IMPORTANT LEGAL NOTICE - The information on this site is subject to a disclaimer and a copyright notice
Banner Research
  European Commission   > Research > Growth
Homepage Competitive and Sustainable Growth - Making the European Research Area a Reality
Graphic element
Graphic element
Graphic element
Graphic element Research > Growth > Research projects > Land & marine transport projects > European rail interoperability
Graphic element European rail interoperability
'A standard driver's desk is one key to interoperability'
Graphic element

The European rail industry is in a state of rapid transformation aimed at meeting the increasing expectations and demands of today's market. Rail interoperability, defined as the operational and technical integration of the different national railway systems in the European Union and the accession countries, is a key element in this transformation. Its successful achievement will bring a host of benefits to citizens and businesses via seamless rail connections and better coordination of operating rules and communication and signalling systems.

Efficient transport and mobility are the lifeblood of the European economy and an indispensable factor in Europe's competitive and sustainable growth, enhancing communication, economic growth and social stability. As with any modern transport network, European transport must have, as a key component, a well coordinated, smoothly functioning international rail system.

The main challenge today for the European rail industry is to develop maximum passenger/customer value. Trains have to be safe, clean, reliable, and on time, both for passengers and stock. Improved services would give rail transport a huge competitive edge, making it the best way to combine low travel time with easy accessibility to both leisure and professional hubs.

In recent years, some national operators have been replaced by transnational structures. These have tended to establish more dynamic market policies aimed at meeting customers' needs and creating a more positive public image. The new policies are backed up by innovative and improved products and services and support alliances both within and without the rail sector.

Towards a single European railway system

For its part, the European Commission has stressed the importance of rail interoperability as a prerequisite to any revitalisation of the rail system. In its 1996 Directive on 'Conventional Rail Interoperability', it set the regulatory framework necessary to enhance attractiveness, competitiveness and efficiency of rail operations. Its aim is to harmonise the specifications of rolling stock, signalling, command and control and telecommunications systems, noise emissions, operating rules, maintenance and repair and conformity assessment.

More recently, in May 2001, European rail organisations delivered to Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin a document entitled 'Joint strategy for European rail research 2020 - Towards a single European railway system'. The Commissioner applauded the document and suggested that it should serve as a basis for elaborating relevant sections of the new Framework Programme (2002-2006). In fact, it represents a long-term research guide, which can be used in identifying potential projects for EU co-funding and in deciding where and when specific work should be carried out.

Among other things, the 'Joint Strategy' document recommended the establishment of a European Advisory Council on Rail Research (ERRAC) , comprising representatives of the various rail stakeholders and aimed at helping to promote the concept of the European Research Area (ERA) in this sector. ERRAC was launched by Commissioner Busquin on November 26, 2001 at the World Congress on Railway Research in Cologne. In his opening address, Busquin said, "Today, our research efforts are turning towards answering the needs and expectations of society, improving safety, reducing travel times and increasing efficiency and comfort. As we work towards establishing our next Framework Programme for Research and Development, we are seeking to support a Common Transport Policy aimed at liberalisation, development and especially interoperability, all of which will allow us to better respond to these needs. The creation of a single European rail system will therefore require that all of the relevant players - manufacturers, operators, managers and researchers - commit themselves to a unified long-term development plan."

ERRAC 2020's primary mission will be to establish and carry forward a Strategic Research Agenda that will influence the planning of research programmes, particularly national and EU programmes, in line with the Joint Strategy 2020 document.

Overcoming obstacles

Promotion of environmentally friendly, reliable and safe rail transport of passengers and goods within and across national borders is a major EU objective. Numerous technical barriers, such as different track widths, supply voltages, signalling and electrical systems have long been identified. On a more fundamental level, a major barrier to the success of a new integrated rail strategy is the current lack of intra- and inter-network standards. For railways and companies to arrive at a common position for the configuration of the European rail system and thence to move forward in the creation of a single market for rail services and products, there is an immediate need for research that helps partners reconcile their national standards within new European norms.

Strong and modern European standards can stimulate innovation to generate new products and services for the operators and infrastructure managers that can then be exported into the world marketplace. Not only will this strengthen the position of European manufacturers but it will also help lower costs and raise reliability levels for all European railway operators.

Leading the way in rail interoperability research, the European institutions have already supported standardisation on the international high-speed routes and this initiative is now being extended to conventional rail and mass transit. Within this context, a number of important and interesting projects are already being funded by the EU.

EU-funded research

Establishing Electrical Systems Compatibility (ESC), i.e. the electrical compatibility of rail vehicles with existing power supplies and signalling systems, has become a costly issue for rail equipment manufacturers, rail operators and infrastructure managers. In recent years, Europe has seen large regional transportation networks collapse due to electrical incompatibility. Electric vehicle interaction has caused protective shutdowns and delays, signalling systems and barrier crossings have malfunctioned, information and telecommunication systems have been disturbed, and television and computer screens have been seen to flicker, all due to a lack of electrical compatibility and interoperability of components in electrical rail networks. These effects have led to costly reconfigurations and delays for the manufacturing industry and to a lower quality of service for railway operators.

Given the critical importance of ESC, the EU has funded two projects in this area - 'ESCARV' and 'EMC measurements in railways'.


The ESCARV project, initiated under Brite Euram III and successfully completed in 2000, was aimed at developing a set of tools for reliably predicting and avoiding electrical systems compatibility problems before putting rail transport systems into operation. "We investigated compatibility issues of rolling stock and power supplies," says coordinator Stuart Shirran. "An important goal of the project was to establish an open modelling framework for the complete transportation system, including appropriate sub-system models, using special software. This will enable us to reliably predict and avoid interoperability problems."

