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Clear path for safe rail traffic through Europe

Posted September 22, 2014

From Berlin to Budapest, from Prague to Paris – to travel safely, economically and inexpensively by train through Europe, uniform signal and train control solutions are needed. As a consequence of history, these still vary from country to country today. The „European Train Control System“ (ETCS) is intended to establish greater consistency.

A total of 44 European partners are working to implement this in the trains in a cost-effective, reliable and above all opensource manner as „openETCS”. Fraunhofer is going to display methods to verify the system as safe at Innotrans 2014 from September 23 to 26.

The train brings Europe closer together. Nevertheless, the rail control system of individual countries still differ from one another; for example, train drivers do not use standardized signals or standard procedures when a signal malfunctions. In addition, train control systems – such as the automatic stop for a signal violation – operate differently from one country to another. While there is in fact a standard European specification in the form of the ETCS, there are also many national specifications. Technically integrating the standard with all these exceptions on the trains has been time-consuming and, above all, expensive. Moreover, no manufacturer can offer an ETCS on-board unit today that is fully approved for all affected routes in Europe. Therefore, Deutsche Bahn, the German railway service, is promoting “openETCS”, an open source software program that is to be freely accessible, manufacturer-independent and significantly cheaper.

The aim of Dr. Klaus-Rüdiger Hase, openETCS Project Manager at DB, is “to equip all new trains, as far as possible, with the open software in the future. As of 2017, vehicles will be traveling for which the ETCS function software has been licensed pursuant to the European Union Public License (EUPL). The EUPL published by the EU Commission takes into account issues of EU product liability law as well as copyright in Europe. As a result, we expect more competition, more cost-effective support for and long-term use of the software, as well as faster innovation cycles.”

Safe and Simple Certification

Since ETCS is a safety-critical system, it must be thoroughly certified. The Fraunhofer Institute for Open Communication Systems FOKUS in Berlin is working to formally document the implementation of openETCS. In the process, researchers will turn to Frama C, a software analysis tool made by the French partner institute CEA LIST, as their primary resource. This way, the source code can be mathematically verified which guarantees a very high degree of reliability. Moreover, if the software is developed further, not all components of the new version will have to be verified again. This reduces the cost and complexity for the update.

According to Jens Gerlach, Project Manager at Fraunhofer FOKUS, the biggest challenge is “to formally specify the informal ETCS requirements in railway operations as far as the software is concerned.” This project will run until the end of 2015. At InnoTrans in Berlin (Hall 23B, Stand 206), the scientists will be presenting their current results and the possibilities of certification.

Source: Fraunhofer

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