The ETCS system

Infrabel aims to make the Belgian rail network one of the safest in Europe. Since 2009, we have been installing the European Train Control System (ETCS) on the national rail network.

What is ETCS?

The European Train Control System (ETCS) is an automatic train control system that operates with the aid of balises in the track and a computer system in the train cab. Both the rail infrastructure and the train must be equipped with the system.

The balises in the track detect the precise location of the train so that the maximum permitted speed can be calculated. They then send the necessary route information to the onboard computer in the train (for ETCS2 this takes place via GSM-R, see below).
The onboard computer will then keep the train driver constantly informed of the maximum permitted speed of the train as well as all information from the trackside signals. This ensures that the driver can continually comply with the signals, even if his train is travelling too fast to see the signs and signals beside the track.

The ETCS system will also monitor the driver and correct him if necessary. If, for instance, there is a red signal two kilometres further along the track, the ETCS system will ask the driver to slow down. If the driver does not keep to the maximum speed limit, does not brake in time or drives through a red light, the system automatically corrects the speed of the train or activates the emergency brake.
As ETCS is a European standard, this also allows trains from other European countries to run safely on our network, without first having to install a Belgian system such as TBL1+.



Why is ETCS necessary?

In the early '90s, there were twenty or so different signalling systems on European railways. These signalling systems are fundamental to safe train travel. With the encouragement of the EU, major rail projects were launched to promote train travel, particularly the high speed network and transnational freight services.
During the implementation of these projects it became clear that it was essential for European railways to harmonise the existing national signalling systems.

The installation of an interoperable safety system was vital for a unified European rail network - without borders and totally safe.

ETCS on the Belgian rail network

In Belgium, all signals on mainlines are equipped with the "Memor-Crocodile" driving aid. Since 2009, the entire rail infrastructure has also been covered by the interoperable mobile phone network GSM-R. Today, the interoperability of the GSM-R, coupled with ETCS (GSM-R + ETCS = ERTMS), is considered the benchmark among the communication systems of European railway networks.Read more about these systems on the Safety pages.

As well as the existing driving aids, Infrabel has also installed the TBL1+ train control system across the most important railway junctions since 2012. This system is based on trackside beacons and is perfectly compatible with the ETCS system.

Current status

Belgium has long been aware of its strategic geographical position and as early as 1993 committed itself to setting up a network of high-speed lines, which would be safe and open to Europe. Thanks to these efforts, in the space of a few years, Brussels has become a nerve centre for trans-European railway activity.

In 2009, the commissioning of lines connecting Brussels to Germany, as well as between Brussels and the Netherlands, made Belgium the first country in the Union to be linked border to border by high-speed lines. These high-speed lines were thus equipped, as a priority, with safety systems, most notably with ETCS.

Since then, two axes of the “conventional” network have been benefitting from the safety coverage provided by ETCS.

  • Lines 36 / 36 N connecting Brussels to Leuven (03/2012).
  • A few months later (06/2012), the Diabolo railway link and the new railway line 25N between Schaerbeek and Mechelen would also be commissioned with the ETCS system. The Diabolo rail tunnels and the aboveground rail line (line 25N) were also equipped with the GSM-R communication network.
  • The Liefkenshoek rail link which connects the left and right banks of the Port of Antwerp
  • Corridor C” which connects Antwerp, Basel and Lyon, one of the key axes of freight transport by rail in Europe; It will again strengthen its rail capacity while sustaining its growth.


ETCS on the Belgian network (situation end 2015)

ETCS Master Plan

The strategy of progressively equipping the Belgian infrastructure with ETCS is ambitious. It is detailed in the “ETCS Master Plan” presented by Infrabel and the railway operators before the Special Commission on Railway Security on 19 October 2011. Pending approval by the Government, the total cost for the infrastructure manager was estimated at 2,004 billion euro in 2011. Its financing was conceived on the basis of the annual state funding and within the framework of the European subsidies and corridor C.

3 levels combined

The ETCS Master Plan aims to implement the 3 distinct levels of the ETCS system (level 1, level 2 and Limited supervision) depending on the needs and specificities of the network.

ETCS level 1

  • Constant monitoring of the train speed and emergency braking if the maximum authorised speed is exceeded.
  • STOP functionality in case of passing a signal at red.
  • Transmission of information via balises placed at the foot of signals, but also up the line from them

ETCS level 2

  • Constant monitoring of the train speed and emergency braking if the maximum authorised speed is exceeded.
  • STOP functionality in case of passing a red signal.
  • Transmission of information from the ground to the driver’s cab and inversely via GSM-R antennas (specifically for rail).

ETCS level 1 - Limited Supervision

  • Constant monitoring of the train and emergency braking if the maximum authorised speed is exceeded.
  • STOP functionality in case of passing a red signal.
  • Transmission of information via balises placed at the foot of signals, but also up the line from them.
  • Tailor-made solution allowing for the selection of the required functions to achieve the appropriate level of safety.

4 successive phases

Four major successive deadlines have been set out for the implementation of the ETCS Master Plan.

These are focused around:

  • Phase 1 - current situation: Expediting implementation of TBL1+ and ETCS;
  • Phase 2 - 2015-2022: End of the TBL1+ programme (2015) and realization of ETCS (2022);
  • Phase 3 - 2025: Making ETCS the technical standard for all operators travelling on the Belgian network;
  • Phase 4 - 2030-2035: Convergence towards a homogeneous version of ETCS – level 2 (to be confirmed).


This ETCS Master Plan is a joint collaborative effort  between Infrabel and the railway operator that aims for maximal safety for the train operation,  the best ergonomics for train drivers, higher reliability of the signalling system, increased  network capacity and full interoperability. The ETCS Master Plan provides for a substantial increase in the safety of the whole of the Belgian railway network. Given that the roll-out of ETCS requires far more effort in all respects then the roll-out of TBL1+, the implementation of this latter system will ensure a faster and substantial safety improvement. Infrabel will re-use the hardware for the TBL1+ installation for the ETCS installation.

Our ambition is to progressively raise the Belgian railway to be among the top 3 safest networks in Europe. The means for achieving this are detailed in the Master Plan. In collaboration with the railway operators, we are redoubling our efforts to meet each of the 4 major deadlines that determine the path to our success.

Co-financed by the European Union

The European Union supports the implementation of ETCS on the Belgian railway network. Subsidies have been awarded on several occasions:               

ETCS Level 1 Full supervision            
  • Roll-out on Corridor C
  • Roll-out on Line 10 and Line 36C/2
  • Roll-out on the Ans-Angleur section of line 36/37                   
ETCS Level 2              
  • Development of an ETCS Level 2 Generic design including the Deinze-Waregem pilot line.