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ERTMS Audit: Patchy deployment and missed deadlines [free access]

November 1, 2017

In October 2017, the European Court of Auditors (ECA) published an audit report of deployment of European Railway Traffic Management System (ERTMS), a European control-command, signalling and communication system. The report concludes that the deployment “is at a low level and represents a patchwork, despite the fact that the ERTMS concept and vision to enhance interoperability is not generally questioned by the rail sector.” It also states that the targets set to fulfil the vision of a single European area are not likely to be met.


Background on ERTMS

There are around 30 train signalling systems across the European Union (EU) and these are not interoperable. This has been a barrier to trans-European interoperability and results in additional costs and technical constraints in cross-border train services.


To create a single European railway area, the rail industry started developing ERTMS with the support of the European Commission (EC) in late 1980s/early 1990s. The ultimate objective of this initiative was to replace all the existing signalling systems in Europe with a single system designed to foster interoperability among national rail networks and cross-border rail transport.


ERTMS comprises two software-based sub-systems: trackside and onboard. These subsystems exchange information for continuous supervision of train movement and provided information to the driver.


Table 1 lists the stakeholders involved in the deployment of ERTMS.


Table 1: Stakeholders involved in the deployment of ERTMS



EC and European Union Agency for Railways (ERA)

Drafting policy framework

Rail manufacturing industry

Product delivery according to procurement specifications and contractual requirements

Infrastructure managers (operating under the ministry responsible for transport and infrastructure in each member state)

Deployment of ERTMS trackside infrastructure

Railway undertakings (including fleet owners, can be both public and private)

Investment in ERTMS on-board

Source: European Court of Auditors


Table 2 provides a timeline of activities in the deployment of ERTMS.


Table 2: Timeline of activities in the deployment of ERTMS




Release of interoperability directive on a high-speed rail system


Release of interoperability directive on the trans-European conventional rail system


Establishment of the European Union Agency for Railways (ERA) to develop the technical specifications for interoperability (TSIs)


Appointment of European ERTMS Coordinator


Signing of four memoranda of understanding (MoUs) amongst rail stakeholders to strengthen cooperation and expedite ERTMS deployment


Adoption of an ERTMS European Deployment Plan (EDP) by the EC. The EDP sets out the detailed rules for ERTMS deployment and identifies six ERTMS corridors, main European ports, marshalling yards, freight terminals and freight transport areas to be covered by ERTMS connections. It also provides timetables from 2015 to 2020.

January 2013

Adoption of the Fourth Railway Package to complete the single European railway area.

December 2013

Adoption of TEN-T guidelines, which state that the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) should be developed through a dual-layer structure, consisting of a comprehensive network of 123,000 km. This network includes a core network of 66,700 km, which comprises nine core network corridors of length 51,000 km. These guidelines envisaged that the comprehensive and core networks should be equipped with ERTMS by 2030 and 2050, respectively.

June 2016

Enforcement of the Fourth Railway Package, which covers elements directly linked to ERTMS such as rail governance issues and reinforces the role of the ERA as system authority for ERTMS from mid-2019.

January 2017

Adoption of a new EDP with revised and relaxed implementation timeline.

Source: European Court of Auditors


The EDP set the deadline for six corridors. A total of 10,000 km of trackside was to be equipped with ERTMS by December 31, 2015 and 25,000 km by December 31, 2020. In early 2017, the EC revised these targets in the new EDP and postponed the deadlines beyond 2015, up to 2023 and beyond. The overall deadline was maintained as 2030.


The TEN-T regulation has set a deadline of December 31, 2030, to equip the entire core network of 66,700 km with ERTMS (including nine core network corridors accounting for approximately 51,000 km) and December 31, 2050, to equip the entire 123,000 km of the comprehensive network with ERTMS.


Table 3 highlights the deadlines for ERTMS deployment.


Table 3: Deadlines for ERTMS deployment


Core network corridors

Core network

Comprehensive network

Whole EU rail network

Length (km)









No deadline

Source: European Court of Auditors


The EU provides financial support for deployment of both trackside and onboard equipment. Around EUR4 billion has been earmarked from the EU budget for 2007-20 period from the following two sources:



Table 4 indicates the funding disbursed for deployment of ERTMS.


Table 4: Funding for deployment of ERTMS (EUR million)

Source of funding



Co-financing rate




Up to 50 per cent

ERDF/Cohesion Fund/ESIF



Up to 85 per cent





Source: European Court of Auditors


Key findings

The following key findings were observed in the Audit.


ERTMS is acceptable: The concept of a single signalling system to enable interoperability and create a single European railway area is not disputed by the rail sector. In some member states, ERTMS is already resulting in benefits for the infrastructure manager and/or the railway undertakings. For example, in Spain, ERTMS performs better than the national signalling system in terms of speed (300-350 km/hr as against 200 km/hr) and capacity, especially on suburban commuter lines in Madrid and Barcelona.


