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GNSS-based rail signalling gets world premiere in Australia

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Roy Hill rail transporting iron ore

new railway line in Australia is the first in the world to use a GNSS-based rail signalling system. The 344 km line was built by Roy Hill, a privately-owned iron ore mining operation in western Australia, for transferring iron ore to the Port Hedland harbour.

The new system is based on the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) standard. Whereas traditional rail signal systems depend on trackside balises to determine position, the new line in Australia uses GNSS positioning, introducing the concept of virtual balises for ERTMS Level 2 solutions.

As part of the deployment of the innovative signalling system, prime contractor Ansaldo STS delivered SIL4 certification, the safety standard required for train control systems. This certification is one of a series of rail-oriented developments that have been supported by ESA through the ARTES Integrated Applications Programme.

EXTENDING ERTMS WITH GNSS

ERTMS has been promoted by the European Union to ensure cross-border interoperability and simplify procurement of signalling equipment. Since it was introduced in 2004, ERTMS has been deployed on an increasing number of European rail lines as well as on railways in other parts of the world, such as in China and New Zealand.

Satellite technologies can increase the viability of ERTMS for low-traffic rail lines by avoiding the need for costly wayside equipment and dedicated telecom networks. Instead of depending on trackside balises, the precise location of a train is determined by means of GNSS.

Loading iron ore at Roy Hill dedicated berth“Introducing satellite navigation and satcoms into ERTMS based systems has been a significant challenge due to the stringent safety requirements that railway signalling systems must comply with,” says Salvatore Sabina of Ansaldo STS. “However, now that we’ve delivered a SIL 4 ERTMS based solution integrated with GNSS technology, we expect greatly expanded market opportunities.”

Ansalto STS is also involved in another ERMTS deployment in in Western Australia's Pilbara region for the mining company Rio Tinto. While it uses traditional trackside balises for positioning, the new Rio Tinto line is the first to uses satcoms for communications. 

All images copyright Marubeni Corporation. Source