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Lying at the northwest corner of Africa, Morocco has a long coastline along the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea, while the interior of the country consists of rugged mountains and large areas of desert. To provide transportation across this expansive landscape, Morocco has a highly developed railway network, with the main lines alone covering 2,109 kilometers.
Morocco’s national railway operator, the Office National des Chemins de Fer (ONCF), manages two major rail backbones. A north-south backbone runs from Tangier to Marrakech, and an east-west backbone runs from Oujda to Agadir, connecting with the north-south line at Marrakech.
The railways have no unified dispatching network, which has limited operating efficiency. To address this issue, the government decided to build a unified GSM-R dispatching network covering more than 1,800 kilometers of the railways.
The ONCF’s GSM-R project in Morocco was launched in 2014 and consists of two parts: The country’s first high-speed railway line, which covers the 185 kilometers between Tangier and Kenitra, and 1,738 kilometers of existing conventional-speed railway lines. The whole project is planned to be completed within five years.
The railway network currently uses outdated analog voice systems from different vendors, resulting in uncoordinated dispatching. The plan is to ensure these dispatching systems are seamlessly integrated into a unified GSM-R network. GSM-R is a mature digital communications technology seeing widespread use by railway operators worldwide.
The new high-speed railway will use an ETCS L2-compliant train control system, which imposes high-reliability requirements on the GSM-R network. Additionally, the GSM-R network must comply with the frequency bands allocated in Morocco. Currently, the UIC band is used by Morocco’s telecommunication operator, INWI, and only part of the E band is available for GSM-R. The frequency band limits may not be permanent, so ONCF required a solution that would enable smooth migration from E-GSM to R-GSM without purchasing additional hardware.
Environmental conditions are another challenge. In addition to the Sahara Desert, the technology must contend with Morocco’s extremely rugged and remote Atlas mountains. The railway’s wireless devices must run stably under a wide range of harsh conditions.
ONCF awarded the project to a consortium consisting of Thales (a recognized system integrator of railway systems), IMET (a civil works company), and Huawei. The new infrastructure will be implemented in several stages over the next five years.
Huawei has equipped technical rooms with GSM-R core network nodes and Base Station Controllers (BSCs) located in Rabat and Kenitra. Another BSC will be installed at a location yet to be selected. Using a single optical transmission network, these equipment rooms will connect the GSM-R base stations along the high-speed and conventional-speed railways.
To achieve best-in-class availability performance, the GSM-R network will provide hot-standby redundancy for all Network Elements (NEs), including remote disaster recovery for core network devices and BSCs; dual wireless networks along high-speed railways; board-level redundancy for base stations along other railways; and ring-topology networking for the entire GSM-R network.
To address the possibility of future migration to a new frequency band, Huawei’s R&D team developed a customized module that supports a wide range of frequency bands. The module will allow the ONCF to smoothly migrate frequency bands without purchasing new hardware or interrupting railway operations.
The Huawei solution enables nationwide, all-weather, real-time railway operational dispatching in all traffic conditions.
To adapt to the harsh and varied geographic environments along the railway, the GSM-R network makes use of both distributed base stations and macro base stations. This flexibility will ensure that the GSM-R network delivers a consistent level of performance everywhere in the country.
Strong redundancy features protect the GSM-R network’s reliability: Double radio coverage with geographic redundancy of the core network nodes and BSCs. Huawei designed this solution to meet ONCF’s requirement that the GSM-R network deliver 99.99 percent reliability for the high-speed lines and 99.73 percent for the conventional lines.