An interoperable railway network that facilitates border crossings, offering harmonious, fast and safe travels. This is – ERTMS, or the backbone of a digital railway system. This is the system that will form a unitary railway infrastructure at EU level, replacing more than 20 different national train control systems.
At present, interoperability and compatibility are the common issues of the Member States in terms of railway transport. Cooperation between states, operators and suppliers, and significant investment in ERTMS deployment are necessary in order to solve these issues.
The first commercial lines using ERTMS were opened in Italy and Spain in 2005, and at the same time, ERA started its activity through the unit dedicated to this innovative system. Seven years later (in 2012), the Copenhagen Agreement marked the first major milestone in developing the system, by adopting the Baseline 3. As planned, ERA
delivered a full and functional version of the Technical Specification of Interoperability for Control Command and Signaling (CCS TSI), based on ETCS Baseline 3. With this specification, Europe has entered the deployment stage of ERTMS. In fact, in 2016, ERTMS reached the milestone after the adoption of the set of ERTMS Baseline 3 Release 2 Specification, as part of CCS TSI update.
Another important milestone in the deployment of ERTMS through the European plan was marked in 2017, when the set of ERTMS Baseline 3 Release 2 Specification was launched, representing a mature and stable version of the system, capable of solving any interoperability issue.
ERA’s Planning and Approval Delivery Unit (PAD) was set up and is in charge with the processing and issuance of Vehicle Authorizations (VA), unique safety certificates or ERTMS track-side approval starting June 2019. Due to the maturity of the system and the necessary legislation, the deployment of ERTMS has intensified within the EC Action Plan. In the implementation of the system deployment plans, in 2016, the EC, ERA and the representatives of the railway sector – from suppliers to infrastructure managers, operators and EU institutions, signed a new MoU by which they committed to determine and accelerate the establishment of the unique railway market based on the
ERTMS system, that offers the necessary conditions for uninterrupted, safe, efficient and fast services.
Through this MoU, the signatories officially recognized that the set of specifications in Appendix A to CCS TSI represents the most advanced status of the technical specifications, providing the functionalities of Baseline 3 Release 2, Baseline 3 Maintenance Release 1 and Baseline 2. Following the commitments, the policy makers’
involvement and the creation of the ERTMS-friendly environment, in January 2017, the European Commission adopted an ERTMS Deployment Plan (ERTMS EDP) implementation regulation. The plan sets the deadline for 2023, when 50% of the Core Network Corridors should be equipped. In 2023, ERTMS EDP will be updated again
and will establish the actual deployment dates for the Corridors to be equipped during 2023-2030. The plan is a decisive tool in planning the strategies and estimating the investments that need to be planned by the infrastructure managers and operators.
The deployment of ERTMS is supported not only at political level. In 2017, companies such as AZD Praha, Alstom, Ansaldo, Bombardier, CAF, Mermec, Siemens and Thales signed a letter of intent to support the EDP update, agreeing to cooperate and further engage in order to ensure the availability of the industrial capacity and, together with the stakeholders, help increase quality, optimize deployment times and reach a threshold for low costs.
Entering deployment era
“We have an action plan, deployment plan and if we approach the cross-border issues efficiently, we will be able to accelerate the ERTMS deployment at EU level”. This is how Karel Vinck, appointed the European Coordinator for ERTMS from 2005 to 2018, started his speech at the 1st UIC Global Signalling Conference (March 2018).
The system implementation is more and more stringent at the level of the states that announced the deployment plans. Many infrastructure managers have launched ambitious ERTMS deployment programmes as a basis for increased performance, automation, energy and cost saving. Austria, Denmark, Switzerland, Germany,
Netherlands, the UK and Norway are leading the way to transforming the railway system into a digital one. Last year, Bane NOR, Norway’s agency in charge with railway infrastructure, awarded Siemens a EUR 800 million contract for the installation of ETCS Level 2 type Trainguard across the entire network of 4,200 km and 375 stations. The completion of the project is set for 2034.
For the installation of on-board technology, Bane NOR has awarded Alstom the contract for the installation of on-board ERTMS, based on Atlas solution for 467 trains of 55 different types. The deployment will be completed in 2026. It is the greatest digitization project in Norway, marking the beginning of the new railway development era.
Denmark has announced deployment of the system for the entire network by the end of 2022, allocating EUR 2.6 billion for the installation of the system on 3,000 km of lines. Belgium, which has ERTMS since 2009, has updated the strategy for the installation on 3500 km of lines, requiring an allocation of EUR 2 billion, and the Netherlands has committed to the deployment of ERTMS Level 2 Baseline 3 as the unique signalling system on the entire network by 2024, with financial support covered entirely by the state. Germany is implementing Baseline 3, the first vehicles equipped by Alstom being commissioned in 2015 on the route Berlin-Munich, and Switzerland successfully tested the first ETCS Baseline 3 in 2014.
Germany has committed to install ETCS on 2100 km of lines by 2023. DB has identified the ETCS installation projects across the network, including the installation of the technology on 1,450 km of Rhine-Alpine.
These are few examples of the creation of an interoperable European network, many European States announcing plans and signing a series of contracts for the installation of the innovating system that will be the base for the operation of an efficient and safe transport across the entire EU territory.
