RailTech Europe 2017 – Day One review

The Dutch city of Utrecht played host on Day One of RailTech Europe 2017, which attracted hundreds of railway professionals from across Europe. The theme for the first day’s presentations was the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS). 

Joan Blaas of conference organisers ProMedia Europoint welcomed delegates to the presentation hall, before handing the floor to the day’s Chair, Simon Fletcher, Coordinator of the European Region at the International Union of Railways (UIC). He made the point that it was vital to achieve a balance between the ‘transformative’ and ‘disruptive’ technologies that were now in play in the sector.

The first speaker of the day was Pio Guido, Head of ERTMS at the European Agency for Railways. He began by saying that ERTMS presented a range of ‘interesting reflections. “It was born and designed – and by the way Utrecht was involved in the early days – when railways, at national level, were integrated companies.”

The situation today, he added, was very different, with a multitude of changes including different infrastructure managers. “The challenge is that on one hand, we are multiplying the actors but we are also looking at a more integrated system. Borders make less and less sense.

Changing landscape

“Europe is small on the world wide scale. In China they have been able to lay down 20,000 km of line in a small time, which is something we haven’t been able to do over decades.

“This is a changing landscape in terms of how responsibilities are split, and how we go from national to a European market. This is at the core of ERTMS.”

ERTMS, he said, was not so much about the technology itself, but rather about how it could be leverage on an industrial scale for Europe. “Why are we doing this? This is necessary if we want to take the next two conflicting challenges – how to manage interoperability and innovation.

“We need to maintain interoperability as one of the fundamental elements of ERTMS, and also in terms of protecting our investment for the future. I think if you want to put together these different needs, it is clear this can only be done if there is a strong European dimension in terms of research and development.”

What was important, he said, was that ERTMS specifications were not ‘imposed’ by Brussels, but rather ERTMS should be viewd collectively as being ‘our system’.

Long life cycle

“We need, of course, a stable political and financial framework for ERTMS. A lot of investment needs a long time frame. In the railways we know we have a long life cycle for the asset,” he said. “We have to make sure the players know this very well in advance.”

“I think we have achieved an incredible amount. Today, the plan is really to shift our attention to the deployment. We need to make sure the implementation is done in a disciplined way.”

A key driver towards the next phase was, added Guido, the European Deployment Plan (EDP).
“The EDP is something which gives clarify for the future – it is a clear request to the member states as to when the system will be committed. We want to make sure ERTMS is what replaces the national systems. We need to make sure there is a plan, that there is an end game.”

“ERTMS can only result from a collective, disciplined approach,” he added.

“What is important is that the processes are under control. There is no possibility of having it deployed across the network if there is not a clear way of doing it. It will not be possible to have bespoke arrangements every time there is a new line. We need standardisation not for the sake of standardisation but so we can deliver in a cost-effective way.

European level investment

“It can only work if each of us invests in this at a European level. One thing I would like to stress is when a railway decides to move into ERTMS, it doesn’t need to just invest at national level, but there is also commitment and need to follow through with the right groups and organisations at European level.

“it is important that whenever a problem is encountered, this is addressed both at national level and also discussed with other railways. If there is any remedial action needed, this must be done at European level, to avoid shortcuts.

“Achieving over 50,000 kilometres by 2030 is really quite incredible. This is the vision we should keep as our target.”

Next up was Jean Baptiste-Simonnet, Senior Technical Adviser at the Community of CER. He outlined what he called a ‘positive ERTMS business case’ as a sector priority.

“ERTMS represents big investments but it is also a precondition for many rail values,” he said. “The availability of the financing instrument is a key driver for the speed of the implementation and deployment of the ERTMS programme.”

Big challenge

He posed the question – can rail actors afford ERTMS investment? “That is the big challenge. National and EU funding are essential, while also private funding could also help boost investment.”

Simonnet argued there were three key condition for enabling a viable business case: an adequate financing framework; a clear deployment plan; and predictable optimisation of on-board (OBU) tendering.

