‘Closed market for Class B systems hinders implementation of ERTMS’
In order to give new entrants to the market for train protection systems a chance and thus a smoother transition from the existing Class-B systems to ERTMS, The Signalling Company advocates making the system specifications and source codes of these existing systems public. “There is talk of vendor lock-in, which makes it particularly difficult for rail freight operators to respond quickly to the demand of their customers.”
“When a rail freight operator receives a request to transport a freight to or through a country not previously served by them, it is currently impossible to get a clear timeline from a manufacturer to provide the necessary Class B hardware and hardware. system upgrade for those countries. If it is available at all”, says Stanislas Pinte of The Signaling Company, a Belgian start-up in which freight forwarder Lineas is involved.
“From a budget perspective, there is currently no other option for carriers to accept any offer as the technology platforms of the current suppliers are fully owned by them. New manufacturers independently developing Class B solutions face high barriers for entry, as system specifications and source codes are not public. So there is no market for aftermarket Class B products.”
For many of the same reasons, there is also no functioning market for STMs (Special Transmission module), according to Pinte. Such a module translates signals from Class B systems if necessary and if possible, so that trains with ETCS can run on a track that is equipped with an older train protection system (Class B system). “In the above case study, the railway undertaking will have to inform its customer whether to use road transport or inquire with one of its competitors that does have locomotives equipped for the required Class B systems.”
The Signalling Company itself is one of those new entrants that is finding it difficult to gain a foothold in the rail sector due to the closed market for the existing rail traffic management systems. The company is working on an ecosystem consisting of apps that can be downloaded for a locomotive immediately. Pinte wants to work together with all providers of train protection systems for this. At the end of last year, for example, a letter of intent was signed with the Spanish manufacturer CAF.
“In this way you can install STMs as control system for a locomotive with a digital ETCS unit on board. You pay for the use, which means that you can also remove the STM if it is no longer needed. They facilitate the dual systems on board until ERTMS is fully rolled out.”
In the draft report of the European Parliament, European ERTMS coordinator Mathias Ruete calls for a decommissioning strategy for Class B systems. Pinte: “We may need to review the framework and apply new technology to use the gradual decommissioning as leverage to accelerate the rollout of ETCS. As Mr Ruete puts it, it makes no sense to have two systems in parallel. So why not merge two systems into one, where ETCS and STMs are complementary elements of a digital ecosystem.”