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Siim Kallas Vice-President of the Commission, responsible for Transport Remarks on rail safety to the plenary session of the European Parliament Plenary session of the European Parliament Brussels, 25 February 2010

European Commission - SPEECH/10/46   25/02/2010

Other available languages: none

SPEECH/ 10/46

Siim Kallas

Vice-President of the Commission, responsible for Transport

Remarks on rail safety

to the plenary session of the European Parliament

Figures and graphics available in PDF and WORD PROCESSED


Plenary session of the European Parliament

Brussels, 25 February 2010

Mr President,

Honourable Members,

The train accident in Buizingen on Monday 15 February 2010 was a shocking tragedy. I understand that, in the aftermath of this serious accident, several technical and political questions concerning rail safety can be asked.

First of all my thoughts go to the victims of this tragedy and their relatives. It is always difficult to find words of consolation in these sad occasions and silence is sometime more telling.

The causes of the accident are not yet fully known and a technical investigation has been launched in accordance with the provisions of the EU safety directive. It is the responsibility of the Belgian Investigation Body to carry this out. It should be accomplished independently of any judicial inquiry. The objective of the technical investigation is not to apportion blame and liability but rather to identify causes with a view to improve railway safety and the prevention of accidents. The Belgian Investigation Body has asked the European Railway Agency to support it in its investigation. Two investigators from the Agency joined the Belgian team in charge of the investigation already a few hours after the accident had occurred. I would like to stress that as long as the causes of the accident have not yet been clarified it is inappropriate to draw conclusions. Of course, I am prepared to clarify some issues which were raised in the aftermath of this tragedy and share with you my understanding of the situation. As it is too often the case when rail accidents happen, remarks alleging a link between European rules or regulations and the accident are made.

I would first like to be very clear on the opening up of the market: alongside the opening-up of the rail freight sector to competition and the establishment of requirements to separate the activities of infrastructure managers and railway undertakings, a stringent regulatory framework has been introduced covering rail safety and interoperability. We want to ensure that a high level of rail safety is maintained, while recognising the procedures and methods specific to each Member State in this area. The European Rail Agency produces reports at regular intervals on the safety of the European network and monitors the development of the situation in the Member States. Indicators demonstrate that the opening-up of the rail sector to competition has in no way had a negative impact on railway safety. Let me say very clearly that any proposition linking rail safety levels to rail market opening is in my view just an excuse to steer the debate away from the true causes of the accident.

The question of the coexistence of national and European train control systems can be put in these terms:

  • more than twenty different national systems are used in Europe today to ensure the safe movement of trains. These systems, developed at national level, are made of a trackside component and of an on board component: the trackside component sends information to a computer in the train and the computer applies the brakes when a dangerous situation is detected. For the systems to work, trains and lines must therefore be equipped with a compatible system. Levels of safety and performances of the various national automatic train protection systems are different as well as the rules concerning equipment of lines and locomotives with these national systems. The incompatibility of the different national systems poses a major problem for international trains, because either locomotives have to be changed at each border, or they have to be equipped with as many on-board systems as there are systems on the tracks that they will run on. There are even cases where different national systems coexist in one single country. The Thalys, for example, has to be equipped with seven different national systems to run in four countries.

  • For this reason, a single system for use at European level has been designed and developed and is currently being installed on major international lines and trains in Europe. The system is known as ERTMS (European Rail Traffic Management System).

  • As regards the timing, we can say that most of the national systems have been developed in the early 80s but their deployment is a long and costly process. In most countries only part of the national networks and locomotives are equipped today, and this partial equipment took approximately 20 years.

  • The ERTMS specifications have been available since 2000. A number of pilot projects were carried out between 2000 and 2005 and, since 2005, several ERTMS equipped lines have been put into service. At present ten Member States have lines with ERTMS and there are projects ongoing in almost all Member States. In Belgium, for example, the line between Aachen and Liège is equipped and ICE trains running on this line are equipped.

ERTMS was created primarily with a view to promoting interoperability, i.e. the possibility for locomotives to cross borders, but it is also recognised as a system offering an advantage in terms of increased safety. The system is fully operational today but, due to the long time needed to install it on board trains and along lines, existing national systems will continue to coexist with ERTMS along the lines.

Third countries like Taiwan, to give just one example, have also chosen ERTMS – and obviously not for interoperability reason. Taiwan invested in ERTMS simply because ERTMS is the best system available today on the market. This shows clearly that there is no point in continuing to invest in national systems. In order to promote the use of the European system, the European legislation is very restrictive on the possibility to upgrade existing national systems.

You asked several questions aiming at comparing the situation between Member States. It is quite difficult and not very useful to establish a ranking of the Member States and make meaningful comparisons. It all depends on the choice of indicators, of the reference period and of the quality of the data reported. One or two serious accidents can also have a significant impact on whatever type of ranking we may have. Overall data show that the Belgium performance is "average". It is however true that Belgium lags behind the European average in terms of tracks equipped with an Automatic Train Protection system – be it the national or the European one.

Thank you for your attention.


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