With more than 10,000 miles of track, and
the responsibility for carrying 1.5 billion
passengers and £870 million worth of freight
annually, the railways of Great Britain are a
key part of the national circulatory system.
And like any system, the efficiency and
reliability with which it can transport its
lifeblood are integral to its success.
It’s a story worth celebrating therefore,
that University researchers in the fields
of psychology and mathematics, have
helped the nation’s railways make some
revolutionary advances in areas such as
safe signalling and alarm technology.
“The system for detecting whether trains are on the track has been based upon a principle that is several hundred years old,” said Professor Martin Tomlinson, Chair of Communication in the School of Computing and Mathematics. “Each section of the track has two rails, and so with the steel wheels of the train, you can create a circuit. If a train is on the track, it forms a closed circuit which can be used to switch on a light or change a signal.”
In 2006 an opportunity arose for Martin
and his team in the Centre for Security,
Communications and Network Research
to use their expertise in coding to help
design a next-generation signalling
system. Entering into a Knowledge
Transfer Partnership with Bombardier
Transportation UK, the team created a
system of binary codes that could be
‘injected’ into the track via a signalling box.
“The key to the work was using mathematical principles to create codes that could be up to 100 digits long, and which had a large enough distance between them to ensure the overall system was robust,” Martin said.
The work became the basis of the EBI
Track 400 product, which underwent
an extremely rigorous testing process
overseen by Associate Professor
Mohammed Zaki Ahmed. Launched in 2008,
EBI Track 400 was lauded by the Institution
of Railway Signal Engineers as “a unique,
exceptionally safe, coding system and
communication technique”, and heralded
for its solving of the potentially dangerous
issue of traction current interference.
The system has since been adopted by Network Rail - representing an unprecedented achievement for a UK company - and has generated worldwide sales in excess of £6 million per annum across European, Asia Pacific and American markets. Its success ensured the long-term viability of the Plymouth site, secured more than 60 jobs, and also resulted in the project winning the ‘KTP Business Impact Award 2011’, presented by the Technology Strategy Board.