ERTMS: unity is strength

The European Systems of Railway Traffic Management is an initiative of the European Union to  ensure interoperability of rail networks by creating a single worldwide standard. Recent developments and the involvement of European institution bring the goal closer. The ultimate goal is that all European lines form a single network and that a train can circulate freely throughout the different countries of the European Union. Currently, this railway communication is not possible due to differences in width, gauge, electrification and technological systems that exist between the networks of each of the EU countries.

The existence of more than 20 signalling systems in Europe, inherited from the past, is seen as a critical factor. In fact, each train used by a national railway company must be equipped with at least one traffic management system but sometimes even more and just to move safely within the same country. This is costly and significantly increases the technical and operational complexity of train systems. Removing these barriers through ERTMS will help increase rail transport performance and level conditions between road and rail transport.

This single European train control system has been designed to gradually replace the existing incompatible systems across Europe. This implementation will provide significant benefits for the railway sector as it will raise the international transport of goods and passengers.

ERTMS is certainly the most powerful train control system in the world and provides significant advantages in terms of saving maintenance costs, safety, reliability, punctuality and traffic capacity. This explains why ERTMS is increasingly successful outside Europe and is becoming the train control system of choice for countries like China, India, Taiwan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia. Although it is a complex system, ERTMS has become essential to ensure traffic safety and rail traffic management.

As for the freight rail system, the factors that are and obstacle for commercial transport and competitiveness are increasing by making even more complex and difficult to handle cross-border traffic. Among the drawbacks are, for example, the differences in terms of indicators, the various electrification systems or different administrative procedures in Europe, which in many cases can be overcome.

The fact that it is a system compatible with Europe, ERTMS gives the European Union a unique opportunity to create a strong railway system, where trains can run from Barcelona to Warsaw without facing technical problems or other issues related to the signalling system. Nevertheless, interoperability is far from being the only advantage of ERTMS. In fact, ERTMS is also designed to be the most powerful train control system in the world. The main engine of ERTMS in the context of the European railway network, is achieving full cross-border interoperability: the implementation of a common signalling system will remove barriers for trade and passenger and freight rail services.

Advantages of ERTMS
◗ Increased capacity on existing lines and responding to the growing demands of transportation. Being a signalling system based on continuous communication, ERTMS reduces the progression between trains that allow up to 40% more capacity of existing infrastructure today.
◗ Faster: ERTMS enables a top speed of 500 km/h;
◗ Increased reliability: ERTMS can significantly increase the reliability and punctuality, which are crucial for both passenger and freight transport;
◗ Reduced production costs: a unified system is easier to install, maintain and make more competitive rail systems.
◗ Reduced maintenance costs: With ERTMS Level 2 signalling on land is no longer needed, significantly reducing maintenance costs.
◗ An open supply market will allow customers to purchase anywhere in Europe and all suppliers will may make an offer.
◗ The period of performance of the contract is reduced due to the significant reduction in process engineering.
◗ Increased safety for both passengers and vehicles.

Baseline 3
In December 2015, the European Union Agency for Railways (formerly ERA) successfully delivered together with UNISIG (an industry consortium created to develop the ERTMS/ETCS technical specifications) the second release of the Baseline 3 specifications. The hard work deployed by the UNISIG experts confirmed, once again, the full commitment of manufacturers to ERTMS.
This new milestone in maintaining the ERTMS/ETCS specifications is distinguished by the following reasons:
◗ This new version includes error corrections “compatible” with the latest legal regulation of the specifications (formally adopted by the European Commission in January 2015).
◗ Enter GPRS (General Packet Radio Service), an evolution of telecommunications in the side of the ERTMS/ETCS specifications required in some European countries to further enhance system performance.
◗ The ERA (European Union Agency for Railway) also submitted to the European Commission a document summarizing the “long-term perspective” for ERTMS/ETCS. The main objectives were to identify and analyze the different strategic challenges for medium and long term related to the development of ERTMS/ETCS specifications. One of the main challenges is to find the optimal balance between the stability of the specifications and the development of ERTMS, while ensuring interoperability and preservation of investments.

ERTMS Advancement Program
Karel Vinck, Coordinator of ERTMS in Europe, with the support of the European Commission, has demonstrated its full commitment to ERTMS and created the
“ERTMS Breakthrough Programme” in order to help accelerate the deployment of ERTMS in Europe.

The key principles of this program are focused on the following:
◗ “Users first” and not “designers first”. Users are defined from the economic point of view. Considering that the railway undertakings (RU) are in a competitive situation with national monopoly, their needs must be taken into account.
◗ Running throughout Europe. On the basis of the principles at the heart of ERTMS, a vehicle equipped with a interoperable and complete on board equipment compatible with the ETCS Baseline 3 System should be able to be implemented throughout Europe.
◗ Focus on implementation. The focus of all stakeholders should include from specifications and development to implementation, operation and maintenance of the ERTMS specifications.
◗ ERTMS cost reduction. ERTMS must be sought in products and solutions as well as maintenance, and also for the European system as a whole.
◗ Review of the European Deployment Plan.

These 5 objectives should be achieved by the end of 2016. As already announced in the provisional Work Plan, the Coordinator presented a proposal for the revision of the European Deployment Plan approved in 2009. Member States should ensure that the main parts of the implementation of ERTMS in the corridors will be completed in 2027, using the financial opportunities provided by the current period (2014-2020) and the programming period for the future (2020-2027).

