EU Parliament calls for fast adoption of satellite-based train localization in railway signalling

02 August 2021
Galileo and EGNOS will deliver integrity, improve availability and enhance accuracy for such safety critical applications as railway signaling.
Galileo and EGNOS will deliver integrity, improve availability and enhance accuracy for such safety critical applications as railway signaling.

The European Union Agency for the Space Programme has been supporting on a long-term basis the EU railway industry, infrastructure managers, and operators in the complex task of introducing satellite-based localization into the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) as the flagship for interoperable railway signaling within the EU.

Precise train localization has been essential for the development of non-safety critical applications such as passenger information systems and asset tracking. Today, satellite-based positioning is set to have an even greater impact on the rail industry by reducing the infrastructure needed for train control systems and improving the efficiency of railway signalling. Augmented GNSS, when complemented by other sensors can, for example, replace costly physical balises, used for speed monitoring, and streamline rail operations in Europe in line with the ERTMS objectives. 

EUSPA together with Shift2Rail has been funding, under Horizon 2020, several research and development projects with the aim to develop systems that enable the safe use of GNSS as a source of positioning for trains. Nevertheless, existing gaps are preventing EU railway industry from making the technological leap needed and fully adopt Galileo and EGNOS.

With Galileo and ERTMS being one of the largest EU infrastructure projects and with clear synergies between them, the European Parliament highlighted the need to take advantage of the potential cost savings GNSS offers. The recently adopted report of the European Parliament on railway safety and signalling (assessing the state of play of the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) deployment (2019/2191(INI)) from 7th of July, the Parliament calls specifically on:

  • The EU rail industry to develop technical solutions in order for the GNSS to enable the ERTMS on a large scale 
  • The European Commission (EC), to consider introducing the GNSS in the upcoming ERTMS TSI CCS revision in order to close the remaining technological gaps and embrace innovation
  • European Railway Agency (ERA) to closely coordinate, support and streamline research and development projects of space and rail stakeholders in order to include GNSS train location data in the ERTMS as early as possible
  • The cooperation between ERA and the European Union Agency for the Space Programme (EUSPA) to be stepped up in order to phase the GNSS into ERTMS standards

Furthermore, the Parliament points out the need to ensure synergies between the ERTMS and the European Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) as soon as possible, especially since GNSS signal availability relies on virtual balises, which would be less costly to deploy and to maintain, since it would speed up the ERTMS roll-out and since it would enhance the competitiveness of the ERTMS outside the EU.

To ensure the European rail segment is able to take full advantage of satellite-based technology, EUSPA is working with rail and space stakeholders to further develop the European Train Control System (ETCS). At present EUSPA, Shift2Rail as well as the ESA run various projects to help EU Railway industry, infrastructure managers and railway operators cover the residual gaps linked to the introduction of GNSS into the ERTMS. 

GNSS-based rail signalling can speed up the smooth roll-out of ERTMS by cutting down operational expenditures while it can support many regional types of railway lines which could otherwise face the risk of shutting down due to the associated high maintenance costs. 

The establishment of a regulatory framework with an emphasis on digitalization and EU space technologies can remove obstacles that are holding back the rail sector in terms of evolution and interoperability and ensure the transition to a more integrated, efficient and safe EU railway market. EUSPA will continue to work on the definition of necessary satellite-based services, that will enable the safe use of the localization information for rails.

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Updated: May 16, 2023