systems in Europe. “The communication protocol is focused on one train and one-dimensional infrastructure. It is compatible with subset 126 for ATO, and concerns elements that a train can encounter en route which can have an impact on the calculated journey times.” Parties were able to submit their reaction to the proposed standard until 4th November, and the standard will be available to download from UIC’s website by the end of this year.

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Author: Paul van den Bogaard

Paul van den Bogaard is editor of SpoorPro, a sister title of RailTech

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