Satellite technology and existing ERTMS plans

The implementation of ERTMS trackside and on-board is the primary solution for the European Union to have an interoperable network, without cross-border problems, where trains provide fast and efficient connections, attractive services that can attract an increasing volume of freight and passengers to rail at the expense of polluting transport modes, mainly road. The latest moves show that the railway sector is heading towards a new paradigm, that of exploring satellite technology which has a significant potential in approaching the signalling and localisation system in the railway transport. Plans to install ERTMS at state level are moving forward, although installation is facing delays, and as trackside installation goes hand in hand with on-board, operators will need to equip their vehicles with the system.

ERTMS plansThe European Union’s great and ambitious project in terms of interoperability and the creation of a single railway area is the successful implementation of the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) as a single signalling and train speed control system that will eliminate the more than 20 signalling systems in the European Union that are clearly not interoperable at present.

In addition to this major contribution – of interoperability – ERTMS will contribute to lower maintenance costs, increase train speed and safety on the railways, thus contributing to the provision of uniform, standardised and fast services, increasing the attractiveness of rail transport, and finally, support the shift of road traffic to rail, which is strongly desired by the European Community for the formation of a sustainable and emission-free transport system.

EU-wide deployment of the system is supported by existing legislation such as the 4th Railway Package which specifies the need for a harmonised implementation of ERTMS, fully compliant with the relevant Technical Specifications for Interoperability (TSIs) to achieve full interoperability.

It is worth mentioning here that in September 2023, the European Commission published the revised Technical Specifications for Interoperability (TSIs) package to improve the interoperability of cross-border railways, a legislative initiative that will not only standardise the rail system between European countries but will also support the introduction of innovative technologies to stimulate the development of this mode of transport. The application of these revised standards will eliminate 25 sets of national legislation, contributing to the efficiency and performance of the railways, and will significantly boost cross-border traffic which is currently constrained by missing or inefficient infrastructure and different traffic management and control systems.

The revised requirements of the ISTs also involve technological developments and prepare to introduce automatic train operations over ERTMS and digitise technical and operational information for train drivers and staff in rail transport such as common routes and rules ensuring access to industry knowledge.

The TSI Package states that the changes made are aimed in particular at incorporating new requirements for better harmonisation of ERTMS operational rules, adding new requirements that include ERTMS trackside technical information relevant to operation that the infrastructure manager must provide to operators. The changes also concern the introduction of a new format for the European instructions and feedback from the review of national safety and operational rules. With regard to the Future Railway Mobile Communication System (FRMCS), the revision package refers to GSM-R as the single Railway Mobile Radio (RMR) system.

The new functionalities associated with the digitisation of rail networks and identified by the ERTMS Longer Term Perspective Report of ERA required an update of the IST on the CCS (Control Command and Signalling) subsystems, and these new technologies required also by the railway sector were FRMCS, automated train operations, advanced train positioning, and digital automatic couplers. As a result, the revised TSI package provides full specifications for automated train operations – the Grade of Automation 2, and the interface with FRMCS , which were already available. The other technologies were not available, as they needed continuous development.

In order to achieve greater harmonisation of ERTMS, the revision proposed by the European Commission provides for a new transition and migration regime, ensures a proper procedure for correcting errors in specifications, reduces the scope for partial compliance and eliminates the need for compatibility checks in stages. This new regime has been developed to provide a coherent and consistent framework for the implementation of new CCS IST functionalities on the rail network and is intended to ensure a balance between rail infrastructure managers and rail operators.

As regards compatibility and future revision, by the end of March 2024, infrastructure managers must submit to the European Union Agency for Railways (ERA) the definition of vehicle compatibility checks for ETCS and radio system infrastructure for lines equipped with ERTMS or GSM-R in operation, and also by this period, Member States should repeal the corresponding national rules. In this context, the role of ERA is to present to the Commission by early June 2024 an analysis on how to phase out the checks for demonstrating the technical compatibility of on-board equipment with the different ERTMS trackside implementations and to achieve harmonisation of the Single European Rail Area technical and operational rules.

Alongside this recent publication of the revised ISTs, the implementation of ERTMS is also supported by the Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy published in December 2020, with the system having the capacity to create a digitised, integrated and interoperable transport system that can manage traffic efficiently and provide the capacity to attract freight flows from road transport and thus contribute to a sustainable transport system.

The strategy also includes the revision of the ISTs (published by the Commission in September 2023) as a way of stimulating and developing automation and traffic management.

