Bombardier completes world-first ERTMS tests in Sweden. Photo: Bombardier

Not half of new railway cars equipped with ERTMS: ‘no business case’

Bombardier completes world-first ERTMS tests in Sweden. Photo: BombardierBombardier

54 per cent of new vehicles put into operation between 2015 and 2019 were done so without ERTMS onboard units being equipped. This is in contrast with the ambition of the EU to gradually implement ERTMS on the core network of the EU. By 2030, it wants to see 97 per cent of this network equipped with the traffic control system.

Rail vehicles will need to adapt to this strategy of the EU, but this is not something that comes naturally. In order to equip a locomotive with the technology that pairs with the new safety system, massive investments needs to be made, and these investments are a major hurdle on the way to full implementation.

No business case

“For rail freight undertakings, there is little, if any, financial or operational benefit which comes from the deployment of onboard ERTMS systems (ETCS), and most benefits are with the infrastructure manager through the ability to better manage capacity. Rail freight undertakings may eventually be able to benefit from more capacity, but this is a long-term gain, and is difficult to build a business case around”, explains the European Rail Freight Association(ERFA) in a recently published position paper.

With this position paper, it is hoping to influence the TEN-T trialogue negotiations between the European Commission, European Parliament and European Council. During these meetings, the revision of the TENT-T regulation is discussed and the ERTMS rollout is an important topic.

‘Synchronise track and train’

“It is likely that without a change of strategy to ERTMS implementation, onboard deployment will continue to lag behind”, ERFA writes. “There is a need to accept that the current ERTMS deployment strategy, both onboard and trackside, is not proceeding as planned. A new approach is required which ensures a synchronized strategy towards trackside and onboard ERTMS deployment.”

What the association suggests is a synchronised and harmonised ERTMS deployment of trackside and onboard units, much in line with the position of the European Parliament. In this manner, the rollout of ERTMS on the infrastructure will go hand-in-hand with the rollout in rolling stock. “It is essential that onboard units are viewed as part of a broader infrastructure discussion”, it notes.


In addition, appropriate financing to railway undertaking is needed to ensure that deployment of onboard units is feasible for the rail freight industry, ERFA adds. “There remains a strong rationale for EU, national and regional-level support to remove the “system” deployment bottleneck of equipping fleets”, the European Commission agrees.

“It is vital to provide enhanced assistance for the renewal of fleets or support for the retrofitting and upgrading of onboard units to deliver overall system benefits. From an EU perspective, this is particularly the case for international and freight operators, who tend to be least well-served by national schemes for retrofitting”, it writes on its website.


ERTMS, which stands for ‘European Railway Traffic Management System’, is the European standard for the Automatic Train Protection (ATP) and command and control systems. It creates an interoperable railway system in Europe that should eventually result in increased efficiency and safety.

“There is a positive business case for ERTMS on all core network corridors. ERTMS generates a positive internal rate of return from an overall railway system perspective on each of the Core Corridors and for Europe as whole”, the commission describes.

However, it acknowledges that coordinated deployment and dual onboard strategy are vital to achieve those results. “ERTMS deployment requires the coordination of all stakeholders across and within Member States (onboard and trackside deployment together; infrastructure completed etc.). Without coordination, benefits disappear.”

Author: Majorie van Leijen

Majorie van Leijen is the editor-in-chief of, the online magazine for rail freight professionals.

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