IN THE FINAL months of 2004 there was frantic activity as the European Commission strove to make progress towards the roll-out of ERTMS.

Interest centred on Chapter 7 of the TSI on conventional railway lines, which covers the migration process from conventional signalling and train control systems to ETCS. According to Jean-Arnold Vinois, Head of the Rail Transport & Interoperability Unit at the European Commission's Directorate-General for Energy & Transport, key discussions took place with member states in November to agree the process for migration.

The current proposal is for an initial programme to have ERTMS installed across a 21000 route-km network known as ETCS Net, using a mix of Level 1 and Level 2. Essentially, ETCS Net covers the key routes in the Trans-European Rail Network, encompassing both high speed lines and major trunk freight corridors; interoperability is expected to deliver the greatest benefits to international services in the short term. Vinois says that member states have been asked to draw up national deployment plans, which are to be submitted to the Commission within one year of the notification of the TSI decision by the Commission.

In a bid to secure agreement on what should happen, all parties, including suppliers, infrastructure managers and operators, are being asked to sign a Memorandum of Understanding which Vinois hoped to have 'ready for signature in December or January'.

Vinois envisages that this MoU 'will embody the commitment of the railway industry in finalising the deployment of the ETCS Net'. It is also intended to support a subsequent Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers due to be made in the first quarter of 2005. The MoU will describe the deployment process and set out in detail how the work can be funded.

The Commission puts the cost of installation at €6bn to €7bn spread over 10 to 15 years. Vinois expects two-thirds of the funds will be needed to retrofit existing locomotives and rolling stock, with just one-third going on wayside equipment.

The cost of retrofitting rolling stock with ETCS remains a source of great concern, and leasing companies and other finance organisations drew attention to this at the Central & Eastern European Rail conference in Budapest at the end of November. Inevitably, the interest of locomotive suppliers is to build new units, and Vinois said that 'we will ask the industry to be helpful'.

The Commission envisaged in its July 2004 proposal on TEN financing that up to 50% of the cost of fitting both track and trains will be paid by the EU using TEN funding. In the states that acceded in May last year it will also be possible to tap the Cohesion Fund for even higher rates of support.

Overseeing the implementation process will be the European Railway Agency (below), which Vinois sees as 'the ERTMS system authority'. It will be essential, he says, for ERA 'to rely on an interface' that is truly representative of all the parties involved in the European rail business. 'We will help Monsieur Verslype', promises Vinois.

ERA will progressively take over the role of the European Interoperability Association (AEIF) during 2005. Vinois charges AEIF with failing to promote actively the ERTMS implementation process, and suggests that this was because the association's members were unable to reach agreement on what should be done - 'one year was lost', he says.

Vinois is also concerned that what happens at the level of technical committees does not necessarily mean that senior management agrees. While agreement on a technical matter may be reached at the level of the UIC, the chief executives of the individual railways do not necessarily support the decisions, he says. This should change in the future, he believes, as ERA may lead to higher-level commitments by the industry.