ERTMS, a key enabler for the digital and sustainable rail transition
In her September 2021 State of the European Union, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen hailed Europe’s spirit of solidarity as the key to the bloc’s ability to take on daunting challenges such as COVID-19 and the climate crisis. The European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) is a prerequisite for tomorrow’s interoperable, sustainable multimodality that will allow European citizens to seamless traverse their union. Understanding the importance of this technology, UNIFE convened high level representatives from the European institutions and the private sector for an EU Year of Rail digital event on 30 September, titled “ERTMS, a key enabler for the digital and sustainable rail transition”.
Featuring officials from the European Commission, the European Parliament, the Shift2Rail Joint Undertaking, Rete Ferroviaria Italiana (RFI), and UNIFE through UNISIG, the panellists examined the status of ERTMS deployment and existing funding opportunities such as the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF), the Structural Funds and the Recovery and Resiliency Facility’s National Recovery Plans. Attendees were able to learn more about EU policy directions for this key technology and its development in relation to the future Europe’s Rail Joint Undertaking and its System Pillar. The discussion, moderated by Railway Gazette Editor-in-Chief of Chris Jackson, reached the consensus that the timely, harmonised and pervasive deployment of ERTMS was central to unleashing its potential benefits and achieving a Single European Rail Area capable of transporting people and goods seamlessly across the Member States.
Izaskun Bilbao Barandica, Member of the European Parliament (Renew Europe) and Rapporteur of EP Report on ERTMS, urged follow decisionmakers to: "Deploy the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) on time throughout the priority European rail network. This is a decisive step towards ensuring interoperability between national rail systems. ERTMS represents a 40% contribution to climate and environmental objectives and is also linked to support for the general process of digitalisation of the EU economy. We call for national deployment implementation plans to be aligned with binding targets at EU level. We want no derogations to be approved for the installation of ERTMS in new vehicles and to streamline authorisation procedures".
Matthias Ruete, European Coordinator for ERTMS – European Commission¸ explained that: “Rail has moved to the centre of our smart and green mobility strategy, digitalisation of rail is key. This depends on the rapid roll-out of the world leading European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS). Digital rail without ERTMS is unthinkable“.
Fabio Senesi, Head of ERTMS National Program, RFI, explained a potential strategy for successful ERTMS deployment: “A combined approach from digital transformation of station by new interlocking, upgrading of previous national investment for GSM-R and for the Class B realized as a prefitted ERTMS (track and train) is needed. We must allow an acceleration and harmonised approach towards an ERTMS-only re-signalling. The key point of the strategy is the preparatory retrofitting of the fleet to ERTMS, starting from the existing Class B by a compatible financing aid by Member States. The recovery fund and dedicated Member State resources make this possible now”.
Carlo Borghini, Executive Director of the Shift2Rail Joint Undertaking and future Europe’s Rail Joint Undertaking (ERJU), stated that: “It is clear that the latest version of the ERTMS/ETCS specifications will be the basis for future development in Europe’s Rail. We will need to take into account lines and part of the network already fitted with ERTMS. But we have to make sure though that the evolution of the system will be as future proofed as possible. We need to give a chance for rail to use the latest technologies available and adapt it to integrate possible new functions which will make rail more competitive and attractive. This integration will be a key example of how, through the System Pillar approach, we will modernise the rail sector, achieve the Single European Railway Area and implement the requirements of the Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy”.
Klaus Mindel, UNISIG General Manager at UNIFE, advised: “To boost ERTMS deployment, reliable and sufficient funding remains important. However, national long term framework planning - including more harmonised technical and operational requirements, as well as well-defined migration plans - will be key to guide and push ERTMS rollout. The System Pillar of the new European Rail Joint Undertaking will play a key role as the main platform for all stakeholders to develop a performant and efficient signalling system, including ERTMS, as a core part of a future digital railway and a Single European Railway Area”.
Philippe Citroën, UNIFE Director General, commented: “A harmonised and coordinated deployment of ERTMS in Europe to accelerate the achievement of the European Deployment Plan (EDP) targets is the pre-condition to move the system forward”.