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British Rail Moving Forward with Sat-Nav/GPS

Zonk posted more than 9 years ago | from the need-that-for-my-bicycle dept.

Wireless Networking 192

de1orean writes "The BBC is reporting that after a successful limited trial using GPS satellite navigation to improve train safety and efficiency, British Rail is committed to instituting sat-nav throughout the system. It may be in operation as early as 2008."

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BHZAA p'wns! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11649890)

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Re:BHZAA p'wns! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11649904)

MUCH better than a GNAA commercial. Thanks for getting FP over those idiots.

Re:BHZAA p'wns! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11649921)

Good work. I agree with sibling post.

Re:BHZAA p'wns! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11650068)

moi aussi. But it needs a European branch.

FP FP FP!!!! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11649901)

I rule!!!

Come On Slashdot (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11649908)

We havent had a "M$ is Evil lol" post in at least 2 hours! You are getting lazy!

Slashdot: The Place to Be Gay (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11649932)

Believe it or not, the majority of Slashdot readers are male, aged 12 to 24, are computer literate or computer proficient, introverted, and homosexual. Slashdot creator and self-avowed homosexual Rob Malda, who, in 1997 in his Holland, Michigan dorm, was running a gay singles' list, had the following to say:

"If I hadn't had Slashdot when I was coming out, I don't know what would have happened. There would have been no one to connet with, no twinks to share my rage with, no bears to gain knowledge from. Slashdot was the ultimate gay hookup and for that alone am I thankful I created it years ago."

Obviously, Slashdot serves more than the "tech community" it purports to cater to. In 1999, Slashdot hired then-Wired columnist Jon Katz, another openly gay literary genius. Sporting blue hair and multiple facial piercings, the angst-ridden Katz expresses in his writings are clearly visible in real life. "I'd found a home with Rob... Wired was too straight, but at Slashdot I fit right in."

Finally, in early 2000, public homosexual and Nazi censor Michael Sims joined the Slashdot orgy crew. "I wanted to introduce goat sex and a lot of non-Slashdot, homosexual, erect male penises to the group," said Sims, "so ESR got involved with donkey dicks and we all like to suck each other off." Without Rob Malda, Michael Sims would be nothing except an aggravated gay male without a place to call home.

"Slashdot is definitely the place to be gay" concluded Sims. "Definitely the place to be gay."

First impression (5, Funny)

Dancin_Santa (265275) | more than 9 years ago | (#11649934)

It's a train. It's not like these things can wander all over the place.

Maybe if they were able to get them to run on time like they do in Japan and Fascist Italy, they could tell where the trains were by just looking at the clock.

Re:First impression (1)

cayenne8 (626475) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650000)

" It's a train. It's not like these things can wander all over the place.

Hmm...but, with a GPS jammer....that is available, this means someone can screw with the whole system, and possibly cause accidents??

Re:First impression (3, Insightful)

ari_j (90255) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650030)

That's what I was thinking. All you need, even without an accurate timetable, is an odometer. Trains' positions can be measured in one dimension - there is no need to bring two other dimensions and a constellation of satellites into this.

Re:First impression (5, Informative)

ComputerSlicer23 (516509) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650076)

At least in the U.S., I know a couple of dispatch people (the train equivilent of "Air Traffic Controllers" for planes). One always told me that a train dispatcher made more life of death decisions per hour then then an ATC person did. He joked that guys used to retire from doing train work to being an ATC for the low pressure, low stress atmosphere. I'm not sure either of those statements is true, but I'll bet that it is true, that keeping trains running smoothing isn't as trivial as you make it out to be.

In the end, well, trains don't always travel the same speed, they don't always travel at the speed they are told to. Sometimes they break down. Sometimes the switches aren't thrown properly (so there really are two dimensions, possibly more), sometimes a train runs away. Some times a train is on a section of track its not supposed to be. Trains aren't a trivial problem (we actually had to write a simulation of this in college in a RTS class, you had to do the computations and throw the switches at the right time, or you had yourself a fairly serious collision).

With trains at least, by the time anyone can visually tell you this, all you can really do is jump off and save yourself. It's literally a million pound weapon of death, by the time anyone can see the problem it's over. Having a GPS system on the train would enable you to spot all sorts of upcoming problems with out having to communicate with anyone onboard.


Re:First impression (2, Insightful)

ari_j (90255) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650117)

I don't know why I got an "Insightful" mod - it was meant to be "Funny" or "Troll." ;)

I have no problem believing that train controllers have more stress than ATC. With ATC, you have three dimensions to deal with, meaning that, statistically speaking, it's far less likely that they'll run into each other, anyhow. Add to that that you have three degrees of freedom to solve any impending collisions, and it's relatively stress-free, compared to train control where the ability to correct errors is extremely limited.

Re:First impression (1)

Alien Being (18488) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650231)

"It's literally a million pound weapon of death"

And that's just the loco. []

Re:First impression (3, Insightful)

JDisk (82627) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650406)

It's just a matter of money. At work, a collegue next door is extending a program used to save energy on railroad engines (old link [] ) that originally worked with an odometer to accept GPS signals because it is cheaper to install a GPS receiver than to retrofit an exact odometer.

