Railway Communications


Harmonization of railways is an important task for the further improvement of European infrastructure. Harmonization of telecommunications in railway operation, with the goal of full interoperability, is a key element. And an harmonized interoperable system in Europe is expected to open the way to global harmonization.

The European authorities have selected GSM-R as the transmission technology. This is defined in the European Directive on High Speed Train Interoperability and by other forthcoming European Directives for railways (including the European Directive on Conventional Lines interoperability), with standardization being a key to achieving an harmonized solution.

GSM-R uses the GSM technology, but the specialized requirements for harmonized railway operation, in particular for high-speed trains, means that applications have to use the GSM system in a specific way.

European railways

Within Europe, GSM-R is now being combined with the General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) to form the basis for an Intelligent Transport System that will give railways the means to improve the efficiency of rail operations and offer new services to users.

ERTMS, the European Rail Traffic Management System, is the new rail management system for Europe which combines the European Train Control System (ETCS) with GSM-R. The first high speed line using ERTMS, enabling interoperability throughout the European rail network, went into use between Naples and Rome, and is already being extended to Florence. By the end of 2007, as well as Italy, Spain, Germany and Switzerland, there will be projects operating for high speed lines in France, the Netherlands and Belgium.

The conditions for implementing cross-border GSM-R between France, the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium were defined in 2006 and the roaming agreements are in the process of being signed. GSM-R on border-crossing trains is becoming a reality and most European countries are expected to sign up during 2007.

The introduction of Direct Mode Operation (DMO) within GSM-R for its use for GSM in Professional Mobile Radio (PMR) is an important evolution which answers not only the requirements of the railways but also offers the possibility of fulfilling the needs of the blue light emergency services.

Beyond Europe

The GSM-R system continues to spread to ever wider geographical areas. During 2006 it was adopted, among other places, in Saudi Arabia and Israel in the Middle East. In the Far East it has extended into India and China, where networks are being implemented; there are now three lines up and running and a huge development programme is planned for coming years. Australia is considering GSM-R and in North Africa Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco are adopting the system. In South America, Argentina, Mexico and Brazil are looking into the ERTMS as a possible global system for their rail operation.

Professional Mobile Radio (PMR)

In a significant breakthrough in the PMR market, one of the major public operators in Germany is now introducing a PMR service using GSM-R features.

Download the GSM for railways technology leaflet

Our Role & Activities

ETSI's standardization activities for GSM-R centre on the application of GSMTM for railway telecommunications. This includes numbering and addressing, configuration aspects, system aspects and functional aspects and any additional services sought by the railways. It does not include specification of the GSM technology itself (that is the task of the 3rd Generation Partnership Project, 3GPP), neither does it include safety aspects (which are standardized by CENELEC).

These applications can be easily extended to PMR Networks based on GSM-R Functional Requirements Specifications.

The standardization work is carried out by a dedicated ETSI technical committee, Railway Telecommunications (RT). Currently, RT is working closely with the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPPTM) on Advanced Speech Call Items (ASCI) features which could impact on the interoperability of railway telecommunications, particularly with a view to improving the efficiency of PMR operations.

RT also has an ongoing liaison with 3GPPTM on enhanced Voice Group Call Service (VGCS), and work on the encryption of group calls is progressing well.

RT is also evaluating the possibility of using Direct Mode Operation (DMO) GSM-R for communications related to the requirements of the Technical Specification for Interoperability (TSI) for safety in railway tunnels.


The following is a list of recently published and frequently downloaded standards. Please use the ETSI Work Programme to find further related standards.

Standard No. Standard title
EN 302 515 Requirements for GSM operation on railways
TR 102 281 Detailed requirements for GSM operation on Railways