The press, the machine, the railway, the telegraph are premises whose thousand-year conclusion no one has yet dared to draw.Frederick Nietzsche
The train is the machine par excellence, it has been in existence for almost three centuries and its safety systems are also long lived. The first signalling system, operating with flags and balls, dates back to 1832.
Trains are the most democratic and widespread form of transport in the world, travelling on a single and established route they have long braking distances. Long before cars and air planes, engineers were grappling with the problem of maintaining a safe distance between trains and how to promptly communicate any previous train breakdowns or stops so as to avoid collisions. The alliance between the train and the telegraph in 1841, can be considered the real starting point of railway signalling.
Today, signalling systems are defined by international organisations, with rigorous standards, committees and regulations, involving absolutely cutting-edge technology. The ERTMS/ETCS (European Rail Traffic Management System/European Train Control System) system, in its various forms, promises to meet the need for increasing passenger traffic volumes and train safety at the same time. The digitalization of signalling systems, combined with new forms of communication and local/remote control, will have an increasingly significant impact in making the railway system more efficient. New forms of instrumentation and localisation through GPS and Galileo satellite systems promise the ability for positioning even in complex areas, such as urban or low visibility satellite areas.
But the real challenge will be to bring this innovation to all existing lines, not just the modern high-speed ones, harmonising and integrating the various regulations with local contexts.
The old switching systems and servo-mechanical track cranks have been gradually replaced by solid state electronic devices and this has allowed modern interlocking control systems to be installed and the spread of computerised systems for railway traffic management.
The signalling systems strengthen the safety of the train’s gear system with the automatic transmission of information with Radio Block Centers and buoys, which guarantee constant communication between trains and the traffic control system. Digitalization will go much further. Automatic Train Control systems promise greater safety, flexibility and independence.
Digitalization will also have a significant impact on the travelling experience, which will be increasingly dynamic and multi-modal, integrating different means of transport. Thanks to continuous monitoring systems, passenger mobility choices will be possible in real time based on actual traffic conditions.
Inside the coach, the digital experience will be everywhere with high-speed internet connection, multimedia content, meal ordering and payment facilities, and the option to set your personal comfort and seating preferences.
The real challenge now is to consolidate the already existing technology at ever higher levels, national, European and international. The key phrase is automation at all levels. The European legislator has established strict rules for the application of level 2 ERTMS/ETCS and this implies a great deal of work on existing lines with outdated technology. Railway sector companies provide standardised solution platforms to adapt or equip an existing line from scratch.
Therefore, signalling will an area of much discussion and much to do in the coming years, especially at the European level.
Teoresi’s history in signalling began with the management of customer projects in planning, scheduling and cost reduction. We soon moved on to developing Safety Critical for On Board Systems (OBS) software applications according to the CENELEC 50128 standard and then to the entire V cycle from definition of requirements to validation. We have helped clients develop Rail Traffic Control Systems that monitor the overall condition of the line, supervise signalling conditions and provide notifications in the event of emergencies and critical conditions, managing complex functional requirements and developing HMI interfaces.
We have helped customers in the complex software verification and validation process, writing and specifying test campaigns, automating much of the execution of ad hoc reporting systems.
Our historical experience in the automotive sector has allowed us to adapt rapid prototyping and hardware in the loop (HIL) techniques to railway signalling systems, where we have built prototype signalling panels for certifying railway equipment.
Customers have also looked to us for the development of advanced research activities, such as predictive diagnostic systems for field entities and local solar charging devices to be positioned along routes.