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ETCS security system

ETCS security system
photo: Archives/Railway
26 / 01 / 2021

ETCS is being talked about more and more in the railway sector. More and more companies are equipping their wagons with this system. More and more countries are installing this system on their infrastructure. But what exactly is ETCS?

ETCS, the European Train Control System, is a united European signaling system. Thanks to it, it will be possible to ensure the operation of a united European railway and a much higher level of operation. The introduction of the system will also allow carriers' trains to cross national borders without the need to change the traction vehicles of trains and their crew.

ETCS will replace the national outdated and non-cooperating systems that have operated in each country so far. The introduction of the single system is also crucial for the construction of high-speed lines through which trains will pass at increased speeds above 160 km/hour.

The ETCS system has two parts. The first is mobile and the second is installed on tracks. The mobile part, which is also called the on-board unit, is installed directly on individual vehicles. The stable part, on the other hand, is mounted directly around the rail tracks.

The track-side part of ETCS is called the balise. It is placed on the track axes and is fed directly from the rail vehicle as it passes. As soon as it is activated, it sends a signal to the rolling stock. In the case of a fixed balise, it sends a constant signal to describe the track via a permanent magnet. The second type of balise is a switchable balise, thanks to which, for example, information about the position of the signaling equipment is sent.

The ETCS unit installed in the vehicles transmits the data to the European Vital Computer. Subsequently, all received data are evaluated, and braking curves are calculated. Thanks to this, it is possible to monitor the progress of the train and, if necessary, activate the brakes.

In some cases, the GSM-R network is used for communication between the ETCS mobile and the track-side system. This network enables the communication between the train and the control center without any outages up to a speed of 500 km/hour.

The ETCS system consists of separate components. By combining them and connecting them to an existing device, it is possible to achieve different levels of security. These include, for example, ETCS 0, where a vehicle with a mobile device installed moves on a track on which ETCS is not equipped. This device only monitors the speed of the train.

The next step is ETCS L STM. As part of this level of security, a vehicle with a mobile device installed moves on a track that is equipped with a safety device. Data is transmitted via the Specific Transmission Module.

ETCS L1 is on lines equipped with switchable balises. Here is a similar function as with the point train protection device. Besides, however, information on the next line section is transmitted. Thanks to this, it is possible to continuously monitor the maximum permitted train speed.

ETCS L2 is functional thanks to solid balises. These act as reference points. The train obtains, for example, a permit to its journey (so-called MA - movement authority), etc. via the system. Information on the distance travelled since the last balise is also transmitted.

ETCS L3 differs from L2 level in the way that the train is located, and its integrity is monitored continuously by radio means. For example, the braking distance for a given section is monitored continuously. The speed of the train or the clearance of the route is also monitored.

The safety role of ETCS is also given by the fact that if an error occurs on the part of the driver, ETCS intervenes in the train control. The system monitors the signals, the maximum permitted speed allowed on the given line, the maximum train speed, the direction of journey, the observance of the train path, the observance of the trainload on the axle.

There is also ETC LS, which is described as a cheaper option. The system works in the same way as the L3 system. The difference is that the number of installed balises is minimized.

The introduction of a unified system on the railway is the logical result of the effort to increase the number of transported persons and material on the railway. This is related to further competitiveness and the existence of the railway in the future.

We will bring you more information about ETCS in the following articles.