A special seminar was recently held at Wessex Institute of Technology on the topic of Electronics for Railway Signalling Systems, driving challenges and solutions involving their efficiency and safety. The lecturer was Dietrich Rhein, who works at Alcatel, Vienna and has participated in several Computer and Railways Conferences organised by WIT.

Railway signalling systems are used to define and lock routes, control switches, control wayside signals and allow human interaction and control. They can also detect occupancy, such as if a block section is taken by a train or is free. They also transmit signal information and track-related data to the trains and provide signalling and train speed supervision. These systems are essential to guarantee the efficiency and safety of railways.

Dietrich discussed the characteristics of classical signalling systems and the requirement for electronic systems for railway signalling which stresses safety, the need to work on real time, account for probability of durable facilities and provide redundant solutions.

He described in more detail some recent developments at Alcatel, including the electronic interlocking system ELEKTRA, which has now been installed at more than 60 sites. This system has been developed in cooperation with the Technical University of Vienna and also emphasised the train control system called ALTRAC built in accordance with ETCS (European Train Control Standards) guidelines.

ELEKTRA involves trackside data and verification tools which receive the data from the on-board system. Safety is achieved by having two channels, hardware and software, and using the European coding strategy.

Dietrich explained that railway signalling systems' specific requirements need specific solutions (safety, real-time operation, availability, life cycle). Alcatel's answer has been the decoupling of application software and system software by developing the components independently of each other. The work is also based on the use of a standard technology platform in different system applications and companies within the group. The tools developed by Alcatel are an important and integrated part of successful system implementation.

The lecture concluded with Dietrich stressing that quality, safety and configurations management must be inherent parts of system development for railway applications.