Digirail aims to achieve safe and efficient train operation. Published on 2 July 2021, the Digirail Report provides details of how railway technical systems will be modernised in Finland. The Digirail project is now moving from preparation to practice as digital train control technology is constructed and piloted on the railways.
The goal is for Finland to introduce a modern radio network-based train control system for the entire rail network by the 2040s. The European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) will also replace the old system in accordance with EU requirements. The development and verification phase of Digirail will then test new solutions employing 5G-based data transmission.
“The preparatory phase of Digirail provided valuable information on how to replace the train control system as it approaches the end of its service life in the 2030s. I would like to thank everyone involved in these preparations for your co-operation. Pioneering work will now begin as the new system is tested on the Kouvola-Kotka-Hamina track section. Our digital solutions for rail transport will be a global leader, with the potential to be scaled up for a future international market,” says Minister of Transport and Communications Timo Harakka.
Digirail is a significant investment in the future of Finnish rail transport, and concerns far more than technological development alone.
“Digirail will provide more rail network capacity with a view to increasing rail passenger volumes, improving services, reducing disruption and cutting transport emissions,” continues Project Manager Juha Lehtola of the Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency.
“The modern Digirail system promises the best technological platform well into the future. This is a positive revolution for an entire mode of transport, whose significance is sure to outgrow our expectations,” says Project Officer Jari Pylvänäinen of Fintraffic Railway Ltd.
Testing in a real environment and in the laboratory
Digitalising a railway system is a major reform that requires trials. The first project testing field will be a test track on the Kouvola-Kotka/Hamina railway line together with the ERTMS test laboratory. These installations will pilot pioneering data transmission on railways in Europe. The test track comprising Finland’s first Digirail section and laboratory will be completed as part of a track section improvement project.
The aim is to realise a fully operational test laboratory in 2022 and to build the test track by 2024. Construction of a commercial pilot track is also planned with a view to launching commercial rail transport operations in 2026.
The Digirail project is developing a modern ERTMS train control system for Finland. The project will establish the technological foundations for a system to digitalise train positioning and automatic operation, to update capacity and schedule information, and to manage rail traffic.
This system will require radio network communications between the train and the track infrastructure. The recommended radio network is the Future Railway Mobile Communication System (FRMCS) based on 5G, which would rely on the available radio networks of commercial operators. The system will apply a uniform operating principle throughout Europe, with functions standardised for the European Union allowing uninterrupted movement of trains across land borders. A unique European trial will begin in Finland when the FRMCS system is tested on a commercial network. These Finnish trials have already aroused interest in Europe.
Funding requested from the EU
Digirail is also part of the Recovery and Resilience (RRF) Plan for Finland approved by the Government in May 2021. The European Commission has two months to assess the RRF Plans of Member States.
The funding would cover the preparation of testing and piloting operations during the development and verification phase of the project in 2021-2026 in the test laboratory, on the test track, and on a pilot track to remain available to commercial train traffic. The estimated cost of the development phase in 2021-2027 is EUR 130 million, of which RRF funding would cover EUR 85 million. An authorisation of EUR 130 million and a budget of EUR 5 million have been granted for the project in the third supplementary budget for 2021.
The total cost of Digirail will be EUR 1.7 billion over the period from 2021 to 2040. The Government will contribute EUR 1.4 billion of this, with rolling stock owners financing the remaining EUR 300 million.
The preparation phase has been implemented through a partnership between the Ministry of Transport and Communications, the Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency, the Finnish Transport and Communications Agency Traficom, the traffic management company Fintraffic Ltd., Fintraffic Railway Ltd., the Finnish railways company VR Group Ltd. and Helsinki Region Transport (HSL).
The development and verification phase of the Digirail project will now begin with a view to studying and testing technological solutions. The Ministry of Transport and Communications will appoint a new steering group to guide the project in 2021-2027.