Today, trains are equipped with up to seven different navigational systems. Each is extremely costly and takes up space on-board. A train crossing from one European country to another must switch the operating standards as it crosses the border. All this adds to travel time and operational and maintenance costs.

Together with other technical differences – for instance in terms of rail gauge, electricity voltage, rolling stock design, etc. – the existence of more than 20 train control systems in Europe has always been a major obstacle to the development of international rail transport. For this reason, the development of a common European system started to be discussed as early as the late 1980s.

Following the decision taken by the European Transport minister in December 1989, the EC. embarked upon a project to analyse the problems relating to signaling and train control. At the end of 1990, ERRI created a group of railway experts (A200) to develop the requirements of ETCS. In June 1991, Industry (Eurosig) and Railways (UIC, ERRI A200) agreed the principles of tight co-operation in order to consider the requirement specifications as the base for industrial development.

The project framework included a new on-board equipment based on open computer architecture (EUROCAB), a new discontinuous system for data transmission, (EUROBALISE) and a new continuous transmission system (EURORADIO). At the end of 1993, the EU council issued an Interoperability Directive and a decision was taken to create a structure to define the Technical Specification for Interoperability.

At the beginning of the 4th Framwork Programme, in 1995, the EC defined a global strategy for the further development of ERTMS with the aim to prepare its future implementation on the European Rail Network. The global strategy described in the « Master Plan of Activities » included the development and validation phase. The objective of the validation phase was to perform full scale tests on sites located in different countries (France, Germany and Italy).

ERTMS MoU signed in 2012

ERTMS MoU signed in 2012

The introduction of Baselines 3 provides stability and increased confidence to a system that encourages future ERTMS deployment

In the summer of 1998, UNISIG, comprising the European Signaling companies was formed to finalise the specifications. The Class P SRS was delivered on 23rd April 1999. With the final signature on ERTMS specification, Class 1, on 25th April 2000, ERTMS has finally arrived providing substantially higher performance levels for the railways.

The specifications were subsequently reviewed to include additional functionalities and better meet the needs from the railway companies and infrastructure managers. The specifications currently in force are contained in the SRS 2.3.0d, which was adopted by the European Commission in April 2008. To ensure that ERTMS is constantly adapted to the railway’s needs, technical specifications are maintained under the lead of the European Union Agency for Railways in cooperation with the signalling industry and railway stakeholders.

In parallel to this specification work, a joint effort from the European Union and the member states to finance ERTMS/ETCS has been implemented. Three successive Memorandums of Understanding were signed in 2005, 2008 and 2012 by the European Commission and the railway stakeholders to further deploy ERTMS on Europe’s rail network. Six ‘priority’ corridors were identified for the development of ERTMS, whilst specially crafted financial incentives were designed to support both infrastructure and onboard installation. Karel Vinck has been nominated as European coordinator to work jointly with the rail sector on further deploying ERTMS along the EU’s rail network.

ERTMS as a global standard

ERTMS as a global standard

More than 29000 track km is equipped with ERTMS

Approximately 2900 vehicles are fitted with ERTMS

In July 2009, the adoption of the European ERTMS Deployment plan marks a new milestone for ERTMS. For the first time, the retrofitting of ERTMS on a number of listed lines (the six ERTMS corridors and additional freight lines) becomes mandatory, with deadlines ranging from 2015 to 2020 depending on the lines section.

In parallell to these European developments, ERTMS has today established itself as a worldwide standard. Countries as diverse as China, Taiwan, South Korea, India, Algeria, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, New Zealand or Australia have launched major ERTMS investment programs. ERTMS is evolving towards ERTMS – a unique signalling system for railways worldwide.

ERTMS - The European Traffic Management System