Around the world countries are trying to combat their dependency on oil and reduce their carbon emissions. A key strategy for achieving this in some regions is a focused effort on dramatically improving rail infrastructure.

As a result many rail operators are striving to improve capacity without having to take on expensive and disruptive civil engineering projects. One solution is Communications Based Train Control (CBTC) systems which increase utilization of existing rail infrastructure.

Let’s consider the architecture of CBTC applications and the wireless infrastructure needed to support these train control systems.

The need to increase capacity without doing capital projects is driving the demand for Communication Based Train Control (CBTC) applications. CBTC systems improve the utilization of existing rail infrastructure. (Image Courtesy of

Communications Based Train Control (CBTC) Systems Reduce Capital and Operating Costs

Traditionally, increasing the capacity on an urban rail network involved projects like laying additional running lines, boring new tunnels and lengthening platforms to enable the running of longer trains. These large civil projects are not only expensive; they are also potentially disruptive to operation services.

Through the use of exact, real-time, train positioning information, CBTC provides a solution to the capacity challenges and avoids the need for many civil engineering capital projects.

An increased utilization of the existing rail infrastructure is realized through the removal of traditional fixed signaling blocks. Instead, the train headways as well as speed and acceleration profiles are managed continuously in real-time. A CBTC system managing shorter, lighter, faster trains running more closely together will result in an increase in capacity over longer trains running on a fixed block signaling system.

Besides the benefits of lower capital outlays and a faster Return on Investment (ROI) than civil engineering projects, CBTC systems help reduce operating costs. A large proportion of the total cost of running rail passenger vehicles is fixed for long durations (such as vehicle leasing or finance costs). Fuel or energy usage very often represents the largest proportion of costs that the operator can control.

The use of a CBTC system allows energy savings to be made through the application of different driving profiles (such as coasting and reduced acceleration curves) when passenger demand is less, at off peak travelling times for example. When coupled with passenger counting technology, this management of the rail vehicles can be made fully automatic.

CBTC Train Control Systems Architecture

The typical architecture of a modern CBTC system comprises the following control subsystems:

Depending on the supplier, the architecture for these subsystems may be centralized or distributed. The ATS is usually in a central command center, though local control systems may also be included as a fallback.

The control subsystems are organized into logical components as shown below:

(Click here for larger image) Train-Control-Systems-CBTC-Logical-Components-4-SM

Shown above are the logical components of a CBTC system. High speed, reliable transmission of data is achieved by using industrially hardened Belden cable and Hirschman networking equipment. (Click here for larger image)

Wireless Infrastructure for Train-to-Ground Communications

The CBTC system communication infrastructure runs over a digital networked radio system by means of bi-directional communication between the track equipment and the trains. The 2.4GHz band is commonly used in these systems (public Wi-Fi band), though other alternative frequencies such as 900 MHz (US), 5.8 GHz or licensed bands may be used as well. LTE technology is also now also being considered with several signaling suppliers testing LTE-based CBTC systems.

While the use of wireless technology for CBTC is commonplace, it is not without its challenges, many of which stem from the demanding environment and the speed of moving trains. Some key requirements of the CBTC wireless network are listed in the table below.

Shown to the right are the performance requirements for wireless infrastructure for train control systems. (Click here for larger image)


Train Control Systems Need Reliable Wireless Infrastructure

As train travel options increase and railways seek to maximize capacity there is increased need for secure, reliable connections between moving trains and ground systems. It is clear that the communications link between the train and the ground infrastructure is critical for success.

Even as this demanding environment evolves, the impact of a system failure will affect thousands of people and have serious financial consequences. Therefore, choosing the right networking components and cable, like those from Belden, takes on even greater importance to ensure safety, reliability and network resilience.

To learn more about the wireless train-to-ground communication for CBTC as well as for Passenger Information Services and Surveillance Video applications, download the white paper available below.

Have you implemented wireless train-to-ground systems? If so, how have they performed? We look forward to hearing from you.

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