Transport: Thales' CBTC Technology Celebrates 25 Years and Remains at the Cutting Edge of Innovation

  • Increasing line capacity
  • Promoting sustainable mobility with green modes of transport
  • Developing value-added signaling at optimized costs
  • Designing technologies that continuously adapt themselves to market trends


Invented 25 years ago, Thales' CBTC technology for train control systems remains the benchmark technology. This is not only because it was ahead of its time, but also as it has continued to evolve and integrate new functionalities, keeping up with the continual developments of urban transport.


In the 1980s, Thales invented CBTC technology, the train control system based on telecommunications. At the time, conceiving then designing a signaling system controlled by computers was considered pure science fiction. The first fully automatic (driverless) CBTC system was commissioned at the World Expo in Vancouver in 1986. During this event, CBTC technology proved its efficiency, reliability and profitability to the entire world, transporting hundreds of thousands of visitors.


The CBTC is an automatic rail traffic control system based on continuous communication between the train and the computers responsible for controlling the traffic. Compared with conventional railway signaling systems that manage the distances between trains in real time, CBTC technology allows trains to be operated with intervals right down to 60 seconds, all the while ensuring optimum operational safety


Today, CBTC signaling is still the benchmark technology for metro operators across the globe and 90 percent of requests for metro signaling require it. The technology has proven its efficiency, but also its ability to optimise costs in terms of system lifecycles. A CBTC system is a profitable and sustainable investment as it is designed to be updated and take on more functionalities and capabilities:

  • It adapts itself to different modes of transport
  • Metros, tramways (San Francisco), suburban trains (Hong Kong) or automated shuttles in operation 24/7 (Las Vegas)
  • Invented to supply new lines, the technology also enables existing metro networks to be modernised, which represents a major challenge in terms of operational safety and maintaining service during deployment
  • Based on software, the systems are constantly updated with new versions adapted to the client's needs

Its performance capabilities enable passenger transport capacities to besignificantly optimized, all the while reducing the carbon footprint of transport. A portfolio spanning the globe, Thales has rolled out its SelTrac CBTC solution on 30 of the largest urban transport networks in the world and has the best global portfolio in this field: Vancouver, NewYork, Santiago de Chile, London, Paris, Dubai, Beijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Wuhan … One of the most prestigious projects is the Dubai metro. Inaugurated in September 2009, it covers 52 kilometres with the red line, to which 17.6 kilometres of the green line will be added, due to open in 2011. It will become the largest CBTC driverless metro in the world. The metro in Dubai is equipped with Thales' comprehensive range, comprising CBTC signalling, ticketing, telecommunications and supervision.


Gabriel Colceag, manager of Thales' urban signaling of transport systems explains, "With this global approach, CBTC technology is becoming a core technology at the heart of the transport system. From now on, it is a major global tool for the management of information, communication, supervision and security systems that enables operators to transport their passengers in a more efficient way.