“This is about technical convergence over time, the so-called game changer,” he said. “Today the challenge is to develop harmonised practice, but also shape common perspectives.”

Simonnet was keen to stress that agreements on ‘harmonised clauses’ can drive down risks, time and costs for all concerned. “We should promote a voluntary tool – it is not about creating more regulation. it is rather more about how to use a most efficient way of an existing system.”

An effective OBU tender tool would, he added, help industrialise a business case and drive a common approach to the technology.

‘Formal description’

Every document within the ERTMS life cycle meanwhile could benefit from having a ‘formal description, as this enables ‘affordability and evoluivity.”

“ERTMS working groups can provide a common understanding and create a collective intelligence that can boost the entire sector. They are at the centre of the railway. We must look forward. The value is created by project, and working groups should support those projects.”

He also maintained that it was ‘cooperation between actors’ in the railway sector that would enable us to shape ‘quick and convergent paths’.

“ERTMS is the harmonised target system for automated train protection in the EU. But its path is not fully certain. It is changing the cultures of the industry. Speed and effectiveness depends on railways’ leadership and cooperation.

‘ERTMS could become a configurable solution, used by every EU actor, and providing a resilient automated systems supporting rail operations. It is an evolving system, which gains from railways’ initiatives and collective intelligence.”

Better common understanding

Furthermore, added Simonnet, it could be the precursor to a solution for railways. But for this to happen, it would be necessary to find a ‘better common understanding’.

“A business case is achievable and necessary. The large scale of the ERTMS programme should now enable that any industry projects and initiatives will grow and accelerate business cases for each of the European railway actors. This is the priority.”

The next speaker was Wim Fabries who, as ERTMS Director for the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment, is ideally positioned to a provide an overview of how ERTMS is being developed in The Netherlands.

The highly urbanised make-up of the country was the natural basis for his presentation which focused on the implementation of ERTMS ‘in a brown field situation’.


“I am convinced that ERTMS will be a game changer for the rail sector,” he told delegates, explaining that it is a collaboration between the Ministry, Dutch infrastructure manager ProRail and national rail operator NS. “It was a very wise decision to do this in close collaboration, and that is something I have heard from my colleagues abroad, that this working together is essential for progressing ERTMS. We must create the best conditions for successful deployment of ERTMS.

“Why this collaboration? This collaboration is necessary because ERTMS is not just a technical step but, much more, it is an organisational change. Implementing ERTMS has a huge impact on the sector as a whole.”

Other factors which make it unique, added Fabries, were the ‘brown field’ challenges, and also that it involves both rolling stock and infrastructure. Going back to 2014, he outlined the then five key goals: increasing safety for passengers and railway operators; improving capacity; improving speed; improving reliability; and improving interoperability between countries, because the sector is getting rid of non-compatible safety systems.

And that led him to stress some of the other vital considerations to take into account.

Old ATP system

“Perhaps even more important is that old ATP system is already becoming obsolete in the coming years. There will be a lack of components but what I think is even more important is that there will be no technicians any more with the knowledge. This is also a very important fact, that we have to change from an old system to the new ERTMS system.”

Fabries then outlined the ‘mission’ and ambition’.

“So what is our mission? Implementing ERTMS will make it more safe and more attractive for passengers and rail freight operators while business continues as usual.

“We work hard towards these two important things – this is what we want to achieve.

“We also have a clear ambition, which goes together with this mission. We do not want it to be a technology ‘push’. We want to have our people taking this out of our hands – we want them to say to us ‘hurry up, we can do our job better with this new ERTMS technology’.”

The aim, he said, was to deliver it in such a way that train drivers, traffic controllers and mechanics were eager to use it.

Integrated approach

Fabries highlighted the current status of ERTMS in The Netherlands, and the anticipated implementation timeline, with the first equipped line estimated to be running by 2024.

“That is not definite yet (but) we expect to have this line ready then,” he said. “It is a small (technical) step but a big change for the sector. These changes demand an integrated approach, and this is not an easy task.”

