ERTMS deadline at risk because of “patchwork” deployment

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Plans to rollout ERTMS across Europe by 2030 are in doubt because of a reluctance to invest in new signalling technologies, according to a special report by the European Court of Auditors.

The report found that the slow transition to ERTMS had created a “patchwork” approach to its deployment “despite the fact that the concept is not generally questioned by the rail sector”.

Infrastructure managers lack an individual business case, the report suggested, and are reluctant to invest in expensive new signalling systems where existing systems aren’t life expired.

ERTMS was developed to replace the various different signalling systems found around Europe with a single European standard for train control. Although the physical hardware and operating modes can vary, the system offers operational benefits and will improve interoperability between member states.

Auditors visited Denmark, Germany, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland – six member states included in EU network corridors where ERTMS will have to be fully deployed by the 2030 deadline.

Auditors concluded that no overall cost estimate was calculated for the programme and that legal obligations introduced did not incorporate the decommissioning of legacy systems.

They also identified issues with compatibility between systems and the drawn out certification processes.

Around €1.2 billion was included in the EU’s budget between 2007 and 2013 to support the implementation of ERTMS. The report said that even if the EU’s funding was “better managed and targeted” it would only ever be able to cover a proportion of the total cost.

Ladislav Balko, who helped compile the report, said: “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.”

He added: “In addition, it may adversely affect the competitiveness of rail transport as compared with road haulage.”

The European Court of Auditors has submitted its recommendations to the European Commission, the member states and the European Union Agency for Railways. These include assessing the total cost of ERTMS deployment, supporting member states with the decommissioning of existing national systems, working to improve the compatibility of the technology and aligning national deployment plans.

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