May 01, 2018

Will digitalisation spur ETCS deployment in Europe?

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THE International Union of Railways’ (UIC) held its first global signalling conference in Milan on March 26-28 in cooperation with Italian State Railways (FS), as the successor to its series of conferences on ERTMS. While the Milan event covered a range of topics including advances in automatic train operation (ATO), Positive Train Control in the United States, the future railway mobile communications system and cybersecurity, the slow deployment of ERTMS in Europe, or more precisely its signalling element ETCS, was still one of the main discussion points.

As Mr Pio Guido from the European Agency for Railway (ERA) observed, it is paradox that the deployment of ETCS is going much faster outside Europe. Indeed, 54% of the contracted route-km installation of ETCS is outside Europe.

ERA’s executive director, Mr Josef Doppelbauer, gave some insight as to why deployment has been too slow. “Europe is the most difficult benchmark for ERTMS,” he told delegates. “If we replace a legacy system with ERTMS, it should be more reliable, have better safety, and better cost.

“ERTMS has the possibility to achieve interoperability in rail,” Doppelbauer continued. “We still have not deployed an interoperable ERTMS system. We still have a way to go to achieve a fully industrialised and standardised ERTMS.”

Mr Antonio Casazza from Ansaldo STS expanded on this. “We have to reduce the time to deliver and the cost of ERTMS,” Casazza said, pointing out that costs are higher than they should be because there is still too much customisation and too many national rules.

Mr Libor Lochman, executive director of the Community of European Railways and Infrastructure Managers (CER), reminded delegates that it is nearly 29 years since European transport ministers launched the ERTMS project. “We are missing the ‘E’ in ERTMS, and we are missing the interoperable version for international services, but also within some countries because of what has been installed,” Lochman said. He doubts whether the right business case exists yet for operators and called for a robust funding scheme.

Mr Karel Vinck, the EU’s ERTMS coordinator, pointed out the benefits of installing ERTMS across Europe: “The interoperability bought by ERTMS could lead to 1.5-2% growth in the EU.” Vinck says Baseline 3, the latest version of ETCS, could evolve or be used for other developments. “Certainly, there is the basis for digitalisation that everyone is talking about,” he continued.

“The biggest problem is the migration from legacy signalling to ERTMS is much too slow,” Vinck said, and called on all stakeholders to go faster.

Mr Alberto Mazzola, FS’ representative at the EU, said it should cost e15-20bn to equip the TEN-T core network and 50% of the vehicles with ERTMS. “If we don’t do this, maybe we should quit,” Mazzola exclaimed.

Mazzola outlined a deployment fund structure for a TEN-T corridor with grants to infrastructure managers and rolling stock owners, an investment period of less than eight years, and a revenue stream from fixed train-km fees paid by operators and returned to the fund. The scheme would be funded by debt, grants, and equity from investors including infrastructure managers.

FS CEO, Mr Renato Mazzoncini, is a firm believer in ERTMS. “In Italy, we have about 750km of ERTMS installed and plan to have 1250km by 2020, 4000km by 2026, and 6000km by 2030.” Mazzoncini pointed to the development of ETCS High Density in Italy to achieve 3-minute headways on the busiest lines in the major cities, and successful trials in Sardinia with what he described as sustainable solutions for regional lines.

Mr Fabio Senesi, from Italy’s infrastructure manager RFI, confirmed that RFI is out to tender for the installation of about 1000km of ETCS on the freight corridors through Italy and will soon issue a tender for ETCS High Density.

There have been some notable breakthroughs with ERTMS recently. Britain has pioneered the introduction of ATO over ETCS Level 2 in London.

Mr Mo Zhisong from China Railways Corporation’s said that ATO over CTCS (China’s version of ETCS) Level C2 went into operation on the Guangdong inter-city railway in March 2016 at a maximum speed of 200km/h. Mo said tests were due to start in April with ATO over CTCS Level C3 with speeds up to 350km/h envisaged, and will be operational on the Beijing - Zangjiakou high-speed line in time for 2022 Winter Olympics, which Beijing is hosting.

Dutch infrastructure manager ProRail and its British counterpart Network Rail are collaborating on the development of hybrid ETCS Level 3 to provide a cost-effective way of increasing capacity. The system was demonstrated in Britain in December 2017, although there are still some safety challenges which need to be addressed.

The fact that ERTMS is a digital signalling and train control system finally seems to have come to the attention of German Rail (DB) in its quest to digitalise the network. DB’s CEO was full of praise for ETCS when he presented DB’s annual results in March and far from eschewing ETCS, as DB has done in the past, it now regards it as a key component of its digitalisation plans.

Could it be that the quest for digitalisation by Europe’s major railway will finally give ETCS the push it needs to accelerate its deployment across the continent? This cannot come soon enough.

David Briginshaw

David Briginshaw joined IRJ in 1982 as associate editor, and was appointed editor-in-chief in 2001. He has travelled the world extensively interviewing many of the CEOs and senior managers of the world's railways and transit systems which has given him an in-depth knowledge of the global railway industry.

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