SFERA – IRS 90940 Maintenance – DAS experts group -(SFERA protocol development for DAS) Phase 3 (Maintenance phase 2)

Project information

  • Acronym: SFERA3
  • SFERA – IRS 90940 Maintenance – DAS experts group -(SFERA protocol development for DAS) Phase 3 (Maintenance phase 2)
  • Sector: Rail System/Sustainability
  • Project start date: 01/01/2024
  • Duration: 36 months
  • Project director: Lucie Anderton
  • Project manager: Philippe Stefanos
  • Status: ongoing project
  • Project code: 2024/RSF/845

Project description

The UIC SFERA project, initiated in 2017, was born out of the necessity to standardise the languages of Driving Advisory Systems (DAS). This standardisation was crucial for facilitating broader implementation, reducing costs, and enabling data exchange for Traffic Management Systems (TMS). In the first phase of the project, the SFERA protocol was developed as a potential solution, with the first draft of the IRS being released in 2018.

The SFERA protocol is designed to serve as a unified messaging standard for data exchange. It enables communication between Infrastructure Managers (IM), Railway Undertakings (RU), and onboard devices. The protocol is capable of accommodating both Automatic Train Operations (ATO) and DAS applications, and it operates over ETCS and other train protection systems.

All the work has been documented in the IRS 90940, which outlines technical guidelines for managing data exchange with DAS. This facilitates the use of DAS on international journeys and enables their connection to Traffic Management Systems through the protocol. The harmonized DAS protocol, if used by all railway actors, would yield several benefits. Railway Undertakings (RU) would have the freedom to choose their preferred DAS products, leading to increased energy savings as their systems would operate cross-border. Infrastructure Managers (IM) could offer a single interface to all RUs, irrespective of their DAS supplier. This would also facilitate migration between products to other Train Protection Systems or ATO systems, and ensure better consistency in the solutions that RUs and IMs invest in, thereby avoiding system incompatibilities as much as possible.

Project objectives

The primary objective of the project is to maintain the SFERA protocol and the IRS 90940, including its appendices, as efficient, compatible, and up-to-date as possible. This will be achieved by handling change requests from UIC Members, providing easily understandable publication updates with release notes, responding to questions, and offering support for implementation. Additionally, it is crucial to ensure that upgrades are followed by actors with a recommended process to implement these upgrades.

It is also important to position the SFERA within a proper regulatory framework for UIC Members to utilise a sustainable and useful standard. Therefore, monitoring is conducted to understand where SFERA stands in relation to similar developments, and how it should be integrated or referred to. The SFERA Working Group (WG) decides on the strategy and communication to ensure SFERA is approved by the community as the universal standard, and possibly into steps towards Automatic Train Operations developments. The SFERA WG has also initiated a collaboration with Europe’s Rail Joint Undertaking (ERJU), to discuss the possibility of reaching a common standard for track-train communication for DAS and ATO Grade of Automation (GoA)1 to GoA4.

The SFERA User Group (UG) ensures feedback from UIC and non-UIC stakeholders, raises awareness, and aids in the implementation of the SFERA protocol by all of them. However, there are risks that optimal interoperability may not be ensured, compatibility issues may arise if the IRS is not properly maintained, and that SFERA may be bypassed by manufacturers resulting in some customers’ locking. These risks are actively managed to ensure the successful implementation and utilization of the SFERA protocol.

Project structure

The SFERA Working Group (WG) has established a clear maintenance procedure and a process for handling change requests. The WG meets biannually and holds periodic web conferences to address feedback and decide on updates. All UIC members can submit change requests via email, and the SFERA project management will evaluate these requests to determine if they require immediate attention. The WG processes all change requests during its meetings and web conferences.

The SFERA WG seeks a balance between speed and meticulousness in updating SFERA. It can publish new versions without consulting all UIC members for minor changes, while major changes follow a formal UIC publishing procedure. All versions of SFERA are published on the UIC website with release notes detailing the differences from previous versions. Although there is no formal helpdesk, the SFERA project management can assist UIC members or companies wanting to use SFERA by connecting them with members who have already implemented it. Complaints about change requests can be directed to the SFERA project management for clarification. The governance of the Maintenance/DAS experts group is made up of opt-in members, and external parties can submit change requests. The SFERA User Group, which includes external parties, participates in periodic meetings to share updates and collect feedback.

Project members

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Monday 3 June 2024