Siemens’ signalman

Siemens Transportation Systems is setting itself a real challenge. With its announcement last week of its entry into the UK signalling and communications market, Siemens will be seeking to make UK railways as punctual as Germany’s. The company, the third largest supplier to the world rail industry, has its sights on supplying signalling for the […]

Siemens Transportation Systems is setting itself a real challenge. With its announcement last week of its entry into the UK signalling and communications market, Siemens will be seeking to make UK railways as punctual as Germany’s.

The company, the third largest supplier to the world rail industry, has its sights on supplying signalling for the multi-million pound West Coast Main Line Train Control System (TCS) project, being developed by Alstom and Railtrack.

Managing director Kevin Tutton faces a tough timetable. If it goes ahead, by 2006 the TCS project promises to cut travel time between London and Manchester to less than two hours, with 140mph trains, track improvements and advanced signalling.

Tutton believes Siemens is a strong contender, having expertise in rolling stock, maintenance and communications. ‘Entry to the UK signalling market gives us a strong platform for the future as these technologies will be increasingly linked, as shown by the TCS,’ he says.

The project is due to start next year, but reports at the weekend once more cast doubt on whether it will go ahead or whether Railtrack will go for a cheaper, less sophisticated upgrade.

‘We have had several discussions with Railtrack which highlighted a clear opportunity in terms of the UK market requirement,’ says Tutton. ‘Railtrack complains that in the past it invested large sums on signalling schemes which proved very rigid and didn’t generate real operational improvements in the performance of the rail system. We are working with Railtrack to maximise the business case for using the latest signalling systems.’

Tutton took over responsibility for strategic development of Siemens Transportation operations as managing director in October 1997. He joined Siemens as finance director a couple of years earlier from electronics giant Plessey, where he was chief accountant involved with big civil and defence contracts.

Though he trained as an accountant rather than an engineer, this background gives him a more open perspective to the business. ‘The key issue is to focus on meeting our customer’s requirements from a total perspective, not just technology per se. We also have the benefit of considerable technological expertise at Siemens, from differing industry sectors across the globe, to meet local market requirements.’

Tutton stresses Siemens’ track record in the UK rail industry. It supplied £40m of rolling stock for the Heathrow Express project, and 16 three-car electrical units for the Northern Spirit Franchise (formerly Regional Railways North East), under a £55m contract. That included providing traction systems from Erlangen in Germany and mechanical supplies from Spanish partner CAF in Erlangen.

The TCS signalling project will dispense with colour light signals and complex cabling. It will use a sophisticated digital radio-based signalling system compatible with the European Transport Management System (ETMS) a common signalling and train control system being introduced across Europe.

If Siemens’ bid is successful, it will supply its Simis-W solid-state interlocking system. This can control signalling infrastructure at ground level for train detection, movement of points and the display of signals. New secure radio systems are also being created to help guarantee the safety of the signalling system.

Tutton is positive about the challenge of configuring the German technology to UK requirements, which ‘provides an excellent opportunity to marry the best of UK and German practices,’ he says.

Siemens is also angling for a share in the £250m a year Railtrack signalling modernisation. It will face tough competition from Anglo-French Alstom in partnership with Railtrack on the TCS project German-Swedish Adtranz, and the US’s Westinghouse, as well as Italian group Ansaldo.

But Tutton is confident that Siemens can play an important role: ‘We understand Railtrack is seeking new entrants to the market as part of its signalling partnership operation, in order to introduce new signalling technology and improve operational efficiency.’

Tutton says: ‘The UK rail system’s modernisation programme offers an excellent opportunity to become a partner within the British rail industry, replicating Siemens’ position globally. Britain offers us a fantastic challenge across a wide range of technological fields, at a time when the rail system is undergoing complete transformation. But we must also be a good service provider.’