Case Study: Certification of ETCS for Rhine – Alpine Corridor

Certification of ETCS for Rhine – Alpine Corridor

  • Client name: DB Netz AG
  • Service provided: Accredited Assurance – ISA and AsBo

The Rhine-Alpine Corridor is one of Europe’s busiest freight routes, connecting the North Sea ports of Belgium and the Netherlands with the Mediterranean port of Genoa.

As one of nine defined ‘Rail Freight Corridors’ (RFC) across member states, it also has strategic importance in the EU’s long-term goal to reduce road traffic by encouraging a ‘shift to rail’.

To help support higher capacity on the route – and remove some notorious bottlenecks – the Management Board of RFC Rhine-Alpine had committed to supporting the deployment of ERTMS (European Rail Traffic Management System) on the lines that form the full length of the corridor.

Ricardo’s Assurance Role

In 2021 Ricardo was appointed by DB Netz AG, Germany’s national railway infrastructure manager, to provide Technical Specifications for Interoperability (TSI) certification alongside Independent Safety Assessment (ISA) and Assessment Body (AsBo) safety assessment services for the German sections of the Rhine – Alpine Corridor.

The services will be delivered with respect to  ETCS (European Train Control System), the train control component of the ERTMS installation.

The work will be undertaken by Ricardo Certification, a set of companies within the Ricardo group that perform independent assurance and testing services, including Notified Body, Designated Body and Assessment Body roles.

With their various international accreditations, the team can provide conformity assessments of infrastructure, trains and subsystems according to TSI regulations.

Our previous experience in this arena, such as performing a similar role for the implementation of ETCS on the Belgian sections of Corridor C, was an influential factor in being chosen for this assignment.

For more information about Ricardo’s accredited services, visit Ricardo Certification.

What Is ETCS?

The European Train Control System (ETCS) is the on-board and trackside technology that underpins the European Railway Traffic Management System (ERTMS).

ERTMS is a single, European-wide signalling and control system that ensures network interoperability between member states. It combines ETCS and a common mobile communications (GSM-R) technology to create a unified train control standard across Europe.

ERTMS is not just unique to Europe: almost half of all investment in ERTMS to date has been in countries such as China, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Turkey who have broadly adopted the same specifications for their own rail projects.


Ever since Europe began building railways in the nineteenth century they were typically planned, constructed and operated as isolated national assets by each individual country.

The legacy of this parochial approach was a patchwork of differing technologies and operating rules from one country to the next. Today, there are more than 20 different mainline signalling systems in use across the EU, each requiring bespoke components, certification and driver competences.

The complexity of so many incompatible systems and governing authorities in relatively close proximity has been a primary reason why cross-border rail travel in Europe failed to reach anywhere near its full potential.

For example, consider that a train travelling from Amsterdam to London would have to cross five system boundaries as it passes through various domestic mainline and high speed sections (and the channel tunnel). Each boundary brought its own technological and bureaucratic issues to be managed, with each system requiring its own antennas to be positioned in specific locations beneath the vehicle, and to have their own specific instructions to display to the cab. Drivers, meanwhile, had to hold multiple qualifications and licenses.

Benefits of ETCS / ERTMS

By introducing a common technical standard for traffic control, Europe’s railways will be taking a significant step towards a truly seamless network.

As well as bringing interoperability between networks – in other words, making the EU’s different technical systems work together – the adoption of common standards will promote cross-border services, increase competition and promote innovation throughout the supply chain.

ERTMS will also spell the end for lineside signalling systems. Instead, drivers will use on-board signalling equipment – ETCS – that receives information direct from regional control centres.

By providing continuous communication-based data direct to in-service traffic, ERTMS promises to:

  • Increase capacity on existing lines: By reducing the headway between trains
  • Support higher speeds: ERTMS allows for a maximum speed up to 500 km/h
  • Improve safety and service reliability: Increasing rail’s competitiveness in passenger and freight transportation markets.
  • Reduce maintenance costs: With ERTMS level 2, trackside signalling is not required, reducing maintenance costs and service disruption.
  • Simplify the approval process and reduce development costs: With a proven specification agreed, product development becomes less complicated with suppliers able to bid for any opportunity.

This article was originally published by Ricardo Rail.

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