The interoperability of the components of the European Rail Traffic Management System to be introduced in Finland will be tested in a test laboratory built for this purpose. The preparatory work for the laboratory’s system and equipment procurement is almost at the finish line, and procurement related to the construction of the laboratory will begin during 2024. The test laboratory reduces the need for tedious test runs in the field, thus streamlining other train traffic as well.

During the past year, the people in the Digirail project have been busy working with the preparation and specification of system and equipment procurement for the new test laboratory. The RFI (Request for Information) round, which collects feedback from test system manufacturers, was completed in October, and the main procurement of the new laboratory is scheduled to start during 2024.

“We have now identified the size of the test laboratory project and have been able to specify the mission of the test laboratory, i.e. the purpose for which we actually need the laboratory, and the type of testing services we would perform in the laboratory in the future. The RFI round with equipment suppliers provided a lot of good feedback and useful clarifications on the basis of which procurement-related specifications can be taken forward. The construction of the new laboratory is a fairly extensive project, and background work and decisions are still required, for example, regarding procurement and financing of future services. However, it is great to see how things are moving forward all the time,” says Mikko Natunen, Head of the Testing and Approvals division in the Digirail project.

The test laboratory plays a significant role in Finland’s transition to using the European Train Control System (ETCS). Thanks to the laboratory, interoperability testing of parts of the new system can be transferred from field testing to be primarily carried out in laboratory conditions, which will decrease the workload.

“Off-road testing requires more personnel and also interferes with other rail traffic. The test lab reduces the need for such tests, and we are able to test the features and updates of the new system more easily. In a laboratory environment, we can also bring all the parties together to study the results obtained from the testing. This develops our personnel’s competence in the functionality of the system,” Natunen lists.

In addition to Natunen, Jari Häyrynen and Ari Tilli from Fintraffic and Tommi Palm from Gofore have been tightly involved in defining and preparing the system procurement for the test laboratory.

A future-proof and evolving overall solution, not a ‘disposable’ solution

The new test laboratory will be established at the Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency’s Rail Training Centre (RTC), located in Kouvola. During the past autumn, requirements related to the premises have been specified and a survey has been carried out on what kind of facilities would meet the needs. Next, the plan is to agree on the specifics related to the use of the facilities between the Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency and Fintraffic Railway.  

“Physically, the new test laboratory will be built alongside or in connection with the existing test laboratory in Kokoha (Kouvola-Kotka/Hamina test track). We aim to tie up the new space needs with the current functions of the Kokoha test laboratory. Our goal is to plan and implement the necessary changes in the facilities during the first half of 2024, and everything should be ready by the end of August,” Natunen says.

In addition to technical systems and facilities, we need to define the needs for the test laboratory’s personnel and operational activities. For this, we will take inspiration from solutions deployed elsewhere in the world, by applying them to our case and developing new practices to create an entity that best suits Finland’s needs. We are also currently recruiting a new project manager to lead the implementation of the entire test laboratory.

“During the past year, we have collected information on various functional and technical alternatives for test laboratories and utilised the accumulated information in our own planning. Our goal is to develop a comprehensive technical solution for the new test laboratory, enabling smooth testing of the interoperability of deliveries from different equipment suppliers,” Natunen explains.

According to Natunen, there is endless testing to be done, and he emphasises how important it is to understand the role of the new laboratory as part of the implementation process of ETCS projects. For this purpose, it is also necessary to have a sufficient understanding of the content of the tests carried out by the subsystem suppliers themselves and to understand what proportion of the tests must be carried out in the field in any case. When the testing entity is known, it is also possible to define the core role and content of laboratory testing, limit the content of laboratory tests and make the necessary restrictions related to future procurement.

“The end result of procurement should be a complete package capable of carrying out the testing required for the commercial deployment and approval of ETCS projects. In addition, the aim is to build an architecture that can be developed as ETCS expertise increases and new emerging needs provide more specifics. The aim is that each new ETCS track section or project would not require a new, separate lab or test and simulation systems. A future-proof and evolving overall solution, not a ‘disposable’ solution”, Natunen sums up.