THE EU Agency for Railways’ (ERA) ERTMS conference at the end of April was its first live event since the start of the coronavirus pandemic and was very well attended, reflecting the natural human desire for face-to-face contact. “Despite the availability of many great tools, nothing can replace a good live conversation between interested people,” Mr Josef Doppelbauer, ERA’s executive director, told delegates.

Turning to the main topic of the conference, Doppelbauer said: “ERTMS can no longer simply be a technology, it must become an enabler for standardisation and digitalisation. The Command and Control Signalling Technical Specification for Interoperability (CCS TSI) revision package which we are working on will focus on modularity and optimising safety and capacity.

“We are getting ready for a new era. We will need more trains on the network and better connections to other modes.

“Most of the problems with ERTMS can be traced back to a lack of compatibility so we must ensure compatibility.”

Doppelbauer also pointed out that the 2025 regulation for the TEN-T network in Europe will oblige railways to include ERTMS in their investment plans.

European transport commissioner, Ms Adina-Ioana Vălean, made a short video address. “ERTMS is a stepping stone to other innovations that will provide extra capacity at a fraction of the cost of new infrastructure and lead to automatic train operation,” she said.

Following on from Doppelbauer’s comment regarding a lack of compatibility, Mr Matthias Reute, the European coordinator for ERTMS, said: “When we started, we made the mistake of laying ERTMS on top of the national signalling systems. We are now evolving towards ERTMS to become the single European signalling system, but we must ensure that we don’t have a European system talking in a lot of different dialects. We need a standard system, with a lot of standard products. I hope we can go back to the idea of a single ERTMS.

”Reute says that by September 2021, ETCS was deployed on 14% of the core network lines expected to be equipped by 2030, which equates to 8103km, while a further 18% or 10,533km was being equipped and another 7% or 3783km was covered by framework contracts. This leaves 61% or 34,751km still to be equipped by 2030. The forecast for 2040 is to have 80,118km of the 118,037km TEN-T network equipped with ERTMS. Allowing for non-signalled lines and exemptions this will leave 22,070km without ERTMS. “There is still a long way to go, but we are moving in the right direction,” Reute told delegates.

”ERTMS can no longer simply be a technology, it must become an enabler for standardisation and digitalisation.”

Josef Doppebauer

By 2040, ERTMS will have been installed on the national networks of 10 countries and Class B (conventional signalling) systems will no longer be required onboard trains in 14 countries.

However, the situation for fitting ERTMS on locomotives and other rolling stock does not look very encouraging. By the end of 2020, 7176 vehicles had been fitted with ERTMS in Europe, and contracts had been let to equip another 7500 vehicles, so around 15,000 vehicles should be equipped with ERTMS by 2030. About 20,000 vehicles will reach the end of their life and will need to be replaced in the next 10 years. “In general, 41,500 vehicles in Europe need to be equipped of which 20,000 will have an average life of over 30 years,” Reute said. “We need off-the-peg standardisation.” This may be a rather forlorn hope as every design of locomotive and train needs a tailor-made solution for installing ERTMS and the older the vehicle the more challenging it becomes.


Reute also addressed the issue of funding for ERTMS. “We need a combination of obligations and incentives,” he told delegates. “There is a substantial amount of finance available at the EU level for ERTMS. But one third of the money earmarked for ERTMS was not spent in the last period. It would be good to have a few projects already prepared for when funding does become available.”

In June, the European Commission (EC) announced the projects which had been selected from the call for proposals under the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) in 2021. This included 18 ETRMS projects which were granted CEF funding of €342m. This included €49.6m to Infrabel for ETCS Level 2 trackside deployment on several sections of the core network in Belgium; €22m to Banedanmark for deployment of ERTMS in western Denmark; €59m for Stuttgart 21, namely the pilot implementation of first digital signalling system in a German conurbation; €57m to Trenitalia to accelerate the deployment of ETCS onboard units; and €44.8m to Trafikverket for ERTMS onboard deployment in Sweden up to 2025.

