THE RACE is on for the first route to carry passengers in regular service using ETCS Level 2. Strictly speaking, this milestone has already passed as Swiss Federal Railways operated a pilot Level 2 system on its Olten - Luzern line in 2002-03, but SBB subsequently dismantled the equipment.

German Railway plans to carry passengers on its pilot Level 2 section on the Berlin - Halle/Leipzig main line from May 28 next year, but there are suggestions that DB may be beaten to the post by Trenitalia which expects to operate with Level 2 over the Roma - Napoli high speed line from December this year.

Good progress with ETCS testing is meanwhile being made by Swiss Federal Railways on its 45 km Mattstetten - Rothrist high speed line where trains have been running using conventional signalling and train protection since last December. SBB has begun ’shadow running’ during the daytime with a test train pathed between commercial services. This runs with live Level 2 equipment and a live display on the MMI in the cab, but the driver obeys the conventional signals. SBB says that this has already allowed several ’bugs’ to be identified and remedied, while drivers have begun to familiarise themselves with the new equipment. Test runs using ETCS in full operational mode continue at night when no other services are running.

SBB expects to apply to the Transport Ministry for authority for full daytime testing of Level 2 from July 2 2006, possibly with some commercial services running under ETCS control in the evenings. Initially ETCS-controlled trains will be limited to 160 km/h, with 200 km/h planned for December 2007.

By that time all rolling stock using the line will have been equipped, including 38 ICE1 power cars. The Swiss government has agreed to fund the cost of fitting the German trains with ETCS as it considers through ICE services from Germany to be commercially important.