škoda 2024

A complex mix of problems around ÖBB's and other Tauruses, ČD railjets and ETCS

posted on 21st Mar 2024 14:36

The ÖBB Class 1216 locomotives have problems with the ETCS OBUs when crossing the Austrian-Czech border and subsequently to run under ETCS supervision in the Czech Republic. For many years now, trains running under ETCS supervision have had a problem in the Bernhardsthal - Břeclav border section during their handover between the Austrian and Czech radio-block centres (RBC - RBC handover), as the ÖBB Class 1116 and 1216 Tauruses (and also Class 80-90 driving trailers of railjets) are unable to register with the Czech GSM-R network when travelling from Austria (although the Vectrons do not have this problem).

Until the end of 2023, however, this situation did not particularly matter from a purely operational point of view, as an ETCS lockout was introduced on the sidetrack ETCS between Bernhardsthal and Břeclav in both the Czech and Austrian RBCs. The reason for this was the protracted negotiations with the Austrian side over bilateral agreements between SŽDC (now Správa železnic, the Czech infrastructure manager) and ÖBB concerning border arrangements. The latter relate to the changes resulting from the 4th railway package, which here mainly means the issue of allowing new vehicles (even approved ones) to enter border crossing stations.

The result of the ETCS lockout on both RBCs was that all trains running under ETCS supervision were switched to the Austrian PZB ATP at Břeclav when travelling to Austria and at Bernhardsthal when travelling to the Czech Republic for the border section Bernhardsthal - Břeclav by a command from the RBC, while in motion.

Already since 2018 there have been technical discussions about the implementation of a handover between the Czech and Austrian RBCs. At the same time, negotiations between ÖBB Infra and Správa železnic were ongoing at several levels, including the topic of the border arrangement and its adaptation for ETCS. Already in September 2021, Správa železnic launched the upgraded sidectrack ETCS Level 2 on the Czech side according to the Baseline 3 specification, upgraded to Release 2, system version 1.1. The last meeting regarding ETCS took place in March 2023. It confirmed that the ETCS across the state border is operational and that the border arrangement, which includes the launch of the sidetrack ETCS, will come into force on 1 January 2024.

This is what happened and from the beginning of this year the ETCS lockout was lifted in both RBCs, which means that trains running under ETCS supervision will no longer be automatically switched to the national ATP, in this case PZB, in both directions.

Situation on the Austrian-Czech border since 1 January 2024

While trains headed by Vectrons have been running on the Bernhardsthal - Břeclav section under ETCS supervision in both directions since 1 January 2024, trains coming from Austria, hauled by locomotives that cannot register with the Czech GSM-R network, must stop and the driver must manually switch the on-board ETCS from Level 2 to the national ATP, i. e. PZB, which can only be done when the train is stationary.

For this reason, ÖBB-Personenverkehr has introduced a four-minute stop at Bernhardsthal Frachtenbahnhof (freight station) for trains propelled by Class 1216 Tauruses for operational reasons, namely for the services "Vindobona" rj 70 Wien Hbf - Praha, rj 72 and rj 74 Graz - Praha, EC 106 "Porta Moravica" Graz - Przemyśl, EN 406 "Chopin" München - Wien Hbf - Warszawa and NJ 456 Graz - Berlin. Initially, this ÖBB-Personenverkehr‘s measure was set to expire at the beginning of February 2024, but is currently still in force.

The reason is that Austrian locomotives with the older on-board ETCS (version 2.3.0) have in the past undergone a non-standard modification on the ETCS OBU that prevents registration to a GSM-R network other than the Austrian one. As a consequence, trains with the ÖBB‘s Class 1216 Tauruses (and also of Class 1116 in passenger regional and freight transport) going to the Czech Republic are not able to have dynamic transitions between the trackside ETCS on the Austrian and Czech sections, so that between Bernhardsthal and Břeclav these trains, including railjets (even those running with the driving trailer in front), have to use the PZB.

In the opposite direction, this problem does not occur because the on-board ETCS is reliably registered in the Austrian GSM-R network for Tauruses coming from the Czech Republic. In other words, the Austrian RBC can be selected via an ETCS balise group at the state border, so that a train running under ETCS supervision on Czech territory can smoothly pass under ETCS supervision on Austrian territory. However, this is assuming that the train is running on Czech territory under ETCS supervision.