The resulting modelling framework covered the overall rail system as well as a number of sub-systems, including both high and low voltage power supplies, and AC and DC vehicle-based models. The sub-system models were validated during extensive field tests on different rail networks. Finally, the overall system models and selected guidelines were validated during extensive field tests on different networks. The results and experiences of the ESCARV project are now being adopted by a number of standardisation working groups. In addition, an ESC InfoBank (see ESC UserGroup below), including all of the main results of ESCARV, was put together and is now up and running on the internet.

"We expect at least a 30% reduction in costs for both suppliers and operators using our tools," says Shirran. "Network outage will be reduced from 1 hour per year to 0.5 hours per year, resulting in a per passenger benefit of €25 in terms of saved time and increased reliability of transportation to work, not to mention the increase in rail transport safety." Furthermore, Europe will accrue a competitive advantage over overseas competitors.

One barrier to European railway interoperability still remains, according to project partners. While the railway business must function efficiently in market terms, clear boundaries still need to be set in terms of the roles and responsibilities of each of the railway players.

ESCARV partners comprised a cross-disciplinary, multi-national and multi-company team, including component suppliers, railway operators, and members of the academic and industrial research communities. According to Shirran, "The help of the European Commission was very important in getting the partners together, especially the international companies which would normally be considered as competitors."

ESC UserGroup

The ESC UserGroup is a forum for the exchange and enhancement of knowledge in the domain of Electrical Systems Compatibility (ESC) of railways, based on the results of a number of European projects, in particular ESCARV. It provides organisational and managerial support and a tool for the exchange of information, experience and best practice, namely the ESC InfoBank , a relational database created by the ESCARV project, accessible via the Internet.

The network or UserGroup includes standardisation bodies and the regulatory organisations responsible for interoperability specifications, but is open to all organisations and experts active in the field of European railway and electrical systems compatibility, including manufacturers of rolling stock, traction power supply and railway signalling equipment, railway operators, rail infrastructure operators, consultants, research institutes and universities. Membership is determined on a 'give and take' basis with each member being expected to contribute relevant knowledge to the database.

During the two-year start-up period (07/2001 to 06/2003), the activities and services of the ESC UserGroup are being jointly financed by the European Commission and the Swiss Government . A consortium of four contractors is organising networking events and maintains and updates the ESC InfoBank. In addition to promoting and disseminating results of recent European research projects in this field, the ESC UserGroup will also establish a strategy and a working framework for achieving ambitious performance and safety objectives through the cooperation of all relevant parties.

For more information, see the ESC UserGroup website: .


AEIF, (European Association for Railway Interoperability) , is the joint representative body mandated by the European Commission to lay down the Technical Standards for Interoperability (TSIs), as required by European Directive 96/48 covering Interoperability of the trans-European high-speed railway system. In addition, AEIF has also been entrusted with the task of setting up the TSIs for conventional rail according to the approved Directive on Interoperability of Conventional Rail. Finally, AEIF is playing a key role in the ERRAC action. Bringing together representatives of infrastructure managers, railway companies and industry, AEIF was co-founded by UIC , UNIFE and UITP and is supported by the European Commission.

AEIF is one of the four main contractors of the ESC UserGroup project.

EMC measurements in railways

The accurate quantification of electromagnetic interference (EMI) between electric railway traction power supplies, motors and signalling systems is necessary to ensure satisfactory systems integration and to prevent interference which can lead to safety and reliability problems. Much of the work aimed at addressing EMC issues can be carried out through appropriate modelling and simulation activities, as in the ESCARV project. But while laboratory work is convenient from an economical and technical point of view, the results still have to be validated in the field through direct measurements.

The objective of the 'EMC measurements in railways' project was to provide a set of measurement and testing methodologies for railway rolling stock and its components based on a specially designed anechoic chamber and vehicle test room.

The specific technical objectives achieved by the project included the definition of new procedures and guidelines for testing rolling stock components in an anechoic chamber and for testing locomotives in a vehicle test room. A field measurement campaign validated and fine-tuned the above procedures.

The definition of the above procedures represents a considerable contribution toward the goal of establishing common European rail standards. Partners included three manufacturers of traction equipment, and one university with expertise in traction systems.

European Driver's Desk

Another key element in the harmonisation of European rail systems is the standardisation of the driver's workplace. The driver's desk represents a human-machine interface and is therefore of extreme importance with respect to train safety. The European Driver's Desk (EUDD) project is developing a modular train driver's desk capable of operating across the EU, based on work provided by a number of important rail players.

"The idea," says project coordinator Thomas Meissner at Germany's FAV , "is to develop a more reliable, less expensive and, above all, a standardised driver's desk, including universal gauges, displays and operating procedures. We already know about the importance of removing obstacles to good rail traffic in Europe. Our new system will be at the core of a future modular train for use throughout the EU and accession countries and is therefore an important part of that process."

EUDD partners expect the new system will mean increased flexibility and mobility for train operators, improved working conditions, reduced errors and accidents, and lower training costs.

"The international aspect of this project has been very important," says Meissner. "Seeing the main players coming together and working on a common goal has been very rewarding."

Towards a single European railway system
Overcoming obstacles
EU-funded research
ESC UserGroup
EMC measurements in railways
European Driver's Desk

Key data

Research towards the development of standardised European railway applications, procedures and products is supported under the Growth Programme's 'Land transport and marine technologies' key action.


ESCARV - Electrical systems compatibility for advanced railway vehicles (BRPR970541);
ESC UserGroup ;
AEIF - European association for railway interoperability;
Emc measurements in railways (SMT4962126);
EUDD - European driver's desk (G3RD-2000-00457).


Homepage Graphic element Top of the page