SNCF (France’s national state-owned railway company) and Airbus Defence & Space signed a co-operation agreement at the Paris Air Show in Le Bourget on June 19. The deal between the two transportation giants will last three years and cover the development and adaptation of satellite geolocation technology, based on the EU’s Galileo and European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Systems (meant for digital rail applications).
Bringing satellite geolocation to rail infrastructure
The two entities will first explore as to how such tools, already used in the civil aviation sector, could be effectively applied to rail use. The program is part of SNCF’s Tech4Rail initiative, which aims to drive innovation utilizing technology already established in other industries.
(SNCF and Airbus) will first explore as to how such tools, already used in the civil aviation sector, could be effectively applied to rail use.
SNCF and Airbus will go through a series of digital simulation exercises to undertake commercial in-service trials. SNCF hopes the partnership could lead to the development of frameworks which could be used “across the French and European mainline networks,” with a specific objective of reducing reliance on “historically proven but costly” lineside signaling equipment. The company thinks that as autonomous transport modes emerge, the need for more detailed information about the precise location of vehicles will increase, citing that “(the) high precision and absolute safety will be key parameters for the railway of the future.”
“We are delighted with this partnership with Airbus Defence & Space. Together we will work to demonstrate an innovative concept for train location, and the help of Airbus will be beneficial as we seek to create a new European standard,” stated SNCF’s Technology Director Pierre Izard.
The SATLOC project
Before the SNCF / Airbus partnership, there was Satloc.
First announced in 2012, the Satloc project has also intended to evaluate satellite geolocation systems and demonstrate their application to rail transport. Satloc introduced GPS positioning technology and its enhancement by the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (Egnos), the first pan-European satellite navigation system and a forerunner to Europe’s Galileo GNSS, to train control, train position monitoring, speed supervision, traffic control, and traffic management on low-traffic lines.
“SATLOC — Satellite-based, railways traffic operation for low traffic lines” by UIC — International union of railways, YouTube.
The primary target for Satloc is the overlooked market of low-traffic lines, which account for around 40% of the European rail network as of 2017 (the global percentage is estimated to be even higher). The reduction in costs made possible by Satloc is aimed to attract investment to these lines, hence facilitating their survival and revival.
It’s important to note that Satloc uses widely-used and commercially-available technology including public mobile systems for train communications, RFID tags rather than balize groups or an absolute position reference (APR), a device similar to a balize which is using on rapid transit trains, and off-the-shelf GPS receivers for position monitoring.