European Rail Traffic Management System

ERTMS is a scheme to improve interoperability of trains throughout Europe and improve signalling by creating a single European standard.

What is ERTMS?

The European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) will have a major effect on the British Railway System and promises to improve both safety and capacity on the railways. ERTMS is a scheme backed by the EU to improve interoperability of trains throughout Europe and improve signalling by creating a single European standard.


The ERTMS has two main components:

  • ETCS. The European Train Control System. This technology means that speed restrictions can be transmitted to the train driver and will also mean that the driver’s compliance to the speed restrictions is constantly monitored.
  • GSM-R, a radio system for providing voice GSM-R, a radio system for providing voice and data communication between the track and the train, based on standard GSM using frequencies specifically reserved for rail application with certain specific and advanced functions.

The plan is for the ERTMS to replace the number of different control and command systems in Europe allowing a seamless pan-European train system that can be more competitive as a mode of transport.

The Potential Benefits

It is hoped that this will bring considerable benefits to the railway sector as it will boost international freight and passenger transport.

The system can lead to increased capacity on existing lines and a greater ability to respond to growing transport demands: as a continuous communication-based signalling system, ERTMS reduces the headway between trains enabling up to 40% more capacity on currently existing infrastructure. In short, we can increase capacity on current track without vast infrastructure works.

ERTMS also allows for high speed services of up to 500km/h and should lead to increased reliability and punctuality.

The Cambrian Line has now been operating ERTMS since 2008. A further development is that the  Hertford line has been re-signalled to allow Network Rail to use a Class 313 as a test vehicle for ERTMS tests and evaluation.

The Herford line can also be used for testing “first in class” retro fitment to existing rolling stock.

All new rolling stock has to be built with provision for the system.

ASLEF has also set up an ERTMS Working Group, which meets on a regular basis with representatives from the industry to discuss developments.

As of December 2016, the reduced levels of funding within the industry has had an effect on the timetable for the roll out of ERTMS. A new revised date of 2022 has been set.

Roll out will now be on an area by area basis as opposed to a national roll out based on ROCs and will be based on areas that need increased capacity or to replace current technology (like ATP).