Making a direct reference to country’s urban make-up, he added: “We have to operate in a very busy traffic system.”

Lessons were also being learned not just from the neighbouring Belgium and Germany, but also further afield in Austria and Switzerland, which are both well advanced in their own implementation processes.

“We are using the knowledge and expertise available, and also from other large scale rail projects, such as the high speed line from Amsterdam to the Belgian border,” he said.

People make the system work

“At the end of the day, it is not about the technics, but the people who make the system work. A major system leap needs system integration from day one and not only for the engineering aspects. It is essential on many levels. Who is responsible for what and how?

“It is up to us to make the best conditions. I am pleased and very proud that we (The Netherlands) can contribute to that. Together, we can achieve the best results. The users can take ERTMS out of our hands, and we as a sector are prepared for the future.”

The morning’s final presentation saw Ulrich Roth, Head of Engineering Train Control Systems for Swiss Federal Railways, speak about the commissioning of ETCS L2 in Switzerland, and in particular the Gotthard Base Tunnel.

He said the ultimate goal was to have only installation through Switzerland and, in particular, the corridors: “We have to reach the goal for interoperability, and a key goal is speed and increasing capacity.”

While they expect the entire network to be migrated to ETCS by the end of the year, there is still a long migration time to make sure ‘evolution’ is achieved in a cost-efficient way.

Gotthard Tunnel

Roth showed a timeline which demonstrated how forward thinking had benefited the Swiss operations in the development of ETCS. It showed that as early as 2006 ETCS Level 2 was first commissioned on the 45 kilometre Mattstetten-Rothrist route, and that has progressed through the north/south Gotthard Tunnel infrastructure, and will eventually also be part of the Ceneri base tunnel in 2020.

The 57 kilometre-long Gotthard Tunnel, he explained, comprises two single line ‘tubes’, connected to each other every 300 metres. It has a maximum speed of 250 km/h for mixed traffic.

“It means we have an overall capacity of about 300 trains per day,” he said. “This is also the big trade-off – on the one hand there is the requirement to travel faster, and on the other hand to increase capacity with much lower speeds. This then leads to a complex situation.”

This means managing the flow of national and international passenger and freight trains, with no trains overtaking in the tunnel.

Lessons learned

Lessons learned from this process were:

1: Integrated planning – make a system approach with a technical system for track side, and vehicle integration

2: Spread the knowledge – don’t always rely on the same people to do the same tasks

3: Don’t underestimate the user/staff requirements – early involvement in training and coaching

4: There are still many ‘open’ points – find workarounds for issues like braking curves, processes in stations and maintenance

5: Do realistic planning – risk evaluation.

Concluding, he added: “ETCS is a modern, future oriented signalling system, for the high demand requirements on capacity, safety and interoperability. For sure, there are teething troubles but we have resolved many of them. We have the strategy and we know how to go further.”

Following the presentations, the four speakers were asked to give feedback on delegates’ questions.


Q: What happens to countries not following the European Deployment Plan?
PG: “As we said earlier, we don’t want a system that ‘pushes’. The business case is so compelling that implementation will happen. Each country must find a strategy that fits their own needs. There are not many countries which are not following the plan, but where they are not we should not be looking around for punitive measures.”

Q: When will the tender tool be available? Will it be there for retrofit, first in class and series tendering?
JBS: “This has been a long process. Now the question is to find a more global approach, and the European Commission is quite pushy on this. The target should be mid-2017 for real progress. Looking at a top-down approach, the objective is to look at the global of ERTMS purchasing, looking at retro fit, but also looking at how to test a generic application. We should have made progress by mid-2017.”

Q: How are you planning to develop the formal method?
JBS: It is not about bringing about a revolution. We have a complex situation with many parameters, so we must first find common understanding. Look at architecture and interfaces within the system.”

Following the lunch interval, the afternoon session focused on European Harmonisation, with the first presentation coming from Ernst Kleine, Programme Manager at the ERTMS Users Group.