Additionally, with an odometer you need additional information, like which switches were in what setting and so on. GPS is self-sufficient.

Re:First impression (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11650067)

Jebem ti mrtvu mater u gebis dok mi pusi znojna jaja istruljenim ocnim dupljama na crkveni blagdan.

Re:First impression (1)

apostrophesemicolon (816454) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650141)

As TFA suggested, the GPS system was primarily intended to improve train safety and efficiency.. Aside from the regular tracker that are used on most trains, I guess this feature just adds more safety assurance.
with the issue of GPS jammer, well, the preexisting tracker/locator should be good enough.. hey, two is better than one

Re:First impression (1)

forand (530402) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650322)

Was this moded "Funny" because he said that Italian trains where ontime? I live in Italy and I assure you that they are not.

Re:First impression (1)

16K Ram Pack (690082) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650774)

The ironic thing is that at one time, people used to set their clocks by the trains.

Re:First impression (4, Interesting)

Bazman (4849) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650790)

The fact that trains can't wander all over the place is part of the problem! If a faulty-set switch causes two trains to be heading for each other on the same piece of track, you can't tell them both to turn left, like you could do with airplanes.

hehe (1)

Turn-X Alphonse (789240) | more than 9 years ago | (#11649938)

but they still won't run on time.

Aww the memories of being a kid on a train platform sneaking through the fence behind the shelter only to relise I was like 2 stories up and there wasn't any barriers there to stop me falling..

New Slashdot Ad (-1, Offtopic)

Intocabile (532593) | more than 9 years ago | (#11649942)

Anyone see this new flash ad that has audio. Fucking anoying, get rid of it Slashdot.

Re:New Slashdot Ad (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11649956)

Anyone see this new flash ad that has audio. Fucking anoying, get rid of it Slashdot.

Get rid of MS Windows, Intocable

Low tech incompetence (4, Insightful)

A nonymous Coward (7548) | more than 9 years ago | (#11649960)

Why do fools insist on going to high tech solutions when they can't even get the low tech stuff right?

I have no personal experience with British rails, but I have read about the numerous nasty accidents they have had recently.

I do have experience with San Francisco's BART and the Tokyo subways about the same time, mid 1970s.

BART had fancy computer controlled trains which sometimes left the station without the operator in the cab. They actually stopped correctly at the next station, usually, but sometimes the trains stopped past the station, or shot off the end of the rails for the last station, and sometimes they opened doors on the wrong side of the train, right over the third rail. They were having one heck of a time even running the trains as close as 5 minutes apart.

Meanwhile, Tokyo's Ginza line, built just after the 1923 earthquake I believe, a completely manual system, had been running trains every minute or two without problems for years. That line was so funky that car lights would go off for a second or two as they crossed junctions; you could watch this light blanking travel down the train towards you.

Why do these idiots insist on spending a fortune on high tech solutions when low tech solutions have been around for a hundred years and yet they can't get it right, even with examples around the world of making them work? Is it just empire building?


eh0d is my daddy (825041) | more than 9 years ago | (#11649997)


It is a giant fucking cock. He uses it to bash the fuckin trains, those stupid fuckin tokyo trains that piss around at 200 kp*meter*second/hour*mile rpm, and when he pees, he pees big, all over everybody. most people open their mouths,.. .not all .

Re:Low tech incompetence (3, Insightful)

bscott (460706) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650097)

> Why do these idiots insist on spending a fortune on high tech solutions
> when low tech solutions have been around for a hundred years

Today's idiot is tomorrow's visionary.

The low-tech solutions are pretty expensive too, especially once unions get involved - and the cost of human labor rising is a GOOD thing, in the long run. (A comedian friend of mine suggests that presidents should campaign on a platform of promising "100% unemployment" - after all, who WANTS to work?)

I agree that the high-tech solutions tend to be trouble-prone, at least in the early years, but give 'em time. They didn't even let people dial their own telephone numbers for the first ~50 years or so of phone service, if I recall correctly...

Yes, but ... (2, Insightful)

A nonymous Coward (7548) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650167)

Sure high tech makes for better systems in the future. This system will make it possible to know exactly where trains are, they could have monitors at all sations, or web sites, showing expected arrival times down to the second, great stuff.

But when they can't even get basic block controls down right, and guarantee switches are in the right position, why waste time on this? It's like putting power windows in cars when you can't even keep the doors from falling off the hinges, or worrying about computerized anti-lock brakes back when they still had mechanical cable brakes.

Just like BART ... they wasted so much money and trouble on their computerized train controls and forgot all the basics like double tracking to allow trains to pass and sidings to allow broken trains to get out of the way.

That's what's wrong here. If they can't get basic safety standards in place, high tech GPS position reporting and timely web sites aren't worth beans.

Re:Yes, but ... (2, Insightful)

BasilBrush (643681) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650232)

Given that you've admitted that you've never even been on a UK train. And your experience of other train systems sounds extremely limited, I should stop pontificating if I were you. You don't know "what's wrong here" at all.
Now, it is quite clearly beneficial for both efficiency and safety to be able to pinpoint not just each train, but each item of rolling stock in the system. Now if you are going to do that these days, then GPS is the simplest and least expensive way of doing it.
It doesn't mean that they can't also improve other things.

