EU Space to keep Europe’s railways on track

EU Space to keep Europe’s railways on track

When it comes to making European rail safer, cleaner and more efficient, the EU Space Programme is nothing short of a gamechanger. As a case in point, look no further than the European Railway Traffic Management System (ERTMS). 

ERTMS aims to make rail transport safer and more competitive by replacing Europe’s different national train control and command systems with a single, coordinated and highly digital solution. To do this, it’s using European GNSS.

Not only does GNSS provide precise positioning and localisation, when augmented by EGNOS and possibly fused with other sensors, it has the potential to replace the expensive physical balises used to monitor train speed and streamline rail operations. 

GNSS’ potential becomes even greater when its positioning is complemented by Earth Observation. For example, railway operators can use Earth Observation data to monitor and prevent vegetation encroachment, landsides, and other risks that could endanger the safe operation of trains. 

With the goal of further advancing the safe use of GNSS as a source of positioning for trains, the EU Agency for the Space Programme (EUSPA) has funded several research and development projects. One of those projects is CLUG, an initiative dedicated to developing a cost-efficient train tracking solution using EU satellite technology in conjunction with other sensors and data. 

Developing future train technology today

The CLUG project brought together experienced rail operators and infrastructure managers to define a set of specifications and operational scenarios capable of meeting the sector’s strict safety needs. The main outcome of this work is an interoperable, failsafe Train Localisation on Board Unit (TLOBU). 

The TLOBU uses measurements from a GNSS receiver and an EGNOS-enabled integrity algorithm, together with other technologies, such as an IMU and a digital map notably, to provide train and railway operators with such critical information as positioning and velocity. 

“It is within EUSPA’s long term strategy to ensure that EGNSS can support fail-safe train localization within ERTMS. CLUG consortium composed by many important railway undertakings and system integrators is contributing to this objective by developing Train Localization onboard unit, combining EGNSS with additional sensors to achieve the required localization performance in difficult railway environment,” says Daniel Lopour, Market Development Officer for Rail and Logistics at EUSPA.

Read this: EGNOS and Galileo on the ambitious Digital Rail agenda (

“The idea is to move away from trackside-based train detection systems to onboard safe navigation systems using multi sensor fusion with EGNSS” said CLUG Project Coordinator Valentin Barreau, who made his remarks during the project’s Final Event on 9 June. 

“The absolute safe train positioning solution is oriented towards the needs of the future railway system. It will foster concepts such as intelligent traffic management, automated train operation (GoA2 to GoA4), ERTMS/ETCS Level 3 and it will decrease the cost of the ERTSM signalling system” by reducing the ground equipment used for safe train localisation, including axel counters, track circuits and, to some extent, physical balises.

Although the project itself is now finished, the CLUG team plans to continue developing its solution with the aim to include the necessary elements within the future evolution of the ERTMS technical specifications for interoperability.  

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