He outlined the 11-strong member group’s core mission – to help the railways in applying ERTMS/ETCS in a ‘harmonised and interoperable’ way.

“All members deal with substantial terms of investment and we also connect with railway undertakings on a number of practical issues,” said Kleine. “The platform was set up in 2013, and the idea was to share experiences and ideas. We also invite stakeholders on a case-to-case basis, we come together three times a year – and we do our homework.”

Analysis & design

The core activities revolve around deployment, and more specifically analysis & design, testing, commissioning, operation, assessment and authorisation. In terms of business needs, the focus is on cost reduction, improved reliability, interoperability, improved capacity and replacing obsolete technology.

Kleine also talked about migration strategies being employed by the various EU member countries. Some had gone for full scale deployment of ERTMS on their network within the shortest period of time, such as Switzerland (2017), Belgium (2022), Denmark (2023), The Netherlands (2028, larger part, phase one), Norway (2030) and Sweden (2035).

Others, such as the UK, France and Germany, had gone for a more gradual replacement.

“The focus in Germany, France, Spain and Italy is on the EU core network corridors and high speed,” he said. The intended full deployment of the core networks by 2030 was mainly aimed at rail freight, with the target of achieving 50 per cent by 2023.

The next steps were being driven by business needs, particularly the application of and eventual migration to Level 3: “There is a buzz going on towards this and we are seeing developments,” he said.

IT security

Concluding, the key areas of focus were automatic train operation, the use of satellite positioning, finding a successor to GSM-R/GPRS, having improved braking curves and – ‘last but not least’ – having improved IT security.

“We see a need and a effort to really look after the IT security of the ERTMS system,” added Kleine.

Next up were Philipp Buehrsch and Jörn Schlichting, Heads of ETCS programme at Deutsche Netz Bahn, who gave a joint overview of ETCS deployment in Germany.

In the coming years, they said, 2,500 kilometres of track nationwide would be equipped with ETCS through current and planned projects. This is being partly driven by the knowledge by 2025/2030, support will be ending for the current systems.

“Our conclusion in 2014 was this: we need to have a strategy, we need to find a solution and look at how should Germany deal with the signalling issue.”

The pair are tasked with co-ordinating every aspect of DB Netz’s work on ETCS, covering planning & delivery, and strategy & technology.


“We don’t do this alone of course – this is completely done in partnership with our research and development department and the whole of DB Netz,” said Buehrsch. “We are going for focus on the stability of the application. We need an integrated view.”

Based on current plans, the Class B Train Control System L2B will be replaced with ETCS L2 by 2030. Furthermore, the pair showed, there is an ‘obligation’ to equip the TEN network in Germany with ETCS by 2050 – spanning some 16,000 km.

In October 2015, the ETCS programme took over the leading role of coordinating the several ETCS-related activities inside DB Netz. The ETCS management team acts as the central contact point of DB Netz concerning all ETCS-related topics, internally and externally.

The current proposal for the country’s European Deployment Plan deployment strategy 2030, in discussion with the Ministry of Transport, is facilitating interoperability. This will start with border crossings.

Critical staff

ETCS, he added, should also be an enabler for ‘something’. We are going to lose 50 per cent of our critical staff in the next 15 years. There is no way to dream about the possibility to get them all on board again, ever. There is no will to learn about muddy and greasy stuff again.”

A British viewpoint was provided by John Collins of Network Rail. He told delegates about an initiative by ProRail and Network Rail for ETCS Level 3 Hybrid Demonstration.

“Capacity is a major problem and we have looked at number of options,” he said. “We can do nothing and capacity will eventually outstrip everything. We can look at conventional, traditional enhancements to the existing infrastructure. We can look at systems upgrade with digital technology – and that is the way we have decided to go.

“We can look at system upgrades with the ‘digital beast’. But ETCS as a business case on its own does not really work, so you have to tailor it with other applications and traffic management.”

The capacity problem in the UK was an absolute priority to tackle, he said.

