Intelligence for rail

Less concrete more intelligence: improving cross-border rail transport through Europe- wide technological and regulatory harmonisation under the flagship ERTMS/ETCS project is an absolutely paramount priority.

For decades the railways formed the backbone of the European transport system. If the climate-protection targets for the transport sector are to be achieved, rail must win back parts of the market from road and air transport. Besides the creation of a level playing field, the main requirement is the establishment of a European rail system that is not restricted by waiting times at borders, which were the main obstacles for rail haulage in the past, and by differing track gauges and train protection and signalling systems. It is therefore gratifying that a European Railway Agency was set up in Valenciennes in 2004 with the primary task of establishing interoperability between the various national rail networks.

The European Rail Traffic Management System and the European Train Control System (ERTMS/ETCS) form the central flagship project for the technical harmonisation (interoperability) of the European rail system. The essential function of ERTMS/ETCS is to ensure that the same system is used for rail operations throughout Europe and that a single system will one day replace the 20-odd national systems on Europe's main lines. The use of ERTMS/ETCS also serves to optimise the use of infrastructure capacity on busy routes, since the new technology enables trains to run safely at shorter intervals, thereby increasing line capacity by up to 20% without the need to lay a single metre of new track.

Freight transport by rail is five times more climate-friendly than road haulage. Another environmental advantage is electric traction on the railways, which provides scope for greater diversification of energy sources and thus helps to reduce Europe's dependence on oil in the transport sector.

There is enormous untapped potential for a modal shift in the domain of freight transport. Compared with passenger, freight shippers can choose their modes of transport on the basis of far more objective criteria.