How ETCS and Standard Gauge Make European Railways Better

Picture of Silver Runner Kft.

Silver Runner Kft.

Track distance, also known as track gauge, is the distance between the inner sides of the two parallel rails that make up a railway track.


It is one of the key factors that determine the compatibility and interoperability of trains and tracks across different countries and regions.

In Europe, there are several track gauges in use, ranging from 600 mm (1 ft 11 5⁄8 in) to 1,668 mm (5 ft 5 21⁄32 in). However, the most common and widely used track gauge is the standard gauge, which measures 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in).

Standard Gauge and ETCS

The standard gauge is also called Stephenson gauge (after George Stephenson), international gauge, UIC gauge, uniform gauge, normal gauge and European gauge in Europe. It is the most widely used track gauge around the world, with about 55% of the lines in the world using it.

In Europe, the standard gauge covers most of the high-speed rail networks and many conventional rail lines. It is also compatible with the European Train Control System (ETCS), which is the signalling and control component of the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS).


The ETCS is designed to replace the many incompatible safety systems currently used by European railways. It aims to achieve interoperability and harmonisation of train operations across Europe, as well as to increase safety, reliability and efficiency of rail transport. The ETCS consists of standard trackside equipment and unified controlling equipment within the train cab. It allows for continuous or intermittent exchange of information between track and trains, depending on the level of application. The ETCS also enables wireless transmission of all lineside information to the driver inside the cab, removing the need for lineside signals.

The adoption of the standard gauge and the ETCS in Europe has been driven by several factors, such as the economic integration of the European Union (EU), the liberalisation of national railway markets, and the development of high-speed rail projects. The EU has issued directives on the interoperability of high-speed and conventional rail systems, requiring all new, upgraded or renewed tracks and rolling stock to adopt ETCS. However, the deployment of ETCS has been slow and uneven across Europe, due to technical challenges, high costs, lack of business case and resistance from some national operators.

Benefits and Opportunities

Despite these difficulties, there are also many benefits and opportunities for using a common track distance and a common train control system in Europe. For instance, it can facilitate cross-border travel and trade, reduce travel time and costs, enhance customer satisfaction and comfort, improve environmental performance and sustainability, and foster innovation and competitiveness in the rail sector. Therefore, it is important to continue to support and promote the implementation of the standard gauge and the ETCS in Europe, as they are essential for creating a single European railway area.

Related Posts

Dubai Port

Jebel Ali Port

Jebel Ali is a coastal area in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, that is known for its artificial harbor and its free economic zone. The Jebel Ali Port (Jafza) is the largest port in the Middle East and the ninth-largest in the world, handling more than 15 million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) of cargo every year.

shanghai port image

Shanghai Port: The World’s Busiest and Most Connected Port

Shanghai is a global metropolis and a major economic hub in China. It is also home to the world’s busiest and most connected port, which handles more than 47 million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) of cargo every year. The port of Shanghai is a vital link in the global supply chain, facilitating trade and commerce between China and the rest of the world.