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.