This month, in preparation for our upcoming SURCO – Rail Operations course which will take place in the fall of 2021, we have decided to focus on the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS)- an intiative that will be instrumental in the creation of a Single European Railway Area.
Creating a Single European Railway Area
Rail transport forms an integral part of the intermodal supply chain. European ports have spent the last decades investing in port-rail connections that make it easy to transfer freight from the ship onto a train and vice versa. Countries have been focusing on standardising or facilitating transfers between different gauge dimensions in European countries. France has even gone so far as to start banning flights (passenger and cargo) between destinations that can be reached by train within a radius of 2 hours from the points of origin.
There is no doubt that in the sustainability focused post-Covid world rail is taking centre stage. This is why, in this month’s issue of #DidYouKnow, we decided to focus on the European Rail Traffic Management System.
On the opening day of the European Year of Rail 2021, the EU transport commissioner Adina Valean has emphasized the need to incorporate a digital layer to the physical rail infrastructures to improve network use, increase capacity and enhance safety. This means deploying the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) and automating where necessary. “Only when we have a single system in Europe will we stop interchanging locomotives at borders,” Valean said. Instead of focusing on investing in new railway lines, operators and public authorities need to work on increasing capacity on existing lines, whilst working on the new digital infrastructure which will complement the physical infrastructures helping to make it more economical and accessible. So what exactly is this system?
What is the ERTMS?
Essentially, the European Rail Traffic Management System was created with the goal of replacing the various different national train control and command systems prevalent across the European Union – and therewith creating a seamless European railway system, and increasing the region’s global competitiveness. It can be looked at having two basic components:
- The European Train Control System (ETCS) – an automatic train protection system (ATP) that will work towards replacing existing national train protection systems;
- The GSM-R, a radio system that will provide voice and data communication between the tracks and the trains. It does so by using GSM frequencies specifically reserved for rail application.
What are the benefits?
ERTMS is working towards being the train control system that brings significant advantages in terms of maintenance costs savings, safety, reliability, punctuality and traffic capacity. These can be classed as following:
- Interoperability – no longer would international train management systems clash
- Increased Safety – The speed of the trains travelling across the system would continuously be monitored, therewith providing greater international train protection;
- Increased Capacity – Tracking all trains across one network will allow for a reduction in the minimum distance between the trains, therewith increasing overall capacity;
- Higher performance – Punctuality is increase because of the higher level of monitoring and evaluation prevalent across the ERTMS. This also lowers the potential for failures, further increasing the standards of the network;
- Greater competitiveness – the seamless market for rail transport on the European continent will make rail more competitive in relation to road transport. Cross-border rail services will also be facilitated, further improving rail’s outlook;
- Lower maintenance costs – The costs would be reduced from a lower number of trackside components. Being separated into various levels of development, this reduction would increase with the increase in higher levels;
- Staff – Though not replacing any jobs, the ERMTS would digitalise certain sections of the rail management system, therewith solving an issue related to ageing staff – currently troubling the rail industry;
- Digitalisation – ERTMS, and its upcoming new radio transmission subsystem Future Railway Mobile Communication System (FRMCS) is an enabler of digitalisation in the railway system;
- Sustainability – By making the rail sector more competitive, ERTMS helps to level the playing field with road transport and ultimately provides significant environmental gains.
Already operational in Europe, the system is also slowly becoming the train control system of choice in other countries such as China, India, Taiwan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia.
What are the drawbacks?
As with any system, there are potential problems that can arise through the use of the ERMTS.
- Complexity – the ERTMS sub-system comprises complex interfaces, which need to be developed to function seamlessly across the entire network.
- Cost – the ERTMS comes with high costs both in terms of trackside deployment and retrofitting.
- Time – With regard to ERTMS trackside deployment, demanding requirements in many public procurements resulted in lengthy tenders and delays in project delivery. Timing was also detected in errors found in the final testing stages – which should have been detected during the verification and validation processes.
- Interoperability – Different parts of the network may have different technical specificities, and they might also have different operational requirements. The European Railway Agency is working with individual states to eliminate National Technical Requirements (NTRs) in each country to improve the ERTMS’ interoperability
- Funding – The funding provided by each state alone is not sufficient. A significant portion is needed to come from the EU – and the EU has expressed its commitment to support the ERTMS.
The future of ERTMS
Currently the European Rail Transport Management System is already in use in commercial projects across the 9 core network corridors. Though still in its early stages, the system is being trialed to make sure that it can be fully deployed in the European area in the near future. Rail transport is integral to sustainable and clean transport, and therewith ensuring a seamless and innovative door-to-door supply chain that incorporates various modes of transport. Currently the European Union has selected Matthias Ruete as the European coordinator for the ERTMS. Ruete will be working with the rail sector to further deploy ERTMS along the EU’s rail network, giving the necessary political impetus for the project and the realisation of the Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2016 between the European Commission, the European Union Agency for Railways and the European rail sector associations (CER, EIM, EPTTOLA, ERFA, the ERTMS Users Group, GSM-R Industry Group, UIC,UNIFE and UNISIG). Altogether, all of this work will prove invaluable towards the creation of a single European Railway Area – furthering the vision of efficient, sustainable and innovative European transport.