The European Railway Traffic Management System (ERTMS) is a mix of on-board technology and mobile communications that will help bring a unified signalling and control system throughout Europe.
But ERTMS is not 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.
Ever since Europe began building railways in the nineteenth century, they were typically planned, constructed and operated as 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 has failed to reach anywhere near its full potential (consider that a train travelling from Amsterdam to London must cross ten system ‘boundaries’).
Ricardo provided technical support for London Thameslink's adoption of ETCS
Benefits of 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 reduce bottlenecks.
ERTMS will also spell the end for lineside signalling systems. Instead, drivers will use on-board signalling equipment (referred to as the European Train Control System or 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: With a proven, harmonised system, product development and manufacture becomes less complicated with suppliers able to bid for any opportunity.