The night between 20 and 21 November 2017 saw the start of the trial tests of the ERTMS L3 Regional signalling system on the RFI network, in particular on the line Avezzano – Roccasecca in central Italy, carried out in close collaboration with the supplier Bombardier, the RFI Technical management, the RFI Territorial Production Management – Rome and the Trenitalia Regional Management of Abruzzo that provided the Aln668 vehicle equipped for the testing.
On 21 November 2017 at 01:21, for the first time in Italy, a rolling stock equipped with an ERTMS Onboard Unit received a standard fully interoperable L3 Movement Authority in Full Supervision mode, sent by an ERTMS Radio Block Centre.
The start of the tests represents a crucial step forward in the frame of digital renewal foreseen by the “Regional” program of RFI, aiming to significantly reduce the costs of the operation and maintenance of regional lines, belonging to both RFI and to second infra managers in Italy, such as LFI (La Ferroviaria Italiana, lines Arezzo-Stia and Arezzo-Sinalunga) and STA (Strutture Trasporto Alto Adige, line Merano-Malles).
The economic sustainability of the lines with medium / low traffic is an increasing challenge, especially when looking at the speed of the evolution of transport alternatives to the railway. The ERTMS Level 3 Regional project aims to meet such a challenge by developing a system that puts together the classic interlocking function with the block function and the European interoperable train protection system ERTMS, using the information of “train completeness” provided by the vehicle as well as the radio communication between the central control and the vehicle, to develop the function of occupation/release of the route sections.
This means developing a railway that goes further than the simple removal of lateral signals, a target already achieved with the system ERTMS Level 2 in the exercise on the High Speed/High Capacity network, and also eliminate the train detection systems on the trackside, i.e. track circuits, axle counters and even the treadles for the control of level crossings.
Already during the first session of tests the Radio Block Centre transmitted to the vehicle the authorisations for the movement (MA) and controlled the opening/closing of the Level Crossings by radio (new function of ERTMS Baseline 3) based on the information of the train position and train integrity (completeness) transmitted by ERTMS onboard system. During the tests a simulated train was also used, jointly with the real one, in order to check the reaction of the RBC.
The RFI “Regional” program includes as a further step too for the introduction of the satellite technology that will allow, through the concept of “virtual balise”, to minimise the number of the physical eurobalises, so substantially contributing to additional decrease of Opex and Capex of the regional signalling system. The measurements acquired in Sardinia within the project ERSAT, developed in collaboration with Ansaldo and the European Space Agency, have shown the maturity of the sat based train localisation approach; the line Pinerolo-Sangone has been already identified as the pilot site where the sat based ERTMS will be put into operation for the first time.
Finally, the adoption of digital radio communication in the rail signalling environment, paired with the removal of the greater part of CCS field devices, means reconsidering the logic of the route handling system and overcoming the constraints inherited from the last century’s technologies, so enabling a modern and cost-effective way to manage the rail transport service on the regional lines.
Therefore, the ERTMS L3 Regional system represents a step forward that goes well beyond the digitalisation of rail signalling: it addresses a new way of thinking about railway operations, whilst maintaining the safety standards guaranteed by the most advanced train protection system available on the market, reducing costs and complexity at the same time.
Once more RFI assumes the ambitious role of pioneer in the Command Control and Signalling sector, both at European and global level.