Increasing rail transport will have a significant impact on achieving the emissions reduction targets, and so the European Union is pushing hard to streamline rail transport across Europe. The aim for the future is that trains would operate smoothly across country borders – within a single European railway area:
“The idea is that train traffic would operate as smoothly as air traffic, where flight captains talk to each other effortlessly in English, fly without effort in the airspace across country borders and land without any technical challenges,” says Juha Lehtola, Project Manager at the Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency and the Digirail client.
Rail transport is highly regulated and currently the transport mode still largely relies on national railway systems. Now the EU is trying to steer countries in the same direction by means of regulation. This will also have an impact on the Digirail project.
We hope that in March 2023, under the coordination of the European Union Agency for Railways (ERA), a new version of the Communication, control and signaling system’s Technical Specification for Interoperability (CCS TSI) will be published. It will control what kind of safety devices, i.e. equipment, that ensure that trains run on the line at the right speed and at a sufficient distance from each other, can be used in European train traffic.
The previous version of CCS TSI regulation dates back to 2016, and the new version was originally scheduled to be released in January 2022. The delay in the document has slowed down the definition work for Digirail, and this has resulted in minor scheduling challenges regarding the system procurement for the first phase:
“In practice, we know what the regulation will contain, but equipment suppliers want to see the official decision. If the decision would have been released in time, we would have started purchasing the systems already six months ago,” Juha says.
He wants to emphasize that sometimes decisions regarding Digirail are not in the hands of national decision-makers – some of them are dictated by the European Union. If we want to influence decision-making in the European Union, we must do so years before the decisions enter into force.
Finland also has a lot to gain in European train transport
The Baltic Sea lies between Finland and Central Europe, and crossing the sea will not be resolved by increasing train traffic, but in the future, train travel from Paris to Berlin will perhaps be just as easy as from Tampere to Helsinki, and freight traffic will run more smoothly than before.
Juha notes, however, that the EU’s ambition is not yet quite reflected in regulation:
“At the same time, the EU wants to ensure that the old equipment in southern Europe will remain in use and, on the other hand, to also promote the adoption of the latest, agile technology. At times, regulation is also too detailed,” he says.
However, Finland may have a lot to gain in the process. For example, for a long time we have developed a radio-network-based ETCS train control solution, and we can sell this expertise to other European countries that need to upgrade their train control to the European Rail Traffic Management System.
And, of course, with Digirail, Finnish train transport is also taking a big leap forward:
“We are aiming for a transport solution where people and goods move in an agile manner, using various transport modes, from Helsinki all the way up north to Kolari. To assist them, they have applications that take advantage of the interface we provide”.