Infrabel invests €80 million in new sensors for safer, more punctual trains

Belgian rail network operator Infrabel and the French multinational rolling stock manufacturer Alstom will install up to 10,000 new sensors along the Belgian rail network over the next decade. To this end, the two companies have signed an 80 million euro contract.

The sensors or train detection devices should, among other things, help improve train punctuality.

JADE 3 sensors

The Belgian rail network currently has some 12,500 rail current circuit sensors (so-called SKs), on average every 1,500 meters. Over the next ten years, Alstom will supply Infrabel with up to 10,000 “JADE 3” sensors, the latest type of SK developed in Charleroi, to detect trains. Thanks to these sensors, signalmen can safely control train traffic remotely.

Each device puts an electrical voltage on the tracks. When a train passes it, the metal train wheel creates a short circuit, which detects the train. This is called a current-track circuit. In this way, Infrabel’s control stations can track each train as it travels from sensor to sensor.

The same sensors also ensure that level crossings are closed to traffic in time when a train is approaching. “You can compare the devices to a light bulb at your home,” says Hannes Denis, product manager at Infrabel, as noted by press agency Belga. “If there is a short circuit, the lamp goes out. With us, an extinguished lamp means that a train is passing.”


High performance important for the regularity of trains

However, many of the current sensors are outdated and in need of replacement. They are also prone to malfunctions, leading to nearly 50,000 minutes of delays and 750 canceled trains last year.

The new JADE 3 sensors are less prone to breakdowns and indicate themselves when maintenance is needed, even before they break down. The contract also includes maintenance of the sensors for 20 years.

The JADE 3/Infrabel

Made in Belgium

The sensors were developed at Alstom’s center of expertise in Charleroi. They will be made by two Belgian subcontractors: the Flemish company Connect Group and the Walloon company Alpha Innovations. Until now, this was done in Hungary. The contract will account for some 30 jobs – at Alstom and its subcontractors – over 10 years.

The contract also underscores Infrabel’s role as an economic accelerator: every euro endowment for Infrabel generates 2,83 euros positive gross impact on Belgium’s GDP.

For the 2022-2024 investment plan, Infrabel has 2,497 billion euros from the classic endowment, supplemented by 222 million euros from the Belgian transition plan and 135 million euros through the European relaunch fund.

For Infrabel chief Benoît Gilson, the contract with Alstom is also an important signal that electronic jobs can also remain in Belgium. “With electronics, we normally immediately think of China,” he said. “But Alstom managed to submit a competitive bid and win the tender with production in Belgium. So, it can be done.”


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