• The SAFE4RAIL project has the goal of saving 10 kilometres of cables for every 20 meters of convoy
  • The Basque centre is an international benchmark in the design and development of reliable embedded systems
  • The project was presented at last year's Open Calls program, which received the highest mark (15/15)

The railway sector is modernising itself to adopt the new technologies. A European R&D project, entitled SAFE4RAIL, has just been launched, with the aim of developing technologies capable of bringing together in a single electronic system monitoring and control features of trains, which are now spread over different devices. This will increase the safety and efficiency of this means of transport, in addition to reducing construction and maintenance costs.

This initiative, which counts on the participation of the IK4-IKERLAN technology centre, has a total budget of 6.68 million euro and a duration of two years. It will develop the necessary technology to unify in a single computer system features such as door opening and closing, passenger communication system and braking systems, to give a few examples. Until now, an independent system was used for each of these features.

“In the aeronautics and automotive sectors, all monitoring and control systems have already been put together in the same electronic system. The railway sector, however, is more obsolete, and for that reason, the SAFE4RAIL project was launched”, said researcher Rosa Iglesias, who is responsible for this initiative at IK4-IKERLAN.

In order to achieve this modernisation, reliable and safe embedded systems will be employed, comprising electronic devices integrated into objects that are capable of controlling one or more of their features, including those on which the safety of persons or equipment depends (as in this case, the braking system). “These new electronic technologies will allow us to improve the efficiency and safety of the trains of the future”, said Iglesias.

The public-private partnership Shift2Rail, dedicated to coordinating the major modernisation initiatives of the European rail industry, has driven this initiative as part of the Horizon 2020 programme of the European Union. The consortium encompasses eight industrial partners and three research entities, including IK4-IKERLAN.


What are the advantages of unifying these systems? First, the electronics of the vehicle will be simplified, and a large amount of electronics and wiring will be eliminated. In fact, we are expected to save 10 kilometres of cables for every 20 meters of vehicle. This will enable gains in space, efficiency, lightness and costs of maintenance, operation, and construction.

Furthermore, the architecture being developed can integrate the braking system and control it electronically. Currently, these systems are mechanical, but the intention is to replace them with electronic brakes, which are more reliable and safe.

On the other hand, a standard technology will be implemented, which should be valid for all manufacturers of components for trains. So far, each manufacturer uses its own protocols. Having a common basis, however, will contribute to streamlining approvals and certifications of each system installed in the convoy.

The importance of reliable embedded systems

The IK4-IKERLAN technology centre will contribute to the project with its knowledge in the fields of reliable embedded systems and communications, as well as its experience in the railway sector – a result of the close collaboration it has had for years in the development of products with CAF, one of the world leaders in this field.

These dependable embedded systems comprise electronic devices that are equipped with hardware, software and communications and are integrated into the objects to control some of their features. They are called reliable when they control features whose failure would have serious consequences on the safety of the people or a strong economic repercussion. Therefore, these devices must comply with extremely demanding safety requirements.

Some examples of common use of these mechanisms are the ABS braking control system and the airbags of our cars. The many features that can be included in the products, as well as the security that they provide, are becoming an increasingly used tool in both consumer goods and industrial processes.

Reliable embedded systems are useful all sectors that require a safe automatic control, for example, for optimisation in production systems, improvements of the reliability and availability of a product, etc. Therefore, they are increasingly present in sectors such as aerospace, automotive, rail, energy, medicine, defence, machine tools, equipment, or robotics.

An international benchmark

“IK4-IKERLAN is an international benchmark in the design and development of reliable embedded systems with robust communications, security features and multicore technology”, said Iglesias. In fact, the technological centre has a long history in the application of these technologies for different uses.

Some of the success stories in this work include the ERTMS-ETCS rail signalling and control system developed in collaboration with CAF and the IEC-61508 SIL3 / ISO-13849 Pld wind turbine control algorithms developed for Alstom Renovables (now General Electric).

IK4-IKERLAN has roughly twenty staff certified by the international certification agency TÜV for the development of hardware and software in accordance with the functional safety standards IEC-61508 (reference standard), IEC-62061 (machinery) and ISO 26262 (Sutomotive).


IK4-IKERLAN is a leading centre for technology transfer and for providing competitive value to companies due, among other things, to the expertise of its researchers. It offers comprehensive solutions by combining different fields of technology. This is possible owing to its high level of specialisation in three main areas: Electronics, information and communication technology (EICT), Energy and power electronics and Advanced manufacturing. It currently has a staff of approximately 300 people.

Project details

Project name: SAFE4RAIL (Safe architecture for Robust distributed Application Integration in roLling stock)
Funding organisation: European Union / Shift2Rail Joint Undertaking
Programme: H2020-S2R-OC-IP1-02-2016
Contract No.: 730830
Project manager: TTTECH COMPUTERTECHNIK AG Austria
Start: October 2016
Duration: 24 months

You can check more information about the project at its web page

The aim is to modernise railway computer systems, optimising their reliability and energy and resource costs
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