Case Study

ETCS implementation on EU Freight Corridor 'C'

ETCS implementation on EU Freight Corridor 'C'
Published: 09 February 2016 Client name: Infrabel Service provided: Notified Body and Independent Safety Assessment

Between 2013 and 2016 Ricardo provided Notified Body (NoBo) services, in partnership with Certifer, for the implementation of the European Train Control System (ETCS), a signalling technology, throughout the Belgian section of the European freight 'Corridor C'.

In accordance with European requirements, Infrabel, the Belgian national rail infrastructure manager, had committed to implementing ETCS Level 1 on the routes in its jurisdiction that form par of 'Corridor C' for freight services.

'Corridor C' is a route that connects North Sea ports such as Antwerp to the industrial centres of central and southern Europe. As a cross-border route it's infrastructure is required to be certified against the Technical Specifications for Interoperability (TSIs), the common standards to be observed on all new - or renewed - European mainline routes. 

Siemens had already been chosen to supply the hardware and software that would provide a seamless, interoperable control system that could be used by vehicles from all member states that carried the corresponding onboard equipment.

This new control system was also required to supplement the legacy signalling and Automatic Train Protection systems in place.

Gaining efficiences as the project progressed

To deliver this major project, the entire length of the route though Belgium was divided into 16 sections, with Ricardo's teams of assessors working alongside teams from Certifer to cover each section.

The jointly prepared certification strategy was based on gaining benefits from the fact that the project was a roll out with highly repetitive characteristics. For each branch, the additional assessment work was limited only to project specific activities, meaning greater efficiency was gained as each project progressed.

The Notified Body and Independent Safety Assessment approvals were based on an approved Generic Application Safety Case and a Generic Technical File with an Interim Statement of Verification.

Fully interoperable route

With the assessments completed in 2016, the entire line has been ready for ETCS equipped vehicles, paving the way for more freight traffic operating with improved standards of safety.

The project not only demonstrated Ricardo's deep knowledge of ETCS technology, but also our ability to navigate complex technology projects involving stakeholders from different territories and significant attention from national governments and authorities.

What is ETCS?

The European Train Control System (ETCS) is the on-board and trackside technology that underpins the European Railway Traffic Management System (ERTMS).

ERTMS is a single, European-wide signalling and control system that ensures network interoperability between member states. It combines ETCS and a common mobile communications (GSM-R) technology to create a unified train control standard across Europe.

ERTMS is not just unique to Europe: almost half of all investment in ERTMS to date has been in countries such as China, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Turkey who have broadly adopted the same specifications for their own rail projects.


Ever since Europe began building railways in the nineteenth century they were typically planned, constructed and operated as isolated national assets by each individual country.

The legacy of this parochial approach was a patchwork of differing technologies and operating rules from one country to the next. Today, there are more than 20 different mainline signalling systems in use across the EU, each requiring bespoke components, certification and driver competences.

The complexity of so many incompatible systems and governing authorities in relatively close proximity has been a primary reason why cross-border rail travel in Europe failed to reach anywhere near its full potential.

For example, consider that a train travelling from Amsterdam to London would have to cross five system boundaries as it passes through various domestic mainline and high speed sections (and the channel tunnel). Each boundary brought its own technological and bureaucratic issues to be managed, with each system requiring its own antennas to be positioned in specific locations beneath the vehicle, and to have their own specific instructions to display to the cab. Drivers, meanwhile, had to hold multiple qualifications and licenses.

Ricardo provided technical support for London Thameslink's adoption of ETCS 

Benefits of ETCS / ERTMS

By introducing a common technical standard for traffic control, Europe’s railways will be taking a significant step towards a truly seamless network.

As well as bringing interoperability between networks - in other words, making the EU’s different technical systems work together – the adoption of common standards will promote cross-border services, increase competition and promote innovation throughout the supply chain.

ERTMS will also spell the end for lineside signalling systems. Instead, drivers will use on-board signalling equipment - ETCS - that receives information direct from regional control centres.

By providing continuous communication-based data direct to in-service traffic, ERTMS promises to:

  • Increase capacity on existing lines: By reducing the headway between trains
  • Support higher speeds: ERTMS allows for a maximum speed up to 500 km/h
  • Improve safety and service reliability: Increasing rail’s competitiveness in passenger and freight transportation markets.
  • Reduce maintenance costs: With ERTMS level 2, trackside signalling is not required, reducing maintenance costs and service disruption.
  • Simplify the approval process and reduce development costs: With a proven specification agreed, product development becomes less complicated with suppliers able to bid for any opportunity.

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