French infrastructure manager SNCF Réseau has launched a partnership with several companies, including Alstom, Ansaldo STS, Siemens and Thales, in a bid to design the next generation of signal interlockings.

The move comes as part of the company’s infrastructure upgrade campaign, which aims to improve the technical and economic standards for the next generation of computer-controlled interlockings. These targets will be achieved by decreasing SNCF Réseau’s budgets for procurement, maintenance and future modernisation by 15%. Within this framework, the company will also cut costs, staffing and lead times for the commissioning of the interlockings and improve the overall performance of the new equipment with a focus on cybersecurity, maintenance and operation.

These targets will help build a new generation of signal interlockings that can work as full-scale ‘hubs’ able to control all signalling equipment. They will be used across the company’s entire rail network.

The first of the new generation technology is expected to become operational in 2023. SNCF Réseau plans to gradually roll out a series of production units over the next few years so that by 2030, 30 new interlockings can be placed in service each year.

A number of key industry players will work on the design and rollout of the project under the name of ARGOS, with an estimated €1bn budget over 15 years. This is part of a total €7bn set aside for signalling equipment renewal.

Plans for this ‘innovation partnership’ were first set out in a European directive in 2014 and resulted in the creation of ARGOS, a name that refers to the mythological Greek giant whose 100 eyes allowed him to survey everything around him.

Four industrial teams will be involved in the project: Alstom; Ansaldo STS, which will work with Systra and Eiffage; Siemens, in collaboration with SafeRail and Est Signalisation; and Thales, in partnership with Engie Ineo and Vossloh. The teams will work with SNCF Réseau engineers at the company’s offices in Paris.

SNCF Réseau will examine technical proposals from each group at the beginning of 2019, with plans to start a mock-up phase of the selected proposal in spring 2019. The company will then choose the teams responsible for the manufacture of the proposed solutions by early 2020.

The successful contenders will then have almost three years to build the first interlocking box, which is to become operational by 2030.