ERTMS Interface Risks

On January 22nd, 2010 I had the privilege to deliver a paper on the following subject to the IT.10 conference on the ETH Zurich.

Many ERTMS projects are frustrated by complexity and unmanaged interfaces. Until now it many real-world ERTMS/ETCS implementation projects have been severely delayed and confronted by significant cost overruns. Mostly this is due to the complexity and unmanaged interfaces in the ETCS project. With hindsight, it appears that emphasis was to enforce interoperability as a means to break the perceived monopolies of the EU 96/48 railways and ensure market entry for new operators. However, the complexity of managing a system development on the scale of ERTMS/ETCS has been underestimated. And a very important interface, the inter-vendor one was largely overlooked.
A system development such as this would already have been quite challenging in an integrated railway to begin with, but the added complexity of doing so in a volatile mix of the European community’s railways and system suppliers have given it a “Tower of Babel”-like dimension.
As a result we have been faced with a number of SRS versions and implementations and the “early adopters” will be faced with the need to modify/upgrade their newly acquired systems at a significant cost. Today the lack of inter-vendor interoperability appears to be the biggest risk to any interoperability project. Forcing infrastructure operators to mount their own interoperability campaigns can only be a short-term solution and the resulting user- or access restrictions are in direct conflict with the interoperability goals and perhaps even legislation.
This may not be a railway specific problem. Certainly the Airbus A380 development, the Boeing dreamliner and many public-sector IT projects show us that the competition for the “worlds most delayed project” championship is fierce.
In any case, it would seem that convincing evidence from a Maturity Growth model, or a real-world multi vendor interoperability demonstration is needed, before we can take the claims that “ERTMS is here today” and “ERTMS can be applied of the shelf” seriously.

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