Huge investment is needed
No doubt, significant investments are needed for the deployment of ERTMS. The Member States have provided financial contributions for ERTMS, but given the scale of the investments, the public resources made available are insufficient. For ERTMS, the EU has also provided cofinancing through the TEN-T and CEF programmes for more than a decade to support investment in research and development and to implement the technology on lines and on board of trains.
Under the current budget year, the EU has made available funding through the CEF, that was partially dedicated to ETMS projects, and the allocation is provided through competitive funding requests administered by INEA, but the available budget has almost been spent. All requests were characterized by high levels of over-registration,
proving the need for financial support to be granted to the railway sector to implement the technology.
In this respect, EUR 1.2 billion has been allocated in the previous European budget year, and within the actual MFF, the total amount is estimated at EUR 2.7 billion, covered by CEF and by the European structural and investment funds. According to estimates, a total of 5439 km of lines should be equipped with ERTMS through CEF Transport 2014-2020. According to a working document of the EC, published at the end of 2017, approx. 4,500 km are operational with ERTMS on the Core Network Corridors, which together amount to a length of more than 59 thousand km, representing almost half the length of the railway lines in operation (in 2016, the EU-28 length of lines in use was 116,593 km, of which 53.7% was electrified, according to EU statistical pocketbook-2018).
From all corridors, ERTMS Rhine-Alpine Corridor ranks best in terms of ERTMS, thanks to the implementation of technology across almost all the networks in Belgium, Netherlands and Switzerland, projects that were supported by national decisions. The three states have announced their commitment to fund the deployment of the ERTMS track-side from their national budgets and, except Belgium, for freight trains, on-board installation is fully funded. There are also the CEF grants that may be available faster, technology being a priority for the EU digitization and green transport development policy.
The investment needed for ERTMS on the Rhine-Alpine Corridor was estimated at EUR 1.32 billion, including the installation of equipment on board of cargo and passenger vehicles, as well as key infrastructure elements.
The TEN-T regulation aims that the entire core network of 66,700 km should be equipped with ERTMS by 2030, including the nine corridors, and the global network of 123 thousand km should be equipped with ERTMS by 2050. Approximately 7,000 vehicles are equipped with ETCS. According to EU statistical pocketbook-2018 the EU28 locomotives and railcars fleet consisted of 65,567 units; 94,475 units is the fleet formed by rail passenger vehicles (coaches, railcars and trailers); the freight wagons fleet in EU28 was formed by 405,562 units, but private owners’ vehicles were not included. It should be noted that the decision on the implementation of on-board technology requires that new locomotives and other new railway vehicles, ordered after January 2012 or
commissioned after January 2015, should be equipped with ERTMS, with the exception of regional traffic. According to the EC report “The impact of TEN-T completion on growth, jobs and the environment”, published at the end of 2018, from 2017 to 2030, the total investments for ERTMS deployment on the nine Core Network Corridors are over EUR 20 billion, of which more than EUR 17 billion for ERTMS on board and 3 billion for ERTMS track-side installation.
At the TEN-T & CEF conference in March 2019, Matthias Ruete, European ERTMS Coordinator since January 2019, mentions that “at EU level, we need to move up to accelerate the ERTMS deployment and to massively invest to have an innovated railway sector. The deployment of ERTMS, together with digital interlocking need between EUR 25 and EUR 40 billion investment. We need to manage the money sources and to identify the way private sector can be involved in such massive investment.
The Blending Call Facility is an opportunity to invest in ERTMS deployment and is an EU decision to contribute to rolling stock refurbishment and ERTMS track-side. Within the next years, we need to from ‘ERTMS islands’ concept to an ‘EU-wide ERTMS’. In March, the EC also launched the CEF Blending Facility with an initial budget of EUR 200 million, of which EUR 100 million for the deployment of ERTMS. “We are investing for accelerating the deployment of ERTMS, which is a cornerstone for digitalizing the rail sector,” EU Commissioner for Transport Violeta Bulc said at the launching ceremony.
Cost statistics are different, but all of them consider necessary investments of tens of billions of euros. For example, in the study European Court of Auditors of 2017 (“A single European rail traffic management system: will the political choice ever become reality?”), it is mentioned that the deployment of ERTMS, both on rail, and on board
of trains, is an expensive process. By extrapolating the costs incurred by Denmark and the Netherlands (that opted for the deployment of ERTMS across the entire network) the overall deployment cost of ERTMS could amount to EUR 80 billion by 2030 for the Core Network Corridors or up to EUR 190 billion until 2050, when it is forecasted that the global network will be equipped with ERTMS.
It is worth mentioning that 5 ERTMS projects were financed with EUR 75 million through the 2017 CEF Transport Blending Call, amounting to EUR 1 billion.
By extending the call with the second deadline (April 2018), another 7 ERTMS projects were submitted with a total financing request of EUR 88.4 mil, but only one was selected in the Netherlands. The ERTMS Baseline 3 upgrade on-board units (OBU ‘s) Rhine-Alpine freight locomotives -II project had a total estimated cost of EUR 13.5 million, of which EUR 6 million was the EU contribution, covering 45% of the total cost.
With all the funding issues, and also the different approaches at national or operator leve, a line was drawn: by 2023, half of the Core Network Corridors must be equipped with ERTMS, and in the same year the core network must be fully electrified. This should allow freight trains with a length of at least 740m to travel at speeds of over 100 km/h with a 22.5 tons axle load. ERTMS is the technology required by the railway system to provide safe transport services and to raise competitiveness to new standards.