Select Committee on European Scrutiny Thirty-Seventh Report

41 European rail signalling system



+ ADD 1

COM(05) 298

Commission Communication: Deployment of the European rail signalling system ERTMS/ETCS

Legal base
Basis of considerationMinister's letter of 25 July 2006
Previous Committee ReportHC 34-ix (2005-06), para 5 (9 November 2005) and HC 34-xxiii (2005-06), para 5 (29 March 2006)
To be discussed in CouncilNot known
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionCleared, but relevant to the debate in European Standing Committee on the Commission Communication on the mid-term review of its 2001 Transport White Paper


41.1 The High-Speed Rail Interoperability Directive, 96/48/EC, and the Conventional Rail Interoperability Directive, 2001/16/EC, will lead eventually to the introduction of the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS). ERTMS has two basic components:

  • the European Train Control System (ETCS), which passes instructions to a train driver on occupying the track ahead and on speed information, whilst also constantly monitoring the driver's compliance with these instructions; and
  • the Global System for Mobile Communications — Rail (GSM-R), a digital radio system based on standard GSM (mobile phone) technology but using dedicated frequencies specific to rail and certain advanced functions.

41.2 The High-Speed Rail Interoperability Directive has required, since November 2002, ERTMS for any new high-speed line in the trans-European rail network and for any signalling system which is being renewed. Similar requirements under the Conventional Rail Interoperability Directive are currently coming into force.

41.3 In this Communication the Commission made a case for shortening the period of migration to ERTMS to ten or 12 years (from a period which might be a long as twenty years) and that basing it on the creation of a number of major interoperable international corridors would bring forward benefits from the reduction in number of different signalling systems and from reduced fixed installations as well as allowing enhancements in network performance and safety. In March 2005 it signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Community of European Railways, the European Infrastructure Managers and the Union of European Railway Industries in order to facilitate such an accelerated strategy. The Commission estimated that the cost of introducing ERTM in this accelerated way would be about €5 billion (£3.415 billion) in the period up until 2016. It suggested that a major part of the funding it had proposed for the Trans-European Networks (TENs) for energy and transport during the period 2007-13, including €20.35 billion (£13.9 billion) for transport, which the previous Committee had kept under scrutiny,[96] should be earmarked to support ERTMS deployment. Funds would only be released for projects that included ERTMS and particular attention would be given to priority cross-border projects agreed in April 2004.[97]

41.4 When we considered this document in November 2005 we recognised the potential for benefits to be had from ERTMS and that these might be facilitated by an earlier general introduction of the system and we agreed with the Government's apparent cautious approach to the Commission's proposals both as to the need for a proper economic justification for ERTMS projects and to the wider question of TENs financing. But before considering the document further we asked:

  • for confirmation that the Government takes the view that an accelerated introduction of ERMTS is in the UK interest; and
  • to hear in due course further on the economic justification for these proposals within the context of the outcome of the consideration of the wider issue of finance for TENs projects.

41.5 In March 2006 the Government gave us a reasoned confirmation of the Government's view that an accelerated introduction of ERMTS is in the UK interest and promised to address our enquiry one economic justification once there was progress on finalising the TENs budget for the period 2007-13. Again we did not clear the document, pending hearing about the economic justification.[98]

The Minister's letter

41.6 The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Derek Twigg) writes now about the economic justification for the Commission's proposals. The Minister first says that the focus of discussion has moved on from this document, which was intended by the Commission as a positioning paper in advance of the negotiations on the future TENs budget, to those negotiations. He reminds us that the negotiations, in which the Government in company with the majority of Member States supports a maximum 50% intervention rate (rather than the present 10%) for ERTMS projects, are continuing,[99] and draws our attention to Commission comments in the negotiations. Thus the Commission has said that:

  • projects such as ERTMS "demonstrate a particular European added value, that their further development and deployment decisively depends on a significant Community contribution and that a lower than 50% funding rate would risk to impede [sic] continuation or to delay completion";
  • without a Community financial incentive companies are inhibited from pioneering the adoption of ERTMS systems, so slowing eventual widespread adoption; and
  • "the EU added value of the ERTMS projects and the specific financial obstacles it meets to 'start up' justify the 50% funding rate proposed by the Commission".

In making these comments the Commission suggests a TENs budget for the period 2007-13 for ERTMS projects of "roughly" €500 million.

41.7 The Minister also says that;

  • in the UK the cross-industry ERTMS programme is continuing to address the high up-front costs and very long payback period associated with ERTMS implementation;
  • however, it is recognised that implementation would offer a number of benefits to the railway;
  • his department is trying to maximise UK returns from TENs funds by seeking support to ERTMS development and deployment within the UK, but it is likely that ERTMS funds will be allocated to rail axis projects on mainland Europe; and
  • this may direct implementation focus away from the UK, but it is expected to offer some indirect benefits to the UK as an accelerated introduction of ERTMS across Europe will focus attention on addressing the technical and operational developments necessary to improve overall system maturity, to help reduce unit costs and, potentially, to attract new suppliers to the market.


41.8 We note that, although the Commission argues a case for increased Community financial support for ERTMS projects and specifies a budgetary cost, this does not, particularly in the absence of costed benefits, amount to an economic justification for the proposal. But, given the Minister's present comment about how attention has moved beyond this Communication and his previous comment that the new European Railway Agency is taking a lead in bringing an appropriate level of economic appraisal to the Commission's proposals for ERTMS generally, though this will take some time to have an effect, we now clear this document.

41.9 However, we note that ERTMS and its financing and deployment are relevant to the debate in European Standing Committee we have recommended on the recent Commission Communication on the mid-term review of its 2001 Transport White Paper.[100]

96   (25873) 11740/04: See HC 42-xxxi (2003-04), para 6 (15 September 2004). Back

97   (24941) 13297/03 (24970) 13244/03: See HC 63-xxxvi (2002-03), para 3 (5 November 2003) and Stg Co Deb, European Standing Committee A, 11 November 2003, cols. 3-26. Back

98   See headnote. Back

99   (25873) 11740/04 (27581) 10089/06: See HC 34-xxxv (2005-06), para 4 (12 July 2006). Back

100   (27648) 10954/06 + ADD1: See HC 34-xxxvi (2005-06), para 1 (19 July 2006). Back

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