ÖBB's Class 1216s and ETCS in the Czech Republic

The ÖBB‘s Class 1216 (Type ES64U4) Tauruses cannot run on the Czech network under ETCS supervision because they still cannot log into the Czech GSM-R network when arriving from Austria, so they still use only the national MIREL VZ1 ATP. Therefore, when travelling to Austria, from 1 January 2024, trains with the ÖBB‘s 1216 Tauruses will be logged directly into the Austrian GSM-R network at the border, so that between Břeclav and Bernhardsthal they will now run under ETCS supervision and continue so to Wien.

The ÖBB-Produktion, under which ÖBB locomotives are centrally incorporated within the Group (and provided for passenger and freight transport), will thus have to solve not only the problem of their registration to the Czech GSM-R network on the locomotives in question, but also the software update of their ETCS OBU. We asked ÖBB when should this happen? Why hasn't this problem for ETCS supervised running in the Czech Republic been solved before?
ÖBB answered us: "The issues relate to the Classes 1116, 1216 and 80-90 because the RBC - RBC handover requires certain technology that is currently being retrofitted to these vehicles. Dynamic transiency should be possible from autumn 2024. The delay in the technical upgrading of the vehicles has been caused by the introduction of the 4th railway package, which led to delays in the technical upgrading of the vehicles. This is expected to be completed in autumn 2024.

On the Czech side comes across the view that BMK and ÖBB do not communicate accordingly concerning border arrangements. What do you see as a reason for this? In response, ÖBB simply said "No statement can be made on this."

The Austrian Ministry BMK commented: "The problems at the Bernhardsthal - Břeclav border crossing are related to shortcomings in the equipment of the vehicles of the individual operators. In terms of infrastructure, it is ensured that the border can be crossed by vehicles with both PZB and ETCS. It should be noted here that the infrastructure agreements cannot compensate for the limitations on the rolling stock side. In our opinion, there is no lack of communication. We have a regular dialogue with the Czech authorities and ÖBB. Since our last exchange of views, we have not received any questions from the Czech side on this subject."

ETCS in Class 1216 Tauruses used by ČD

In general, things are not easy with Tauruses in relation to ETCS at the moment. So far no ÖBB Class 1216 locomotive has the ETCS OBU according to Baseline 3 (like the ES64U4 Tauruses of other operators), so it would mean paying for and authorisation a prototype ETCS installation. The problem also applies to ČD railjets, whose driving trailers have not yet been fitted with on-board ETCS, although these units have been in international service since 2014 - together with Tauruses leased by ČD from ÖBB.

Therefore, ČD is still planning to add ETCS to its seven railjets, as well as to six Class 1216.9 Tauruses, also of Type ES64U4, purchased from RTS (1216 902 and 903, acquired in 2019) and WLC (1216 951 - 954, acquired in 2021), which are located in Bohumín depot and serve both Praha and Wien hauling the express trains.

The first mentioned Taurus pair does not have the on-board ETCS, so retrofitting is solved here, the remaining four have again the older Austrian version of ETCS OBU (produced by Siemens), so it will be an upgrade. These originally Austrian locomotives, together with the ČD railjets, are the last vehicles in the ČD fleet that are not yet equipped with the ETCS, either from as new from manufacturing, or retrofitted.

The situation with these locomotives and ČD railjets has already become critical, as the date of 1 January 2025, when ETCS-only operation on the first Czech main corridors (Praha - Česká Třebová - Brno - Břeclav, Česká Třebová - Přerov and Bohumín - Přerov - Břeclav) is very close. Considering the time remaining until the end of this year and the fact that the ETCS retrofit is still being addressed, it is still more likely that after1 January 2025, the six ČD Tauruses will be temporarily used on other lines and that the ČD railjets will be only pulled by an ETCS fitted locomotive (i. e. with the driving trailer not fulfilling its function).

However, this raises the question of what class of locomotive it will be, as the ten-year contract between ČD and ÖBB for the lease of the seven Class 1216 Tauruses for hauling railjets is expiring this year, to which ČD has stated that it is addressing the matter and that it considers it "most appropriate to agree on a common procedure and a unified solution for both ČD and ÖBB trains".

ETCS in Class 1216 (ES64U4) Tauruses of other operators

PKP IC also tried to retrofit the on-board ETCS to its ten Husarz locomotives, i. e. Class EU44 in Poland or 183 according to the German scheme, or with the designation 5 370 001 - 010 according to the new Polish scheme. Only Siemens entered the first tender for a retrofit, but with a price that far exceeded the budget estimated by the PKP IC, so the tender was cancelled. Later, no bidders entered the second and third tender.

The issue of ETCS must also be addressed by SŽ of Slovenia, which has 32 Class 541 Tauruses (001 - 022 and 101 - 110), and many other operators, which have varyingly small numbers of units.

