Freight train on the Betuwe Route between Germany and the Netherlands. Photo credit: Rob Dammers

EU Court of Auditors: ‘ERTMS roll-out insufficient’

The implementation of the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) is insufficient and too fragmented, states the European Court of Auditors in a report published on Tuesday. The financial burden and a lack of individual economic incentives among infrastructure managers and railway companies are cited as the main reasons.

The auditors assessed whether the system had been properly planned, deployed and managed, and whether there was an individual business case for the parties involved. They visited Denmark, Germany, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland, countries where the system must be fully operational by 2030. The auditors concluded that the overall rollout was limited.

Hight costs

The limited rollout could be mainly explained by the reluctance of many infrastructure managers and railway undertakings to invest in the necessary equipment, of which the costs can be high. EU funding, even if better managed and targeted, can only cover a limited amount of the overall cost of deployment. Despite the strategic political decision to deploy a single signalling system in the EU, no overall cost estimate was performed to generate the necessary funding and its sources. The legal obligations introduced did not cover the decommissioning of national systems, nor are they always aligned with the deadlines and priorities included in EU transport policy, the report reads.

Moreover, for many parties involved an individual business case is lacking. The system entails costly investments with no immediate benefit for those who have to bear the cost. Problems with compatibility of the different versions installed, as well as the lengthy certification procedures, also adversely affect individual business cases, said the auditors

Harmonisation

The railway system is designed to replace the diverse railway signalling systems around Europe with a single system that enables trains to travel uninterrupted across different countries and facilitates rail competitiveness. To help the Member States deploy the system, approximately 1.2 billion Euros was allocated from the EU budget between 2007 and 2013.

“The current situation puts at risk not only the achievement of the deployment targets set for 2030 and investments made so far, but also the realisation of a single railway area as one of the European Commission’s major policy objectives”, said Ladislav Balko, the member of the European Court of Auditors responsible for the report. “In addition, it may adversely affect the competitiveness of rail transport as compared with road haulage.”

Recommendations

The auditors make a number of recommendations to the European Commission, the Member States and the European Union Agency for Railways concerning the assessment of deployment costs. These include the decommissioning of national signalling systems, presenting individual business cases for infrastructure managers and railway undertakings, developing compatibility and stability of the system, increasing the role and resources of the European Union Agency for Railways, alignment of national deployment plans, better monitoring and enforcement, an improved take-up of EU funds for rail signalling projects and better targeting of EU funding.

Author: Majorie van Leijen

Majorie van Leijen is editor of RailFreight.com, online magazine for rail freight professionals.

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