Analysis of safe and effective next-generation rail signalling systems

Joelle Aoun*, Rob M.P. Goverde, Roberto Nardone, Egidio Quaglietta, Valeria Vittorini

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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Moving Block (MB) and Virtual Coupling (VC) rail signalling will change current train operation paradigm by migrating vital equipment from trackside to onboard to reduce train separation and maintenance costs. Their actual deployment is however constrained by the industry's need to identify configurations of MB and VC signalling equipment which can effectively guarantee safe train movements even under degraded operational conditions involving component faults. In this paper, we analyse the effectivity of MB and VC in safely supervising train separation under nominal and degraded conditions by using an innovative approach which combines Fault Tree Analysis (FTA) and Stochastic Activity Networks (SAN). An FTA model of unsafe train movement is defined for both MB and VC capturing functional interactions and cause-effect relations among the different signalling components. The FTA is used as a basis to apportion signalling component failure rates needed to feed the SAN model. Effective MB and VC train supervision is analysed by means of SAN-based simulations in the specific scenario of an error in the Train Position Report (TPR) for five rail market segments featuring different traffic characteristics, namely high-speed, mainline, regional, urban and freight. Results show that the thresholds of the design variables depend on the considered signalling system alternative and the investigated market segment. In particular, the TPR delay threshold allowed for MB is higher than for VC. This means that to ensure a safe train movement, VC cannot absorb a TPR delay of longer than 1.5 s, which corresponds to the mainline market segment. For MB instead, the results show that the maximum TPR delay can reach 3.9 s for high-speed and freight railways. In addition, results showed that the integration of an FTA in a SAN model can provide a better understanding of the safety-performance behaviour of a system where VC showed a higher number of braking indications with respect to MB for the same TPR error failure rate. This means that for VC to effectively supervise the train separation at the same safety level as MB, we would need to have a much higher reliability of the TPR. The overall approach can support infrastructure managers, railway undertakings, and rail signalling suppliers in investigating the effectiveness of MB and VC to safely supervise train movements in scenarios involving different types of degraded conditions and failure events. The proposed method can hence support the railway industry in identifying effective and safe design configurations of next-generation rail signalling systems.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104573
Number of pages20
JournalTransportation Research Part C: Emerging Technologies
Publication statusPublished - 2024


  • Moving Block
  • Performance
  • Safety
  • Stochastic activity networks
  • Virtual Coupling


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