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Brussels, 22 July 2009

European rail transport: a major step towards a harmonised signalling system

The European Commission today adopted the plan implementing the European rail signalling and traffic management system ERTMS 1 . This plan provides for the progressive deployment of ERTMS along the main European rail routes. This will reduce running costs and improve the system's efficiency on long cross-border distances. ERTMS is also used on Europe's high-speed lines.

'The European plan adopted today is proof that the Member States are prepared to play the Community card where necessary to ensure the success of a major European industrial project and to work together for the future of rail freight', said Antonio Tajani, Vice-President of the European Commission with responsibility for transport.

Lines and trains in Europe are still running on national systems that are incompatible with one another. When a Member State equips its lines to run on the European system, it benefits from a modern, high-performance system and removes a technical obstacle to the development of competition on its network.

Without a coordinated plan at European level, each Member State might tend to wait for a neighbouring country to take the first step. The ERTMS can only be implemented in Europe on the basis of an overall agreement, along with an implementation schedule specifying the lines to be equipped by specific dates. With the European plan adopted today, this agreement is now a reality.

In practice, the plan provides for almost 10 000 km of lines to be equipped by 2015. These lines will form an initial network with vital corridors for goods transport, such as Rotterdam-Genoa, Antwerp-Basel, and Barcelona-Lyon-Budapest-Constanța.

By 2020 there should be a network of 25 000 km linking the main European ports and freight terminals. However, many Member States have committed themselves, via their own national plans, to exceeding their Community obligations, so in fact there should be around 40 000 km equipped with the ERTMS by then.

This plan should now give rail companies the necessary assurance to invest in the ERTMS. Many of them have already anticipated the plan's implementation, which the Commission has been backing with cofinancing of a total of 500 million euros in the 2007-2013 budget for the trans-European transport networks and via the Regional Fund and Cohesion Fund.

The technical background

The ERTMS concept is simple: information is transmitted from the track to the train, where an on-board computer uses it to calculate the maximum authorised speed and to slow the train down automatically if necessary. The on-board computer therefore has to understand the information sent from the ground.

This concept is not really new, as there are already over 20 national systems for automatically controlling the speed of trains. Unfortunately these national systems are incompatible with one other. To be able to circulate on networks equipped with different systems, either the engines must be changed at the borders (which means a considerable amount of time is lost) or the engines must be equipped with different on-board systems compatible with the different track systems used by the different networks (which increases costs and the risks of breakdown); either way, this creates a rift in the single market and an obstacle to free movement.

This has an especially adverse impact on goods transport: although, by definition, rail transport should be more competitive over long distances, each border adds significant extra costs and delays, translating into market losses and saturation of the road network.

The ERTMS could significantly increase the competitiveness of rail transport. This is particularly true for freight when the system is deployed in a coordinated manner along a corridor and is accompanied by relevant measures, such as harmonisation of the operating rules or enhancement of the infrastructure if necessary. On the Rotterdam-Genova corridor, for example, the volume of goods transported could be doubled by 2020, which would be the equivalent of one more heavy goods vehicle passing along this route every 37 seconds.

The ERTMS is also a major industrial success for Europe. Its performance and its cost mean that it has rapidly gained acceptance even beyond Europe and it is currently the global reference standard, used on all new lines.

Map of the European deployment plan

1 :

{ European Rail Traffic Management System

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