Matthias Ruete, the European Commission’s ERTMS coordinator, visited Finland in early June to learn about Digirail (Finland’s national ERTMS project) and how Finland is promoting the piloting and deployment of new rail technologies.

During his two-day visit, Ruete spoke with Digirail representatives about how the project is progressing, cyber security, the results of a positioning pilot, and Finland’s communications network solution, which uses commercial radio network connections for train control. Also on the agenda were financial instruments, the revisions currently being made to the TEN-T Regulation, and technological development and innovation in the railway sector. 

When it comes to railway technological upgrades, Finland is a forerunner in Europe. Finland’s digital infrastructure solution would promote the digitalisation and automation of rail traffic at an EU level, as it would speed up deployment and be significantly more affordable in terms of overall costs. This forward-looking approach was also highlighted during the visit. Ruete is both aware and well-informed of the country’s progressiveness, as he follows developments and actively engages in dialogue with Finland.  

“The best thing was to be able to highlight how the Digirail project is at the forefront of Europe in piloting and developing new technologies. Open dialogue and providing a greater understanding of how Finland can be involved in building safe and interoperable digital train traffic were definitely the highlights of the visit. At the Ministry, it’s important for us to support the project with regard to the EU Commission,” says Janne Hauta from the Ministry of Transport and Communications, who was in charge of the visit. “Ministry representatives also discussed the importance of data utilisation in rail traffic,” says Hauta.

These discussions revealed the challenges posed by slow progress in EU radio network regulation – something on which all parties agreed. The timetable for revising technical regulation was generally considered to be too slow. The revision also poses an additional challenge, as it is only adding to existing regulations rather than carrying out a major systemic “overhaul”. This in turn would have a direct impact on the national implementation schedule. The revisions currently being made to the TEN-T Regulation also involve defining the objectives and requirements for ERTMS development. Dismantling Class B systems as quickly as possible is considered essential, as they will become obsolete at a European level. This would enable competition and pose a genuine challenge in the current market. However, slow progress with this revision was also a common cause for concern.

Technological development wasn’t the only thing on the agenda. They also discussed the role that railways will play in creating the conditions required for a green transition in transport. It is vital that their importance is recognised, and that railways are increasingly integrated into the digital mobility package, so that they can help us reach emission reduction targets. The rail sector should quickly move away from old-fashioned and rigid approaches, as there is a limited window of opportunity – the green advantage will be lost unless digitalisation is fully harnessed as efficiently as possible within the next 15 years.

“The visit demonstrated the importance of open dialogue. It was important for the project to let people know about Finland’s solution, and that we have solid proof that using commercial networks is safe and economical. It was also extremely important for us to engage in open discussion about the successes and challenges related to preparing the specifications,” says Jari Pylvänäinen, who is leading the project.

“Finland has taken a major leap forward to become one of the leading countries in rail development within the EU. I wish Finland and Digirail courage and tenacity in their pioneering role,” says Matthias Ruete. After a ride in the EMMA track measurement car, he also had a clear and encouraging message for those working on the Digirail project: “You’re doing a marvellous job as innovators and pioneers of railway digitalisation.”

Our journey to the top continues. Together.

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