In Austria, these are CargoServ with 1216 930 - 933, Adria Transport with 1216 920 - 922, LTE with 1216 910, Steiermarkbahn Transport und Logistik (StB TL) with 183 717 and 1216 960, DPB Rail Infra Service with 1216 940, WLC, which still has 1216 950 and 955, and RTS, which has kept 1216 901. Both latter companies sold their locomotives to ČD as described above.

In the Czech Republic it is PKP CARGO INTERNATIONAL with 183 714, 718 and 719, which came from the end of production of the Taurus family in 2011 and were taken over by the then AWT in November and December 2013.

In Italy these are Ferrovie Udine Cividale (FUC; E 190 301 and 302), InRail (E 190 312 - 314) and Compagnia Ferroviaria Italiana (CFI; E 190 321 and 322). In Germany, there is still a quintet of 183 001 - 005, which until last year served on ALEX trains. And Railadventure uses 183 500 and E 190 311 locomotives.

And last but not least, there is ÖBB itself, which operates 50 Class 1216 Tauruses. However, these are equipped with the Alstom's Atlas on-board ETCS, so the question here is whether ÖBB will decide to upgrade or replace these ETCS OBUs. The latter option would significantly reduce the cost of the prototype installation budgeted for each series retrofit, as ÖBB alone has only slightly fewer Class 1216 Tauruses than all the other operators mentioned above together (although it is questionable whether one prototype would be sufficient given the number of ES64U4 variants, since ÖBB alone has three Class 1216 configurations for various countries, for example).

Therefore, it would make sense if a project of common installation of on-board ETCS for all owners and users of Type ES64U4 locomotives was prepared, which would create more favourable economic and technical conditions. In addition, to locomotives that are already about half way through their planned service life - next year the ÖBB Class 1216 will "celebrate" twenty years of starting deliveries and the Taurus family in general has a quarter of a century, since deliveries of the Class 1016 to ÖBB started in 1999.

Questions to the subjects concerned

We asked ÖBB whether it is preparing any ETCS OBU retrofit project for its Class 1216 (and 1016 and 1116) Tauruses, and if so, in what timeframe. ÖBB’s answer: "The upgrade of the ETCS OBUs for Tauruses and Viaggio driving trailers is currently subject to an international tender, which means that ÖBB cannot make any statements in this context."

We asked whether Siemens Mobility is preparing any joint project of ETCS retrofits for the above mentioned operators and if so, in what timeframe. Similarly, what is the situation with the ES64F4 locomotives - is there any ETCS OBU upgrade in the pipeline? Siemens Mobility’s answer: "The consideration of a common retrofit of the ETCS on the named locomotives is correct. We are communicating with customers in this direction and it will depend on the results of the ongoing negotiations. The scope and timeframe of possible contracts will then be determined."

We asked PKP CARGO INTERNATIONAL how it is dealing with the situation with ETCS on its Class 183 Tauruses, as from 1 January 2025 an ETCS-only operation will be introduced on the first sections of the Czech corridors. Are you preparing any retrofit? On your own? Or are there any negotiations with Siemens?
Answer: „PKP CARGO INTERNATIONAL has been dealing with this situation for almost more than two years now, however, we still have a constant information from Siemens that the installation of the ETCS OBU on our Class 183.7 locomotives will be possible only after 2026/2027, taking into account the number and capacity of Siemens. However, the PKP CARGO INTERNATIONAL Group has already prepared a long-term strategy for the use of these locomotives within our companies in Slovakia and Hungary, i. e. where the ETCS-only operation is not a question of 2025.“

PKP Intercity clarified the situation with ETCS: "In November 2017, PKP Intercity received one offer in tender for the ETCS OBU retrofits in 10 Class EU44 Husarz locomotives. However, Siemens' bid exceeded the expected number at that time by approximately 31 %. In the following years, due to changes in regulations, new documentation was prepared and two new tenders were issued. Both the first tender in 2020 and the second in 2021 were invalid due to a lack of bids submitted. Another tender is currently under way, which is still open, and the deadline for submission of tenders is 29 March 2024“.

Let us add to this that it will be a challenging task to upgrade so many of various Type ES64U4 locomotives, as it is very difficult to coordinate the different operational needs of so many operators from several countries, their technical requirements and especially their financial capabilities into one large retrofit "package", which is the only approach that makes economic sense. One can only wish that such a plan could be realised, for otherwise there are only two options: either individual retrofits or upgrades in small batches at great expense, or the unusability of these still modern locomotives on main lines and in international transport in the years to come.


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