Shit from shinola (1)

A nonymous Coward (7548) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650328)

Given that you have never admitted knowing anything at all other than how to spout off to people you know nothing about, you are the pontificator here. What's the matter, can't answer simple questions? Why waste time on GPS exact positioning when they can't even get basic stuff right like opening the right switches?

You have no knowledge of my knowledge of trains. You say GPS is cheaper, yet primitive countries run mechanical simple railways just fine, or at least better than Britain. Is it possible this embarasses you and you have to make false justifications about using more expensive more trouble-prone high tech systems?

Come to the point. Explain how GPS and transmitters and receivers and computers is cheaper and simpler than old fashioned block controls, which used to work in Britain, as they still do in some rather primitive countries. Explain how Britain is too technologically backwards to match third world railroads.

Relative costs (1)

A nonymous Coward (7548) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650353)

Here's something else for you to answer. An old fashioned low tech block system, as Britain presumably still has but not necessarily working very well, is priced on miles of track and number of switches. No matter how many trains are in the system, the cost is pretty constant.

Start putting GPS units and radios on every piece of rolling stock, and not only is the price variable, but the bandwidth goes up, the interference of transmitters grows, and costs mount further.

Can you explain how the already sunk cost of the primitive block system can be more expensive than new equipment per car? Don't pass it off as the old equipment wearing out -- all equipment wears out, but GPS units and radios wear out a lot faster than buried cables and signal lights.

Re:Relative costs (1)

bscott (460706) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650393)

> Can you explain how the already sunk cost of the primitive
> block system can be more expensive than new equipment per car?

If you want to frame your argument merely on the bottom line of overall cost, then you're right and we should all go home and write our congresscritters. May I suggest that the reality is more complicated than that - your position has probably occured to almost everyone else involved, for one thing, and money is almost never the sole cause OR solution to a problem involving people, infrastructure and bureaucracy...

If you were in a situation where you were responsible for rail safety but had no control over the attitudes of people on the ground fixing greasy rusting hunks of metal in the rain, would you gripe about it, or try to do something that IS within your control - namely, adding a safety factor which is not dependant on anything that is chronically broken about the current system? Maybe that's what's happening here.

Re:Yes, but ... (1)

bscott (460706) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650338)

> But when they can't even get basic block controls down right,
> and guarantee switches are in the right position, why waste time

It's not necessarily a waste of time merely to investigate whether this approach will improve overall safety (which is all the article stated). If it was simple to fix the basics, as you seem to imply, I reckon it would have happened already. Maybe there are other factors preventing the old-tech moving parts from being "right" in all situations, and a secondary system to monitor conditions and (hopefully) sound an alert when a crisis occurs actually IS "worth beans".

Your argument would have more weight if for some reason it was impossible for a society (or a rail transport administrative body) to work on both ends of the technical spectrum at once. But I doubt a study on the utility of GPS-based safety systems will have any adverse effect on what are doubtless ongoing efforts to improve the maintenance and design of the simpler side of things. And just maybe, given time and a lot of luck, a high-tech safety system might help compensate for the negligence of an underpaid rail mechanic at a crucial time - whereas merely ignoring the possibility of developing such a system won't help him or the passengers one bit.

I leave the resulting lawsuits for either contingency as an exercise for the reader.

Re:Low tech incompetence (5, Insightful)

ozmanjusri (601766) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650178)

Why do fools insist on going to high tech solutions when they can't even get the low tech stuff right?

Because they can't even get the low tech stuff right. The key failure points on rail systems are the switches & signals that control which section of rail the train is on, and the locomotives themselves which can stop, speed up or slow down.

Knowing precisely where a loco is on the track is the single most important aspect of rail safety, so that train control can switch a train onto another section of track, or into a siding to avoid collision, or can warn the driver to speed up or slow down to achieve the same result. In non-gps systems is this is done with trackside transponders and dead reckoning. A modern positive train separation (PTS) system based on GPS is simpler and more reliable than the transponders it replaces, and allows for more sophisticated controls such as automatic speed limiting.

It's also far from uncommon. Similar systems have been available for years.

Re:Low tech incompetence (1)

l3v1 (787564) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650666)

Because they can't even get the low tech stuff right.

Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against using GPS data for this purpose (or whatever else for that matter).

But usually, from an engineering point of view, is usually not a good thing to replace a fairly sophisticated system with problems with a system with even higher dergee of complexity. Giving more control to automation can lead to more problems if the system is not good enough (and every system has it's problems), giving more control to humans can also lead to problems if they are not competent enough. Both ends need to be improved if general operational improvement is the goal. Just pouring a few million pounds into new tech stuff won't solve the problems but easily could create new ones of proper care is not taken.

Re:Low tech incompetence (1)

ozmanjusri (601766) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650763)

But usually, from an engineering point of view, is usually not a good thing to replace a fairly sophisticated system with problems with a system with even higher dergee of complexity.

True enough, but from a railways point of view, GPS is less complicated. The GPS units used on the locos integrate with systems like the Digitrac [] as transparently as transponders or track circuit systems do, but whereas the transponders require a large outlay in location boxes, power supplies, wired and wireless networking and so on, to get the data back to train control, the GPS solution is one cheap black box, cheap enough for considerable redundancy. The technology behind GPS may be considerably more exotic than the transpoder, but for the rail operator, it's much simpler.

