ETCS sign in Denmark

What needs to happen before ERTMS may be implemented in rail?

ETCS sign in Denmark Banedanmark

Many years ago, the European Union set itself the ambitious goal of making railways safe and interoperable. One of the key ways of achieving this goal is the implementation of the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS). The implementation of ERTMS in the EU has been going on for many years. In the Netherlands, for example, the first line equipped with ERTMS equipment is the Betuweroute, which took place in the early 2000s. The legal requirements for implementation have changed in the meantime. Expert Jakub Tomczak explains how this process goes. 

The design and construction of the ERTMS system and the associated command and control systems is a major undertaking that involves many parties. First and foremost, these are infrastructure managers, railway undertakings, contractors, and equipment manufacturers. The infrastructure being built, including the computerised signalling equipment, should be compatible with the vehicles running on it. When implementing ERTMS on a railway line, aspects such as traffic safety, capacity, or the human factor, among others, are checked.

Approval for ERTMS

The concept of ‘interoperability’ is defined as the ability of a rail system to allow the safe and uninterrupted movement of trains which accomplish the required levels of performance in Directive 2016/797 on the interoperability of the rail system within the European Union. As mentioned above, ERTMS implementations should contribute to achieving this objective. The most recent regulations for ERTMS implementation stem from Directive 2016/797 and Regulation 2016/796 of the European Union Agency for Railways (ERA).

These pieces of legislation the Agency defined as the EU system authority for ERTMS implementation and gave it specific powers. These consist of the Agency approving proposed solutions for ERTMS trackside equipment and verifying their compliance with the relevant Technical Specifications for Interoperability (TSI). This procedure should prevent the application of additional requirements for trackside signalling equipment that could undermine interoperability.

Testing of an ETCS balise by Infrabel
Testing of an ETCS balise by the Belgian infrastructure manager, image: Infrabel / Benjamin Brolet

Directive 2016/797 on the interoperability of the rail system within the European Union does not provide a detailed description of the procedure. Proceedings before the Agency should start ‘at the earliest possible stage’, that is even before the announcement of a tender procedure that includes ERTMS trackside equipment.

In the case of control command and signalling trackside subsystems involving ETCS or GSM-R equipment, the Agency shall ensure the harmonised implementation of ERTMS within the Union, according to Article 19 of this Directive. This involves the Agency verifying that the technical solutions envisaged fully comply with the relevant TSIs and are therefore fully interoperable. The procedure before the Agency starts with the submission of an application by the One-Stop-Shop. The applicant would be a natural or legal person requesting the Agency’s decision for the approval of the technical solutions envisaged for the ERTMS track-side equipment projects, i.e. infrastructure manager, railway undertaking, or a contractor.

The application must be accompanied by:

(a) the draft tender specifications or the description of the envisaged technical solutions,
(b) documentary evidence of the conditions necessary for technical and operational compatibility of the subsystem with the vehicles intended to operate on the relevant network,
(c) documentary evidence of the compliance of technical solutions envisaged with the relevant TSIs,
(d) any other relevant documents, such as national safety authority opinions, declarations of verification or conformity certificates.

This is a procedure which came into force in 2019, introduced by Directive 2016/797 on the interoperability of the rail system within the European Union. It may not be that well-known yet on the market. To facilitate the proceedings before the Agency, it is useful to refer to the Commission Recommendation 2018/C 253/01 on guidance for the harmonised implementation of the European Rail Traffic Management System in the Union and the Agency’s Application guide for the ERTMS trackside approval.

The procedure consists of the three stages: Initial engagement, Submission and verification of completeness, and lastly Assessment and decision. This first stage is not mandatory, but recommended to facilitate the process, with the aim of explaining the purpose of the project to the Agency, such as what infrastructure will be built, and where the investment is located. This is usually in the form of working meetings.

Re-using the same solution

It is worth mentioning that ERA has so far issued three decisions relating to the ERTMS trackside approval, among others, for the Rhine Alpine Corridor within the TEN-T network. This means that the infrastructure manager who received that decision could continue the construction of the signalling system.

According to the ERA website, the Agency encourages the re-use of the same solution in other projects carried out in the EU. The approval of proposed solutions for ERTMS trackside equipment is part of the creation of a Single European Railway Area whose main goal is to make the railway more efficient and competitive as the railways are a vital part of the Union transport sector moving towards achieving sustainable mobility.

Jakub Tomczak is a lawyer focussed on railway safety and interoperability, and author of the expert blog

Also read:

Author: Jakub Tomczak

Add your comment

characters remaining.

Log in through one of the following social media partners to comment.