ETCS & Signalling Networks

What is ETCS?

ETCS (the European Train Control System) is the signalling and train control component of the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS). It comprises standard wayside equipment and train control equipment within the cab.

All new, upgraded or renewed tracks and rolling stock in the EU are required to adopt ETCS and many networks outside the EU have also adopted ETCS for their high-speed rail projects.

There are 4 levels at which ETCS can be implemented:

    • Level 0 – the trains or rolling stock are ETCS-compliant but do not interact with the wayside equipment or the ETCS wayside equipment is not installed/ operational. In these cases, the on-board equipment monitors the maximum speed and the driver observes the wayside signals
    • Level 1 – ETCS equipment is installed both on-board and wayside so that data can be transmitted from the track to the train via using balises. Existing signalling and train safety systems may also be in operation at the same time, so the driver will use both to control the train
    • Level 2 – at this level, more equipment is installed wayside to enable data to be continuously transmitted to the driver’s display via GSM-R, while the balises act as passive positioning beacons or “electronic milestones”
    • Level 3 – this is the most advanced level. The train control system is fully integrated and no longer uses wayside signals, as all the information is transmitted using wireless communications

Why test ETCS rail telecoms and signalling performance?

When rail lines are upgraded to the ETCS safety standard level 1, they rely on GSM-R telecommunications and at level 2, they also reply on the wayside equipment to control the train.

If a failure occurs, the train will stop, causing passenger dissatisfaction and delays, as well as incurring penalties and unplanned maintenance.

This means it is critical that the electronic information continuously passed to the driver can also be continuously monitored – each and every second of each and every journey.

Using an integrated approach

If a failure is not identified in the GSM-R or signalling network on the ETCS line, the next step is to investigate the train movement authorities, RBC and interlocking.

The most successful solution is to test and monitor all the ETCS-related train control and communications. Doing so will provide a complete end-to-end view of:

  • the GSM-R network
  • the ETCS signalling
  • the interlocking

How are the tests carried out?

In many cases, the test and monitoring equipment is installed on test trains and wayside, along the track. Telecom and signalling operatives collect GSM-R and signalling data, which is used to measure the quality of service and identify issues. Passive probes are used to collect interlocking data.

As test trains often operate outside the main commuting times and are expensive to equip, portable GSM-R testing solutions are also used to extend the testing capability. Operators can conduct their own tests or run automated tests on-board operational trains or on platforms, using test equipment in trolleys or backpacks.

The ERTMS and national signalling systems and other operational asset data can be continuously and automatically collected using testing equipment installed on-board test or operational trains.

Testing and monitoring helps to ensure:

  • GSM-R coverage is available everywhere 24/7 to provide the wireless train communication
  • data from track to train via the ETCS balises is continuously transmitted to ensure train control and safety is maintained
  • train position, speed and route data is identified from the Radio Block Centre (RBC) at all times
  • compliance with the necessary ETCS, UIC and industry safety standards

Benefits of ETCS testing and ongoing monitoring

  • source and pinpoint GSM-R rail telecom network failures
  • identify when and which internal and third party interferences affect GSM-R network performances and service availability
  • source and pinpoint signalling issues
  • source and pinpoint interlocking issues
  • enable full end-to-end call tracing
  • obtain geo-location measurements in tunnels, even when GPS is unavailable
  • provide performance measurement to meet industry compliance standards

Learn more about the Comtest Wireless GSM-R and ERTMS signalling test and measurement products