UNIFE & UNISIG call for a rapid ERTMS deployment

UNIFE & UNISIGUNIFE & UNISIG have released a position paper – “The impact of operational requirements on the future of the European railway sector” – to accelerate the deployment of the ERTMS which can deliver more standardised technical solutions for a quicker rollout of a more cost efficient and better performing railway system. If this opportunity is not taken, the European railway sector will very likely lose further ground against other modes of transport, in moving both freight and passengers.

The paper says that the purpose of this paper is to persuade all railway stakeholders, that only a fundamental change in the orientation from a national to a European perspective will lead us to a successful railway sector.

The position paper also provides conclusions and recommendations for the standardisation of technical requirements.

“ERTMS can ensure seamless rail travel across EU countries and will then serve as a foundation for the digitalisation of rail. We urgently need to expedite the deployment of ERTMS, particularly on the infrastructure side and then replace legacy systems to provide the capacity, reliability, and simplicity needed to boost the attractiveness of rail travel. The joint agreement to re-launch the ERTMS stakeholder platform is a very positive step for the EU rail sector. It shall help us overcome deployment hurdles to accelerate implementation and unlock the many benefits of digital railways,” UNIFE Chair and Siemens Mobility CEO Michael Peter said.

Railways and suppliers agreed during the creation of Shift2Rail on the Common Business Objectives (CBO). They were used to guide decisions during the development of Shift2Rail, and are still used in Europe’s Rail Joint Undertaking as business objectives. Besides the fundamental objective to achieve a proper level of Safety and Security, three main Common Business Objectives were identified:

  • Cost Efficiency (by harmonisation of operation, by simplification of regulations, procedures, standardisation and acceptance processes, by standardisation of architecture, by efficient system integration, testing and validation and by affordable software upgrades);
  • Quick Adaptation and Deployment (by increase in flexibility, by reduction of the time-to market, by ease of procurement and by effective migration strategies); and
  • Better Performance (by increase of capacity, by greater reliability and availability and by environmental sustainability).

Railways and suppliers have also agreed to manage the business objectives through cooperation and not in isolation, (i.e. increased cost efficiency and quicker rollout of solutions with increased performance), and shall be achieved in a combined way. Pure cost reductions will not lead to higher system performance, and without an accelerated rollout, it will take too long to achieve the modal shift. Because operational requirements are national to a large extent, it is the major reason for the huge variety of technical solutions we find today in Europe.

In Europe, there are 25 different infrastructure managers which all have introduced four different versions of signalling systems. The variety of signalling solutions is very likely even higher, because not only operational, but also national technical requirements influence the requirements baseline, which is the basis for the development of a technical solution. In addition, at least 100 substantially different requirement baselines for signalling solutions exist in Europe. This high number of baselines is leading to a market segmentation in competition, because no supplier has the capacity to comply with all baselines.

These baselines have not only an impact on development, approval and certification cost. The resulting solutions have to be tested which requires intense in-house and field tests. Such field tests prolong project implementation times, occupy infrastructure and require vehicles with specific configurations. Integration tests between trackside and onboard systems are critical. In the ideal case of only one European requirements baseline, the situation is completely different. It will enable suppliers to not only address the entire European market, but it will also release capacities to develop quicker innovations and therefore improve the competitivity of rail transport.

Thus, the diversity of operational requirements is leading to fragmented and small marketplaces, higher costs and a slow introduction of innovations. This applies for all stakeholders, including infrastructure managers, railway undertakings and suppliers. ETCS trackside solutions differ in Europe, because operation under ETCS is not standardised. ATO GoA1 and 2 is now technically specified and included in the latest CCS TSI revision. Unfortunately, also ATO GoA1 and 2 operation is not standardised. The technical ATO variants will introduce an additional dimension to the signalling variants in Europe, because the ATO variants come on top of existing signalling variants. The System Pillar of Europe’s Rail Joint Undertaking (ERJU SP) has the harmonisation of operation at the top of its agenda and in parallel is working on a harmonised architecture and technical requirements for new important features like moving block and DAC. Work on the ATO GoA 3 and 4 will continue, as well as the specification and tests for FRMCS.

Without a successful operational harmonisation provided for the new features, additional complexity dimensions will appear. It is not just about variants to be added, but multiplied, because ETCS, interlocking, ATO or DAC related operational requirements will be defined at national level independently from each other. As a result, the variability of requirements baselines will grow over-proportionally with the introduction of additional features, if operational requirements are not harmonised. There is no chance for suppliers to compensate for this effect. The development, validation, verification and approval cost will increase over-proportionally.


UNIFE & UNISIG say that to pursue the standardisation of technical requirements without the harmonisation of operation, will lead into an economical dead-end. Nobody will be willing to pay for the results. This means exorbitant costs now, and well into the future, which will be a hard sell to policymakers. The solution is to accept the benefits of having a real Single European Railway Area, notably the ability to have harmonised operational requirements for signalling applications.

The existence of standardised technical solutions based on harmonised operational requirements will not be enough – they must be implemented across Europe. To achieve this, it is not enough for only the technical experts working on those standards to be convinced, but also the departments of the organisations dealing with architecture, design and procurement.

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