18. 04. 2018

Do you know what interoperability means? What does the term have to do with bridge construction? And why is it so important for efficient, seamless, cross-border rail freight transport in particular?

Europe has many national railway systems that have evolved over time. Different operational, infrastructural and technical standards pose major challenges for efficient cross-border rail traffic. Different power supplies in the individual countries require time-consuming locomotive changes at border stations, unless the locomotive is equipped for the different line voltages. In addition, there are countries such as Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan or Spain, where broad gauge is used. At 1,520 millimetres, the track gauge here is considerably wider than the standard gauge of 1,435 millimetres found across almost all of Central Europe. Different track gauges require the goods to be reloaded or the entire train to be changed (swapping of or changes to the running gear). Different train protection systems pose an additional challenge for efficient cross-border rail transport. In view of the single European market, they represent a considerable obstacle not only for the railways themselves but also for the economy as a whole. The challenge here is to build bridges and ensure seamless, efficient rail freight transport with uniform systems and standards.

The journey is the destination

This is why the European Union is striving to create uniform, transnational, legal, technical and operational conditions. In the long run, the intention is to harmonise the different rail systems found in the EU today. In detail, this means standardising infrastructure facilities, train protection and signalling systems as well as the technical equipment of traction units, the energy supply and rail operations. The aim is to make cross-border rail transport interoperable both within the European Union and with third countries, thus making rail freight transport much more efficient and faster. This alignment or harmonisation of different systems is called interoperability.

Attractive strategy towards a uniform railway system

One step towards harmonisation is the use of the European Train Control System (ETCS) and the Global System for Mobile Communications – Railway (GSM-R). ETCS monitors the locally permissible maximum speed, the correct route and direction as well as the suitability of the train for the line and is intended to harmonise numerous train control systems in Europe. A further attractive step is the use of future-orientated, multi-system locomotives, i.e. locomotives that can run on lines with different mains voltages or power supplies, as we use them in this country. In addition to the Taurus high-performance locomotives, our new Vectron power packs  also make a decisive contribution to achieving interoperability in rail traffic, not only technically but also practically Even if they cannot travel all the way to China, they can be used on almost the entire European standard gauge network.