The ABC of freight transport: ETCS

Eurobalise im Gleisbett.

The ABC of freight transport: ETCS

What is the European Train Control System?

The ETCS (European Train Control System) is the unified European train control system that is set to replace the more than 20 different systems currently used in countries across Europe. But what exactly is automatic train control?

Safety first 

Unlike cars, trains do not drive on sight, but need explicit authorisation to enter a track section. For this reason, signalling and train protection systems were developed at a very early stage in rail transport. Automatic train control, which controls the running movements of trains, is one of these systems. If a train makes an unauthorised movement or is travelling too fast, for example, the automatic train control system automatically applies the brakes on the train. The train control system thus intervenes in driving operations to prevent accidents. 

Opening the door future 

Different countries in Europe use different train protection systems. When a train crosses a national border, the locomotive has to be changed, unless it is compatible with more than one train protection system and can run on the corresponding national network. Changing a locomotive costs considerable time and money. The European Commission has therefore decided to make the standardised ETCS system mandatory for cross-border rail traffic. The transition has to take place step by step and will entail considerable cost. For rail companies in particular, it means that locomotives will have to be equipped with both systems – ETCS and the existing national train protection system – during the transitional period. 

Implementing ETCS step by step

In addition, the infrastructure and vehicles will have to be equipped with the latest ETCS system version at all times, which means that vehicles may need to be upgraded more than once. The ETCS system versions currently available on the market do not (yet) offer any benefits for freight transport (benefits such as an increase in capacity will only be possible with later system versions). DB Cargo's fleet is gradually being equipped with ETCS (and the integrated national train protection system) where required by the network. Around 15 per cent of DB Cargo's fleet is already equipped with ETCS, thus supporting cross-border traffic in Europe.

You can find out more about ETCS on Deutsche Bahn's Digital Rail for Germany website.