November 15, 2017

Dutch freight operators rail against ERTMS

Written by  Quintus Vosman
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The new Dutch government, which was due to take office by the end of last month, is expected to make a final decision on the roll out of the ERTMS in the Netherlands in March or April 2018. But, as Quintus Vosman reports, rail freight pressure group, RailGood believes the roll out plan is seriously flawed and risks damaging the rail freight business.

RAILGOOD, the largest interest group for rail and intermodal freight operators in the Netherlands, has called for a halt to the roll out of ERTMS Level 2 baseline 3 in a letter sent to Mr Remco Dijkstra, who is a member of parliament and a reporter to the Dutch parliament concerning the ERTMS project.

Freight operators on the Dutch network point out that the project development, in combination with increasing infrastructure pricing, will have a strong adverse effect on rail freight’s competitive position. They claim it will affect investment in the rail freight sector and undermine the competitiveness of the Dutch ports and the position of the Netherlands as a freight distribution country for Europe. Freight operators say halting the roll out of ERTMS as intended is essential for rail freight to survive in the Netherlands.

The Dutch government is currently in the final stage of preparing for the implementation decision. However, the new Dutch government, which was due to take office at the end of last month, is not expected to make the final decision until first half of 2018.

RailGood has made the following six demands to the Ministry of Infrastructure regarding the roll out of ERTMS on the Dutch network:

  • no roll out of ETCS Level 2 baseline 3 on the Roosendaal - Kijfhoek line, which is the first line selected in the ERTMS implementation plan; this line is seen as a test case but it is important for freight using the port of Sloehaven and for international traffic to Belgium and France, so RailGood wants another line which does not carry freight traffic to be chosen, and it also does not want ERTMS installed on the harbour line serving the port of Rotterdam
  • implementation of the same ERTMS version as in Germany, including coordination in terms of timing of the roll out of the Dutch ERTMS network (Table 1)
  • RailGood says if ERTMS is implemented as currently planned, the port of Rotterdam and other ports or terminals will be badly hit due to the enormous costs incurred and operational difficulties foreseen by implementing ERTMS
  • full financial compensation for equipping locomotives with ERTMS onboard equipment, authorisation of locomotives and education and training of train staff - RailGood is very unhappy that Netherland Railways (NS) and other passenger operators will receive 100% compensation, while the best that freight operators or locomotive leasing companies can expect is only 50%, and RailGood sees no benefit for freight operators from the introduction of ERTMS
  • a guarantee from the Dutch government for a proper and adequate Europe-wide functioning of cross-acceptance principles regarding rolling stock and staff education and training
  • new ERTMS installations must have an option for Automatic Train Operation (ATO) to enable rail transport to compete with road when driverless vehicles and truck convoys are introduced within the next five to 10 years, and
  • suppliers of ETCS Level 2 baseline 3 equipment must guarantee for several years that the system will have 100% availability without any failures, but in the event of failures, suppliers must pay penalties directly to train operators.

Three versions

RailGood wants the decision to stop the ERTMS roll out to be taken as soon as possible.

At the moment there are already three versions of ETCS Level 2 in operation on the Dutch rail network, which means that locomotives cannot operate on all lines equipped with ERTMS. For example, the 200km/h Siemens Vectron locomotive, for which the supplementary Authorisation to Place in Service was granted by Dutch national safety authority ILT in September, can operate on the Betuweroute freight line, but not on the HSL-South high-speed line, while

Traxx multi-system electric locomotives operated by NS can run on HSL-South but not on the Betuweroute. In line with the original aim to create a European-wide harmonised interoperable signalling system, ERTMS should not have various dialects.

Dutch ertmsAs Table 1 shows, national ERTMS roll out programmes in Belgium and Germany are ahead of the Netherlands. Dutch infrastructure manager Prorail is discussing with its Belgian and German counterparts, Infrabel and DB Networks, how to coordinate the ERTMS implementation on the lines that cross the border at Roosendaal, Zevenaar and Venlo.

Greater effort

Nevertheless, RailGood wants the government to make a greater effort regarding interoperability. It says that freight operators do not see why some routes will have ERTMS while others will not. For example, the line to the German border station of Bad Bentheim is not in the ERTMS roll out plan. This affects the choice of rolling stock and the method of operation. RailGood is afraid that more operators will use ageing former-NS class 1600/1800 1.5kV dc electric locomotives built by Alsthom in the early 1980s. These locomotives have an estimated monthly leasing cost of e5000, compared with at least e45,000 per month for a Vectron or similar locomotive.

Under the roll out plan, the first section to be equipped with ETCS Level 2 as a pilot is the line between Kijfhoek freight yard south of Rotterdam and Roosendaal on the Belgian border. However, RailGood would like the first ERTMS test line on the conventional network to be a passenger-only line. It is though willing to provide freight trains not in commercial operation for test running under ERTMS.

The Dutch government has designted some non-electrified lines, equipped with the Dutch ATB-New Generation train protection system, as diversionary routes for freight trains. RailGood points out that ATB-NG and ERTMS are still not compatible. This means locomotives modified for ERTMS operation will no longer be able to run on ATB-NG lines.

RailGood has identified two major operating limitations with the introduction of ETCS Level 2 baseline 3. It will no longer be possible to propel freight wagons by shunting locomotives or shunt and marshal freight trains at Kijfhoek yard. RailGood notes that ETCS Level 1 rather than Level 2 has already been installed on the Rotterdam port line and at the CUP intermodal exchange point at Valburg.

RailGood says the development of the Dutch ERTMS plans has been going on without proper representation by freight operators, which only started to participate in the ERTMS working groups in September. RailGood blames the Ministry of Infrastructure for this oversight and says signals from stakeholders were ignored for a long time so that the interests of rail freight have not been taken into account.

Shortly after RailGood sent its letter to Dijkstra, the secretary of state for infrastructure with responsibility for railways, Mrs Sharon Dijksma released a report on the progress of the ERTMS project, which says that everything is more or less under control. However, the contrast between the RailGood letter and Dijksma’s report was significant.

Dijksma told parliament that good progress has been made and fruitful developments have taken place in aspects such as system design, requirements, and strategy for a controlled and well-managed migration to ERTMS as well as proposals for a test period. She says that a decision about the ERTMS programme can be taken in 2018, although this will be up to the next government.

Dijksma says she has been busy trying to determine the number of trains that will be equipped with ERTMS and the costs and compensation arrangement for operators. This aspect will be part of the final definition of the scope and the total project costs.

Simultaneously, the secretary of state has registered about 300 locomotives from 15 train operators, which run on the Rhine-Alpine freight corridors, with the European Commission (EC) for compensation from the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF).

The Dutch government has fixed the total budget for the ERTMS roll out at e2.4bn. As project preparations near completion, risks have been defined in a more concrete way. As a result, the secretary of state has been informed that the business case and the fixed budget do not balance, which might have consequences for the number of lines that will be equipped with ERTMS.

When the new government makes its final decision about the ERTMS roll out next year, the programme must be fully ready for implementation. The management structures will have to be modified and adjusted for the new situation, which is different from the design phase. The secretary of state foresees that Prorail will lead the implementation, but with strong cooperation with the Ministry of Infrastructure, NS and other stakeholders. In the meantime, everything is awaiting the installation of the new government.

ERTMS table

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