'Lack of ambition in much-needed modernisation of Dutch railways'

News - 06 November 2018 - Communication

According to 
Rob Goverde, professor of Railway Traffic Operations & Management, Dutch railways should switch much faster to the modern European ERTMS communication standard for rail traffic control and safety. This is a key message in his inaugural address to be held at TU Delft on Friday, 9 November.

‘Worldwide, railways are developing in all kinds of ways. For example, China is rapidly expanding its high-speed network. The European high-speed network is also attracting increasing numbers of passengers as a sustainable and fast alternative to flying. The same also applies to international railway freight connections’, says prof. Rob Goverde in his inaugural speech entitled ‘Where are our railways heading?’.

To enable this growth, railways are transitioning worldwide towards a modern digital rail transport system with continuous wireless communication to ensure efficient safety and management of train traffic. Timetables are becoming increasingly precise, in order to make optimum use of the track. In this process, train control systems are being supported by speed recommendations linked to intelligent traffic management systems. Automatic train control is now standard in modern metro systems and is also set to be applied on other rail systems in the future in order to maximise use of the track.

The Netherlands
‘Of course, all of this is also going on in the Netherlands’, continues Goverde. ‘The Dutch railways are among the busiest in Europe and demand for railway transport from both passengers and freight continues to increase. Unfortunately, I detect a remarkably low level of ambition when it comes to transitioning to a modern digital rail traffic system. By 2030, only very few routes in the Netherlands will have been upgraded to ERTMS.’ Specifically, this concerns the switch from the old Dutch signalling and ATB system to ERTMS for safety purposes. ‘However, ERTMS goes much wider than safety in terms of the opportunities it has to offer – it can also enable more efficient control of rail traffic. So far, the modernisation of safety and rail traffic management have not been examined cohesively.’

House of Representatives
‘ERTMS makes continuous communication between the train and rail traffic control possible. Drivers can be given much better support in responding to the current rail traffic situation. Trains can reduce their energy consumption and unnecessary stops can be prevented. ERTMS also enables trains to travel closer together, increasing the capacity of the whole network.’ Goverde is therefore convinced of the need for a rapid switch to ERTMS, and to look further than the safety upgrade aspects. The Dutch House of Representatives is set to decide on the planned progress of the system soon.

Improved timetables
Goverde also expects to see many other innovations in the railway system in the future. ‘For example, there is a European project exploring the virtual coupling of trains, which enables trains to travel even closer together. As indicated, timetabling is also becoming more precise, enabling optimal use of the track.
In the High-Frequency Rail Programme (Programma Hoogfrequent Spoor), efforts are being made to enable an intercity train to travel on the busiest routes in the Netherlands every ten minutes by 2028, together with increased numbers of sprinter trains and sufficient space for freight trains.’
‘Whatever the case, the current transition to modern digital technology represents a challenge for the traditionally conservative railway sector. The transition calls for an innovative, integrated approach with a view to developing a safe, efficient and reliable transport system.’

More information
Karlijn Spoor, Communications adviser Civil Engineering & Geosciences TU Delft, +31 15 2789885, K.Spoor@tudelft.nl