Like many other countries, Norway has a problem with ageing signalling equipment and needs to undertake modernisation. The infrastructure manager, Jernbaneverket, has taken the decision to adopt ERTMS nationwide with a project lasting from the present day until 2030. It is only the second country to have taken this bold step and it has been influenced in part by its near neighbour, Denmark, which made a similar pronouncement back in 2012.

Many eyes have been watching the progress of the Danish scheme and seeing some of the challenges that are emerging. The Norwegian project is to be based on three major signalling contracts covering the whole main line railway network but with the intention of achieving the same result. So what is it all about and what are the critical factors?


Norway is a long thin country with a small rail network in comparison to many others. It has 4,000 route kilometres and 4,500 track kilometres, which demonstrates that much of it is single track. There is only a limited capacity improvement achievable by employing ERTMS on such an infrastructure, hence the project is renewal, rather than enhancement, driven.

Suburban commuter routes exist around Oslo but important main line links run to Kristiansand and Stavanger in the south west, Bergen in the west (including the tourist-orientated Flåm Railway), Åndalsnes and Trondheim in the north west and, with a long northern extension, to Bodø. Three eastward lines connect to the Swedish cities of Stockholm, Gőteborg, Malmő and Østersund.

In the far north, an unconnected line to the Norwegian network crosses from Narvik to Kiruna in Sweden primarily for iron ore traffic.

Progressing the project

Since the adoption of ERTMS will essentially be a state-funded project, the processes to satisfy government that there is a sound business case with appropriate contract allocations and ongoing governance have to be gone through. This can be a lengthy task and the timescale for getting costs and ‘invitations to tender’ documents prepared has taken more than two years. However, agreement to proceed is expected to be granted in the summer of 2015 with RFQs being issued later this year.

Part of the process has been to equip an 80km pilot line between Ski and Sarpsborg, south of Oslo, with ERTMS Level 2. Testing on this section has been going on over the past few months in collaboration with Bombardier which was the awarded signalling supplier. Trial running is expected to commence this month with commercial operations using ERTMS beginning in August. Part of the trial will be to examine the applicability of existing operating rules as well as learning the technical and maintenance aspects of the equipment.

Once the full project gets the go ahead, the implementation period will extend from 2020 to 2030. The first lines to be converted will be to Bergen and the far north line from Trondheim to Bodø. The logic is to work from the extremities inwards towards Oslo since this minimises the train fitment, a challenging task that will involve around a dozen train operators.

Some lines around the capital will also be fitted with the Norwegian Class B signalling system using conventional interlockings, lineside signals and track circuits / axle counters in order to progress urgent renewals but without the need to fit trains with ETCS. Jernbaneverket has stated they want to keep the number of new Class B systems as low as possible and much of this technology will be ERTMS compatible. In 2012, Thales Norway and Jernbaneverket signed a framework agreement for delivery of Class B systems lasting for 10 years with 25 more years of technical support on each delivered system.

Technical considerations

The vision of Jernbaneverket is that, by 2030, there will be a single set of parts for all aspects of ERTMS operation. This will cover control centres with their interlockings, radio block centres and MMI panels; trackside equipment such as balises, train detection equipment, point mechanisms and level crossing operation; and on-board train equipment including the VOBC, driver displays, odometry and balise readers.

Utbygging_signalanlegg_ERTMS_2020_CThus the intention is to progress as three distinct contracts, for signalling infrastructure, for on-board train fitment and for the traffic management system. The latter is seen as key to modernising train traffic control before the main ERTMS programme begins and will thus progress in the earlier timeframe of 2018/9.
Jernbaneverket will also issue contracts for civil works in connection with new infrastructure required for cable ducts, trackside signalling housings and marker boards, plus safety measures to facilitate removing train dispatchers on railway sections without continuous train supervision. Norway already has a GSM-R radio network but with coverage designed primarily for voice traffic. To be the bearer for ETCS, it is going to need additional base stations to give more robust signal strength and coverage. The prospect of having to find an alternative to GSM-R during the timeframe of the ERTMS project will be addressed when this issue gets resolved within the European Rail community. Although not a member of the EU, Norway is signed up to most EC conventions.

The ERTMS to be adopted will be Level 2 to baseline 3.0.0 software (or latest version at roll out time), a release still to happen but reported as imminent. Key Management, that is the security code that ensures only the correct train receives the relevant information when transmission of movement authority messages are being sent, is seen as particularly important since it has caused considerable proving problems in the deployment of ERTMS elsewhere.

Consideration has been given to an ERTMS Level 3 solution using the experience of ‘Regional ERTMS’ being installed on remote lines in Sweden, but for the moment this is discounted because the risk arising from being the first to adopt such a system would be unacceptable for such a nationally-significant project.

As with any railway, the fitting of rolling stock is a challenge. NSB (the near monopoly train operating company) will be tasked with fitting the existing fleet of between 400 and 600 units and will receive government compensation for this work. New trains ordered after the commencement of the project will be expected to come with ETCS equipment fitted. It is recognised that the design, installation and testing activities for the ‘first in class’ will be expensive. Some trains will need to be dual fitted with ETCS and a Specific Transmission Module (STM) and associated equipment that will allow them to operate to existing signalling systems in the short term. The ‘yellow fleet’ of on track machines will also be included in the rolling stock fitment contract.

In summary

This decision is a brave step for the railways of Norway. It will be one of the most exciting and challenging projects within the country, not just because it is the transition from relay-based to computer-derived signalling but it will also test out ERTMS in challenging topography and occasional harsh weather conditions.

The expected cost of the project is 15-20 billion Norwegian Krone, roughly £1.3-1.7 billion. Much will depend on the reaction of the supply market once the invitation to tender is issued. The business and operational skills required to manage the project will be recruited in house.

As in Denmark, eyes from around the world will be watching this project progress. A project running over such a long period of time will demand a solid and trusting relationship between Jernbaneverket and the supply chain. In the short term however, the ERTMS suppliers need to sharpen their pencils.