"CBTC systems have to take part in the evolution of of a cities' transportation system; nowadays they can provide high quality of service, but in the future they will have to keep providing the same service while dealing with others communicating safety systems such as ITS roads."
Ahead of our SmartMetro Madrid conference, we sat down with Juliette Fournier, System Engineer for the NExTEO project at SNCF, for a quick chat about her job and the operator's latest CBTC endeavours.
Juliette will be a speaker in SmartMetro Madrid on November 25-27th, where she will talk about managing deployment activities for CBTC integration in the French rail network, in a presentation relevant to industry experts and decision makers alike. Join us in Madrid for the full topic, and find out a bit more about her in the interview below.
First off, a bit of background: How did you start your current career path, and what does your position as System Engineer at SNCF entails?
I've worked at SNCF for almost 6 years, where I helped define the NExTEO project writing specifications before the contract was awarded. Then I took part on the evaluation and validation of the supplier system and CBTC solutions, in particular the hardware equipment (and more recently, its parametric process).
Currently, I’m in charge of guaranteeing suppliers can deploy their CBTC system with the correct input data -- the French national railway always gets modified because of maintenance operations or infrastructure evolution, and we have to migrate from a legacy system to a CBTC system in a complex brownfield environment.
How has the rail industry changed since you started working in it?
The main evolution I see is digitization in general -- digitization of data and digitization of processes expand the scope of some activities, therefore adding new responsibilities. Some operators, like SNCF, tend to outsource development activities in order to concentrate on deploying and operating interlocking systems.
What industry challenges do you identify as the most pressing ones, and how is SNCF tackling them?
I think that the main challenge for all industries in the future is to ensure good protection against cyber-attacks. SNCF is concerned about that, and provides solutions to be deployed on its network.
What is the goal of the NExTEO project?
The aim of the NExTEO project is to deploy a new rail traffic management system on the French rail network, as part of the EOLE project which deals with the extension to the west of the existing E line (extension from Haussmann Saint-Lazare in center of Paris to Nanterre and Mantes-La-Jolie) in order to address the dense traffic issues in Paris.
The actual signaling subsystem on the E line is based on a fixed signaling block and manual train driving. Such a system does not offer the performance needed on high density lines, and there is a need for a new operating system such as NExTEO -- which is a CBTC system based on moving block. CBTC lines are already widely deployed in France in urban environments, but NExTEO will be the first one in a suburban zone.
What were the most noteworthy challenges you guys solved or are in the process of solving?
Generally speaking, the NExTEO project is a big challenge, because of the multiple interfaces it deals with (interlocking, rolling stock, information system applications, new radio network), and also because it is a complex migration project with three commissioning steps in three years.
The main issues are how to test the system during ongoing public transit operations, modifying the current interlocking interface, and adding new CBTC functionalities to the existing infrastructure. We also have to deal with new standardization (radio, cyber, etc) during development, and therefore must anticipate any changes to commission a successful system.
What are the pros and cons of sharing ITS bands between rail and road?
There is no pros for both sides when sharing the 5,9GHz bandwidth! CBTC and road ITS applications have different uses -- this became mandatory because of the European Commission decision in August 2008 to harmonize the use of radio spectrum in the 5,9GHz band for safety-related applications of Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS).
The difficulty for rail community is to find a way of sharing a part of the band with road ITS without impacting CBTC availability. Providing a high level performance as CBTC systems are supposed to do implies the guarantee that radio network will not fail because of interference from other roads systems “talking”.
A failure in CBTC radio transmission between on board sub-system and track-side equipment could stop automatic train traffic. Even if CBTC has priority in a part of the band, ITS vehicles have to apply a mitigation technique in order to not impact CBTC, and these mitigation technique and conditions are the main subject of the future European standards to be specified.
Recently, we spoke with Frédéric Jans-Cooremans, Project Manager & Radio Spectrum Manager at STIB-MIVB who talked to us about the push to standardise frequencies and bands used by CBTC systems. Are you involved with that initiative in any way or taking that into account on your project?
Yes, for the NExTEO project, we will have to take into account the future standards of CBTC bandwidth. There is a need for the future NExTEO line, but also for future CBTC lines to be operated by SNCF. That’s why I participate on discussions in the JTFIR group at ETSI as a SNCF member -- I met Frédéric in this group, too, which is a group of experts is mandated to specify the sharing solutions between CBTC and road ITS.
What current and possible future trends in CBTC interest you the most?
Bandwidth evolution and the way to keep high availability, in order to be the user's preference for public transportation. CBTC systems have to take part in the evolution of of a cities' transportation system; nowadays they can provide high quality of service, but in the future they will have to keep providing the same service while dealing with others communicating safety systems such as ITS (Intelligent Transportation Systems) roads.
It’s interesting to work on that subject because it’ a big challenge to define a frame communicating standard, considering both road ITS and urban rail ITS have different uses and users. CBTC suppliers and operators have to work together in order to comply with future standards.
What's the biggest professional challenge you've ever faced?
Deploying the first CBTC system on the French rail network! The biggest professional challenge I’ve ever faced is the project I still working on. Indeed, the NExTEO project is the first CBTC system deployed on the French rail network -- it means that we have to insert CBTC trains into normal traffic, with dynamic transition towards CBTC domain in the Paris dense traffic area, while respecting planned timetables when the train gets the domain output in order to continue its run towards suburb stations. It would be easier if the CBTC domain was a closed zone, with only CBTC traffic inside.
Are there any past projects in your life you're proud of? Are there any upcoming ones you're excited about?
Some years ago, I participated on the first step of the commissioning of the extension of Rio de Janeiro Metro line 1, which was really exciting. The automatic metro line in Rio is based on fixed blocks, where analogical equipment are set-up along the track and the train captures the communicating signal when it runs above it -- the train knows the speed limits and the positions to stop automatically.
As for upcoming ones, in 2023 I will be proud to be part of NExTEO's commissioning success.
Finally, a question we ask all our interviewees: what's your favourite rail journey in the world, and why?
My favourite rail journey is the one where I can take the train in Paris in Winter after a working Friday, and arrive three or four hours later in the Alps -- it means I can ski the next day!
To meet Juliette and many other wonderful speakers and decision makers, come and join us at SmartMetro Madrid on 25-27th October 2019!