Brussels, 23rd April 2008
European Commission Vice-President in charge of transport, Jacques Barrot, said that "today's decision is a major milestone in the evolution of ETCS which paves the way for a legally stable and interoperable future for Europe's rail network".
The ETCS concept is simple: information is transmitted from the ground to the train, where an on-board computer uses it to calculate the maximum authorised speed and then automatically slows down the train if necessary. ETCS is one component of the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS).
Currently, there are more than 20 different signalling systems in operation in Europe and their incompatibility is a major technical barrier to international traffic. ERTMS is a tool to establish an integrated and intelligent railway transport system in Europe. Using the most up-to-date technologies, ERTMS allows for reduced transport costs and improved punctuality and safety. It helps make rail a more competitive alternative to road, air and sea transport. ERTMS is also a key element of several trans-European transport network (TEN-T) priority projects and is important for the overall upgrade of European railways.
Following an intense ten year phase of research and development, validation of the ETCS standard was carried out from 2000 to 2007 with real scale projects underway in parallel. Since 2005, feedback from projects prompted the need to fine tune the specifications in order to move from local to global compatibility and ensure interoperability between all projects in Europe. Today's decision eliminates the risk of any ambiguities that might have resulted in incompatible projects and guarantees that Europe's trains equipped with ETCS can travel on any line equipped with ETCS.
ETCS is already installed on over 2,000 km of track and by 2012 over 11,000 km of ETCS will be in operation. Freight transport will benefit significantly from ETCS and when complemented by other measures, freight volume is expected to increase by 55% along certain corridors, travel time is expected to be reduced by 20% and reliability is expected to increase by 26%. All of this makes rail a more attractive option for freight transport. Rail safety will also be enhanced.