March 21, 2018

Banedanmark looks to restore momentum to troubled national ERTMS programme

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Denmark’s ambitious national signalling replacement programme hit the headlines in November 2017 when the Danish government announced plans to push back the completion of the ERTMS element from 2023 to 2030. Kevin Smith looks at the current status of the project and where it goes next.

IT’s been nearly 10 years since Denmark launched its national signalling replacement programme. Faced with increasing reliability problems with signalling equipment that was on average more than 50 years old, infrastructure manager Banedanmark concluded that a complete rollout of ETCS across its 2132km network was a far superior option to an asset-by-asset replacement.

This radical solution established Banedanmark as a torchbearer for ERTMS deployment in Europe. Indeed, its bold decision may have encouraged others to follow suit, with infrastructure managers in Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Luxembourg now pressing ahead with their own national ERTMS deployment programmes.

Yet while testing should now be well underway on the early deployment line, difficulties with onboard ERTMS equipment installation are delaying the entire programme.

Denmark ertmsIn November, the Danish government announced plans to push back completion of the ERTMS programme from 2023 to 2030, prioritising electrification of the network. The idea remains to continue rolling out ERTMS on a step-by-step basis on lines as they are electrified to avoid the extensive extra cost of immunising legacy signalling equipment. However, with insufficient trains available to push ahead with the timely introduction of ERTMS, the timetable has changed, and this may yet impact future priorities.

For Mr Jan Schneider-Tilli, Banedanmark’s ERTMS project director, the problems facing the signalling programme emanate from both the infrastructure manager and its suppliers, and generally relate to over-optimistic forecasts in the early stages of the programme.

“ERTMS is not a plug-and-play solution, and deployment is extremely complicated,” Schneider-Tilli says. “In particular, there was an overestimation of the time it would take to develop, test and stabilise the system and deliver the level of quality in operations required.”

This general overestimation is reflected in revisions to the budget for the project. The DKr 24.9bn budget for ERTMS deployment was reduced by DKr 4.5bn in 2011-12 after Banedanmark received what Schneider-Tilli describes as very attractive contract prices. Yet as the project ran into difficulties, the budget has since been revised again and is back in line with the level anticipated in the business case, prior to the contracting procedure.

Despite the problems, Schneider-Tilli is adamant that ERTMS remains the best solution for Denmark. There is even a belief that if sufficient progress is made in the next few months, momentum might yet be restored.

“2018 is a definitive year for the onboard contract,” Schneider-Tilli says. “We need to see substantial progress by the end of the year. Currently there are less than 10 trains fitted with ERTMS onboard equipment, but to proceed, we need to have 50 fitted by the end of the year. If the onboard contract can be delivered according to the plan, we can see if it is possible with the number of trains finished to push ahead with the rollout of infrastructure. If not, we will have to pursue a plan B.”

Pushed back

Schneider-Tilli says the three-to-four-year delay with the onboard contract is already impacting other rail projects in Denmark. As well as prospective changes to electrification, the opening of the new Copenhagen - Køge - Ringsted line has been pushed back by six months to June 2019 due to the need to equip the line with conventional Class B signalling as well as ETCS Level 2 because of a shortage of ETCS-equipped inter-city rolling stock.

Alstom is responsible for the onboard contract, which includes fitting 79 IC3 DMUs and 44 IR4 EMUs used by DSB on inter-city services as well as rolling stock operated by Denmark’s third-party railways, including Arriva Denmark, Regionstog, Mid-Jutland Railway, and North Jutland Railway.

Schneider-Tilli says Alstom came with the best recommendations for onboard ETCS installation, the most experience in Baseline 3, and the largest fleet reference with more locomotives fitted with their equipment than anyone else. However, the supplier has not delivered as Banedanmark hoped, taking three years longer than expected to finalise the software for the project.

“It is no secret that we are not satisfied with Alstom’s performance with the onboard contract,” Schneider-Tilli says. “My feeling is that there have been insufficient resources available to execute the contract.”

Alstom says it has been hindered by the complexity of the project. It is required to install equipment on different types of vehicles of varying ages, which belong to different operators. The result is that it has experienced difficulties throughout, beginning with the design phase and continuing into installation and as it looked to secure final approval. “We have seen a more complex design approval structure for this project,” the manufacturer told IRJ in a written statement. It did not explain how it is working to rectify the problems.

Schneider-Tilli says Alstom has faced particular problems with IC3, which is a key migratory fleet for the ETCS programme. He says a lot of discussions have taken place between Banedanmark, Alstom and DSB, to identify a solution and to begin fitting the trains. However, this situation is complicated by the fact that while Banedanmark has been responsible for issuing and overseeing the contract, it is not the owner of the fleets.

The supplier, however, does report success with North Jutland Railway, where it says the 13 Coradia Lint DMU sets, which Alstom delivered last year, have been equipped with ETCS and are operating in commercial service albeit with legacy signalling equipment. In addition, onboard installation on the 43 Lint DMUs used by Arriva in Jutland and DSB’s fleet of 20 class MQ Siemens Desiro DMUs is expected to be relatively straightforward and is scheduled to take place by 2019.

Alstom has also completed infrastructure deployments on the Copenhagen - Ringsted line as part of its work on the east ERTMS contract, while the early deployment line between Roskilde, Koge, and Naestved on Zealand is now expected to be operational from 2020, with a first stage in 2019.

Under this €300m contract, Alstom is responsible for installing ETCS on 800km of railway infrastructure. A consortium of Thales and Balfour Beatty is delivering the 1000km west contract, which is worth e400m, and also includes an early deployment project, which in light of the delays, has now been shortened to the section from Lindholm to Frederikshavn in northern Jutland. Thales was unavailable to discuss their work on the project.

While the problems with the onboard contract are well documented, Schneider-Tilli says Banedanmark is also focusing on itself in an effort to make improvements, particularly in reducing costs.

“We need to become a leaner organisation when the early deployments are in operation,” Schneider-Tilli says. “We are currently very consultant-heavy, and we need to reduce the number of people who are involved but are not employees of Banedanmark. We are also looking at other areas where we could possibly save money, and we are expecting to update this in mid-2018.”

Keeping costs under control has become more of a concern as the project proceeds through this uncertain period. Indeed, for Schneider-Tilli, the emphasis now is not on finishing the project but the time that it is going to take to reach certain milestones, beginning with the onboard deployment element.

Banedanmark is certainly learning the hard way with its ERTMS programme. Unfortunately, this is sometimes the case for the pioneers of a ground-breaking initiative with no benchmark to work from. But as it works alongside its suppliers to solve these problems in the next few months and years, Schneider-Tilli is hopeful that the project can still conclude before 2030. And he is certain that at least some of the Danish network will see the benefits of ERTMS long before that.

“It might be that when DSB gets its new fleet of electric locomotives, or other changes which mean that not all of the trains covered in the onboard contract will be fitted, this will influence the execution of the contract,” Schneider-Tilli says.

“The execution of the whole programme is more complicated than expected. But we remain optimistic. We have to be. We need to exchange our very old technology and gain improved punctuality, faster trains and higher capacity which will benefit our passengers.”