IRSE conference overview: “CBTC and Beyond”

Written by Yousef Kimiagar

Keynote speaker Andy Byford, now President of MTA New York City Transit.

For the second consecutive year, the IRSE (Institution of Railway Signal Engineers) “CBTC and Beyond” conference was held in Toronto at the Fairmont Royal York. The 2017 conference, Nov. 30-Dec. 1, included a technical tour of the state-of-the-art, award-winning Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension (TYSSE), showcasing the line’s application of communications-based train control.

More than 110 advanced train control and industry experts representing about 40 firms, organizations and agencies from around the globe came together to share and exchange their global knowledge and experience gained over the decades. There were 15 rail transit industry presenters.


Yousef Kimiagar

Organizing Committee Chairman Yousef Kimiagar noted that the increasing interest in this conference is “evidence that we are heading in the right direction connecting experts and young professionals. When moving-block CBTC was born more than three decades ago, it took the industry almost a decade to adopt the solution on a few lines, once there was confidence in the added value. But now, generations X and Y are embracing and contributing to the fourth industrial revolution at a much faster pace. Emerging technology breakthroughs have increased the level of automation and reduced human intervention. This needs to be recognized now within the transit and rail industry.”

Kimiagar also highlighted the need for more high-tech and skilled resources in the industry, and that there are not many organizations performing education and training. “The burden continues to be on the industry to familiarize, attract and train new graduates,” he said.


Markus Montigel, Senior Vice President, IRSE.

IRSE Senior Vice President Dr. Markus Montigel, who traveled from Switzerland, welcomed the audience and briefly described the IRSE organization. He then talked about  IRSE events and activities around the globe, and invited the professionals present to join the IRSE as members and contribute to the industry through its variety of programs.

Andy Byford gave the keynote address. Byford became Chief Executive Officer of the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) in 2012. His leadership led to many improvements in the organization to the point that, in October 2017, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) gave TTC its “Outstanding Public Transportation System Achievement” award. TTC is the largest transit agency in Canada and the third largest in North America, carrying more than 540 million riders annually. Byford is now President of MTA New York City Transit (NYCT).

Byford talked about the challenges he faced during his term, and praised the TTC team for its hard work and perseverance overcoming those challenges. He noted that back in the 1980s, Toronto and Vancouver were the first cities to be equipped with moving-block CBTC capable of Grade of Automaton Level 4 (GoA4) and Unattended Train Operation (UTO). Now, after more than 30 years, CBTC is being implemented in Toronto.

Dr. Andreas Steingröver and Jörg Biesenack from Siemens presented Strategies for Successful Re-signaling Without Interruption of Service. Their paper elaborated on the success factors for refurbishment of metro signaling and control systems. Typically, the strategy for re-signaling a metro is influenced by introduction of new trains, GoA levels, line extensions or a combination. Two approaches were presented. One is a staged approach; the other relies on a complete dual fitting with switchover and back. Plenty of on-site testing time is necessary for deployment of new operational concepts or modes.

David Dimmer of Thales presented Resignaling with CBTC – Overlay or Complete Replacement? which reviewed two strategies for resignaling an existing metro line with CBTC: overlaying CBTC on top of an existing fixed-block signaling system, or a complete replacement with standalone CBTC. The two strategies were compared with respect to migration complexity and final implementation performance.

Saïd El Fassi (SNCF) and Virginie Raoul (Systra) presented NExTEO EOLE Project – Introducing CBTC on Line E in Paris, increasing the overall performance of a suburban line in a conventional open railway, not just adding a new signaling system and new onboard driving mode. They discussed the benefits of CBTC under ATO (Automatic Train Operation) with speed curves very close to an emergency brake intervention. This removes the driver reaction time and provides a smoother ride. They explained that this gain is only possible if the existing transportation system hosting CBTC is in accordance with overall expected performance. Three axis of the engineering approach are developed to define, assess and control overall performances: 1) performance assessment and system architecture; 2) system modeling approach; and 3) impact of human factors.

