’CURRENT market prices are not compatible with an economically sound roll-out.’ Not only that, but they are ’much too high to encourage a rapid migration’. Taken from a UIC-CER-EIM declaration, these phrases leave little doubt over the scale of the problem facing Europe’s railways and their suppliers as they grapple with the implementation of ERTMS.

The declaration was submitted to the European Parliament on January 24 following a meeting at the UIC headquarters on January 17 attended by senior railway executives, ERA Executive Director Marcel Verslype and European Union Co-ordinator for ERTMS Karel Vinck. While affirming the railways’ commitment to introduce ERTMS, the document makes it abundantly clear that progress depends on finding ways to cut equipment and installation costs. Only then will the long-sought virtuous circle of lower prices leading to more applications and hence still lower costs be triggered.

For the moment ’migration towards ETCS is not economically possible for the railway operators’ without additional funding. The EU has already paid out €300m for ERTMS over the last decade, during which time the ’railway sector’ is estimated to have spent between €2bn and €3bn.

With the cost of retrofitting onboard equipment peaking at €320000 per trainset (p140), no wonder that the UIC and its partners are calling for the transition process ’to be financially supported by the European Union and the respective Member States’. Quite how much more the EU is willing to give the railways is far from clear - there were ominous signs at the EuroRail conference in Brussels on January 31 that leading European policy-makers are losing patience with the national railways and their reluctance to embrace change.

The declaration calls for the EU and ERA to take full responsibility in the regulatory field ’by guaranteeing the availability of stable ERTMS specifications’. This fundamental issue has still not been resolved - a visit to the Dutch HSL-Zuid on February 2 elucidated that superstructure contractor Infraspeed had installed Version 2.2.2, but that discussions were already taking place about upgrading to Version 2.3.0 - which is being installed in Belgium (p142).

And in case anyone has forgotten, because of delays in specifying the ETCS equipment, purpose-built rolling stock for HSL-Zuid is not now expected to be available before late 2008 - although the southern section is practically complete, with a Thalys test train expected to reach the 300 km/h line speed last month. If that is not enough, the start date for the interim loco-hauled service has apparently slipped to September 2007.

In Italy there are signs of more positive progress with Level 2 controlling trains on two lines at 300 km/h. Fare-paying passengers have been riding ETR500 trainsets between Roma and Napoli since January 23, although there are only two trains a day each way - one problem is that Trenitalia still has only eight ETR500 sets equipped for Level 2, although all 27 in the second series are due to be fitted. Services on the Torino - Novara high speed line began on February 7 with four trains a day running through to and from Milano. Contrary to earlier expectations (RG 2.06 p71), these trains do not serve Malpensa airport - Olympic visitors arriving by air and opting for the dash by train to Torino would have found that the first part of the journey as far as Novara was by bus.

In Switzerland, there are hints that opening the L