Capacity problem

“We have this capacity problem – we need to be able to run more trains, more frequently,” said Collins. “There are great big chunks of ‘white space’ space between sections occupied by the trains. There is this latent capacity that we wish to unlock. We believe the digital train control will give us the opportunity to close these gaps.”

But it was the business case, he acknowledged, that needed improving: “Without it we won’t go anywhere. Many of our systems are very labour intensive and require a person to be in the loop somewhere.”

Budgeting for the necessary work was always going to be an issue, he said. “We in the rail industry are competing with everyone who wants a share of what is available. The pot isn’t enough to go around and the Government is trying to do a balancing act.

“So what we need to do is be smart and, as we say in the UK, get the ‘biggest bang for our buck’.”

Network Rail and ProRail got together to look at how they could deliver a smoother migration towards L3, with the protection of investments already made. The two signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2016, and consequently devised a pilot project which will be tried this year on a UK test track designed specifically to test various ETCS ideas.

Integrity monitoring

“The migration path will allow us to increase our capacity. The downside of integrity monitoring is that we need to accommodate trains which do not have it. Is there the opportunity to implement L2 in the UK, but also have the possibility of L3 as a parallel activity? An interesting challenge,” concluded Collins.


Q: Does the rolling stock and signalling industry have a road map to cover the roll outs?
EK: “I interpret that as ‘is there enough capacity’? To be honest, one can be a little worried about that. That question I cannot answer.”

Q: You (Deutsche Netz Bahn) referred to automation as a solution to possible staffing level issues. When do you expect to start operations with ATO?
JS: “There is no set date. The truth is that there are so many fields where you can think of automation exercises. That should drive us to start today. Technology is pretty much there, it is much more about regulation and assurances.”

Q: Is Brexit’s effect on Britain leaving the EU also leaving the ‘E’ off ERTMS/ETCS for Britain/Network Rail?
JC: “What I can say on behalf of Network Rail is that it is very much business as usual. We are locked into many pan-European initaitives. We are very heavily involved in Shift2Rail, and so why would we wish to throw away some of the bargaining opportunities which Europe gives us? The relationship in the rail sector will need to remain. We will still end up with passenger and freight interests coming in and out for many more years to come. I would like to think the effects will be negligible.”


Simon Fletcher of UIC then posed his own question, asking each panel member what, if given the chance, would be their own ‘game changer’ regarding ERTMS roll-out?

For Jean Baptiste-Simonnet, it was about ‘getting a real confidence that train integrity monitoring is tackled, because that is the real challenge.

Philip Buehrsch and Jörn Schlichting were unanimous that ‘financing’ was their priority, while Ernst Kleine was more forthcoming, saying: B: “That has to be achieving real interoperability under Baseline 3, and from a personal point of view, more of an emphasis on common engineering methods.”

The final session of the day began with Vincent Passau, Mainlines Platform Director at Alstom, who looked at the development of the Baselines. He began by posing the question as to whether ‘digital’ was an ‘overused’ word.

Digital signalling was defined by four conditions: sending electronic messages to the train; message is not just a ‘speed code’; onboard functions (e.g. ATP); and no need for signals.

Eco-friendly solution

He used The Netherlands as an example of the Baseline 2 solution, by highlighting a ‘very busy corridor’ freight line in operation since 2007. This had demonstrated an eco-friendly solution, removing 15,000 trucks from the road and 180km of traffic jams removed from the Dutch road network.

Conventional rail, he said, brought ‘more constraints and complexity to signalling projects’, while advanced digital signalling brings less trackside equipment, better energy savings, higher traffic densities and better maintainability.

Going beyond Baseline 3, there had to be ‘further evolutions’ as regarding the ‘game-changers’ and next generation of communication systems.

“We have to address a complex network, and we are speaking about various types of rolling stock, mixing freight, different types of densities – all of these need to be addressed,” stressed Passau. “A positive business case for ERTMS is required. The ERTMS deployment plan shall be there if we can demonstrate capacity is there.”