TTC’s Pete Tomlin talked about Brownfield Resignaling of the Yonge, University, and Spadina Line Subway in Toronto, with an overview of TTC’s objectives for ATC (Automatic Train Control), the contract history and changes up to March 2015, when TTC moved “all in” with Alstom to deliver the project. An overview of the project delivery from March 2015 to the present day was reviewed along with Phase 1 (Yorkdale to Dupont) in service, TYSSE partially in service and “ghost mode,” and lessons learned and takeaways for success.

Dr. David Thurston (Chairman IRSE North America Section, and Chief Engineer-Train Control, Canadian Pacific) discussed CBTC interoperability by reviewing its history from its beginnings in Paris with SACEM, to virtual block, to distributed location determination schemes. He cast the future as “a little more cloudy,” and highlighted the high cost of developing a new vital system, with suppliers having to adjust expectations relative to functionality, cost and support. A market has matured with several varieties of incompatible offerings. New York and Paris (as well as China) have strived to come up with interoperability, with mixed success. Current technology will need to interface with intelligent transport systems (ITS) and Internet of Things (IoT), among others.

TTC Chief Operating Officer Mike Palmer presented Lessons Learned: The Easy and Hard Ways for Brownfield CBTC. He reminded signaling engineers and contractors that the customer is “always” right and that operational considerations are just as relevant as the technical side.

Adeeb Khawja, Thales, analyzed the applicability of a Long Term Evolution (LTE) Cellular Standard for CBTC Communications. Results of tests conducted by Thales were presented along with an outline of projects under development that are using LTE, either as the primary communication medium or as a backup to an IEEE 802.11 wireless system.

Raheel Qureshi, Thales, presented A Cyber Approach to Connected Urban Transport. Ransomware has been a major discussion topic within the global transport community, as patch management presents challenges for an operations network. “As we move forward into the very connected cyber era, with interconnected vehicles and transport systems via the use of digital applications and open networks, we face an increasing amount of cyber threats impacting the integrity, availability and—most important—everyday safety,” he said. “The growing number of digitized solutions added to a rail operation increases dependency on IoT, making them more prone to cyber-attacks. Due to complexity, the cross between Operations Network (OT) and Information Technology (IT) are more closely intertwined, therefore a breach in one network can easily impact another network.”

Jonathan Hulse, Parsons, presented Prescriptive VS. Performance Based Specifications for CBTC. “In spite of best efforts and intentions, many specifications are overly prescriptive, and there are many reasons for this,” he noted. “Ultimately, specifications are client- and consultant-driven, and there are different needs among greenfield and brownfield projects and those in between, such as system upgrades or extensions.”

Tom Ceunen, OTN Systems, presented New Communications Standard for Vital Communications in Rail/Transit. Through a collaboration of the IETF, the ITU-T and Industry, MPLS-TP (Multiprotocol Label Switching-Transport Profile) has been defined. MPLS simply and efficiently directs data from one network node to the next based using short path labels rather than long network addresses. MPLS-TP combines this packet efficiency with mission-critical grade performance for packet-based, mission-critical operational networks.


Speakers at the conference included: Top row, left to right: Jörg Biesenack, David Dimmer, Saïd El Fassi and Virgine Raoul, Pete Tomlin. Middle row, left to right: David Thurston, Mike Palmer, Adeeb Khawja and Raheel Qureshi.


Dr. Alan Rumsey

Dr. Alan Rumsey, principal of Rumsey Transit Systems Consulting, summarized Strategic Drivers of Change in the Signaling Industry, as viewed by the IRSE’s International Technical Committee. He discussed drivers of change from the perspective of users/specifiers of signaling systems, including: a continued emphasis on system safety, an increased focus on operations, and the need for lower cost signaling solutions to support the business case for signaling upgrades. Drivers of change for suppliers/providers include maintaining a competitive edge, developing global solutions/products, and communication technology considerations.

The technical tour arranged by TTC of TYSSE showcased ATO as provided by Alstom’s Urbalis 400 moving-block CBTC technology.

Yousef Kimiagar, MMSc., P.Eng., PMP, FIRSE, is Vice President and Transit & Rail Systems Manager-Canada at Gannett Fleming Transit & Rail Systems; and Chairman of the Organizing Committee, Institution of Railway Signal Engineers (IRSE). This article was adapted from the April 2018 edition of IRSE News.

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