European GNSS contributes to the evolution of ERTMS

This page has been archived and is provided for historical reference purposes only.
The content and links are no longer maintained and may now be outdated.

09 March 2017
The ERSAT EAV test journey took representatives of the rail industry, railway service provision and relevant European agencies between Cagliari and Decimomannu in Sardinia, Italy.

Last month, for the first time, a European rail test journey was completed using a signalling system based on positioning provided by European GNSS that aims to be included as the positioning system for ERTMS.

On 24 February 2017, for the first time, a European rail test journey was completed using the positioning technology provided by Galileo. An initiative of the Horizon 2020-funded ERSAT EAV project (ERTMS on Satellite – Enabling Application Validation), the test journey took representatives of the rail industry, railway service provision and relevant European agencies between Cagliari and Decimomannu in Sardinia, Italy – thus demonstrating the capability of GNSS to monitor and safely manage rail traffic on conventional secondary, local and regional rail lines with the aim to become an integral part of European Rail Traffic Management System – (ERTMS).

“What we saw here today is how GNSS can provide the rail segment with a new level of efficiency,” says GSA Executive Director Carlo des Dorides. “With GNSS, the rail sector can increase its capacity and safety while reducing costs for infrastructure and maintenance, along with its environmental impact.”

Also read: E-GNSS enabled railway signalling – from vision to action

Although the European rail community understands the potential of GNSS, its adoption has been limited due to a lack of clear definition and definitive testing. Specifically, before GNSS is fully adopted, the sector needs to have confidence that train localisation based on GNSS technology will satisfy European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardisation (CENELEC) safety and integrity standards, which is one of the objectives towards which ERSAT EAV is progressing.

A new chapter in European rail

The ERSAT EAV project aims to verify the suitability of such European GNSS services as EGNOS and Galileo for the rail sector, particularly within regional lines. To accomplish this, the project is defining and developing the safe localisation of train positioning based on satellite technology and ensuring such a system is in harmony with the European ERTM standard.

The ERSAT EAV advantage

  • increase traffic capacity available to railway undertakings
  • reduce CO2 emissions
  • guarantee high safety standards and punctuality
  • lower operating costs with new technological equipment that requires less investments in installation and maintenance

A key component to this effort is the adoption of the virtual balise. In today’s European Train Control System (ETCS), the positioning of a train is based on a balise – a physical element mounted at specific intervals along the railway track. One objective of the ERSAT EAV project is to ensure that, wherever possible, these physical balises are replaced by virtual ones. Virtual balises expand on the cost and efficiency benefits stemming from their integration of GNSS technology into the ERTMS. Furthermore, their use does not pose any operational or safety implications on the ETCS.

Watch this: Galileo satellites already in service of the on-board train positioning system

The ERSAT EAV project is a fundamental part of the strategy to prioritise the uptake of European GNSS within the rail sector and foster innovation within the European space and rail industry. This most recent test-journey was critical in demonstrating the enormous opportunity that GNSS offers to the ERTMS, especially as it applies to local and regional lines, which currently represent nearly 50 % of Europe’s total railway length.

Read this: GSA talks GNSS and rail at ERSAT EAV workshop

“For Italy, GNSS is an exceptional solution for providing sustainable rail transport across the country,” says Rete Ferroviaria Italiana (RFI) Head of Standard Tecnologies Fabio Senesi. “The integration of new technologies, including GNSS, enables us to increase capacity, reduce cost and, most importantly, respond to the needs and expectations of our users.”

“ERSAT EAV is an example of the real innovation that the rail sector needs – an innovation with a global scope that greatly contributes to the creation of a single European rail area,” adds European Union Agency for Railways (EUAR) Executive Director Josef Doppelbauer.

The successful ERSAT EAV test-journey marks the start of a new chapter for railway traffic control. By integrating European GNSS with additional sensors and public communication networks, the system is able to locate trains via satellite and monitor rail traffic, as well as maintain ground-to-train dialogue using devices on board the train and the radio block centres positioned along the rail line in a way that promises minimum impact on the currently used technical specifications for interoperability. “Galileo and EGNOS are here to serve Europe, providing a global solution for standardisation and interoperability for ERTMS,” says des Dorides. “A solution like ERSAT EAV plays an essential role in giving Europe’s rail industry a competitive position on the global market.”

Ensuring European competitiveness

Being able to extend the benefits of GNSS for rail to the entire European rail system is critical for maintaining a sustainable and competitive railway system. Because of the efficiencies it offers, there is a growing, global interest in GNSS use for rail applications. “We firmly believe that rail transport has the potential to become one of the largest downstream markets for European GNSS in terms of volume, public utility and contribution to safety,” says des Dorides. “In fact, according to the most recent edition of the GSA’s GNSS Market Report, the number of worldwide GNSS installed units in the rail segment will double by 2020, reaching 534 000 units.”

Also read: European GNSS means safer, more efficient rail travel

To support European competiveness within this important market segment, the GSA continues to facilitate cooperation between industry, service providers and policy makers. One industrial partner, Ansaldo STS, has helped define the requirements aimed at supporting the integration of satellites and public radio communication networks. “The railway signalling market requires more and more innovative, reliable and competitive solutions in terms of costs, timing and energy saving, as well as safety and environmental impact,” says Ansaldo STS CEO Andy Barr. “We are glad to participate in testing this innovative technology.”

The GSA also supports the development of the rail market through various funding opportunities. For example, as seen in the success of the ERSAT EAV project, the Horizon 2020 (H2020) framework programme for research and innovation is taking a leading role in the standardisation and interoperability process.

In addition to ERSAT EAV, through H2020, the GSA is providing financial support to other projects working towards the integration of GNSS into the European rail sector. For example, the STARS project (Satellite Technology for Advanced Railway Signalling) is developing a universal approach for predicting the performance of GNSS in rail-related safety-critical applications and defining the necessary evolution of ERTMS to include these GNSS services.

Media note: This feature can be republished without charge provided the European GNSS Agency (GSA) is acknowledged as the source at the top or the bottom of the story. You must request permission before you use any of the photographs on the site. If you republish, we would be grateful if you could link back to the GSA website (

Updated: Dec 08, 2022