Redesign ERTMS deployment across Europe

We all wanted to have a solid and fast ERTMS deployment across Europe, but so far the project is not gaining speed and only a few projects could be deployed. What did go wrong and how can we redesign the approach to faster reach our common objectives? To cut it short, in my opinion, there is a non-functioning market in this sector that needs to be made functioning.

There was a great commentary in the Rail Journal about the current state of the ERTMS implementation across Europe. As for many other topics, this cornerstone of the future competitiveness of rail transportation is facing critical hurdles that could impede the project indefinitely. So what problems is it facing and how can it been overcome?

Challenges in implementation

The main challenges elaborated in the article are:

  • lack of funding (not enough funding allocated)
  • no legislative requirement to implement
  • no valid business case
  • technical incompatibilities
  • misalignment between interests of the stakeholders

These result, in my opinion, in a low likeliness of success when looking at the target of a Europe wide roll-out until 2030. If we continue on the path laid out, we will be unsuccessful and at the same time not meet the budgetary restrictions set in any country. But it is easy to point out the challenges, let us have a look at a possible project redesign.

What to do differently?

When looking at the system for ERTMS roll-out across Europe, it becomes clear that there is an inherent misalignment of interest between the relevant stakeholders:

  • OEM suppliers
  • Railway Authorities
  • Infrastructure Operators
  • Trade Unions
  • Companies Implementing the system
  • Railway Operators (incumbent and new-entrants).

Some of these crucial stakeholders profit directly financially (due to market power) from a slow implementation of a common ERTMS system. At the same time, they are crucial for a speed-up if we stay in the project-outline as envisaged and implemented by the EC. Time to make a change!

This is exactly the situation where the past approach of an integrated railway undertaker has proven to be more successful since interests can be aligned within the organization. The difference this time is that interrelations between the different government owned railway companies have increased. Thus exchange of information and cross-European collaboration does not seem to be impossible.

Path forward

I suggest to do the following steps: 1) The technology is developed, owned and “donated” by the European commission to everybody who wants to use it. 2) Each country can roll-out on their own schedule/needs with whichever technology and supplier they want. 3) Common further development is lead by the EC, each member state can donate on their own accord if they seek a specific improvement – but the benefits come to fruit for all users.

  • Ownership of technology should be with the European Commission and it should become open source.

This means that the European Commission pays once for the development and certification of a solution (or even twice). This concept including all relevant documents is published and made open source for all interested parties to use. With the market power of the European Commission, it becomes a quasi standard. Even though this means that the EC would have to pay significant development costs (around 100-150M EUR) it would allow many suppliers to manufacture and roll out the signaling system for the respective projects and thus creating a functioning roll-out/implementation market. Even if we consider that a government driven development is far less efficient than a privately led development, it is still far cheaper then letting a variety of suppliers (namely Siemens, Thales, Bombardier, Alstom, etc…) develop the technologies on their own and with a relevant business risk.



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