Virtual Coupling increases capacity with 20 trains per day in Russia

The introduction of a virtual coupling systems on the Bolshoy Lug – Slyudyanka section in Russia increased the capacity by 20 pairs of trains per day. That said Sergei Kobzev, Chief Engineer of Russian Railways during a meeting at the Main Control Center of Russian Railways. They have already selected seven other sections to deploy virtual coupling systems in the upcoming years.

Virtual coupling provides synchronous movement of two adjacent freight trains with the minimum allowable distance from each other. On an eastern test site, it has already been introduced in the Slyudyanka-1 – Bolshoi Lug and Yablonovaya – Lesnaya sections. When using the new system, traffic lights are not needed, as the driver is guided by the distance to the train in front. Currently, over 300 locomotives operating in Eastern Russia are already equipped with virtual coupling systems, and this number is scheduled to increase to 630 units by the end of the year.

At the Russian Railways’ meeting, Sergei Kobzev, Deputy General Director and Chief Engineer of Russian Railways, presented the possibilities of the virtual coupling technology for interval train control.


Igor Levitin, Aide to Russian president Putin, called the presented technologies a breakthrough. According to him, the state is interested in supporting such projects, and they need to be developed.

“We will get the effect due to the fact that we will be able to handle more trains on the existing infrastructure”, said Oleg Belozerov, Chairman of the Board of Russian Railways. “Accordingly, our costs for maintenance and capital construction will decrease. But for this, it is also necessary to ensure the high quality of the used infrastructure elements, and to increase the reliability of locomotives”.

Less distance, more trains

The principle of Virtual Coupling is that a virtual ‘traffic light’ is placed on the last carriage of a train, which allows the convoy behind it to keep a safe distance. The technology makes it possible to reduce the passing interval by up to two times – from 10 to 5 minutes. Due to this, many more trains in total can pass through. In this case, the coordination of locomotive driving modes takes place via a secure digital radio channel.

In the future, it is planned to create a Radio Block Center, which will allow controlling dozens of trains from one place. An RBC is also used for ETCS Level 2 and Level 3. Due to the synchronisation of their movement, it will then be possible to achieve the maximum effect. The train schedule and speed limits along the way will be transmitted to the locomotive via a digital radio channel. Repeaters with a dedicated frequency range will be deployed along the railway. When an rBS will be used, it will be possible to reduce the interval between trains to an absolute minimum.

Future deployment

Further stages of the deployment of Virtual Coupling are determined based on the priorities for expanding the capacity. So, between 2022 and 2023, it is planned to equip the sections Nakhodka-Vostochnaya – Khabarovsk-II – Belogorsk, Slyudyanka-I – Ulan-Ude and Irkutsk – Bolshoi Lug.

In 2023 to 2024, the sections Ulan-Ude – Karymskaya – Chernyshevsk-Zabaikalsky and Mogocha – Belogorsk will follow. In the period 2024 to 2025, the sections Bolshoy Lug – Irkutsk – Taishet – Mariinsk and Chernyshevsk-Zabaikalsky – Mogocha will be equipped with virtual coupling.

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Author: Esther Geerts


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