Also, in December 2021, the European Commission adopted the legislative proposal for the revised TEN-T Regulation which, in addition to a number of rail infrastructure requirements, also includes ERTMS which needs accelerated implementation and mentions the need to introduce the system on the core network by 2030 and in 2040 and the comprehensive network should operate on the basis of this system.

Space and rail

In order to develop technology and digitisation in the rail sector, in September 2023, Europe’s Rail Joint Undertaking (EU-Rail), ERA and the European Union Agency for the Space Programme (EUSPA) supported The Space for Innovation in Rail Conference on the integration of satellite technology in the rail sector, which will lead to an efficient and resilient network.

The conference focused on harnessing the EU Space programme components including Galileo, EGNOS, and IRIS2 to transform the rail industry, ensuring it will operate more efficiently and safely, offering a much higher quality of service.

“EU SPACE and Galileo, EGNOS, and Iris2 are technological enablers of cost savings in transport. The rail sector, especially EU railway infrastructure managers, will benefit hugely from these advances. With this event, we are not only showcasing innovative research and solutions but also focusing on the benefits of their practical use, supporting their transition to market deployment. We are pursuing a wide array of innovations, including the digital automatic coupler and FRMCS, which promise to revolutionise the rail industry,” European Commissioner for Transport, Adina Vălean said.

In order to ensure the competitiveness and interoperability of rail transport, it is necessary to replace national train control and command systems with a single coordinated and highly digital system, and in these circumstances ERTMS relies on data and services from European satellite navigation systems – European Space Programme.

The adoption of EGNOS and Galileo in ERTMS aims to support innovation and digitisation of signalling and to reduce ERTMS costs and faster deployment and facilitate interoperability. In this way, the railway sector has the advantage of benefiting from the EU Space Programme as railway stakeholders are actively involved in research and development projects focused on the adoption of EGNOS and Galileo in ERTMS and the railway sector has taken a number of steps to benefit from the services of the EU Space Programme. Thus, the aim is to introduce satellite-based localisation in ERTMS as a measure to create a single EU signalling system.

Accurate train location has been essential for the development of non-safety critical applications such as passenger information systems and asset tracking, and today, positioning based on satellite technology will have a significant impact on the rail industry by reducing the infrastructure required for train control systems and optimising the efficiency of signalling in rail traffic. Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) augmentation, when complemented by other sensors, can for example replace costly physical beacons used for speed monitoring, and can also streamline rail operations in Europe in line with ERTMS objectives. When Galileo, which provides accurate location and position, is augmented by EGNOS and other data sources, it has the potential to replace costly physical beacons.

GNSS-based signalling can enhance ERTMS deployment by reducing operational expenses, while supporting regional lines that may face closure due to high maintenance costs.

According to EUSPA, more than 150,000 wagons in Europe are equipped with Galileo/EGNOS receivers to provide more accurate wagon position information, which is used for asset and fleet management and has become a key component for streamlining supply chain operations and customer service.

Through Horizon 2020, the European Union Agency for the Space Programme (EUSPA) and Shift2Rail have received funding for research and development projects to develop systems that enable the reliable use of GNSS as a source of train positioning. But “existing gaps are preventing EU railway industry from making the technological leap needed and fully adopt Galileo and EGNOS,” EUSPA said in 2021.

The railway industry is engaged in research and development projects on train positioning solutions using GNSS and EGNOS, as well as on sensor functionality for the location of rolling stock. This is Unife’s Clug 2.0 (CLUG Demonstration of Readiness for Rail) project, which runs from February 2023 to January 2025 and has a budget of EUR 3.1 million. It is carried out in collaboration with SNCF, SBB, CAF, DB, Airbus, Siemens, Rina-C, Ecole Nationale de l’Aviation Civile (ENAC), and Syntony, a GNSS Expertise and solution provider. As a continuation of the Clug project, the objective of Clug 2.0 is to define a system architecture that complements the existing ETCS odometry system by using GNSS to enable absolute safe train positioning, while transforming train location by demonstrating a GNSS-based multi-sensor fusion architecture.

The synergy between Galileo and ERTMS has been addressed by the European Parliament, which supports the need to benefit from the cost-saving potential of GNSS. As a result, in July 2021, the Parliament adopted a resolution on railway safety and signalling, assessing the current state of ERTMS implementation, indicated the need to ensure synergies between ERTMS and the European Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) as soon as possible. In this respect, the Parliament called for the rapid adoption of satellite-based train location in railway signalling.