A series of complete, stable and mature specifications are the perfect condition for the functioning of a software-based system such  as ERTMS. An interoperable and compatible infrastructure adapted to Baseline 3 is essential for a competitive rail network in Europe.
With the establishment of the nine multi-modal corridors of the Core Network (CNC), the Commission has taken an important step towards the realization of a sustainable transport network in Europe. With this coordinated application, the European Commission has provided a strategic and political framework for the implementation of the single European railway area: as a first step, corridors will be operating, and then the remaining parts of the Core Network corridor will be completed in 2030.

The European ERTMS coordinator has always shown that, in order to get the construction of an operational rail corridor fulfilled, three conditions are needed: the elimination of bottlenecks in infrastructure, harmonization of national operating rules in Europe and the introduction of ERTMS. On this last point, Europe has achieved significant results over the last 10 years. The technology itself has matured and has reached a point of no return: ERTMS is an interoperable signalling system in Europe, accepted by all Member States.

A strategy for planning
When preparing the proposal for the new European Deployment Plan, the Coordinator analyzed all the documents presented to the Commission and the results of studies of the core network corridor. This deployment plan covers the Core Network Corridor (CNC), but Member States have the obligation to apply the entire Core network in 2030.

In recent years, the European Coordinator has revealed that the corridor approach is the most appropriate way to achieve an interoperable network. A coordinated implementation through brokers facilitates not only the management of the application, but provides an added economic value: ERTMS costs are linearly growing, while its benefits in terms of interoperability will grow exponentially.

ERTMS progress in Europe is already a tangible fact. More and more countries have decided to change their national signalling system to ERTMS. The Coordinator identified two major areas in which the implementation of ERTMS is progressing significantly: Benelux and Central Europe (Austria, Slovenia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and parts of north-eastern Italy).

The Coordinator has always emphasized the central role of cross-border sections regarding ERTMS. In order to achieve the highest possible value, a significant cross-border section must be first identified and then apply it in a well organized way, involving not only infrastructure managers, but also to security authorities and the ERA (European Union Agency for Railway).

The role of UNIFE and ERA
On the other hand, UNIFE, the Association of the European Railway Industry, has also been one of the major contributors and will continue to support the Commission in 2016.
On December 15th, 2015, the ERA, the European Union Agency for Railway, held the meeting for the launch “ERTMS Stakeholders’ Platform”, which will facilitate a harmonized approach to the development and deployment of ERTMS in Europe.

During that meeting, all aspects of ERTMS specifications and authorization issues were discussed. It was agreed to create a first subgroup that will ensure monitoring of the objectives included in the 2012 MoU ERTMS system and the progress of the program; address other issues related to testing, certification and authorization. The work of the subgroups will start this year along with the full participation of UNISIG and UNIFE.

Among the plans that are expected to be carried out in 2016, the main deployment programs in several Member States of the EU and the limited EU funding available until 2020 remain as an important priority for the sector.

The European Commission and the European Investment Bank (EIB) are waiting for member states, infrastructure managers, railway companies and rail manufacturers to agree to implement projects immediately. UNIFE will in 2016 to continue to facilitate the dialogue at European level between the different actors involved

Obstacles for full implementation
However, the implementation of the ERTMS system is not progressing as quickly as planned and expected by all stakeholders. The most common arguments are that the financial means are not enough (in particular due to the financial crisis), the price of ERTMS products is not always adequate when compared to their added value (especially onboard equipment), the lack of ERTMS has hampered the implementation, maintenance of specifications have been delayed, etc. Moreover, some European Member States have invested in maintaining / updating their national systems regularly and use the argument that the existing signalling system has not reached the end of its life cycle.

ERTMS in Spain

españa-ertms proyectos-ertms
Spain decided the implementation of the ERTMS system in the construction of all new High Speed lines following the European directive and clearly betting on this new interoperable system.

The role of Spain has been instrumental in the deployment, development and success of ERTMS, being one of the international leaders of the proper functioning of the system. To give some numerical examples, more than 5,000 km in service have been hired by Mafex members worldwide (more than 2,900 outside Spain); the first and only ETCS in America has been installed by Spanish companies as Bombardier España; and the first and only ETCS systems in the world in suburban lines (commuter) has been installed by Spanish companies. Spain has shown the rest of Europe how technical interoperability between all suppliers is possible, as the implemented system, with high levels of punctuality and reliability, in all high-speed lines of Adif, except the first line Madrid-Seville. The longest interoperable section in Europe is the journey between Barcelona and Malaga, in which a train equipped with ERTMS by Siemens runs equipped by Thales, Ansaldo, LZB  and Dimetronic lines (now Siemens Rail Automation).

In Europe, Adif (Railway Infrastructure Administrator of Spain) is actively involved in the development of the trans-European rail network, promoting the coordination of high-speed connections with France and Portugal, participating in the development of international regulation for safety and interoperability and promoting the installation of ERTMS on Corridor D. Currently, about 2,150 kilometres in Spain have installed the ERTMS system, of which 607 correspond to level 2. This fact makes Spain have, right now, the highest level of deployment  of the  European signalling system.