Re:Low tech incompetence (2, Insightful)

Limax Maximus (640354) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650716)

The low tech problems have made migrating to a moving block system like used in TGV networks in France impossible. The use of GPS to give speed and location is certainly a good option for making moving block signalling a real option on the UK's somewhat knackered railway network.

Currently the UK runs on a fixed block system whereby the maximum speed on the line determines the separation in terms of blocks. This is inefficient and causes corners to be cut. Moving to a 'Moving block system' whereby the speed and location of the train is used to work out where is safe gives a much higher utilisation rate of track and as a result saves money and reduces the risks of corners being cut.

France have had it right for a long time, if only we British could swallow our pride and use their system.

Re:Low tech incompetence (1)

digitalchinky (650880) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650204)

I'm thinking that the low tech solution is comprised of a few thousand human individuals working the same routine each day - this old tried and true method could well be more expensive than an automated computer based system.

Automation - expensive start up. Periodic maintenance.

Humans - Medical, dental, wages, holidays, etc... (Until they retire)

I like the human touch better myself, but feel that anything risking human lives should probably have at least some level of automated oversight. (Alarm buzzers and such to snap the driver/pilot out of their daze if the computer notices they are not responding, that type of thing)

Re:Low tech incompetence (3, Insightful)

mshawatmit (825042) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650330)

Why do these idiots insist on spending a fortune on high tech solutions when low tech solutions have been around for a hundred years and yet they can't get it right.

I was just on the BART system two weeks ago, and it was wonderful. The trains were always on time. The computer announcement were completely audible, and the trains felt modern and safe.

On the other hand, I took the NYC subway for years, and while it gets you anywhere in the city, it runs on the older systems of fixed length signals. There was a fire in one of the stations and trains actually had to be coordinated by flaggers with walkie-talkies. They were running at less than a third the normal rate. Even when all is going well, trains can't run more than once a minute or two. A full installation of modern technology in NY would allow twice as many trains on the track, and by eliminating the need for conductors, save a fortune as well.

And please, nobody tell me that trains are safer because a conductor is hiding in his little booth--conductors don't come out if something dangerous is going on. If you want to protect trains, have police officers ride, in the cars with the passengers. One police officer per ten trains is far more effective than a conductor on every train.

Re:Low tech incompetence (2, Interesting)

Linker3000 (626634) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650410)

True: the high tech stuff isn't always better neither:

I live on the South Coast of England and we are in the process of phasing out our old trains (from the 1950s and 1960s!!) and replacing them with new ones. The new units are very high tech, with air con (at last!), electric doors, LED indicator boards and high-tech toilets etc. The first problem encountered was that even with new, efficiant motors and electronic switchgear the new trains took more power to run than the old ones and so much of the power infrastructure has had to be upgraded too. While this was being done, the commuter trains into London had to have fewer carriages than normal to keep them within the power rating of the track and so already crowded trains became even worse.

Next, the GPS systems that control the doors (which side to open and when), kept breaking down and so commuters would find themselves stuck either inside or outside the trains!

It was also discovered that the trains were a slightly different width from the old ones and so some platforms had to be 'shaved' to prevent the trains from scraping against them. The toilets keep breaking down, can't be filled with water or emptied and so it's fairly common to be on a train out of London (1.5 hours to home) with no working toilets and to cap it all, on some units the carriage coupling systems (high-tech, of course), don't work properly so, for example, at my home station where two trains meet and couple to form a 12 carriage commuter unit for London, it's fairly common for only the front 8 to be available - leading to more overcrowding. The new units are so packed with electronics that they generate a heck of a lot of RF interference and it's impossible to get a good radio signal; my only 'pleasure' of the London journey was dozing to the news and this is not possible any more. Finally, considering that my home area is a major commuter run into the City of London, it's crazy that, unlike some other regional services, the train company hasn't provided power outlets for laptops - mind you, considering their power problems, perhaps this isn't a surprise.

Re:Low tech incompetence (1)

jonbryce (703250) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650560)

The Docklands Light Railway in London is completely computer controlled - no drivers in sight, and it is the second most reliable railway in the country.

The most reliable is the Isle of Wight Line which is so small and simple that nothing could possibly go wrong.

British Rail? (4, Funny)

sulli (195030) | more than 9 years ago | (#11649967)

They renationalised and didn't tell anyone?

Don't knw if anyone realizes this... (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11649979)

CSX rail in NY has been using sat nav to guide trains and to also NOT have a live person DRIVING the train!!!

Re:Don't knw if anyone realizes this... (4, Interesting)

BasilBrush (643681) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650250)

Yes, the Central Line underground line and the Docklands light railway in London are also computer driven. The Central Line has a driver sat in the cab doing nothing, but the DLR manages without. Mind you neither of them use sat nav to do it, what with them being undergrround much of the time.

"Computer" driving (1)

grouse (89280) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650708)

Mind you that the way the Central and Victoria Lines are automated is fairly unsophisticated. There are fixed signals on the track telling the train where to speed up and slow down. If anything is out of the ordinary then driver intervention is necessary. The DLR is newer and more sophisticated.

