Although more than twenty years have passed since the UK's last major rail incidents at Southall (1997) and Ladbroke Grove (1999), the UK's Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) continues to challenge the industry about progress in train protection technology and to explore where more can be done to reduce the risk of Signals Passed at Danger (SPAD).
Statistics show that the industry has reduced SPAD risk by more than 90% over the last two decades. However, the same analysis also reveals some volatility in SPAD numbers.
Keen to prevent any sense of complacency, and ensure the industry continues to absorb the lessons of past incidents, the RSSB initiated an industry-wide review to establish what was causing the volatility, better understand underlying trends across the network, and assess technology options.
Bridging the knowledge gap
As part of the study, Ricardo was commissioned to look at how the industry could bridge the gap between current train protection methods, which are facing obsolescence, and the emerging digital rail technologies, such as those associated with European Train Control System (ETCS).
Ideas for the advancement of existing technologies, such as Train Protection and Warning System (TPWS) and Automatic Warning System (AWS), were examined, ranging from simple upgrades to allow an improvement in alarm and warning systems, as were solutions which are integrated with ETCS concepts, such as Limited Supervision.
Throughout the RSSB-funded research, a method of standardising and comparing each solution in terms of safety and implementation time/cost was developed. The methodology was then used to highlight the most promising options for the advancement of train protection in the UK.
The completed study was welcomed by RSSB’s Train Protection Strategy Group, who endorsed the work, and Network Rail, the national infrastructure manager.
"The project provided an excellent opportunity to engage with the wider industry on a topic which is so important to the future of the UK industry," said Ricardo's Dr Shamal Crowther, a specialist Consultant in Command, Control and Signalling, whoe prepared the study. "The results have provided both RSSB and Network Rail with a series of options for progressing train protection methods, with the focus of migrating the technology to ETCS".
Other complimentary RSSB projects are now in development, with potential to take some of the more viable options forward within the industry in the future.