“We’re at the starting gate”

Some time ago, Europe agreed on a uniform standard- the European Train Control System (ETCS). Now it’s a matter of starting the implementation. New vehicles such as the ICE4 come equipped with ETCS, and existing vehicles are being retrofitted. In Germany alone, up to 9,000 existing trains are waiting for the new system. Siemens Mobility is prepared – with the required technology, lots of retrofitting experience, and an innovative toolbox.

“Rail transportation can’t put off ETCS any longer, and that’s a good thing,” declares Jens Nordmann. The head of Project Execution Train Control at Siemens Mobility knows what he’s talking about: “The new train protection system on locomotives and trains is what makes interoperability possible, and significantly improves safety in European and international rail transportation.” As a European standard, ETCS is intended to replace the various train control systems in Europe and some that are outside Europe. The goal is harmonized, safe, cross-border rail transportation.

For uniform safety standards

This goal is still not possible today, or it’s possible only for vehicles that have several different systems on board. “Naturally, that’s not a long-term solution. We have to start modernizing now so that we can replace obsolete systems by the end of the 2020s,” says Nordmann. This is especially true in Germany.


The European Commission already required that the Federal Republic upgrade five main north-south and east-west corridors in 2009. So far, however, Nordmann is still encountering a certain hesitation on the part of German customers. “Many are unsure about whether or how they can perform the retrofit. But with an experienced technology partner like Siemens Mobility, the conversion can be successfully and punctually implemented.”

Upgrade cost-effectively with Retrofit

The European-wide demand for “onboard units“ (OBUs) is high. In Germany alone, up to 9,000 trains need to be retrofitted with these on-board ETCS components. The expense is well worth it, as Henrik Regen can attest. He is head of ETCS Engineering and Retrofit at Siemens Mobility. Compared to replacing entire vehicle fleets, the investment is significantly less, says Regen. “We have an innovative toolbox with standardized as well as customizable solutions that allow us to easily and economically retrofit locomotives with ETCS, regardless of manufacturer.”


Their global presence with ETCS onboard projects clearly shows how successful the company has been so far (see graphic).

What does a locomotive equipped with ETCS look like?

How can customers get an impression of the systems and their installation? Siemens Mobility equipped its own ETCS demo locomotive for this purpose. From balise antennas and radar sensors to displays and central computers, all ETCS components are installed on the demo locomotive to see and touch. The systems are also extremely flexible. “We can integrate them internally or externally, in existing or in new cabinets, and in this way optimally adapt them to all situations,” says Regen. In addition, the company offers the right service for each customer, from simply delivering the system to implementing and coordinating the retrofit of an entire fleet.

Planning, installation, and testing using state-of-the-art tools

Siemens Mobility has already implemented and has on-going retrofit projects in a number of countries, including Switzerland, Great Britain, and Spain, and has proven itself an experienced and innovative partner. Engineers especially value the use of digital planning tools. “With our toolbox, we can plan and implement retrofit projects faster, while also making our work comprehensible and transparent for the customer,” says Regen.


Augmented reality (AR) applications that add virtual elements to reality – including 3D scans, virtual reality (VR) simulations, digital twins of ETCS components, and applications for mobile terminals – are also standard. When performing the installation analysis, for example, engineers use AR glasses to superimpose the ETCS components on the real train environment. In this way, they can test whether collisions exist and whether the functionality of the systems is guaranteed directly on the vehicle.


Using a 3D scanner, a 3D model of a component can be generated in a matter of minutes. VR simulations are useful, for example, to check whether the position of the display is ergonomically correct for the engine driver. Until now, this has been done using analog models. An app for mobile terminals is also under development that will assist technicians with planning. Regen concludes: “We have the technologies, expertise, and experience. We’re at the starting gate, we’re fully prepared for the ETCS implementation, and as an experienced technology partner, we look forward to assisting our customers with this important transition in rail transportation.”

Download ETCS Retrofit Brochure


A train protection system monitors the permissible speed and initiates braking when necessary. In 2005, a decision was made to introduce a uniform European Train Control System (ETCS). ETCS has three functional levels: The first level (ETCS Level 1) is an intermittent train control system that transmits information to the train when it crosses a balise. The second level (ETCS Level 2) is based on constant communication with the trackside infrastructure. The route is divided into fixed blocks. With the third level (ETCS Level 3), it will be possible to do away with stationary equipment for track vacancy detection and replace it with “moving blocks” – mobile safety blocks that move with the vehicle.


Picture credits: Siemens Mobility GmbH

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