MORE MILESTONES are passing in the development and deployment of ETCS/ERTMS. From May 19 trains began running at 250 km/h on the Madrid - Lleida section of the Madrid - Barcelona AVE line using Level 1, while from July 2 Swiss Federal Railways goes live with Level 2 on the 45 km between Mattstetten and Rothrist.

The Spanish development is important, but the Swiss move is much more so. While Level 2 is already up and running in Germany and Italy (RG 5.06 p277), the number of services in both countries remains limited. In Switzerland, there will be a cautious start too, with just a few trains using Level 2 in the evenings when the consequences of disruption are less serious. After that a rapid build-up is planned, with 2500 drivers and 100 rolling stock maintenance staff being trained. By December SBB plans to run more than 240 passenger trains a day under Level 2 control - the system is designed for 2min headways. Speed will be limited to 160 km/h until December 2007, when 200 km/h will be authorised. Night-time trials with eight trains running simultaneously at the higher speed are to start this month.

Significantly, SBB has revealed that introducing ETCS has cost SFr610m so far - paid by the Swiss government. This covers the pilot project between Zofingen and Sempach, installation of equipment on the Mattstetten - Rothrist line and in the Lötschberg base tunnel, plus fitting equipment to 610 vehicles; to date 468 vehicles of 11 different types have been modified.

Cost clearly remains a critical issue, and we were encouraged to hear Marcel Verslype, Executive Director of the European Railway Agency, confirm at the end of April that economic evaluation of projects within its remit is firmly on the agenda. ERA will announce its first three-year work programme in September, and this will include in the second half of 2007 an initial look at ERTMS Version 3.0. Verslype said early work would cover methodology and planning, with the expectation that an industrial version will be available in 2010-11. ERA looks certain to provide firm guidance on costs, a topic which Verslype suggested was nothing less than a 'revolution' for some railways.

In the meantime Karel Vinck, the European Co-ordinator for ERTMS, is driving forward proposals for implementation on six European corridors (Rotterdam - Genova, Antwerpen - Lyon/Basel, Sevilla - Lyon - Torino - Ljubljana, Dresden - Wien - Budapest and Duisburg - Warszawa), but it is far from certain how migration will be funded. The corridor proposals have the support of the European Parliament's Transport Committee, which on May 2 unanimously endorsed a report drawn up by Michael Cramer, the Parliament's Rapporteur on ERTMS issues. This backs the corridor strategy and foresees funds being drawn from several European sources, highlighting the point that ERTMS must be deployed on a large scale for it to be effective.

Finally, there is now a commitment to fit at least part of the Thalys fleet with Level 2. Refurbishment of the 27 trains has been scheduled at SNCF's Hellemmes workshop near Lille to permit them to run on HSL-Zuid from 2008, and Workshop Director M Quetelart confirmed in April that the job will include installation of ETCS, with priority going to the PBKA sets that work the Paris - Amsterdam services.

Cost is once again a concern - the indicative price for fitting onboard Level 2 equipment is €320000 per set (RG 3.06 p140), which compares with just €150000 to fit the standard TVM430 equipment.