The adopted report calls on the railway industry to develop technological solutions to enable GNSS to enable large-scale ERTMS deployment, calls on the European Commission to consider the introduction of GNSS in the ERTMS TSI CCS revision to close gaps and stimulate innovation, while ERA to coordinate, support and streamline projects by space and rail parties to include GNSS train location data in ERTMS as soon as possible, and as a result ERA and EUSPA to intensify their cooperation to introduce GNSS into ERTMS standards.

In the adoption of European Space Programme solutions within the railway system, the results of various R&D pilot projects that have been progressively implemented in several Member States and carefully analysed show that satellite-based localisation in ERTMS is technically feasible and can offer cost benefits. At The Space for Innovation in Rail Conference in September 2023, Valentin Barreau, Train Localisation Project Manager at SNCF stated that as in aviation, a dedicated EGNOS rail service would be necessary to ensure that track can rely on GNSS and that the risks related to GNSS-provided localisation are minimised. In order to validate GNSS based localisation performance and to facilitate a rail acrod on a concrete architecture for the inclusion of GNSS in ERTMS, EU-Rail intends to launch several large-scale demonstrators in 2025, expecting to benefit from a specific demonstrator of the EGNOS Rail service. EU-Rail, ERA, EUSPA and ESA will cooperate to deliver an EGNOS Rail service demonstrator, and a central role will be played by the EU-Rail System and Innovation pillars in order to achieve progress leading to an agreement on the final solution. Also, during the EU-Rail demonstrators work will be done on the final requirements under the EU Space Programme services as a prerequisite to facilitate the inclusion of GNSS in the evolution of ERTMS.

The development of solutions and systems using satellite technology and ERTMS can lead to the formation of the Single European Railway Area which will be at the heart of the sustainable and digital European transport system.

ERTMS plans and targets

At a time when institutions and various organisations, as well as companies in the research, development and innovation industry, are searching for and identifying technological measures and solutions, operators, rolling stock owners and infrastructure managers are carrying out their projects to implement ERTMS trackside and on-board.

According to EU Member States’ plans, by 2040, 69% of TEN-T lines will be equipped with ERTMS, with the remaining 31% being new build lines – which will be equipped with ERTMS, sections which are exempted from installation – including isolated lines or networks, and sections which will be equipped with Class B and without ground protection systems. In the same timeframe, on-board Class B systems will only be required on 20% of the TEN-T network. There are 11 countries that plan to have the whole network equipped by 2040, and three countries (Bulgaria, Greece and Slovenia) do not plan to equip their whole network with ERTMS by 2040, but there will be no need for Class B on-board systems because the only lines that will not be equipped will not have automatic train protection systems.

Phased decommissioning of Class Bdin 2025 trackside is planned by Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Slovenia (on the Core Network), and countries such as Denmark, Finland and Sweden are planning decommissioning as soon as ETCS trackside is installed.

The revision of the TEN-T Regulation obliges Member States to install ERTMS on the core network by 2030, including access routes and last mile connections for multimodal freight terminals. In addition, the revision requires ERTMS to be installed on the extended core network and the comprehensive network by the end of 2040 and Class B systems to be decommissioned by the end of 2040. It should also ensure that in 2025 only radio-based ERTMS should be installed on new lines or in signalling upgrades projects, and that the whole TEN-T network should be equipped with radio-based ERTMS by 2050.

According to the 8th Rail Market Monitoring (RMMS), published by the European Commission in September 2023, 45% (representing 13487 km) of the length planned in the ERTMS European Deployment Plan (EDP) by the end of 2022 had been completed by June 2022 and at the same time, 6,555 km (representing 42%) of the 15,700 km planned to be put into operation by 2023 had already been commissioned.

According to EDP, the signalling system should be installed on 15,682 km by the end of this year, although so far only 5,906 km have been equipped, representing 38% of the total length estimated to be equipped with ERTMS, clearly indicating a significant delay.

In July 2021, when by CEF Regulation, the Core Network Corridor (CNC) was extended by 9,680 km, the applicability of the system in 2022 shows that on 7,965 km ETCS was in operation, representing 14% of the revised CNC network (i.e. 59,055 km), and GSM-R on 60%.

According to the EDP, by the end of this year, on the CNC sections, ETCS is in operation on 6,555 km (i.e. 42%) and under construction on 7194 km (46%). According to the TEN-T Guidelines and EDP in 2030, ETCS in operation will be on 7,965 km (i.e. 14%) of the CNC sections, and under construction the system will be on 11,406 km, showing 20% of the CNCs, and 59% of them will be unequipped. The report shows that even if the installation of ERTMS trackside is behind the plans set in the short term, the medium and long term plans seem optimistic because by 2040, 70% of the EU27 network, together with the TEN-T network in Norway and Switzerland will be equipped and less than 20% of the TEN-T network will require Class Bla on-board systems.

