5G enters Dutch railways with this innovation

In the Netherlands a new product is on the horizon; a wireless axle counter that works on 5G. The infrastructure manager ProRail and innovator Rail Connect will work on this product for the next three years. According to Rail Connect director Jan-Wick Kranenburg, this can speed up the rollout of ERTMS with ten years, and save millions of euros.

Five years ago, ProRail asked whether something wireless could be devised to detect trains in the port area. Wick then, together with his business partner, came up with the solution for a wireless axle counter. Only freight trains run on the habour line, but ProRail had no insight into the exact location of the wagons and locomotives. According to him, this project was a great success.

New way of tendering offered opportunities

Subsequently, various requests were made from the ERTMS programme, in which a new way of tendering was applied. According to the director, this way of tendering offered a unique opportunity to further develop the wireless axle counter for train protection.

The wireless axle counter works on 5G, a relatively new technology for the rail sector. Kranenburg: “ProRail now works with cables and that change is drastic. Wireless technology is of course fundamentally different from wired technology. By entering into a conversation with each other and drawing up the right specifications, we can demonstrate that it works. With this new technology, we can take rail safety and reliability to a higher level.”

Wireless axle counter is European first

The development of a wireless axle counter is a European first. “If this succeeds, it will be huge, everyone in Europe will want it. This makes the introduction of ERTMS ten years faster, and there is also cost savings. Then we are talking about millions of euros.”

The director firmly believes in his plan. “We know that this works and will succeed, that conviction is there. Now, together with ProRail, we have to demonstrate that the wireless axle counter can also be made suitable for train protection purposes. Everything has to work perfectly. Again, it is about train safety and no concessions are made.”

Kranenburg and his company Rail Connect have the ambition to provide the whole of the Netherlands with this innovative wireless axle counter within three years. But what does such an axle counter do? “The word says it all, it counts axes. Rather; it counts wheels. In this way we know when a train is entering a certain section, but also when that train is leaving the section and the section is free for other train traffic.”

Axle counters in themselves are not new, wireless axle counters, on the other hand, are. “The new ERTMS replaces the old ATB security system. The basis of ERTMS is the application of axle counters. Current axis counters require wiring for power and data communication. This means that many cables have to be drawn for 20,000 axle counters. That means a lot of digging along the track and a lot of digging means a lot of time and money,” explains Kranenburg.

‘New way of tendering offers many opportunities’

The director praises ProRail’s new way of tendering. “This offers a lot of opportunities. If it had sticked to the traditional manners, this idea would never have gotten off the ground. ProRail is now also taking a risk by doing this. That’s a good thing. Instead of getting an assignment and executing it, we can now actively think about how things can be done better, more sustainably and faster. That is a win-win situation in my opinion.”

It takes three years to develop wireless axis counters. There is still much work to be done during this time. “We are now going to draw up the specifications together with ProRail and answer the question: how can we use wireless communication for train protection? That is a very important phase, because this phase will determine what the product will eventually look like. We will show that this really works and that it improves rail safety. It will be an exciting and above all very fun time.”

This article was originally published on Spoorpro, our Dutch sister publication.

Author: Marieke van Gompel

Marieke van Gompel is editor of RailFreight.com and chief editor of the ProMedia Group online magazines.

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