Photo: Christophe Masse

The ETR1000 high speed trainsets used by Trenitalia in France have been fitted with Class B train control equipment.

FRANCE: The limited roll-out of ERTMS is a major obstacle to the opening of the French domestic market to competition, according to rail regulator ART.

Slow progress with ETCS installation is seen as a significant barrier to the emergence of more on-rail competition, especially in the inter-city and high speed segment.

ART’s investigation into the state of the market follows the launch of domestic competition on April 5, when Trenitalia began operating a Paris – Lyon service to complement its cross-border trains between Paris and Milano. The regulator found that limited access to safety equipment and train control components posed a serious problem for Trenitalia as a new entrant and for other prospective operators.

Only 40% of high speed lines in France are currently equipped with ETCS, and future deployment ‘will probably be very gradual’, the regulator believes. The situation is worse on the conventional network, where very few lines have been equipped. The only ERTMS project due for completion this year is the installation of ETCS on the French section of Rail Freight Corridor 2 (North Sea – Mediterranean).

To address the problem, ART has issued 18 recommendations on safety and train control equipment which it believes would facilitate the opening of the market. Among the key points is a major acceleration of the national ERTMS migration plan, which it says should be coupled with measures to speed up the removal of legacy Class B onboard and lineside equipment — TVM on high speed lines and KVB on conventional routes.

However, ART accepts that this would be difficult without a transition phase which aligns with European regulations. It calls for the creation of a ‘system authority’ for the Class B systems, which would ensure fair access to legacy equipment and enable sufficient rolling stock to be dual-fitted while ERTMS is deployed. ART recommends that safety body EPSF should take on this role, but if this is not possible the other potential candidate would be SNCF Réseau.

According to the regulator, there is a lack of clarity about how new entrants can gain an understanding of the Class B systems, particularly as many of the detailed technical specifications are held by a handful of key suppliers, primarily Alstom and Hitachi Rail STS. There is currently no regulatory requirement for rail sector bodies to provide access to this information or even to ensure that it is kept up to date, despite mounting concerns about obsolescence.

ART has called for the urgent development of a French Specific Transmission Module, which would enable ETCS-fitted locomotives and trainsets to communicate with the legacy infrastructure. This would avoid the need to dual-fit those trains with separate KVB and TVM systems for use on non-ETCS routes.