Implementing this on the scale of the entire National Rail network would be prohibitively expensive.

"putting intelligence on trains" (4, Funny)

ABeowulfCluster (854634) | more than 9 years ago | (#11649989)

So, they're implying the conductor is dumber than a GPS unit?

Re:"putting intelligence on trains" (1)

cdavies (769941) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650694)

You've never met a Briish Rail employee, have you?

Re:"putting intelligence on trains" (1)

fiddley (834032) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650783)

no, the computer never has to nip out of the cab for a pee...

Why not... (1)

arbscht (851263) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650016)

>> It could also tell controllers whether trains are running to timetable, and which services are running.

... use a clock? :-)

Now what might be fun is if stations had real-time (public) monitors tracking incoming traffic.

Re:Why not... (1)

BasilBrush (643681) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650259)

Now what might be fun is if stations had real-time (public) monitors tracking incoming traffic.

Just a list of ETAs I imagine. Yes a map with blobs on for the trains would be much more fun.

So.... why do trains need GPS? (3, Funny)

1_interest_1 (805383) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650023)

Is it that hard to follow the track?

So.... why do trains need GPS?-Fugitive. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11650044)

"Is it that hard to follow the track?"

Maybe Dr. Richard Kimble is the driver?

Re:So.... why do trains need GPS? (3, Interesting)

TechyImmigrant (175943) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650063)

No. However the infrastructure across the UK is ancient and so neglected since Thatcher put the knife in that it pretty much needs completely replacing.

Rather than installing a *lot* of cabling, a wireless system would obviously be cheaper.

They are doing it because its cheaper.

Re:So.... why do trains need GPS? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11650069)

You've never been on a UK train have you.

A British Rail Joke.. (4, Funny)

TechyImmigrant (175943) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650047)

This joke did the rounds during the first US-Iraq war and shortly after a big train accident..

What is the difference between British Rail and a Scud missile?

British Rail kills people.

Re:A British Rail Joke.. (1)

Derling Whirvish (636322) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650298)

And don't forget that British Rail is the organization that claimed they could not run "because the wrong kind of snow fell" and "there are leaves on the tracks" to list just two of the lame excuses I've personally heard.

Re:A British Rail Joke.. (1)

pe1chl (90186) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650415)

Hey that is interesting, Dutch Rail uses the same excuses... maybe they copied them?

I always found it interesting that a railway company claims "the tracks are slippery". It is their business, they claim it is a good idea to put iron wheels on iron tracks to move tons of heavy iron all to transport a few people, and when there is a problem it is blaimed on the weather.

They should blame it on the design of their equipment. When I drive around in my car on tires with not enough profile, I get a ticket. The car must meet deceleration rates that their train cannot even approach, even under perfect weather conditions....

Re:A British Rail Joke.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11650727)

The problem with snow and leaves is not that the wheels loose traction, but the brakes may not work. The problem with "the wrong kind of snow" and "leaves on the line" is because newer trains used disc brakes, which are an open design and prone to getting bits of leaf or snow in them.

Re:A British Rail Joke.. (1)

samael (12612) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650597)

And both of them are actual, real things that can cause problems for trains!

Gosh, it's amazing that trains might not be utterly impervious to all the variations of their surroundings.

lol (2, Funny)

mpower1 (858744) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650093)

and they say canadians are dumb, at least we dont get lost following rail tracks

Re:lol (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11650207)

LMAO, no but you may use the wrong track when the switch comes silly if we run on one big circular loop with no track switches etc...and if you think switching tracks for trains is easy you are crazy.

Heh.. can't help but think of this... (1)

AgBullet (624575) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650098)

song [] ...

credits to whoever made it. NSFW.

Re:Heh.. can't help but think of this... (1)

BasilBrush (643681) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650671)

Thanks for that. Made me laugh.

Reprivatisation? (0, Flamebait)

mr_sas (682067) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650137)

When did this happen? Back to socialist railway \o/ All of a sudden i'm looking forward to travelling next weekend.

Re:Reprivatisation? (1)

mr_sas (682067) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650146)

that should obviously read renationalisation. whoops.

Underground (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11650149)

I hope they aren't thinking it is going to work on that?!?

finally ... it's the future (1)

2TecTom (311314) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650169)

personally, we're all just so damn glad to see our thoughts finally being modernized ... we were getting quite tired of losing our trains

Re:finally ... it's the future (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11650753)

we were getting quite tired of losing our trains

How the fuck do you lose a train? Trains are huge heavy motherfuckers. You can lose keys, you can lose your wallet. You can lose a sock, shoe, or pants. I lost my virginity once and could never find it again. How the flying fuck can you lose a train?

In the US trucking industry, GPS is common. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11650205)

It amazes me that the Brits think this is a big deal. Then again, maybe it doesn't. Here in the US, trucking companies use GPS and satcom to create greater efficiencies than would otherwise be possible. BTW, I have no involvement with trucking, or the above company. But I do think that this is a nice use of technology.

Re:In the US trucking industry, GPS is common. (2, Funny)

Moderatbastard (808662) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650349)

Here in the US, trucking companies use GPS and satcom to create greater efficiencies than would otherwise be possible. BTW, I have no involvement with trucking
If you did, you'd know that trucks don't run on rails, but trains do.