Mr Wawrzyniec Perschke, policy officer with the Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport (DG Move) at the EC, highlighted some of the bottlenecks which are hindering the deployment of ERTMS. “We need the infrastructure managers (IMs) to be the chicken that lays the egg,” he said. “They have the biggest benefits from installing ERTMS and they have national funding to implement it. We need support for operators and particularly freight operators. Suppliers need to see scale and they need to have standard products, while the IMs need to accept ‘vanilla’ products.”

Mr Keir Fitch, head of rail safety and interoperability with DG Move, set out some objectives for ERTMS. “We need to leverage the capacity we have and that is where ERTMS comes in,” Fitch told delegates. “We need to decommission the Class B systems which would remove a lot of the complexity. For the future, we want a single operating concept for the railways to avoid the complexity which has bugged ERTMS deployment.”

Mr Matthias Reute, the European coordinator for ERTMS.

Fitch also highlighted some of the things which he regards as potential game changers. He pointed to the Europe’s Rail innovation pillar which will develop new functionalities such as automatic train operation (ATO) up to Grade of Automation 4 (GoA4), advanced train positioning which will lead to lower operating costs, freight automation based on the Digital Automatic Coupler (DAC), and the Future Rail Mobile Communications System (FRMCS). “Hopefully, we finally have an ETCS Level 3 moving block system,” Fitch said. “We know much of our technology is too expensive for our regional lines, so we need ‘ERTMS light’.”

The new CCS TSI will be finalised by October or November. Mr Wouter Malfait and Mr Juan Hernández Fernández, project officers with ERA’s ERTMS and telematics unit, listed some of the specifications and enhancements linked to the EU’s digital and green objectives which will be in the new TSI:

  • ETCS over ATO at GoA1 and 2 will significantly increase capacity and reduce energy consumption
  • ERTMS readiness for 5G-based FRMCS will open up new IT possibilities
  • Digital ETCS: a hybrid train detection system will either increase capacity or reduce trackside train detection systems while ETCS over DAC readiness will allow shunting signals to be removed
  • onboard modularity focused on a common Ethernet-based system will provide harmonised interfaces between ATO, ETCS and FRMCS and will facilitate a further opening of the market to new suppliers, and
  • ERTMS specifications will be further enhanced to optimise the braking curve, improve cyber security, and reduce the number of balises required in certain configurations.

Mr Chiel Spaans, with ERA’s ERTMS unit, confirmed that the initial specifications for FRMCS will be in the 2022 CCS TSI. Prototypes, trials and pilot projects will be developed over the next three years. “We don’t have the complete specifications for FRMCS yet, so version two will be in the 2025 CCS TSI when we will have complete onboard and trackside specifications and we can start tendering,” Spaans said. However, Spaans noted that GSM-R will continue to be classified as a Class A system with no end date decided yet. The introduction of FRMCS as a second Class A system can start at any time and EU member states will be required to draw up FRMCS implementation and GSM-R decommissioning plans in coordination with IMs and train operators.

“Despite Covid, we are on time with FRMCS,” said Mr Jean-Michel Evanghelou, director for telecommunications, signalling and digital applications with the International Union of Railways (UIC). “We will finish prototyping the first version by next year. We must ensure the replacement of GSM-R. 70% of what we talk about will not happen if FRMCS is not there.”

Railway view

On Day 3 of the conference, it was the turn of some of Europe’s railways to voice their opinions on ERTMS. Mr Luc Lallemand, CEO of SNCF Network, conceded that ERTMS is a possible game changer “but only if we can deploy it as part of the wider signalling system.”

“ERTMS will not bring the same benefits to every network regarding safety and capacity. In France, our track is on average 30 years old, compared with the European average of 12-13 years, our contact wires are 40 years old, and the 200-plus signalboxes we have today need to be replaced by 15 centralised signalboxes. It is like trying to drive a Ferrari on a dirt road. The future will require frugality. We have a lot to do to prepare for ERTMS.”

Lallemand confirmed that SNCF Network will install a hybrid ETCS Level 3 system on the Marseille - Ventimiglia main line which will be the first step towards moving block on the national network. Installation of ETCS is underway on the Paris - Lyon high-speed line and will achieve a much-needed increase in capacity on what is the busiest high-speed line in France by 2025.

“We must ensure that we don’t have a European system talking in a lot of different dialects. We need a standard system, with a lot of standard products.”

