Thalys tests with ERTMS Baseline 3 successfully completed
On behalf of the rail operator Thalys International, Ricardo Certification has completed a test programme with the train control system ERTMS Level 2 Baseline 3 for the Dutch section of the route. The Thalys high-speed trains were already equipped with ERTMS between 2005 and 2009 to use the HSL South between the Netherlands and Belgium, but with an older Baseline. The Thalys trains need to be upgraded to the newer version for when the the track will eventually be equipped with ERTMS Baseline 3.
The ERTMS specification has been amended over the years via the so-called Baselines 1, 2 and 3 with sub-standards. Trains that run on the high-speed line such as Thalys, Eurostar and the Intercity Direct of Dutch Railways NS have at least Baseline 2.2.0 and can run ‘backwards compatible’, meaning they can also run on previous versions.
The ERTMS specification has been renewed over the years via the so-called Baselines 2 and 3 with sub-standards. Trains that run on the high-speed line, such as the Thalys and Eurostar, have an old version of Baseline 2 and can therefore easily travel on the HSL. Other ERTMS track sections in the Netherlands currently have Baseline 2.
Rolling stock ahead of the infrastructure
With the upgrade to Baseline 3, the Thalys high-speed trains now have a more future-proof version, which corresponds to the new ERTMS version that the Netherlands will be installing. For the time being, existing ERTMS track sections will remain on Baseline 2, but a Baseline 3 train can also run there.
“All over Europe, ERTMS installations on the rails and in trains are moving to new versions”, explains ERTMS expert Peter Zijdemans. “The Netherlands has opted for Baseline 3 release 2 for the national ERTMS roll-out. The advantage of release 2 is that more functionalities are added, and that it is suitable for the successor to GSM-R. Thalys International anticipates having to deal with this at the Kijfhoek – Roosendaal – Belgian border in 2026, because the equipment has to be ahead of the infrastructure.”
Ricardo Certification, together with Thalys International, started the test programme in January. It ran until March this year. “For the tests, a permit had to be requested from the Dutch Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate, and we first had to determine what we wanted to test. In this case, the main purpose of the tests was to obtain admission in the Netherlands.”
“You can request this document from ERA (European Agency for Railways, ed.). There is a ProRail document on the ERA website that states what you need to test. Also, which situations you have to create, how the train has to behave and which things you have to check.”
According to the ERTMS expert, it is customary to carry out tests on the routes where passenger trains will be in service later. This also happened for the test programme on the HSL South. “An exciting moment is always the moment when the HSL South is entered, for example when the old ATB system is deactivated and ERTMS is activated. You first drive with ERTMS Level 1 and then Level 2. The transition on the border with Belgium is also a special point. This has to be done safely at a speed of 300 kilometres per hour.”
Thalys International has to deal with four different countries for approval. When asked whether it is possible to arrange this in a European context, Zijdemans indicated that “the first steps have already been taken”, because ERA requests the documents and “pulls the process towards them”. “We already have 27 to 28 types of infrastructure in the Netherlands alone. Each specific track section is named separately in that document and each country also has different tests.”
“Ultimately, it is desirable that we move towards fewer types of infrastructure, so that you have to test less aspects per type. This is possible when the specifications are so good that the software always works. This can improve, for example, in the lab tests performed by the industry. There are always things that come up that you did not expect before.”
Prior to the test programme, Ricardo Certification draws up a scenario, in which all the different tests that must be taken are described step by step. “An expert from Ricardo sits on the train and reads from the script. This person can ask traffic control to set a red signal, for example,” says Zijdemans.
The working method has changed somewhat with Covid-19, he says. “In the past, everyone sat in the driver’s cab: the driver, safety officer and Ricardo’s expert, but that is no longer possible. A maximum of two people are allowed in the cabin, so we now communicate with a voice connection via fixed installations in the train.”
According to the ERTMS expert, the biggest challenge of the project was logistics. “After a long wait, Belgium indicated that we could start testing cross-border on 15 March. We had to make a personnel schedule, and a driver had to be found who is authorised in both the Netherlands and Belgium. For example, it was decided that the border would be crossed at 1 a.m. People also had to be available for that.”
Zijdemans looks back positively on the test programme. “The logistics were a puzzle, but it turned out well. We were able to perform everything we had to test, taking into account the corona measures. “We are proud that we have succeeded in this, but we hope that the process will become easier.”