Advanced rail signalling systems allow for higher traffic on rail networks while ensuring safety

Signalling is a crucial element for train operations, as it enables trains to run safely on railway lines. Being guided, often at high speed, on fixed rails, trains are uniquely susceptible to collisions. In the 19th Century, the lack of signalling equipment frequently led to accidents on railway lines – a stark contrast from today, where rail is recognised as the safest mode of transport.

Over time, signalling has evolved from a strictly safety-related feature to a means of increasing line capacity and traffic. For example, the high-performing signalling systems available today allow for reduced headways between trains, enabling more traffic to flow on an existing line, thus becoming a key tool to improve performance and the overall competitiveness of the sector. UNIFE member companies have developed expertise and know-how in the field of signalling equipment, which is largely dominated by European Companies.

In recent years, some signalling suppliers have developed the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS), a high-performance signalling standard designed to gradually replace the more than twenty existing signalling systems in Europe. ERTMS, which has already proven to be a success story worldwide, considerably increases the competitiveness of the European railways (

Strategic/public affairs activities
Under the direction of the European Union, ERTMS has been developed jointly by the rail manufacturing industry, the railways and the European Commission. The specifications are now developed by the European Railway Agency, in cooperation with the relevant stakeholders.

Whilst ERTMS provides considerable benefits, EU support plays a considerable role in deploying the system along the European railway network. Indeed, the full benefits of ERTMS – interoperability between projects and countries – is only reached when a critical mass of railway lines are equipped with this signalling system in Europe.

Through various means, such as funding, coordinated deployment plans, and cross-sector agreements, the EU plays a leading role in the roll-out of the system. The ERTMS suppliers, represented by UNIFE, have constant contact with the relevant bodies and policy-makers.

Technical activities
UNISIG, which is the ERTMS suppliers’ consortium, works on the ERTMS specifications together with the European Railway Agency. Following the adoption of the Baseline 3 in April 2012 and of the first Baseline 3 maintenance release in June 2014, the current activities of UNISIG now focusses on the second maintenance release of Baseline 3, activity set to be finalised end 2015.

Through its working groups, UNIFE and its members jointly discussed a number of elements related to signalling, ranging from purely technical topics (amendment of Technical Specifications for Interoperability) to market trends in the field of signalling equipment.

For more information, please contact:
Jonathan Cutuli
UNISIG/ERTMS Project Manager
+32 2 643 70 81