škoda 2024

Digirata - an ETCS in Finland

updated on 18th Apr 2024 13:31 posted on 5th Apr 2024 19:48

Like other European countries, also Finland is preparing to introduce ERTMS. This is because the existing ATP Ebicab900 is coming to the end of its life. Therefore, a project Digirata (Digirail), partly funded by the EU, has been launched to improve rail safety and also to make more efficient use of track capacity.

Ebicab900 with cab signalling has been in use in Finland since 1995 and since been deployed pretty much all over the network. Before this, there were only visual signals available, with track vacancy detection by track circuits or axle counters. Finnish railway network has been signalled by interlockings and block systems from 1960’s, around beginning of 2000’s the whole network was secured by some kind of signalling system. There has never been any other automatic train protection system in use except Eicab900 in Finland.

Project progress

The Digirata project was launched in 2019 and involves VR, Väylävirasto (Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency), Fintraffic (State Transport Management Authority - land, air and water), Traficom (State Agency for Licensing and Registration related to Transport and Communications), HSL (Helsingin seudun liikenne, the authority overseeing public transport operations in Helsinki) and the Ministry of Transport and Communications.

The analytical phase of Digirata ended in April 2020, followed by the preparatory phase from August 2020 to April 2021, followed by the development and validation phase in early autumn 2021, which included many laboratory tests and ended in December 2022. During this phase, some of the components of the on-board ETCS were installed on the Sr2 3202 locomotive, namely the radar on both fronts, as well as a the antenna on the roof, and EVC computer together with a multi-channel router in the engine room. The sensor package included satellite tracking technology with RTK (Real-Time Kinematics) support, which can determine the position of the vehicle in real time with centimeter accuracy. This new system is separate from the existing vehicle systems and is used separately from them. 

After testing the functionality of the new equipment, the locomotive was returned to service at the end of October 2022. The test runs took place around Tampere, Jyväskylä and Oulu to test how the satellite tracking works, especially in areas with forests, fields, tunnels, rock passages or on large track yards; winter tests were also essential. The positioning test equipment has been dismantled after the tests were completed in September 2023.

Jonas Eriksson, ERTMS project manager at VR, comments: "This project is also topical at international level, as the current European rail legislation does not contain any regulations on the requirements for modern positioning systems and is still in the process of being developed. The aim is to introduce regulations that allow the use of modern technologies. That is why we are investigating satellite positioning in the Digirata project, because we want to test which technologies work best, especially in Finnish conditions, as this will ensure smoother operation under ETCS supervision also in the Nordic countries."

First VR locomotive with functional ETCS 

Last year, an important milestone was reached when the first VR locomotive with ETCS OBU was presented at Kouvola depot on 10 November. It is the Sr1 3018 of VR Transpoint, the freight division of the VR Group.

The locomotive, with a Bo'Bo' axle arrangement, a top speed of 140 km/h and a power of 3,100 kW, is designed for the 25 kV 50 Hz voltage and comes from the batch of 112 machines, 3001 - 3110 produced by the Soviet NEVZ factory in Novocherkassk in 1973 - 85. More precisely, a prototype, No. 3000, was built in 1971, but was owned by the manufacturer until 1994, when it was rebuilt at the VR Hyvinkää workshops (north of Helsinki) in 1995 and renumbered 3112. In addition, locomotive 3111 was assembled from spare parts in 1995. 

The Sr1 3018 dates from 1975. The purchase of the on-board ETCS Level 2 was the responsibility of Väylävirasto, which then ordered the installation from VR. The retrofit was then carried out by VR FleetCare (i.e. the maintenance division within the VR Group), with work starting in June 2023. The ETCS OBU is from Thales.

Jonas Eriksson says: "The work was carried out on an almost 50-year-old locomotive and there were many technical problems; there was a lot of screwing and fitting and cables were pulled into tight spaces, but there were always practical solutions. The lessons learned have been documented and will be used in the future. We use the 5G networks of commercial telecom operators for data transmission because they are very reliable and secure. I don't think there is another country in Europe that has come from virtually nothing to where we are today in three years."

In March 2024, extensive track tests began with Sr1 3018 on the Kouvola - Kotka - Hamina (KoKoHa, 54 km) test section, northeast of Helsinki, which is expected to last a year. This is the moment when the first powered vehicle with a Switch-On ETCS OBU appeared on Finnish railways. To clarify, the ETCS OBUs on VR vehicles are already being fitted from the factory on the Class Sr3 Vectrons and Class Dr19 diesel locomotives.


This acronym stands for "ensimmäisen kaupallisen rataosan" or "first commercial railway line" for ETCS-supervised operation, this being Lielahti (northwest of Tampere) - Rauma/Pori. Simulations were carried out in 2022 to confirm the correctness of the proposed ETCS solution on this line.

In December 2023, planning for the construction of the EKA was started and is expected to be completed by the end of August this year. Its total length will be approximately 190 km and it is a single track line with passenger and freight operation. There are six locations equipped with platforms, where passenger trains can stop.

The EKA starts with Lielahti - Nokia - Siuro section (around 25 km). Then follows the Siuro - Suoniemi section, where the transition from JKV to ETCS and vice versa will take place. From here EKA continues to Kokemäki (approximately 50 km), where it splits into two directions: south-west to Rauma station (around 47 km) and north-west to Pori and Mäntyluoto station (approximately 57 km) and then on to Tahkoluoto (approximately 11 km). 

EKA is divided in 18 operational sections: 15 of these will be operated with ERTMS (from Suoniemi to west) and three will remain with Ebicab (from Siuro to east). The pilot operation under ETCS supervision on EKA is expected to start in June 2026. Furthermore, it is envisaged that between 2027 and 2040 the stationary part of ETCS will be installed and operational on the entire Finnish railway network (approximately 6,000 km).

In January 2024, Siemens Mobility and Junakalusto Oy signed an agreement to test the ETCS OBU in Finland on two Class Sm5 FLIRTs. In addition to Trainguard, they will be fitted with Siemens' ATO.

We asked the companies involved in Digirata:

How much % is the EU contributing to the Digirata project? How many million EUR costs the project so far?
"Digirail is part of the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) Plan for Finland approved by the Government in May 2021. The budget of the development phase in 2021 - 2027 is 130 million EUR, of which RRF funding covers 85 million EUR. The total cost of Digirail will be  1.7 billion EUR over the period from 2021 to 2040, including infrastructure and onboard costs."

Why was a 50-year-old locomotive, at the end of its life, used as a prototype for ETCS OBU, and not Sr2 or Sr3?
"The Class Sr1 locomotive still has a life cycle left and it was possible to hand over the locomotive in question for installation and tests. We believe that we will get a good test experience of ETCS Level 2 operation regardless of the age of the locomotive class."

Is it envisaged that the Class Sr1s will be equipped with ETCS OBU? How many locomotives?
"Yes. VR issued a procurement notice for this in December 2023. In the first phase, we have planned to retrofit 28 Class Sr1 locomotives with ETCS."

How many VR vehicles in total are planned to be equipped with ETCS?
"A possible first-phase acquisition will enable the equipping of almost two hundred vehicles."

When is it planned to launch a tender for the ETCS OBU supplier?
"We issued a procurement notice for this in December 2023."

Will 6,000 km of Finnish lines really be equipped with track-side ETCS?
"Roll out will cover the whole Finland’s Railway network. The implementation phase (roll-out) and its planning has started this by the beginning of this year."

Have the suppliers for the track-side ETCS been already selected?
"The first contract for the first 190 km will be signed in near future. We will announce this by Press Release."




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