PAUL STEPHEN finds out why Alstom is integrating its signalling and infrastructure operations in the UK and how this will help it bring broader benefits to the UK’s railways
Alstom already has an enviable reputation in the UK as a global leader in the manufacture and maintenance of rolling stock. The statistics speak for themselves; approximately one third of all daily rail journeys completed in this country are made on Alstom trains. The company has also built many of the network’s most intensively used fleets, including Virgin Trains’ Pendolinos, London Underground’s Jubilee Line stock and the UK’s first very high speed train - the Eurostar e300s.
But Alstom has many more strings to its bow, and it is now earning a growing distinction for its infrastructure design, build and maintenance capabilities, following its involvement in high-profile flagship projects, such as Crossrail, where it forms an integral part of the ATC joint venture currently fitting out and commissioning the line’s tunnelled central section.
Alstom is also a key player in the ABC Electrification joint venture, which is currently engaged in a wide range of multi-billion-pound electrification projects for Network Rail, such as the Edinburgh-Glasgow Improvement Programme.
In this area of its business activities, Alstom prides itself on having a firm commitment to a continuous cycle of investment and innovation, in order to deliver the next generation of sophisticated technologies and intelligent engineering solutions. All of these are carefully designed to improve the passenger experience while also reducing the cost and carbon footprint to the client of building and maintaining modern infrastructure.
This is perhaps best demonstrated by Alstom signalling, which is contributing heavily to Network Rail’s Digital Railway programme, that aims to establish in-cab signalling and automatic train control to boost capacity across the UK rail network within the next 25 years.
Under Digital Railways Early Contractor Involvement Framework, Alstom is continuing the development of its European Train Control System (ETCS, Level 2) and Traffic Management System for future delivery beyond its current Great Western Main Line Paddington to Heathrow programme. This will feature ETCScontrolled passenger operations in 2019, to support the incremental rollout of Digital Railway.
Alstom is also the primary contractor for conventional signalling renewals and enhancements in a large number of Network
Rail regions, and was responsible for introducing Alstom’s Smartlock interlocking to the UK.
Smartlock, as a digital rail-ready computer-based interlocking (CBI), already boasts native interfaces to ETCS and TMS and can form the heart of a modern digital rail signalling system.
This next generation CBI is a successor to the UK’s current system of Solid State
We’re not just about delivering a standalone package, we want to make sure we offer the benefits across long-term service, continued maintenance and finally its decommissioning period. Neil Warburton, Head of Signalling Engineering, Alstom UK & Ireland
Interlocking (SSI) first introduced by British Rail in the 1980s. Deployed previously to maintain compatibility with SSI installations, Smartlock supports the reuse of legacy SSI geographical data and data links.
CBI systems of this type utilise the trackside equipment associated with SSI and links with points and signals via TFMs ( Trackside Function Modules).
Smartlock 400 is the latest version of this CBI technology offered by Alstom, which is also referred to within the company as Smart IO. It has been installed in Italy, Denmark, Turkey and Romania, but is currently undergoing a non-operational trial in the UK in order to demonstrate its value to Network Rail, and its multiple advantages over the increasingly outdated SSI system, such as faster and much higher capacity data transfer and acquisition.
Alstom’s interlocking platform manager Don Hayward explains: “Smart IO is a new generation of control equipment that interfaces between our Smartlock central interlocking, which is managing train movements, and the trackside devices that control those movements.
“TFMs haven’t changed much over the last 30 years, and are now legacy products. But with Smart IO we are able to provide new controllers for the points and signals that are faster in operation, lower cost, easier to maintain and provide better diagnostics.
“Smart IO also replaces the way TFMs
communicate via older style networks with modern IP-based communication over fibre-optic cables. We’re hoping this will give us a significant reliability improvement on existing communications arrangements, and it falls into line with modern industry practice.
“We’re currently trialling it at Crewe Coal Yard, where we’ve put in a small installation adjacent to the track as a precursor to a first service deployment, after which we would hope to gain more general approval for its wider use.”
Alstom Head of Signalling Engineering Neil Warburton reinforces the claim that Smartlock 400 would bring instant benefits to the network, including a reduction in points failures, more reliable data transfer, greater resilience to the effects of traction and a reduction in maintenance costs across the entire lifecycle of the assets. This will offer greater value for money in the long run, he stresses, than opting for lower cost or less modern signalling technology provided by alternative suppliers.
Through its ability to continue to use existing SSI TFM installations, Smartlock 400 also offers a lower-cost alternative to a complete system replacement.
Warburton says: “It’s not really a case of delivering projects cheaply, it is making sure we get the benefits across the whole lifecycle of the product, while offering NR significantly improved diagnostics. We’re not just about delivering a standalone package, we want to make sure we offer the benefits across long-term service, continued maintenance and then, finally, its decommissioning period.
“It’s also about using a lot of the technology that’s already available to us to deliver improved architecture that really addresses some of the historically weak points in the existing signalling system in use today. People will recognise points failure and train detection failure as particular issues, and we think they’re two of the things we have significantly improved.
“Progressing through lab testing, we’re doing the non-operational trial at Crewe, and now we’re looking at the first live operational project, which will allow us to start checking its limitations.
“NR is as keen as we are to see this new technology trialled, as it is very much part of their strategy for the future to move to
Integrating into one joined-up entity brings other benefits to the customer, such as allowing us to take more of the project risk. Ian Chapman, Business Development and Tendering Director, Alstom UK & Ireland
an IP-enabled trackside communications structure, which our network would bring. “
Hayward adds: “We’re trying to keep the best of what we had previously with the TFMs, but in addition to that we’re trying to make the system more compact, lower cost and faster. Overall, we want to bring the cost of deployment down and push the speed of deployment up, so we can do more schemes.”
As well as possessing an impressive armoury of intelligent technological solutions, Alstom is also restructuring its operations in the UK to improve its customer offering. Alstom signalling (which was a 50/ 50 joint venture with Balfour Beatty until it was wholly acquired by Alstom in May 2015) is therefore being fully merged with its parent company, so that clients can benefit from a whole system approach. The intention is for Alstom to bring more of its expertise to bear on major projects, rather than specialising in delivering individual aspects, such as signalling or electrification, as part of a wider joint venture.
This means that clients who currently turn to the company for its skills and products in one area, for example ETCS or Smartlock 400, could also benefit from its wider portfolio of innovations in infrastructure delivery, such as its automatic track laying solution Appitrack, its high-output wiring train, or Hesop energy recovery system (see separate panels).
Alstom UK & Ireland Business Development and Tendering Director Ian Chapman explains: “The UK is currently a pilot for the merger of Alstom’s signalling and infrastructure businesses. On a global level, Alstom is looking at what we’re doing and is quite likely to follow suit.
“It’s quite a change in culture and delivery, but we’re starting to think more widely in the work we do. For future projects, we’re looking at providing the whole systems package, including signalling and ETCS, tunnel systems, evacuation systems, overhead wires and track. We can put that together with our experience of delivering Crossrail (as part of ATC) to form a joint systems package that we will deliver ourselves.
“Integrating into one joined-up entity brings other benefits to the customer, such as allowing us to take more of the project risk, and delivering the whole system works as one to deliver outputs the client wants. But that requires clients to change how they specify work, and move from an individual element basis towards an output specification, which we can provide for them.”