The global debate on the merits and problems associated with ERTMS continues unabated. Good progress has been made in recent times with the signing in Autumn 2016 of the Memorandum of Understanding concerning the co-operation for the deployment of the European Rail Traffic Management System. This will ensure the regulatory and design authorities work together and that the latest version of the specification is confirmed as the standard with no deviation from this for new ERTMS projects.
It has taken around 20 years to reach this stage, which says much for the diversity of signalling principles and operating rules across the EU member states and other adjacent countries, and the ensuing difficulty in reaching agreement.
There are many parties involved in this: the European Commission, the European Union Agency for Railways (formerly the European Railway Agency – ERA) and the European Rail Sector Association are the three main ones but the latter comprises the CER, EIM, ERFA, ERTMS Users Group, GSM-R Industry Group, UIC, UNIFE and UNISIG. One can only hazard a guess at the number of meetings and the time expended to arrive at a consensus. Nonetheless, an objective has been achieved in that the standards for ERTMS Level 2 are effectively set in stone.
However, it is not the end of the road as, whilst ERTMS Level 2 brings considerable benefit for interoperability and some capacity gains, it was always envisaged that Level 3 would be the ultimate goal as this offers significant cost savings for infrastructure equipment. Predictions in the mid-1990s that the technology would soon be available proved to be a pipe dream.
So what is ERTMS Level 3 all about and why has it proved so difficult to achieve?