Fast train through Europe

European railway companies in close cooperation with the European Union () and the industry developed the European Rail Traffic Management System (). ERTMS comprises two basic components:

  • , the European Train Control System, is an Automatic Train Protection system (ATP) to replace the existing national ATP systems.
  • GSM-R provides voice and data communication between the track and the train, based on standard Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM), using frequencies specifically reserved for rail application with specific and advanced functions.

Italy’s Alta Velocità (high-speed) train network stretches from Torino in the north to Salerno south of Naples, linking most of the major cities and serving around 65 percent of the country’s population. This fully integrated ERTMS allows the signaling at several stations to be supervised from a single location, with the same reliability and mean time between failures as a conventional computer-based system. The Italian high-speed trains traveling at 300 km/h or more are called Frecciarossa, meaning Red Arrow. An ETR 500 Y1 reached 362 km/h (Italy’s record speed) and the world record speed through a tunnel.

The -based ERTMS system was entirely designed and developed in Italy and adopted by the EU as the common reference standard for new high-speed networks. It offers the highest degree of safety at the fastest speeds, enabling a frequency of trains just a few minutes apart. Italy has decided to install ERTMS Level 2 as the railway’s only signaling system. This decision will yield considerable cost savings because ERTMS Level 2 does not need line side light signals, enabling a significant traffic capacity increase. Outside of Europe ERTMS/ETCS is used in China, India, Taiwan, New Zealand, Mexico, and other countries.

A look at the architecture

Ansaldo STS (Milan, Italy) is responsible for the route management system on the high-speed line. The management system includes the signaling security functions in a single central post supervising the peripheral posts, which are located in the stations. Supervision takes place via a high-speed fiber-optic geographical network. The central post cabinet contains the interlocking, monitoring, and diagnostics and consists of the Central Interlocking Unit (CIU), at least two redundant Alarm and Reporting Terminals (ART) with Man Machine Interfaces (), and links to external monitoring subsystems. The central post communicates via a secure Local Area Network (LAN) to which the CIU and MMI are connected. Ansaldo also developed the operator interface between the operator and the central unit. Ansaldo was supported by Sanval Electronic (Genoa, Italy) and , (Germany).

CompactPCI in control

Ansaldo’s CompactPCI-based Quadruple Modular Redundant (QMR) safety nucleus includes two redundant CompactPCI servers (one online, one backup), each equipped with two Kontron CompactPCI processor boards (Figure 1) and several communication boards. The boards manage the communication to external lines and control the data exchange to/from the CPU and a watchdog. Safety requirements demand the use of different platform technologies. One of the processor boards uses an Intel Pentium M, while the other uses an AMD Geode microprocessor. In the case of a disagreement between the two processor boards, the watchdog disables one system and allows the backup system to take over. The ART subsystem is equipped with two redundant Intel Pentium M-based processor boards, each of which is accompanied by a network switch board and a power supply board.

The ART performs alarm, recording, and telecontrol functions and also optionally handles diagnostic, maintenance, and segregation functions via a second ART. The processor boards also offer two additional USB 2.0 ports, one fast Ethernet port, two COM ports, a VGA CRT interface, and a primary EIDE port through rear I/O-modules. Wide-screen (46-inch) display panels give information about the state of the line (Figure 2). Several smaller (24-inch) display panels show the schematic.

Figure 1: Dual redundant CompactPCI system. Courtesy Kontron.

Kontron provided Sanval with the redundant CompactPCI-based server pre-integrated in a 19-inch subrack.

Figure 2: Operator’s interface in the control room. Courtesy Kontron.

European event

The ‘ 2011’ trade fair in Nuernberg is the world’s largest embedded event. It attracted more exhibitors and visitors than ever this year. Eelco van der Wal, Chairman of Europe, spoke with me immediately after his press conference announcing CPCI-S.0 (CompactPCI Serial) about the highlights of this enhancement of CompactPCI technology. More than 1000 students from all over Germany and Austria attended the STUDENT DAY at the trade fair. They got a free ride on buses, which collected them at their universities and brought them back again. The sponsors offered prizes for outstanding student developments, and they presented themselves as possible employers.

For more information, contact Hermann at