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SELTrac is a digital signalling technology used to control the movements of rail vehicles originally developed by Standard Elektrik Lorenz (the "SEL" in the name). It was originally developed for the Krauss-Maffei Transurban automated guideway transit system developed in the 1970s, and moved to the ICTS vehicle when the Transurban efforts were taken over by an Ontario consortium. First used on the Scarborough RT in Toronto, SelTrac was the first fully automatic moving-block[clarification needed] control system to be used in production.

SelTrac was primarily sold and developed by Alcatel, through a Toronto subsidiary. SelTrac is now sold by Thales, after it purchased many of Alcatel's non-telephony assets. New versions were made for different markets, and today SelTrac is used for rolling stock control around the world.



The original SelTrac system was based on inductive loops that provided a communications channel as well as positioning information. Normally an inductive loop is used solely as a communications system, with electromagnets on the vehicles or stations inducing currents in the loop that can be read at a distant location. In the case of SelTrac, the central computer sent data to the vehicles at 1200 bit/s on a 36 kHz carrier while the vehicles had 600 bit/s on a 56 kHz carrier. Separate antennae are used for transmission and reception.

The two-wire inductive loop system was prone to vandalism and, in newer versions of SelTrac, the control signal is transmitted inside the running rails at radio frequency using IEEE 802.11 (WiFi) access points.


SelTrac introduced a "twist" to the basic inductive loop concept, literally. Instead of a straight loop of wire running down the rail, SelTrac's loop periodically crosses to form lozenge shaped areas of fixed size. The communications system on the vehicles can detect a phase change in the signal caused by these crossover points, allowing them to place themselves within a single one of these sub-loops. The loops are typically about 25 meters long. Position within the loop can be further measured by counting axle revolutions. The vehicles broadcast this position information into the loops, along with IDs, speed, direction and other data.

This system is not accurate enough for positioning within a station. Further accuracy is provided by "station alignment boards" which the train attempts to capture directly beside a sensor. When approaching a station, the vehicle is slowed to allow the board to be captured by the onboard sensors, and the vehicle automatically brakes to a stop at a constant speed when it is seen. If the train passes the board, due to ice on the rails for instance, the train has to be manually reversed to capture it again.

Traffic control[edit]

In traditional train control, the railway is split into control "blocks" with signals in each one. Blocks are sized to allow the heaviest or fastest trains to stop fully within them. That way if a train is stopped in the next block, the following train will always have time to fully stop before reaching it. Careful tuning of block spacing is needed; if they are signals that are placed too close from each other, train speeds have to be reduced so they can still stop in time, but spacing them out further means the trains are also spread out and the route capacity drops.

SelTrac automatically maintains headway between vehicles through a moving block system. In this system the start and end points of the blocks are not fixed, and move along with the trains. This allows the central control system to calculate a point on the track where every train can safely move without further instruction—in a fixed block system this would be the next set of signals, but with SelTrac it is constantly being updated.

In theory this system could eliminate the "brick wall" criterion and allow the trains to run as close together as the communications speed would allow, but in practice a further spacing is typically imposed (for instance 50 m in the case of the Docklands Light Railway).

Speed control[edit]

When originally being designed, computers were expensive and data storage was limited. In keeping with this model, the original SelTrac used on the ICTS centralized all control. After receiving location information from a vehicle, the blocks and safe target points for each were calculated, and this information was then broadcast back out through the inductive loop to be received by the vehicles. Onboard controllers used this information to calculate a safe speed to approach the next target point, and modified its current speed appropriately. The system was designed to reduce the complexity, and thus cost, of the vehicle controllers as much as possible.

In modern systems, much more information can be stored in the vehicle controllers. These now know the layout of the track, speed limits and various other data. This allows the controllers to make much better decisions about setting their speed—speeding up before an incline for instance.

Product family[edit]

SelTrac is offered in two ways:

1. A complete integrated solution in which movement authority and interlocking are integrated within wayside zone controllers; this reduces equipment and potential interfacing issues. Integrating the management of the interlocking with train location information, as communicated through the CBTC system, allows faster response times, more tightly controlled movements, and easier expandability and adaptability. Interfaces within the zone controller are more easily designed than those between subsystems. The integrated system knows the position of each train to a high degree of accuracy. It can control the behavior of the train at all times and, in response to changing conditions, can modify the behavior to ensure safety of the system while offering maximum service.It can adapt its algorithms to take advantage of individual train behavior, and change parameters to ensure optimum use of resources, such as platform availability and traction power. The Limit of Movement Authority setting logic has a high impact on the end system performance, i.e. managing the interlocking in an integrated manner. Interlocking and switch control logic is optimized using position reports of communicating trains. The integrated design includes:

  • Unattended and Driverless train operation and cab-signalling modes
  • Moving-block technology
  • Automatic performance modification
  • Fully redundant train to wayside configurations
  • Data communication option (loop or radio)
  • Automatic route setting
  • Quick-start reset
  • Solid-state interlocking and remote point machine control
  • Automatic coupling/uncoupling

2. A 'progressive' overlay solution:

(a) Speed and Signal Safeguard: it vitally supervises speed profiles and signal adherence and provides all the functions of an intermittent ATP (Automatic Train Protection)

(b) Continuous Automatic Train Protection: provides the added value of improved headway while maintaining safe train separation, without depending on axle counters or track circuits. The system will automatically generate movement authorities based on actual locations of moving and fixed obstacles. It is used in conjunction with external interlockings and provides a replacement for automatic separation signals between interlockings. It can operate seamlessly with existing track circuits, which provides an inherent mechanism to operate mixed-mode traffic.

(c) Automatic Train Operation offering automatic train movement allowing a driver to operate "hands-off" and thereby improve running performance.

Moving to fully automatic operation (FAO) provides an excellent means to match train supply to passenger demand.

Data Communication[edit]

Data communication is provided with either low frequency inductive loop or a high bandwidth, open-standards wireless system incorporating spread-spectrum radio technology.[1]

Data Communication System (DCS)[edit]

  • Open-standard single integrated network providing communication between all train control subsystems and consists of three major elements:
    • free-space radio link (to/from all trains)
    • wayside network
    • security system.
  • Ethernet IP network is based on the IEEE 802.3 standard.
  • Radios, compliant with the IEEE 802.11 standard, are deployed at measured intervals along the trackside and are used to provide a wireless link to the trains.
  • Each train has a mobile radio at each end used to provide an interface to the vehicle on-board computer and to complete the wireless link to the trackside.
  • All equipment used to create the DCS system is Commercial off-the-shelf (COTS).

SelTrac installations[edit]

SelTrac is installed in many railways around the world,[2] including the following:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Thales SelTrac CBTC Brochure" (PDF). Thales Group. Retrieved 21 March 2015.