How to overcome Class B catch 22 situation?

Class B hindering ERTMS deployment

The European Parliament draft report (24/02/2021), assessing the state of play of the ERTMS deployment is a sharp analysis of the current situation, identifying the major hurdles in the aim to increase the speed of deployment tenfold.

One of the main challenges for the roll out of ERTMS is the lack of a functioning market for Class B systems, creating a vendor lock in market environment. It doesn’t have to be like this, solutions are on the horizon.

Imagine a freight Railway Undertaking (RU) receiving a request from its best client to transport a shipment to or even through a country previously not served within its services. Regardless of the number of locomotives needed, currently, it will be impossible to get a clear timeline from a manufacturer to get the necessary Class B hardware and systems upgrade, if one is even available.  Moreover, from a budget point of view, there is no other option for the RU to accept whatever offer it will receive since the technology platforms of the current suppliers are fully proprietary. New manufacturers creating Class B solutions independently face high barriers to entry since the system specifications and source codes are not public, so there is no market for aftermarket Class B products. For much of the same reasons, there is no functioning STM market for freight Railway Undertakings. In this real-life example, the Railway Undertaking will have to inform its client to either use road transport or check with one of its competitors which has locomotives equipped for the request.

Now imagine a locomotive with a digital ETCS on board unit as an operating system which allows installing STM’s overnight, being paid for on a usage base, which means you can also remove the STM if no longer required. This would be called “STM-as-a-service” like in the well-known “Software-as-a-service / SaaS”. What a world of difference would this be.

How to leverage digital STM’s?

Up and coming TheSignallingCompany is providing an ETCS Onboard Solution with such possibilities.

At TheSignallingCompany we have a rail dream, of a RailAppStore filled with functional and safety-critical apps which can be downloaded to any locomotive overnight. Both price for installing or usage of the app are open for anyone to consult. Among the apps available will be Class B systems for several European countries until the ERTMS deployment is fully implemented.

This kind of solution will create an actual functioning market in Signalling, allowing new and innovative players to grow in an ecosystem, where app developers are free to choose the business model they like, ensuring competition. Building an ecosystem takes time and a variety of organisations. That is why TheSignallingCompany signed a MoU with CAF Signalling to cooperate on this and invites other organisations to join this partnership.

The creation of such an eco-system, involving a wide variety of app developers, is an obligatory passage to achieve success in EU Rail policy. This benefits for EU shippers, passengers and rail in general are clearly stated in several reports of the European Court of Auditors. It will help to reach the goal of operating a train as easily as to operate a truck in Europe.

With the digital TheSignallingCompany OBU and a RailAppStore filled with Class B apps, the lack of STM’s doesn’t have to be a bottleneck for ERTMS roll out. They facilitate the dual on-board strategy until full ERTMS deployment and rebalance the burdens of the investments needed, by providing a technologically superior, easy to access and transparently priced product to Railway Undertakings.

STM’s as a keystone for the EU Mobility Strategy and Green Deal?

The draft report of the EP points, crucially and correctly, to the fact the ERTMS is essential to realise Europe’s grand ambitions on mobility (Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy) and sustainability (the EU Green Deal). Rail is indeed the most sustainable mode of transport, but did not yet achieve its full potential, as stated in the draft report.

The EP draft report and the European Coordinator, Mr. Mathias Ruete, asked for and are working on decommissioning strategy for Class B. Maybe we need to rethink the framework and apply new technology to use the gradual decommissioning as a lever to accelerate ETCS roll out. As Mr. Ruete analysed:  having two systems in parallel makes no sense. So why not merge the two systems into one, where ETCS and STM’s are complementary elements of a digital ecosystem, in order to realise the full potential of rail in Europe.

End of opinion paper

About The Signalling Company

We are building a better ETCS onboard solution, to make the signalling system of the future cost-effective, flexible and future-proof.

The Signalling Company is the result of a joint-venture between two Belgian companies: ERTMS Solutions, an industry leader in railway testing, maintenance and systems integration, and Lineas, the largest private rail freight operator in Europe.