Today, there are more than twenty signalling and speed control systems operating at the same time in Europe. The Thalys train sets, in particular, linking Paris and Brussels, have to be equipped with seven different signalling and speed control systems and radio communication variants.
These technical barriers are hampering the development of rail transport at the European level. In order to address these incompatibilities, the European Rail Traffic Management System project has been set up to create a unique signalling and communication standard throughout Europe.
At the 20th anniversary reception for CER in Brussels on the 6 May 2008, José Manuel Durão Barroso, President of the European Commission stated:
"In fact, the Commission is actively supporting the deployment of a single European signalling and speed control system - the European Rail Traffic Management System, or ERTMS. We are convinced this is the best way of ensuring interoperability of the national railway systems, reducing the purchasing and maintenance costs of the signalling systems as well as increasing the speed of trains, the capacity of infrastructure and the level of safety in rail transport."
The ERTMS concept today encompasses ETCS (European Train Control Systems) and GSM-R (Global System for Mobile Communications - Railway). ETCS is a new control-command system. GSM-R serves as new radio system for voice and data communication and as wide range radio bearer for ETCS.
Together, they form the technical platform for ERTMS, the new train signalling and traffic management system for Europe, enabling interoperability throughout the European Rail Network. ERTMS is a major industrial project being implemented by Europe, a project which will serve to make rail transport safer and more competitive.
ERTMS is an “enabling” technology to allow exploitation of new business opportunities, operational improvements and efficiency streamlining. Ideally, evolution capability should be “built-in” in the system; it must not become a constraint or a barrier.
On the other hand, promotion of international traffic requires seamless end to end service. Interoperability is core to fulfil this objective. The need to ensure interoperability, combined with the long renewal cycles in railway signalling, establish the obligation to protect the investments in ERTMS systems.
To reach those objectives the European Railway Agency, in its role as system authority for ERTMS, must establish a transparent process to manage, with the contribution of the sector’s representatives, any system changes.