Re:In the US trucking industry, GPS is common. (1)

snap2grid (630315) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650628)

It amazes me that the Brits think this is a big deal.

Yeah, a single low-key item in the science section of the BBC website. I had to fight the urge a make a placard and go running into the street!

Wasting GPS (1)

deusexcrottsma (700855) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650228)

Um, everyone keeps thinking that GPS is this end all be all that's going to solve all of our problems for all eternity, but what happens when we exhaust the world's supply of GPS?

yawn .. wake me up when you can .. (1)

torpor (458) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650255)

"GPS-tooth" on the train to Bath ...

BR (2, Informative)

ataltane (225883) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650271)

"British Rail" hasn't existed in over a decade...

Re:BR (1)

norfolkboy (235999) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650610)


God knows where they got BR from!

In my lifetime it's been....

British Rail, then Railtrack, then National Rail.... and even then that's iffy, technically it's "Anglia One", "Midland Mainline" and 20 other train companies.


Re:BR (1)

jabuzz (182671) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650665)

Wrong, British Rail still exists as a corporate entity and will in all likely hood continute to do so for a long time. That it just manages the pensions of British Rail employees is not irrelevant in this context, but to claim it no longer exists is ill informed. This was fairly extensively covered on the new when the old Rail Track when bankrupt.

"1 metre accuracy" always amuses me.... (4, Interesting)

stimpleton (732392) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650314) the onboard unit would have to send data at the rate of hundreds of location datagrams per minute. The point being, a location is a point in time - may not be relevant 30 seconds later, travelling at 150km/hr. Trains move quite quickly, and given past British rail mishaps, existing systems must have to be sped up a bit.

With that said, GPS/GPRS units would have to communicate fairly frequently. At the very most a location sent to the server(probably over GPRS as a UDP datagram) every 2 minutes.

In New Zealand, the GSM provider here (business plan) charges per 10,000KB packet, even for a 500byte datagram :-(

Some rough maths:
A location data packet(charged at 10k) every 1 minute.

Thats 0.6 MB per hour.
Train runs, say, 10 hours per day, thats 6mb.
Per month thats 180mb.
In New Zealand, thats about $200 of data.
In my town, a taxi company uses it. The combined cost per month is $33,000 in data charges.
And thats on 5 min updates!
Anyone got some info on charges from other countries?
IE how much will is cost our pommie friends per month per train, running 10 hr/days, sending location every 5,2,1 minutes, 30 seconds?

Re:"1 metre accuracy" always amuses me.... (1)

pe1chl (90186) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650390)

>The point being, a location is a point in time - may not be relevant 30 seconds later, travelling at 150km/hr.

Of course you not only send location but also speed and direction. And this could be improved by sending acceleration as well.
Trains in normal service often adhere quite closely to predetermined speed over time (and thus location over time) curves. The GPS measurements only need to fix points on that curve and inform about deviations.

Re:"1 metre accuracy" always amuses me.... (1)

JDisk (82627) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650658)

... send data at the rate of hundreds of location datagrams per minute
You'd just send position, speed (and maybe acceleration) every minute or so and special packages if acceleration (or speed) changes

... cost
First, such a system using public GSM would probably be implemented using GPSR where you'd keep the data connection open (you pay per byte, not per second).
Even if the system uses public providers, the railroad companies are certainly big enough that they can easily negotiate much better conditions.
But, at least in Europe such a system would probably use the railroad-specific GSM-R system [] . And if you run the network yourself, you worry more about channel saturation and call-priorities than costs per call.

This is actually an interesting question. At the moment, data calls on GSM-R have the lowest priority. This means that every other call will interrupt your call (on the same machine) and once the cell starts getting busy, your call is the first to get terminated. For the engine-bound applications that use GSM-R for data at the moment (at least in Germany) this is no real problem (but still a pain in the [expletive deleted]) but for anything safety- or just timing-related this would have to be changed.

Re:"1 metre accuracy" always amuses me.... (1)

BasilBrush (643681) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650660)

There are competing networks for the UK. They'd put it out to tender, and accept the lowest bid. They wouldn't be paying the same price as a consumer.

Lost trains not as uncommon as you might think (5, Informative)

timboc007 (664810) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650335)

GPS is not so much to let the train driver know where he/she is (although that is a valid use under some control systems) as it is to let the train controllers and the safety interlocking systems know where the train is. This is obviously an important consideration before trying to place another train into that location ;-)

Historically there are rail systems around the world that do without this basic functionality, particularly in areas of low density traffic. Instead, procedures were established by which a section was proven clear. The signaller at the entrance to the section (or 'block') would ring a bell to let the signaller at the exit from the block know that a train was entering the block. The signaller at the exit would then ring a bell back to the signaller at the entrance when the train cleared the block section.

This worked to some extent (and indeed continues to work in many places around the world), but was highly susceptible to human error. A couple of years ago, at Glenbrook in Sydney's west, a crash may have been averted had the signaller had some indication to remind him that the Indian Pacific had not yet cleared the section ahead of the suburban passenger train. As it was, he forgot to inform the second train of the first's existence, with the result that the second rammed into the back of the first.

