Interoperability-related problems have always been a hindrance in the path of European rail operations. Signalling systems have been the main hindrance. The existence of more than 20 signalling systems in Europe, inherited from the past, is viewed as a critical factor. Indeed, each train used by a national rail company has to be equipped with at least one system, but sometimes more, just to be able to run safely within that one country.
This is costly and significantly increases the technical and operational complexity of train sets. Removing these barriers thanks to ERTMS will help to increase the performance of rail transport by levelling the playing field between road and rail transport.
As a unique and innovative signalling system, ERTMS considerably facilitates cross-border traffic movements. Trains equipped with ERTMS systems and components manufactured by any qualified supplier are able to run on tracks equipped with ERTMS of any other supplier. This enables the easy and seamless coordination of domestic and international train services and it also encourages competition.
Improving Europe’s rail infrastructure and making it more attractive from a commercial perspective opens up the possibility of attracting passengers – and freight – back onto the railways where they can be moved with considerably greater efficiency and less impact on the environment. Rail transport specialists believe that ERTMS is the only step towards developing an efficient international traffic, whether it is cross-border traffic between European countries or between Asian states and Europe.
Investments for performance
As well as helping to encourage the greater use of railways, ETCS offers a number of intrinsic energy-saving benefits. Stopping and starting trains, whether at borders or signals, increases energy use. ETCS helps to make operations smoother: eliminating the need to stop at international boundaries saves time and energy. And because the cab signalling system provides drivers with continuous target speed information, ETCS-equipped lines allow train performance and efficiency to be optimised.
While signalling/train control systems are the enabler of rail/transit operations, they can also impose a constraint on operations for example by constraining the achievable line capacity or by limiting the flexibility of train movements while, in addition, incurring substantial ongoing maintenance costs.
The goal of future signalling/train control systems therefore can be stated as to maximize (optimize) the utilization of the rail transportation infrastructure and to remove the signalling system as a constraint on rail system operations, while still providing for the high level of safety of train movements expected by the industry and by passengers.
For example, Thalys trains running between Paris, Brussels, Cologne and Amsterdam have to be equipped with seven different types of train control systems. That is why railway transport experts advocate for a unique train signalling and control system on the European railway network in order to boost interoperability. There are a few examples of cross-border traffic with trains fitted with ERTMS. The Vienna-Budapest line is running with ERTMS since 2003, while connections between Belgium and the Netherlands, and France and Spain, are foreseen to be running shortly. In June 2009, a new ERTMS (Level 2) High Speed Line was opened in Belgium between Liege and the German border, as a first step to the opening of the whole line between Belgium and Germany. In the future, the number of cross-border connections will increase as the investments will be gradually coordinated with the support of the European Commission.
by Elena Ilie