ERTMS is being deployed in other European countries outside the EU, such as Switzerland and in other countries worldwide. ERTMS investments outside Europe represent 59 per cent of the overall ERTMS investment in terms of rail lines and 33 per cent in terms of onboard units.


Costs are not fully assessed: ERTMS was launched without any overall cost estimate or appropriate planning for its deployment. The EC started assessing the cost of deployment of ERTMS in 2015 and accounted for only the equipment and installation cost on the core network corridors. No assessment was made for the entire core and comprehensive network.


The extrapolation of the investments made by two member states (Denmark and the Netherlands) in the deployment of ERTMS on a network scale reveals that the overall cost of deploying ERTMS could increase to EUR80 billion by 2030 for the core network corridors and to EUR190 billion by 2050 for the comprehensive network.


The EC’s estimates of actual ERTMS equipment and installation costs in 2015 and 2016 indicate that the trackside deployment cost could range between EUR100,000 and EUR350,000 per kilometre, which translates to EUR5-18 billion.


Lack of clarity in deadlines: In the last 20 years, numerous legal obligations have been set for the deployment of ERTMS and the deadlines were not prepared in coordination with these obligations. No interim targets have been set for overall ERTMS deployment by 2050.


These deadlines and specific sections of lines to be equipped with ERTMS are subject to change when the EDP and TEN-T regulation are revised by 2023.


No deadline set for decommissioning of current national signalling systems: Only Denmark has chosen to dismantle its national system and roll-out ERTMS as a single signalling system after assessing shortcomings and obsolescence of the current national signalling system.


Most other member states such as Germany have opted for ERTMS as an add-on system for their existing national signalling systems, which may well have remaining lifetime of 15-20 years.


Low deployment level: Of the 51,000-km core network corridors to be equipped by 2030, less than 10 per cent (only 4,121 km) of the corridors were equipped with ERTMS by end-2016.


Of the nine core network corridors, the most advanced is the Rhine-Alpine corridor with 13 per cent of lines already equipped with ERTMS. The level of deployment in other corridors ranges between 5 per cent and 12 per cent.


The deployment of ERTMS in EU’s rolling stock is limited to around 2,700 units, which translates to just 10 per cent of the total EU fleet. Most of the vehicles already equipped belong to the high speed passenger rail fleet operating mainly in domestic markets.


Lack of business case: Many infrastructure managers and railway undertakings are reluctant to invest in ERTMS because they do not have the business case specific to them.


In 2016, the EC prepared a business case report for ERTMS deployment at the level of each of the nine core network corridors. However, this business case demonstrates that potential benefits will materialise only in the long term. In addition, the analysis does not indicate if the benefits of ERTMS deployment will outweigh the cost.


Incompatibility between different versions of ERTMS:  A harmonised version of ERTMS is yet to be developed. The certification and authorisation processes for compatibility of different ERTMS versions are relatively lengthy and require on average one-two years.




The new EDP is supported by the member states and is a step towards more realistic deployment. However, it has its own challenges. Firstly, it does not include any overall cost assessment for ERTMS deployment. Secondly, it is not linked to any dedicated funding source. EU funding available for ERTMS deployment can only cover a limited amount of the investments. New funding sources are needed for the sector to meet its targets.


Finally, the new EDP does not have legally binding deadline for decommissioning of the current national systems and deployment of ERTMS as the sole (and not additional) signalling system.




The report makes the following key recommendations:


-          The EC and the member states should analyse the total cost of deployment latest by the end of 2018. The cost estimate should take into account both the core network and the comprehensive network. The time horizon for this type of investment is 30-50 years.


-          By the end of 2018, the EC should seek agreement with member states on realistic, coordinated and legally-binding targets for the phasing out of national signalling systems.


-          The EC and the member states should work with rail stakeholders and the ERTMS suppliers to examine diverse financial mechanisms that could support individual business cases for ERTMS deployment. This will reduce reliance on the EU budget.


-          The EC and the ERA should, with the support of the supply industry, keep the ERTMS specifications stable, correct the remaining errors, eliminate the incompatibilities between the different ERTMS trackside versions and ensure future compatibility for all ERTMS lines.


-          ERA should proactively engage in co-operation with the infrastructure managers and national safety authorities prior to the legal deadline in June 2019.


-          The EC and ERA should set a road map for developing a standardised onboard unit able to run on all ERTMS-equipped lines by mid-2018.


-          The EC should assess whether ERA has the necessary resources to act as an efficient and effective system authority as per the Fourth Railway Package.


-          The member states should align their national deployment plans with EC’s new EDP and set the progress milestones accordingly.


-          The EC should adopt CEF funding procedures from 2020 onwards to better reflect the lifecycle of ERTMS deployments and maximise the use of EU funding available.


-          EU funding should target cross-border or core network deployments for trackside equipment, and onboard equipment for international operations.


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