Space for Innovation in Rail

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Just when you thought Galaxy Express 999 was just in animation.  The ‘Space for Innovation Rail’ forum to be held in Vienna, Austria over 18-19 March 2019 is an opportunity to discuss innovation and digitalisation in the rail sector with specific focus on GNSS applications for rail.

The event is jointly organised by the Austrian Ministry of Transport, Innovation and Technology, European GNSS Agency (GSA), Shift2rail Joint Undertaking (S2R JU), and the European Union Agency for Railways (ERA).

Both GSA and Shift2Rail are market-driven European initiatives and hence there is a greater strategic and regulatory perspective from the European Railway Traffic Management System (ERTMS).

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source: GPS world

The event will focus on the progress achieved thus far on the implementation of GNSS Roadmap for rail as well as the availability of a GNSS enabled and certifiable training position for the ERTMS, as well as business challenges and regulatory perspectives towards GNSS adoption for rail.

Examples of recent projects include the Satellite Technology for Advanced Railway Signalling (STARS).  And the aim of STARS project is to develop a universal approach to predict the achievable GNSS performance in a railway environment, and particularly for safety-critical applications within the European Railway Traffic Management System.


The aim is to allow for interoperability between the equipment provided by different GNSS suppliers.  Aside from filling the technology gap the goal is to reach a cost-efficient satellite-based ERTMS.  Moreover, the project is focusing on the predictive performance of GNSS in the railway environment to add value via accuracy, availability and safety.




Another example is ESA- aided project of 3InSat (Train Integrated Safety Satellite System) project on a regional railway in Sardinia (Italy), co-funded within the framework of ESA’s ARTES 20 program.  The program is led by Ansaldo STS and the 3InSat team are developing and validating satellite services compatible with the European Railway Traffic Management System (ERTMS).

Since 2004, when ERTMS was rolled out in a number of European rail lines, other parts of the world have also caught on, including China and New Zealand.



When the European Space Agency launched the initiative in July 2018 it was to support space-based enhancements to Europe’s railway network.  Space4Rail highlights the support on the use of GNSS in rail applications whilst raising awareness of the added value that space systems potentially deliver.  Space4Rail has been set up as a one-stop shop for the rail industry to learn about the agency and potential for submissions and proposals.  ESA is already contributing to the Next Generation Train Control (NGTC) project through a satellite expert group, providing technical expertise on integrating satnav into future railway signaling systems.

The two main aspects of ERTMS include implementation of the European Train Control System (ETCS), a standard for in-cab train control, and GSM-R, which is a GSM- based mobile communications standard for railway operators.


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Currently, trains using ERTMS determine their location by use of balises which are electronic beacons or transponders, which are placed along a railway every 500- 1,500 meters.  The information is then transmitted via a dedicated GSM-R terrestrial network to rail traffic control centres, which use the same network and churn out recommended speeds and information to the train operators, factoring the distances between other trains.



What do you think about use of GNSS and rail?

What do you think makes a successful NewSpace startup?


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