The most common method for establishing a train's locations is the track circuit - a power source is placed on one end of a section of track, whilst a receiver measures the voltage at the other end of the section. When the train is on the section, the axles of the train short out the circuit, and the receiver measures a 0V potential. This is fed back to the local interlocking, and any signals which require this track to be clear in order to give a proceed aspect will go to stop, preventing any other trains from entering the section and hence avoiding a crash. This is what the article refers to as the "current block signalling system".

The problem with track circuits is twofold. As mentioned in the article, the accuracy is not great - track circuits can often extend over several kilometres, so the best that can be said is that the train is "somewhere within that circuit". Secondly, the track circuits are relatively difficult to maintain - maintenance crews must go to each track circuit in order to perform routine maintenance. Travel time being relatively unproductive, rail operators would much prefer that maintenance be achievable in one location.

GPS would overcome both of the problems listed above. The accuracy would be greatly increased, limited only by the accuracy of the GPS. Similarly, the equipment for the location would all be located on the rollingstock, rather than trackside, and could be brought to the maintainers. Further, with systems like the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS), GPS can be used to run trains much closer together in what is called a 'moving block configuration'.

This translates into lower running/maintenance costs, combined with greater efficiency - is it any wonder BR are interested? Aren't you?

Re:Lost trains not as uncommon as you might think (2, Interesting)

miu (626917) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650462)

Excellent post, but it ignores is availability of GPS or Galileo. I'm sure that question is being considered by BR and has been solved by other systems that use a satellite system - but I do have to wonder how much of the lower running/maintenance costs are needed to solve it.

It could be useful in Italy... (2, Funny)

Federico2 (792815) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650351)

In few days GPS-enabled trains could create a map of the entire rail system.
Train drivers will be happy... no more asking directions!

Wrong, wrong, and wrong. (4, Informative)

mbrett (751233) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650396)

1) "British Rail" doesn't exist. I assume the OP means the British railway system.

2) They're not "committed" to using it. "Key industry figures" (lobby groups?) had a meeting on Tuesday about whether to implement it system-wide. RTFA.

3) It won't be ready for service in 2008, that's when Galileo will be operational. RTFA.

Modernisation - British Style (3, Informative)

Gelfman (802827) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650419)

I ride the 'southern operator' they mention every day - Southern Trains by no curious coincidence whatsoever. There is this kind of subliminal pecking order amongst commuters. If you tell people you have to ride Southern every morning their response varies from abject pity to amused disbelief. In the 5 months I have used their service, I have been (on average) delayed by around 25 minutes for my morning journey and 45 in the evenings. Why? It's a myriad of things but suffice it to say that this company is a prime example of throwing money at the wrong bits of a problem.

The GPS one is a prime example. The door systems on the modern trains (the ones with sliding doors that don't have to be slammed shut and opened by reaching out of a window and fumbling for a lever) are GPS actuated. These doors will not allow passengers to open them unless the location of the train can automatically be established as being within a few metres of a normal station platform stopping point. The upshot? When it's cloudy or there is any kind of reception fault (as when we get back into London's Victoria station and we're under 20 ft of steel-reinforced concrete) the doors cannot be opened without the driver entering the positioning coordinates manually.

A driver was telling me that there is no 'look just open the bloody doors - I've got a key' button. So journey's all over the south coast are now delayed by really stupid door faults. Ironically the most reliable trains are the slam-door variety I mentioned earlier (which are eminently usable despite feeling like Stephenson's Rocket - unless you are in a wheelchair and then you can pretty much forget it).

Re:Modernisation - British Style (2, Informative)

pe1chl (90186) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650456)

That sure sounds like a dumb system. The trains here have had automatic doors for many years, but they are simply controlled by the driver. Train stops, driver releases the doors, from that time the passengers can press a button and the doors will slide open (they remain shut when nobody presses the button or when the button is pressed when the driver has not enabled it).
There is also a button to close the door, but rarely anyone pushes it. When the train is ready to depart, the conductor uses a key to close all doors except the one where the key is inserted. He looks if all doors have closed and nobody is stuck, then releases the key to shut the last door .

This system existed way before GPS.
(indeed there were manual doors on older trains where you could open the door during the trip and all doors had to be closed manually)

Re:Modernisation - British Style (1)

Linker3000 (626634) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650645)

I am SOOOO glad I don't make the run into Victoria from the South Coast any more!!! I now work locally and it takes 15 minutes in the car along a deserted seafront road with wonderful sunrises. You have my sympathies.

Re:Modernisation - British Style (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11650789)

the ones with sliding doors that don't have to be slammed shut and opened by reaching out of a window and fumbling for a lever

Wow! Here in America we thought it was a good idea to put a lever on both sides of the door. This is so people can open the door to go in, close the door once they are in, open the door to exit, and close the door. It's a very nice system perhaps you can reccomend it. You can even be fancy about the subject and use a gravity lock that stays locked when the train is in motion and going bump bump. To make things worse is we don't have hardly anyone riding trains for the daily commute to complain about the subject.

Re:Modernisation - British Style (3, Insightful)

weave (48069) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650850)

Tis always interesting to read about the nightmare of the privitized British rail system and then listen to people here claim how all of Amtrak's problems could be solved if we just privitized it.

