Atlas Alstom ERTMS solution. Photo: Alstom

‘ERTMS deployment is stuck in a vicious circle’

Atlas Alstom ERTMS solution. Photo: Alstom

The on-board rollout of ETCS is behind schedule because operators have little incentive to invest in the system when they can still run on class-B systems, says Marcin Wojcik, Policy Officer at the European Commission at RailTech Europe. This results in a vicious circle putting a brake on both on-board and trackside installations. 

An ERTMS deployment plan was set out in 2017 by the European Commission. The current outlook for the midterm, by 2030, is that 14 per cent of the network will be equipped, and 41 per cent, including contracts that are now made. “We are close to the tipping point. I hope by 2025, at least half will be in contract or operation,” said Wojcik, speaking at the Digital Railway conference at RailTech Europe 2022.

“We’ll probably miss the 2030 deadline, but more member states are now investing in ERTMS. Three or four years ago, some member states were not convinced about it, but now everyone is on board.”

Old fleet is a ‘tremendous opportunity’

Priority is given to the TEN-T core network corridors in Europe, which has more than 120,000 kilometres. Given the national plans, in 2040, only 20 per cent of the TEN-T will still require class B systems on board to run. “We are moving more from islands to compact networks. Deploying trackside is important and the most costly, but it is not enough. When we ask infrastructure managers how many are using the installed ETCS, sometimes the answer is none because there is no rolling stock.”

“We calculated there are currently 41.000 vehicles operating in Europe. At this moment, only 7,000 vehicles are operating with ETCS.” With all the public orders, an additional 9,000 will be deployed in 2030, mostly retrofitted but also partly fleet renewals. “The fleet is very old in Europe; 90 per cent is over 40 and even 50 years old. This is a tremendous opportunity to replace the rolling stock and make it digital and green with hydrogen, for example.”

There is also a huge challenge for smaller freight operators, as there is no business case for them to equip their vehicles with ETCS. “They are under very fierce competition from the road sector.”

ETCS on all new rolling stock

To meet the future needs and to be able to make full use of the trackside installations, all new rolling stock needs to be equipped with ETCS. However, this is currently not yet the case. “The majority of new rolling stock is not equipped with ERTMS, as they will have to be retrofitted, which is costly. This needs to change.”

He explained that operators don’t have much incentive to invest because they can still operate with class B. “This is a vicious circle because infrastructure managers will be slower with trackside installations because there are no users with ETCS vehicles. And when only a small number of routes are equipped with trackside ETCS and operators can still run trains with class B systems, they have little reason to upgrade their vehicles. This circle needs to be broken. Decommissioning of class B systems is the way forward, and it doesn’t make sense to keep two systems for decades, as is the case in many member states.”

This article originally appeared in our sister publication

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Author: Esther Geerts

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