Busy rail route operating in searing temperatures keeps on moving – with AKTOR and HIMA

Compact commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) solutions make signaling technology between Athens and the nearby port in Piraeus run more effectively and safely.

The train line that runs between Athens and Piraeus is an 8 km stretch, with a journey time taking about 20 minutes. The port city of Piraeus, which roughly means ‘the place of passage’ is one of the largest passenger terminals in Europe. Serving about 20 million tourists a year, many catch the metro to get into Athens. Heavy freight trains run on these lines too, since the nearby container port is not using its dedicated rail freight line alone.

Essential to this project therefore was to ensure that the three level crossings along the route operate reliably and, most importantly, safely. In this southern region of Greece, the average high temperature is 35 degC. In trackside equipment cabinets they can reach 60 degC or more. Therefore, the ability for the level crossings to remain fully-functional in these extreme temperatures was another critical factor to consider.

The original barriers at each of the level crossings were hand-operated. With so many trains passing though, day and night, this was neither effective nor safe. An essential upgrade was identified and AKTOR was asked to lead the project. As an international, highly diversified company, AKTOR was keen to ensure that whatever it developed it had to be without vendor lock-in. The new level crossing in the ERMIS LX project is equipped with powerful safety controllers from HIMA. The result: Full insight of barrier status and rail/road signal control for vastly improved safety, as well as increased frequency and therefore passenger capacity.

No vendor lock-in

Together, they worked on the design of the safety technology. The goal was to develop a signaling solution that complies with the SIL4 safety level according to CENELEC and install it directly on the tracks. The solution: modern COTS safety controllers from HIMA. For this project, the HIMatrix controllers were used with extended temperature ratings.

Instead of going down the proprietary route, AKTOR turned to HIMA which gave the company the flexibility to develop a solution that is also suitable basis for future projects. By writing its own code from the ground up, a set of function blocks were created that will be used and further developed, ensuring continuous improvement.

AKTOR has developed a monitoring system called ‘ARTEMMIS’, which collects all the data from the trackside equipment and displays their status on a monitor in real-time. Furthermore, the station master is able to send commands via this system to perform certain functions – such as closing the barrier in an emergency situation.

“Many of the specialist suppliers of interlockings do not support peripheral components from other vendors,” explains Athanassios Zacharatos, Signaling Project Manager at AKTOR. “This can make it quite expensive and sometimes the system is not flexible enough to meet the desired requirements. The ERMIS LX project is the first time we had used HIMA safety controllers, which are lower-cost COTS products with no vendor lock-in. With everything taken into account, including cost-savings achieved by being able to shop around for peripheral components, we’d estimate a saving of 40%. And, because they comply with CENELEC SIL4 and have already been tested in the field in numerous and varied safety critical applications, we were confident of a robust and reliable solution.”

AKTOR’s ERMIS LX project is using HIMA safety controllers for the first time, which are lower-cost COTS products with no vendor lock-in. They help to make the Athens to Piraeus rail road and pedestrian traffic safer as well as faster. Image © ERGOSE

The new level crossing in the ERMIS LX project is equipped with powerful safety controllers from HIMA. The result: Full insight of barrier status and rail/road signal control for vastly improved safety, as well as increased frequency and therefore passenger capacity. Image © ERGOSE

Monitoring and safety control equipment installed in outdoor cabinet trackside at each level crossing. In Greece, cabinet temperatures can reach 60 DegC of more - HIMatrix modules with extended temperature rating operate up to 70 DegC. Image © AKTOR S.A.

AKTOR’s monitoring system ARTEMMIS, collects all trackside equipment data and displays their status in real-time. For the LX project, this includes the up/down status of the barriers or whether they are in motion. Image © AKTOR S.A.


The technical details

Fully-automated barriers

  • Three CENELEC SIL4 certified safety controllers – type F35 HIMatrix with additional F3 DIO, all them with extended temperature range up to 70 degC
  • COTS solution with long-term availability, at least 20 years, in terms of spare parts and upgrades
  • The entire route can be monitored and operated remotely, with emergency safety features integrated
  • The ERMIS LX project was the first project for AKTOR using HIMatrix controllers


Background: About the Athens line

The railways of Greece have a history which begin in 1869, with the completion of the then Athens to Piraeus line. It was later extended to Omonoia Square in 1895 and electrified in 1904, with the 600Vdc third rail system. From 1911 it was also possible to run through freight trains on the Piraeus Harbor Tramway using dual system electric locomotives.

Today, the line gives direct access to Piraeus where most ferry services to the Greek Islands depart from, and via interchange at Piraeus to Athens International Airport. This offers improved accessibility for tourists visiting Greece, and an alternative option to travelling by air.

The running of the Greek railways is divided between the Hellenic Railways, which owns and maintains the infrastructure, and TrainOSE, which runs the trains on the network. A few years ago, TrainOSE published an accident record for the whole Piraeus-Athens-Patra line showing the observed number of fatalities and injuries at level crossings on the line in the period 2004 to 2009. At that time, the three level crossings on the Athens-Piraeus section were operated manually.

Immense pressure from the rail operator sparked significant investment for the line. The 8 km line, is now a modern double-track standard gauge railway, and is compatible with the wider rail network in northern and central Greece. The automated barriers on the level crossings will help lower the risk of, or even eliminate, further accidents and injuries.


The benefits

COTS solutions increase safety and reduce lifecycle costs

The HIMA controls make the Athens to Piraeus rail road and pedestrian traffic safer as well as faster. At the same time, the open, modular COTS components help reduce lifecycle costs and eliminate vendor lock-in. The open architecture also enables flexibility for the AKTOR programmers, whose function blocks can be re-used and developed for continuous improvement.

  • Maximum safety: The safety controllers are certified according to SIL 4 CENELEC.
  • Space savings: The HIMA controllers were able to be installed in compact control cabinets directly at the tracks. As a result, space-consuming technology rooms are a thing of the past.
  • Flexibility: The deployed signaling solutions based on the scalable, open HIMA systems can be optimally adapted to system integrator’s needs.
  • Future-proof: The modern safety controllers are easy to install, and even easier to update, ensuring they are kept in sync with the latest technology.
  • Cost savings: The system integrator estimates that the overall cost savings achieved by using COTS controllers for the project amount to 40% compared to using a propriety solution.
  • Increased capacity: Thanks to increased computing power, AKTOR was able to develop a monitoring system to control the level crossing remotely.

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