Government opts for European train safety system

Dutch railways tracks and trains will be equipped for safety purposes with the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS), which will replace the existing train safety system. The new system should be installed in all trains by 2022, and on the busiest stretches of track by 2030. The Cabinet has approved a proposal to this effect by State Secretary for Infrastructure and the Environment Wilma Mansveld. €2.5 billion has been budgeted to pay for ERTMS installation and maintenance.

ERTMS involves the installation of special safety equipment on board trains that automatically communicates with track safety equipment and with railway traffic controllers. In this way, for example, train drivers see on a screen the maximum speed allowed on a given stretch of track. ERTMS can also automatically adjust a train’s speed or bring a train to a halt, as long as both the train and the track are ERTMS-equipped.

Installation on busiest stretches of track

The added value of the European safety system is greatest on the busiest railway lines, where the most passengers and freight are transported. For this reason the government has opted to install ERTMS on the tracks in the urban western Netherlands and on the lines to Arnhem, Almelo and Vlissingen. The system will also be installed on international passenger and freight train lines, so that trains can run easily from one country to the next without changing safety systems. In the Netherlands ERTMS has already been installed on the Betuwe line, high-speed railway lines, the Hanze line and the tracks between Amsterdam and Utrecht, as well as on about 20% of the trains. In the next several years all other Dutch trains will be retooled to run flexibly on ERTMS-equipped tracks.

Proven technology

ERTMS will enhance safety, facilitate cross-border train traffic, and allow trains to run faster on the Hanze and other lines. The government has opted to introduce ERTMS level 2, whose technology has been tried and tested in Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, the UK and other European countries. Level 2 will also make it possible to make more efficient use of existing rail capacity.

Short-term increase in safety

The government’s decision fulfils an undertaking that was included in its coalition agreement, which provided that ERTMS would be phased in beginning in 2016. The system’s introduction will take at least 10 years. Ms Mansveld stressed that care is a higher priority than speed in introducing the safety system. The decision was therefore taken in late 2013 to equip all signals in the Netherlands with the improved ATB safety system (ATB-Vv) where that has not yet been done, except on stretches of track where trains can run fully equipped for ERTMS in the near future. The ATB-Vv system ensures that trains are automatically brought to a halt when they are going more slowly than 40 kilometres an hour and risk passing a red signal. This will enhance rail safety in the short term.