Upgrading the continental signalling connection (RailEngineer)

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Another ERTMS announcement has recently emerged, this time concerning the London to Paris and Brussels high-speed routes through the Channel Tunnel. At a meeting in Paris on 19 July, an agreement signed by four parties – UK HS1, Eurotunnel Getlink, SNCF Reseau and Infrabel – stated that they would work together to introduce ERTMS (European Rail Traffic Management System) on the routes concerned.

It is now some 24 years since the Channel Tunnel opened and Eurostar services began from London’s new international terminal at Waterloo station. The French, in their typical enthusiasm, had opened their high-speed line from Paris to Calais in readiness for this but the British and the Belgians were reliant on their existing rail networks to connect in to the cross-channel services. In time, both Belgium (in late 1997) and the UK (partly in 2001 and fully in 2007 to St Pancras) constructed high-speed lines using the TVM 430 train control system designed by the French. So far as railway technology is concerned, both the Belgian and British high-speed lines are essentially SNCF extensions.

Not all the TVM 430 equipment is from the same vintage; the cab displays are identical but the interlockings in France and in the Tunnel are relay-based whereas those on HS1 are solid-state. The system uses track circuits for train detection and position information from which the ‘distance to go’ cab commands are derived. With the oldest equipment now well over halfway through its expected lifespan, planning for renewal makes sense.

The main driver is, however, not renewal but the need to expand the routes that the London/Paris/Brussels configuration can offer. Already, the extension of Eurostar services to Amsterdam has begun, enabled by a treaty with the Dutch rail authorities, but a new vision exists to achieve greater utilisation of the infrastructure. Bordeaux is very much a target, using the SNCF and LISEA-owned TGV South West line via Tours, but there are also plans to expand into Germany and beyond. Introducing ERTMS/ETCS (European Train Control System) for train control will improve international interoperability further and make cross border crossings as seamless as possible.

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Written by Long Branch Mike