European Train Control System (ETCS)

Ein ETCS-Schild in einem Bahnhof

Having introduced ETCS, Switzerland now has a train control and signalling system which is standardised across Europe. It will replace the many, mostly national systems in Europe, and thus enable dense, fast, cross-border and safe rail traffic.

The Federal Office of Transport (FOT) implemented its guideline “Zugbeeinflussung im Zugbeeinflussung im schweizerischen Normalspur-Eisenbahnnetz” (Train control on the Swiss standard-gauge rail network, in German) as of 1 May 2012. This guideline provides that the train control systems of the type Integra SIGNUM and ZUB 121, which are several decades old, must be migrated to the European Train Control System (ETCS) Level 1 Limited Supervision (L1 LS). In the Swiss standard-gauge rail network about 14,500 signal locations were affected. By the end of 2017 this goal had largely been achieved as planned. This saves the costs for equipping vehicles with multiple different train control systems, which comes to several hundred thousand francs per locomotive.

Migrating to ETCS also increases safety. About half of the train control points transmit information to monitor speed.

In August 2011, the FOT also decided a further step should be gradually to modify the entire Swiss standard-gauge network to ETCS Level 2 technology from 2025. This technology, which manages without external signals and transmits instructions directly to the train driver’s cab, is already being used on the Mattstetten–Rothrist stretch of the Bern-Olten line, the base tunnel routes through the Lötschberg, Gotthard and future Ceneri, as well as on the access line to the Gotthard base tunnel and between Lausanne and Villeneuve.

From 2025, many interlocking systems will come to the end of their service life and will have to be replaced. The FOT will decide, on the basis of previous experience and cost/benefit analyses, whether and how ETCS Level 2 should be implemented when replacing these systems.

With the comprehensive migration to ETCS, Switzerland has introduced a modern, interoperable and future-proof train control and signalling system. The trigger for choosing ETCS was the commissioning of new high-speed routes, in particular the new Mattstetten–Rothrist line from 2004. The previous systems with external signalling were unsuitable for speeds of up to 200 km/h. Switzerland did not, therefore, choose one of the existing country-specific systems that are in operation on high-speed lines in the neighbouring countries of Germany, France and Italy. Their service life was foreseeable, while ETCS is a standardised European system, and is continuously being further developed.

ETCS has been prescribed by the European Union for the international traffic corridors in the medium term. Switzerland, which lies at the centre of the North-South Rhine-Alpine Corridor, has thus done pioneering work.