Based on national plans and information provided to the European Commission by Member States, 48% of the TEN-T network will be equipped by 2030 and 69% by 2040, and at Core Network level, 67% will be equipped with ERTMS by 2030 and 84% by 2040.

Countries such as Austria, Belgium. The Czech Republic, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, Slovakia and Switzerland will have ERTMS operating on 100% of the Core Network by 2030. Also, by 2040, ERTMS will be fully operational on the Core Network in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, Slovakia, Sweden and Switzerland and Norway.


Coordinator Matthias Ruete’s report published in 2022 indicates that 7,150 vehicles were equipped with ERTMS at the end of 2020 and an estimated 11,500 diesel locomotives, 14,500 electric locomotives and 15,500 passenger trains were in use on the EU, Norwegian and Swiss rail network. The total is 41,500 equipped vehicles, not including shunting locomotives, the fleet of yellow and historic vehicles, which also need to be equipped in accordance with their operations.

According to the European Commission’s 2020 study (ERTMS Retrofitting strategy Funding and Financing – Final Report), by 2030, the vehicle fleet required to operate on the Core Network Corridor is 27,600 – 34,600 vehicles. The difference between these figures lies in the ability of operators to optimise the fleet of rolling stock required to operate on the Core Network Corridors in states where these lines do not represent significant sections of the network. The 8th RMMS shows that in 2015-2015, about 5,700 vehicles were equipped with ERTMS of which 40% were new vehicles and the remaining 60% were retrofitted. Also, 2,300 new vehicles equipped with ERTMS were put into operation in 2015-2019. By the end of 2020, more than 7,150 vehicles were equipped, bringing the total to 41,665 vehicles in operation, as indicated in Coordinator Matthias Ruete’s report of 2022.

Apart from Switzerland, which has the largest fleet of ERTMS-equipped vehicles (1,375 vehicles), in the EU 27, Germany has the largest fleet of ERTMS-equipped vehicles with 1,200 vehicles, followed by Belgium with 765 vehicles, Spain with 693 and the Netherlands with 650. At the other end of the top with the fewest equipped vehicles are Slovakia with 5 and Bulgaria with 2 vehicles.

Report 8th RMMS states that, based on signed contracts, at least 16,223 vehicles will be equipped with ERTMS by 2030, of which 7,176 existing and 9,047 will be renewed or retrofitted. It notes that this estimate contrasts with the figure of 27,600 to 34,600 vehicles that would be required for traffic on the Core Network Corridors. As Member States have announced plans to install the system and decommission Class Bs, this should result in new vehicles already equipped with ERTMS being purchased in the coming years, the report says.

Coordinator Matthias Ruete’s report shows that between 2031 and 2040, an additional 11,000 vehicles could be renewed, which would mean that 90% of the commercial rolling stock fleet could be renewed in the next two decades.

In the period 2021-2026 it is estimated that 838 vehicles per year will be equipped with ETCS of which 179 per year will be new vehicles, 639 per year will be retrofitted, 10 per year will be upgraded from non-interoperable versions and for another 10 vehicles per year the type of upgrade is not specified. Also, the average number of vehicles that will be equipped with ETCS is reduced to 567 per year between 2021-2030. In the coming years, it is estimated that 3,377 vehicles with ETCS will be put into operation, without being able to specify their in-service date due to lack of available information and if they will be operational by 2030, the annual average of vehicles equipped with interoperable version of ETCS will reach 9,047 of which 532 will be new, 6,032 retrofitted, 208 OBU updated from pre-baseline 2 and 275 vehicles planned but without information if new, retrofitted or updated. Also, in the next few years, 1,532 equipped vehicles will migrate to Baseline 3, of which 373 are planned for this year, 843 vehicles for 2026 and 98 vehicles are planned but without a precise date for these migration activities. Also, of the total number of these vehicles, 227 are currently equipped with Baseline 2, and for 1,305 vehicles, migration to Baseline 3 will take place, but it is not known from which version.

The EC’s final report of 20220 on ERTMS deployment on core and comprehensive networks covering the on-board and infrastructure deployment strategies, analyses the impact of deployment for operators particularly in international freight service operations and shows that there will be a significant shift in deployment from ERTM islands to equipped networks both at the state level and in the cross-border framework. In this context, in one of the freight networks analysed, the number of km not equipped with ERTMS will decrease from 70% in 2020 to only 15% in 2025, and the states’ plans for decommissioning legacy systems would indicate that ERTMS will be a standard for rolling stock for any international rail freight operator.

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