Time for a Revolution: Why Signaling Technology Needs Standardizing

An internationally consistent basis for signaling and interlocking technology could make rail transportation safer, more effective, and cheaper. This is why the EULYNX initiative is committed to standardization. But not all users are aware of this.

A common basis is almost always a good thing. The best example of this? Control and safety technology in European-wide rail transport. Historically, countries in the EU have used various solutions and systems from different manufacturers. In isolation, this wouldn’t be a problem – if rail lines ended at every border.

Fortunately, this is not the case. Therefore, there is an urgent need to create consistent standards. For approximately four years, the EULYNX initiative has worked to standardize signaling technology throughout Europe – and consequently make it safer, more effective, and more competitively priced. The fundamental problem of having so many different solutions is that it creates a cost spiral that traps users worldwide. While proprietary hardware and software from various manufacturers meet safety requirements, they also mean users are dependent on one supplier. So, what are the alternatives? There are none. Once you have chosen a provider for your base infrastructure, it is barely possible to install technology from other manufacturers at acceptable costs – let alone to expand the infrastructure with solutions from other providers.


Standards Encourage Competition

For several years, signaling technology has been undergoing radical change – similar to telecommunications a few years ago. Fiber-optic cables instead of copper cables, smart data transmission instead of electrical commands, and digitization instead of signaling: these all present challenges for operators. This is because modern signaling and communication technologies have a short service life compared to previous electrical or even electrical-mechanical systems. As a result, operators increasingly have to maintain a collection of different technologies with different interfaces. This not only complicates maintenance, but can also have a negative impact on safety and reliability.

This is where EULYNX comes into play. The consortium currently consists of 12 representatives from Northern and Central Europe. The goal: to develop and set standards for the respective member states (Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, the U.K., Finland, Norway, Sweden, Slovenia, Italy, and Switzerland). If EULYNX is successful, more than half of Europe’s railway signaling infrastructure will be at the same standard and ready for further digitization.


Free Choice of Vendor

An initial step to achieving this was compiling a complete list of specifications. Following on from this was the standardization of interfaces based on comprehensive standards as well as a set of rules for software used. This includes standards for a system architecture that enables the use of technology and solutions across borders. As a result, digital signaling, networked signal technology, and decentralized energy supply are within reach.

For operators, these standards mean that they can freely choose a provider. Commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) controllers are made of standard components. As they are mass produced, they are considerably cheaper to acquire and maintain. Furthermore, they can be immediately implemented without modifications and can be expanded as needed.

At the same time, new standards provide improved safety. Hardware and software are compatible with one another and are easy to operate, thus offering greater reliability and higher signal integrity.

Various pioneering projects demonstrate how beneficial a common technical basis is for all participants. An example of this is Deutsche Bahn testing digital signal boxes and new signaling solutions in the Annaberg-Buchholz signaling system operated by Erzgebirgsbahn. And even if there’s still a long way to go before the European signaling infrastructure is uniform, the first step has been taken. A small step for man, a giant leap for the European rail infrastructure.

We have standardized all interfaces in the system and put the entire system on a uniform architecture platform. This means customers benefit from safer operation with significantly fewer disruptions.
Klaus Müller,
CTO at DB Netz AG