EU Commissioner Bulc: ERTMS roll-out ‘too slow’

Roll-out of the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) has been ‘too slow’ and action is required to ensure targets are met, says the EU’s Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc. She told the final SERA railway convention that as a ‘cornerstone’ of rail sector digitalisation, ERTMS was essential for a single and safe European railway area, but was critical of progress so far.

“ERTMS has been too slow – 4100 kilometres or less than two per cent of the EU rail network has been equipped by the end of 2016 – we have to accelerate the deployment to meet the target European Deployment Plan on ERTMS,” she told stakeholders in Brussels.

Ms Bulc was addressing the last of five Single European Railway Area conferences dedicated to the implementation of the technical pillar of the EU’s 4th Railway Package, which aims to create a more level playing field for rail operators across Europe and stimulate greater competition.

Interoperable rail network

She welcomed the new draft of the ERTMS Action Plan, based on deploying an interoperable and compliant infrastructure; taking steps to deliver standardised On Board Unit, driving efficiencies in testing and validation processes; and providing focussed financial support. “Public consultation will be open until October, I invite you to actively participate. I want to work constructively with you to deliver ERTMS and a genuinely interoperable rail network.” said Ms Bulc.

She used the conference to focus on a host of rail freight topics, including the environmental effect, TEN-T freight networks, technology, trans-Asian/Europe rail routes and co-operation: “My vision for rail is that it becomes the backbone of decarbonised, sustainable, integrated and multimodal transport union in order to serve the needs of people and businesses,” she added.

‘willingness of stakeholders’

The common thread which had emerged from the SERA conferences had been the ‘willingness of all stakeholders to work together’ to ensure its timely delivery. Ms Bulc pointed to the example of Rail Baltica of what can be achieved on the railway network with clear vision, good planning and co-operation.

“Rail Baltica is one of the flagship projects on the TEN-T corridors linking Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to the European railway network,” she said. “It creates a new transport platform and logistics corridor that will boost regional economies, enable synergies through the joint implementation model and support new jobs and growth. This project is a success story because it also brings into co-operation companies traditionally seen as competitors within the rail sector.”

‘these modes do not sleep’

This type of alliance was ‘indispensable’ as rail is a ‘network’ industry and is in fierce competition with other modes of transport: road, aviation, inland waterways and motorways of the sea. “These modes do not sleep,” she added. Commissioner Bulc said rail had a vital role to play in four particular areas: the environment, the economy, society and people, and digitalisation. Focusing on the environment, she said rail had to become a ‘bigger part of the transport puzzle’ if the EU’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions from transport by 60 per cent by 2050 was to happen.

On the economy, she highlighted how the modal share of rail freight in inland freight transport had remained stuck below 20 per cent for the past 10 years, but added: “Nevertheless it has a strong European and international component as 50 per cent of freight traffic is cross-border. There is room for improvement.”


The 4th Railway Package was described as ‘extremely important as it brought much-needed simplification, but last year’s approval was ‘just a start’: “Now we have to continue working hard in order to ensure timely and duly implementation – for that all stakeholders have to be on board,” she said.

Goals include eliminating more than 11,000 ‘redundant’ national rules, developing a new safety culture which takes account of human factors, and faster, cheaper & better procedures for vehicle authorisations and safety certifications of railway undertakings.

She also attached ‘great importance’ to the landmark Rotterdam Declaration of 2016, which emphasised the importance of establishing the European TEN-T network corridors and broadening their scope to take account of sustainability and digitalisation. “We need to maintain and build on the dynamism momentum that we witnessed last year,” said Ms Bulc. “The revitalisation of rail freight and modal shift can happen if the quality and reliability of the services offered increases sharply.”

‘long overdue’

The project about sharing train tracking information and Estimated Time of Arrival was, she added, ‘important and long overdue’, but also necessary for attracting new business to the sector: “We need to start thinking about integrated customer solutions.”

Digitalisation was another critical area of importance, responsible for creating ‘new links between modes and previously separated business sectors’: “It is a base for creating the intelligent and multimodal transport systems and will also be at the heart of the future rail system,” she said. “There are major opportunities offered by e-freight and single logistics windows, and digital ticket will encourage multimodal seamless door-to-door mobility – all is geared towards improved efficiency and usage of time.”

rail freight projects

The convention also featured presentations from various rail and transport heads, including Karel Vinck, the European ERTMS Co-ordinator; Alberto Mazzola, Senior VP of Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane; Mark Frequin, Dutch Ministry of Transport; and Gavin Dunnett, Director of Mobility at the European Investment Bank. The bank is co-developer of The Investment Plan for Europe, which is providing funding to several rail freight projects.

Looking ahead, Ms Bulc said it was essential for the European rail sector to compete internationally, and that while the EU was open to sharing technical standards with the likes of India and Indonesia, there was also a need for more ‘equal market access’ in the EU’s discussions with Japan and China.

One Belt One Road

“Indeed, China has been in the focus as it has been advocating its One Belt One Road initiative,” said Ms Bulc. “China’s proposal is ambitious and strives to develop infrastructure and trade with the countries along this route. In the framework of the EU-China Connectivity Platform, I advocate extension of the TEN-T corridors in the EU neighbourhood.”

This represented, she said, an ‘important potential’ for European companies, adding: “We are also working with neighbours closer to home, and one example is that of the extended TEN-T network, which now stretches from the Atlantic to the shores of the Caspian Sea.”

Reiterating her support for the rail sector, Commissioner Bulc concluded: “I understand its value, I see massive potential for the future – but we have to get out there, work together in addressing societal challenges and market trends, and highlight the contribution that rail makes and could make in the future.”

More information about the SERA conference series is available on the European Commission website.

Author: Simon Weedy

Simon is a journalist for - a dedicated online platform for all the news about the rail freight sector

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