In 1885, passengers and onlookers celebrated as the first tram traversed the Belgian coast from Ostend and Nieuwpoort. In 1912, the steam powered tram was upgraded to run on electricity. There was renewed cause for celebration when the tramway recently received another major upgrade after more than a century. The modernization project was completed in cooperation between Prague-based Elektroline and Austrian automation specialist B&R.
As the longest tramline in the world, "The Coastal Tram" travels 68 kilometers along the Belgian coast between the municipalities of De Panne and Knokke-Heist at the country's borders with France and the Netherlands, respectively. "There are a lot of interesting things about The Coastal Tram," says Mikuláš Burgr, head of implementation and project engineering for tram control systems at Elektroline. "In the summer season, for example, the tram is used so heavily that they have to borrow tram cars from Ghent and Antwerp."
The junction in Ostend has three platforms and one tram storage track. The system is highly complex, since all twenty track switches need to be controlled simultaneously to ensure safe and smooth operation.
All traffic is managed from a control room located nearly 30 kilometers away in Bruges. Dispatchers can view the entire tramline, including footage from its countless surveillance cameras, on control room monitors or on tablets and other mobile devices.
System integrator Elektroline was tasked with modernizing The Coastal Tram. "Managers of the transportation company had a clear goal for the modernization project: to automate tram traffic in a way that is both safe and state-of-the-art," says Burgr. "To implement the safety technology and the demanding HMI requirements, we selected B&R – a decision based on the positive experiences we've had working with them on other projects. The B&R system makes it easy to develop the software for the demanding safety requirements in accordance with SIL 3."
Following the modernization, the complex control and safety system operates the track switches automatically via wireless communication. To do this, the conductor enters the number of the line in the onboard system. Each tram has a transmitter installed on the underside of the car, which sends identification data such as the number of the line and the route to the receiver in the track system. The conductor can take over manual control if necessary, but otherwise there is virtually nothing else to do. That guarantees safe travel for trams, cars, cyclists and pedestrians alike.
"For an integration project as demanding as the one in Ostend, you need to have good cooperation with a technology partner," explains Burgr. "We used B&R technology for the HMI in the track switches that come with our system. The web-based HMI solution, mapp View, plays a central role in commissioning and maintaining the system. The dispatcher system that controls the flow of data has its own HMI application that provides a complete overview of all tram traffic. It is used to control the tram car depots and complex intersections along the tramline. The most difficult task was to define the system's many highly complex process steps, which made it impossible to use a standard one-size-fits-all solution. That's why we worked with B&R to create a custom solution."
B&R's Václav Pravda adds: "Our customers can always count on our full support, whether that's with HMI software like in this project, or with the controller itself. Our software engineers worked together with the Elektroline team throughout the duration of the project. Our automation system was originally created for machine control, but has long proven itself in many other areas – from gas pipeline monitoring to the energy sector and traffic infrastructure – as you can see in the successful project in Ostend."
Head of project engineering for tram control systems, Elektroline
"To implement the safety technology and the demanding HMI requirements, we selected B&R – a decision based on the positive experiences we've had working with them on other projects. The B&R system makes it easy to develop the software for the demanding safety requirements in accordance with SIL 3."