Matthias Reute

France’s rail regulator (ART) published a report on July 12 which makes 18 recommendations to facilitate the opening of the French high-speed market which it says is being hindered by the slow deployment of ERTMS which is “lagging behind the rail networks of neighbouring countries and will probably be very gradual.” ART says the market for rail passenger transport services has significant development potential as France has the highest average train load in Europe while modal share has been “capped” at 10% for several years. ART wants the deployment of ERTMS on the national rail network to be accelerated. It also wants a “system authority” with responsibility for class B signalling systems to be established.

This year, Finland launched a project to develop radio-based ETCS Level 2 as a step towards deploying FRMCS over the commercial public radio network. Finland starts the process without the migration burden from GSM-R. A 54km test track with three stations has been prepared to test ETCS Level 2 using an LTE-based radio network. “We did the first test run in April and testing will start in the summer using a class Sr2 locomotive,” Mr Jari Pylvänäinen, project manager with Digirail, Finland’s ERTMS programme, explained. “GNSS jamming has become a real problem since the war in Ukraine started.”

Finland wants to install a pre-FRMCS 4G/5G radio network on around 190km of single-track lines linking Lielahti, Rauma and Pori between 2024 and 2027 leading to the full roll-out of FRMCS between 2028 and 2040.

Despite Covid, we are on time with FRMCS. We must ensure the replacement of GSM-R. 70% of what we talk about will not happen if FRMCS is not there.

Jean-Michel Evanghelou

Mr Vincent Garin, Alstom’s project manager for Norway’s onboard ERTMS roll-out, gave an insight into the challenges of retrofitting a large fleet with ERTMS. The Norwegian fleet is owned by 20 different companies and comprises 650 vehicles of 60 types which operate in both Norway and Sweden. The project involves installing ETCS Baseline 3 second release and legacy ATC-2 on 498 vehicles of 47 types. By April, contracts had been awarded to equip 440 vehicles of 36 types. The first three test trains have been fully certified and authorised to operate, and all trains must be equipped by 2026.

Garin said challenges include the poor availability of “as-is” drawings of the trains, a complex contractual structure with many stakeholders, and the need to minimise train immobilisation during the retrofit. “We do a full 3D scan of the train to plan the installation work,” Garin explained. “We have one workshop with a logistics centre to fit the trains. It is a fully digitalised process. We use about 300 components per train.”

Finally, Dr Ralf Kaminsky with Siemens gave a fascinating insight into the way forward for ETCS Level 3. He said the original concept for ETCS Level 3 involved trains operating in a moving block on a track that has no track vacancy detection (TVD) and no lineside signals. Rather than relying on fixed-block track vacancy detection (TVD) equipment, trains would instead be located only via their position reports to the Radio Block Centre and operating in moving block. Train integrity monitoring would ensure that the train remains complete, and the position can be fully trusted.

“ETCS Level 3 poses several challenges particularly for mainline railways,” Kaminsky said. For example, if there is no TVD then a loss of communication with the train means that the only source of safe train location information is lost. The movement of unfitted trains cannot be detected. All trains, including freight trains, must be able to monitor their train integrity. Mixed traffic with unequipped trains is not possible.

Kaminsky said ETCS Level 3 Hybrid overcomes these challenges by retaining limited TVD equipment so that even after the loss of communications, train movements can still be tracked and the presence of trains not fitted with ETCS can be detected. ETCS fitted trains that are unable to report their integrity can still run although overall throughput will be reduced. Physical TVD sections can be subdivided into several virtual subsections (VSS), unlocking additional capacity for ETCS fitted trains. The trackside equipment determines the occupancy state of each virtual subsection by safely combining the position reports, train integrity and safe train length from the ETCS onboard equipment with the information coming from the TVD equipment.

Kaminsky says there will be a demonstration of ETCS Level 3 Hybrid at InnoTrans and that it is foreseen to be implemented in Norway in 2024.

ETCS Level 3 has always had the potential to be a gamechanger due to its minimal requirement for expensive infrastructure and the prospect of a real increase in capacity at low cost. Perhaps we are finally on the verge of a breakthrough.