‘Do more with less’

The next presentation from the first day of RailTech Europe 2017 was from Klaus Mindel, Head of Product Management Train Control at Thales. He came from the premise was that it was smart to be able to ‘do more with less’.

Digital railways, he said, provided a contribution of a ‘vital subsystem’, with ‘safe, secure, reliable train systems’ being fundamental. Futhermore, he added, network capacity and the ‘online process of data at minimum cost’ was ‘the basis for economic success.”

“The trains are the real asset, not the infrastructure.”

He produced a slide showing images of an enormous amount of signalling systems which have evolved over the years. “What is reflected by these signals is the signalling principles and the signalling history. The consequence of avoiding line side signal is more to help the whole system become more efficient, to make it as lean as possible,” he said.

Improvements in operations were also demonstrated by examples from Thales projects shown to delegates. One of these was an automated evacuation process for the Gotthard Tunnel which Mindel said showed how ERTMS was adding ‘more features’ to the overall system, and not benefiting only the trains. Other examples were a mobile terminal for local operational control, control access of (non) ETCS-equipped vehicles, and dispositive speed control, thus increasing capacity and saving energy.

Higher capacity

He concluded with his core belief that you can ‘do more’, namely delivering higher capacity for more trains and readiness for digital rail, by achieving this ‘with less’, by attaining lower LCC by reduced outdoor and lower migration costs.

Dutch rail infrastructure manager ProRail was represented by Asset Management Executive Karel van Gils and Head of the ERTMS Expert Group Henri van Houten. They first provided an explanation of ProRail’s functions, before looking at how ERTMS was being rolled out in The Netherlands.

“We outsource a lot of our activities, not just the maintenance on the tracks but also engineering works,” said van Gils. “We are a 24/7 company, providing for 10 passenger operating companies and 20 freight carriers, with 12,000 signals on the network.

“We are quite driven by our train operating companies,” he added. “Our existing signals are coming to the end of their life. They won’t stop tomorrow, or any time soon, but we know we have to change.


“There will be a growing problem with compatibility with trackside systems. Knowledge of our staff in the field is declining. Last year we trained five new people in this area. We see this as a big risk and so it is one of our big drivers. In our position, and together with the Ministry of Transport and Agriculture, and NS, we are taking the next steps with ERTMS.”

He said that ProRail felt ‘responsible’ for the introduction of a new, efficient and future-proof signalling system (including train detection systems).

“We are now aiming to achieve close teamwork to get to the next steps, but it is not easy,” added van Gils.

Taking the floor, Henri van Houten highlighted some examples of where The Netherlands has been implementing ERTMS. These were the Betuweroute, which links the Port of Rotterdam with Germany; the Amsterdam-Utrecht line, which is L2 but still has a legacy system; the High Speed Line South towards Belgium (also L2) and the Hanze Line, in the east of the country.

Operational experiences

The operational experiences to date, he said, had been ‘quite good’ but ‘not good enough’ for the rest of the network. He echoed the thoughts of an earlier speaker, asserting that operating an ERTMS-equipped line is ‘completely different’ to that of a ‘classic railway’.

There were now numerous challenges to be tackled, namely that migration to ERTMS has to be done in ‘brownfield environment’, and also operational performance needs to be improved. “People need to understand if things go wrong, how can they detect it and remedy it,” said van Houten.

New operational situations also have to be solved, for example, shunting: “Of course we will learn from each other, but again, all infrastructure in Europe is slightly different so you always have to check what everyone else is doing.”

Finally, ERTMS product problems have to be quickly resolved, the step towards L3 has to be planned and, as with any projects, budgets are limited.

High density functionality

The final speaker of the day was Nazzareno Filippini, of Italian RFI, who looked at ERTMS L2 system with high density functionality. He highlighted work being in done Rome, Florence and Milan.

He concluded with some images from Seattle, showing the different methods for transporting a group of 200 people. They depicted, in succession, 200 people in 177 cars, the same people on foot, on bicycles, on three buses, on one light train and finally, on two ERTMS trains.

Author: Simon Weedy

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