This is rubbish.... (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11650461)

They used this on the line I used to get to work, Hastings to Cannon St.
It was great in the summer, but not so great in the winter. When there were clouds. And no GPS reception.
We had to sit outside each station for 5 minutes while the driver got 'authorisation' to open the doors, becasue the GPS didn't know we were sitting beside the station.

Wonderfull bit of over engineering.

"British Rail"? (3, Funny) (782137) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650517)

We've not had "British Rail" for some time. For you USians who may be a little confused, here's a little history.

Before the 50s, the railways were all in lots of groups of competing companies. The government then nationalised these companies (OMG SOCIALISM!!!1) as, well, you can't really run a railway for profit and even if you could it's a son of a bitch to do so without killing hundreds of people. This new confederacy was British Rail, and had that pointy double arrow logo some of you may have seen.

In the 60s, the government axed all of the loss making lines in an attempt to make a profit. This involved axing all of the lines to small rural communities, and it made the railway much less attractive to people and made the car a de facto requirement.

In the 80s, Margaret Thatcher grew weary of nationalised industry, and while sitting on her stylised throne of evil ordered that the railways be privatised, which took effect in 1997, just when the new government was coming in. Clever that.

So now we're stuck with a bunch of fucking idiots who can't run trains on time and have to rely on satellites to do so. As I once heard someone describe, it's fairly simple to run a decent train service; you have a train, you have a track, the former rides on the latter. The problem is that we have lots of people trying to make money off it, which just won't work.

It's not British Rail (4, Informative)

nicklott (533496) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650539)

...anymore. It stopped being British Rail about 15 years ago when it was privatised and split among Conservative party donors (and they expect people to vote for them again! idiots...).

The article doesn't say, so it's reasonable for someone non-British to assume it's still called that, but it's probably Network Rail (formerly Railtrack) doing this. They are a now part-re-nationalised company that looks purely after the rails, stations and other non-profit making infrastructure. The private rail companies still own and (sometimes) run the trains and are doing very nicely thank you very much Mr Major (A stunning example of how privatisation actually works: Public funding, Private profit).

Rant over

Re:It's not British Rail (1)

andyh (5426) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650568)

And the safety record under this privatised system has gone through the floor. Something to do with an effort to cut costs to improve the profit margin?

Re:It's not British Rail (1)

t_allardyce (48447) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650711)

Im confused, why did we let it go private again? I mean, what was the political bullshit behind it? What excuses would have been given on Question Time? Im just not quite sure what a private company can do that the government can't, especially when all the government needs to do is keep the damn thing running and break even, fuck the proffit, private companies can damn well build their own network, or pay to use track?

Re:It's not British Rail (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11650590)

(A stunning example of how privatisation actually works: Public funding, Private profit).

Socialize costs, privatize profits.

Taxpayers cough up for the capital costs, private entities reap the benefits.

Somehow, Soviet communism and Western capitalism don't sound all that different.

Re:It's not British Rail (1)

TinheadNed (142620) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650626)

Mr Major is pretty happy - being one of the Chairmen of the Carlyle Group, a group who has bought, among other things, significant control of QinetiQ, the privatised part of the former Defence Research Agency.

at least with GPS .... (1)

harryoyster (814652) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650635)

British Rail : Lets Get GPS.. Commuter : Will that make more than 1 in 10 trains come on time? British Rail : No Commuter : Why Bother!! British Rail : Saftey. Commuter : So your planning on having more accidents? British Rail : No Commuter : Well? British Rail : We are a bunch of idiots that wear cardigans and have no clue what the commuter wants! Commuter : Finally You got something right!

Rebooting Trains (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11650747)

Being a victim of british public transport, the trains are all good except from when their computers error, several times this past year I have been delayed as the trains pc requires a reboot. Atmospheric as it goes all quite and the lights go out, but never the less annoying.

Other problems include the trains not realising its at a train station so the doors do not open until a guard manually opens them. Nowadays the guards seem to open the doors manually all the time!

It has only been a handful of delays but still more than all the problems I experienced on the old stock of trains from a decade of rail travel.

/cu8 (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11650871)

Who the fuck is British Rail (1)

fozzmeister (160968) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650874)

it was disolved ages ago, its privatised now, with diff train companies for different regions and one company for the rails etc (which went bust / was broken up a bit ago)

Ahgrggg (1)

t_allardyce (48447) | more than 9 years ago | (#11650905)

After reading some of the comments here im shocked, lucky I don't need to take trains much, the tube is bad enough. but seriously - the fikin doors wont open because theres no satellite reception to tell the train that its in a station wtf? This is beyond a joke, how is it even possible for some fucking idiot to design a system like that? Who is responsible and why haven't they been fired? This just brings down the country, we used to be able to run trains so punctually people could set their clocks by them - literally, and now we've been reduced to the entire system coming to a halt because of some leaves or clouds in a country that is leafy and cloudy half the bloody time! Margaret Thatcher was a bitch, at least when major back-bone systems are controlled by the government, the voter can hire and fire any idiots and still only pay half price. I can't wait until we privatise the police and army, it'll be designer uniforms, advertising-patches and 'you have the right to remain silent, sponsored by Vodaphone text&go'

ok thats the privatisation and incompetent people rant over..
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