Posts Tagged ‘HSL Zuid’

Still no start date for HSL-Zuid

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

I promised in A Ride on the Dark Track – part 3 to have a rant about the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS). The official ERTMS website bravely announces that,

ETCS is the new control-command system, GSM-R is the new radio system for voice and data communication. Together, they form ERTMS, the new signalling and management system for Europe, enabling interoperability throughout the European Rail Network.

“Wonderful!”, you may think. “Europe is building a new generation of high speed railways and trains and they will all be equipped with the same control and safety system. A real example of the advantages of European cooperation and integration.” Err… wrong! Today’s Railway Gazette International announced that,

Dutch Transport Minister Camiel Eurlings… had confirmed on January 18 that although testing of the upgraded European Train Control System (ETCS) Level 2 train control system had ‘generally passed without incident, a few problems remain – notably the crossing of the border with Belgium.’ Although he referred to SRS 2.3.0 minus, ProRail confirmed that this is not the same as the Version 2.3.0 specification that was finally signed off by the European Railway Agency in February. HSL-Zuid is essentially equipped with Version 2.2.2, but with ‘a package of additional functionality’, which is ‘slightly more’ than the changes incorporated in the ETCS Level 2 system that is now handling around 100 trains a week on the Betuwe Route.

So cutting out the gobbledygook, ECTS fails the interoperability test and its specification is changing every few months. Information Technology buffs will recall that we were here before. In the 1970s and 1980s the European Commission spent billions on developing and marketing the OSI seven layer model which was supposed to facilitate interoperability between different manufacturers’ computer systems. While the experts jetted all around the world attending meetings and conferences, the real world just got on with the job and developed system interconnections around de facto industry standards such as TCP/IP and Ethernet.

OSI was a layered, abstract description for communications and computer network protocol design, that is a description of what functions computer systems and networks should do when working together, not how they should do them. Most of the work was an expensive irrelevance and in some cases observing the OSI standards, rather than defacto industry standards, made interoperability between different systems more difficult. And ECTS? It’s a specification of what train signalling and management systems should do, not a working system that can be installed straight out of a box. In Britain the attempt to utilise ECTS to introduce 140 mph running and moving block signalling during the West Coast Main Line upgrade turned out an expensive fiasco. In Holland, problems with ECTS have been delaying the opening of HSL-Zuid. The Railway Gazette reports,

Challenged to explain the problems besetting HSL-Zuid, Jeroen van Eijk from the ministry’s project office admitted that the fundamental problem was that ETCS Level 2 had not been developed as far as the government had believed when the decision was taken in 1999 not to install back-up signalling. However, he felt that this had forced all parties to focus on development in order to make progress, rather than simply resorting to the back-up.

So when will HSL-Zuid open for fare paying passengers?

Although no-one will publicly commit to a date, and operator NS Hispeed cannot start its marketing campaign, the latest target is to start with an hourly service between Amsterdam and Rotterdam around the beginning of August.

Click here for the complete Railway Gazette article.

A Ride on the Dark Track – part 3

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Hollandsch Diep Bridge, HSL Zuid High-Speed Rail Line

Dyspozytor is riding on a lorry from Poland to London to discover why so much Polish freight goes to the UK by road. The first part of his report was published on Sunday.

We pulled into a parking area about 10 am. “Half an hour”, said Wojtek. We slept for two. It was going to be our longest period of uninterrupted sleep before we reached our unloading point in East London. Wojtek had chosen the time for his passage through Germany well. We cruised past Berlin, Braunschweig, and Hanover. We drove through the centre of Bad Oberhausen. This strange 6 km gap in the German motorway network is the result of some nifty lobbying by local residents. They want a tunnel, not a Twyford Down style by-pass.

At 4 pm. we stop at another parking area for our statutory rest period. Several hours ago, Wojtek should have taken a compulsory 7 hour rest period, but by juggling the discs in his tachograph, he had created a second virtual driver that would pass any later inspection. We would be OK, provided we weren’t pulled up by the traffic police. During our 20 minute break we were entertained by the comings and goings of 20 policemen in bright fluorescent jackets looking at vehicles in the parking area on the other side of the motorway. They seemed to be concentrating all their efforts on inspecting the contents of small vans, rather than lorries or cars.

Half an hour later we were overtaken by a white van. The driver seemed to know Wojtek and signalled him to pull in at the next parking area. We stopped, handshakes were exchanged, and the van driver beckoned us round to the back of his van. Inside was an Aladdin’s cave packed with the latest consumer electronics. Perhaps Wojtek would like a plasma TV for his wife? The price was really competitive. Wojtek reluctantly shook his head. Was it something to do with my presence, or the prospect of taking the hot TV through the closely controlled UK border? I never did find out.

By 6 pm. we were cruising through Holland. The interesting feature of this part of the trip was the Hogesnelheidslijn Zuid (High-Speed Line South) – a brand new 300 km/hr high speed railway constructed through Holland and Belgium to connect a new route Antwerp and Amsterdam. The line was completed in 2007, but apart from construction and gauging trains, no services have yet run on the new railway. The villain in the story is the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS). But this is neither the place nor the time. I will deal with ERTMS in a separate post. The HSL Zuid has been constructed practically along the motorway hard shoulder thereby reducing environmental disruption to the minimum.

Our route left the HSL Zuid for a while, only to rejoin it again on the other side of the Holland – Belgium border. I decided that the graciously curved catenary supports in Holland were much more attractive than the traditional straight variety installed along the Belgian section of the line. Antwerp, with its long underwater tunnel, was passed without a hitch. Then some 50 km later, the turn off for the motorway to Ostend was closed. Wojtek switched on his sat-nav and I kept a close look out for road signs. Our diversionary route was signposted some 20 km later. So far so good, Wojtek’s sat-nav and the road signs were in perfect agreement. But then after 15 km, our diversionary route was coned off. We had to take a diversion off our diversion! We found ourself driving through an elegant residential area, small bungalows with large gardens. The road was barely wide enough for our lorry! Then we reached a spot where the sat-nav said “Straight on,” and the road sign said “No through road”.