Increasing Failures: New Train Security Slows Down Traffic

The modern European Train Control System (ETCS) has been introduced to improve safety on Czech railways, costing tens of billions of Czech koruna. Gradually replacing many different, incompatible, and often outdated tools across European Union countries, the ETCS is expected to secure operations on main Czech corridors, such as the route from Prague to Ostrava, starting January 2025. However, the system is currently grappling with failures causing unexpected train braking, delays, and cancellations of connections.

Up to eight failures per day have been reported for the ETCS on the track from Olomouc to Uničov, the first Czech railway where trains are exclusively connected to this system. According to the Railway Authority, the ETCS is also struggling with unreliability elsewhere. “On tracks with mixed operations, all trains can run and do not have to use ETCS. If it does not work, it does not affect the operation,” Vanda Rajnochová, a spokesperson for Czech Railways, clarified for Právo. Authorities are still investigating the causes of the failures in the Olomouc region and are eager to find a solution as soon as possible.

The ETCS is a condition for trains in the Czech Republic to travel at speeds of up to two hundred kilometers per hour, with the current maximum being 160 kilometers. The system checks the ride, increases safety, and strengthens the tracks’ capacity thanks to smooth operation. In case of any unauthorized passing of signals, it warns the driver and subsequently intervenes in vehicle control. It also checks compliance with the maximum permitted speed.

Problems in the Olomouc region’s pilot operation complicate the system’s expansion. Jiří Kolář, the director of the Railway Authority, already called in a letter in October for all participants to address the issues and stop blaming each other. “If the actual causes are not identified and solved, we can expect a significant increase in irregularities with an impact on the safety of operations,” he stated in the letter. Negotiations between the Railway Administration, carriers, and technology suppliers occurred at the end of October, but problems on the test track increased.

Investments into the installation of the unified European security device on the tracks of the Railway Administration this year alone amount to 2.4 billion Czech koruna. Equipping one locomotive with technology costs 10 to 20 million, and the most modern ones already have the system built-in. The Ministry of Transport has previously estimated the investments into the ETCS to be at least 50 billion Czech koruna. The technology covers 900 kilometers of tracks, and construction or preparation is underway on another 3.5 thousand.