Monday 2 October 2023

Tribute to Michael Watkins’ action at UIC

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Michael Watkins’ work as the project manager for EIRENE (European Integrated Radio Enhanced NEtwork) was key for the introduction of digitalisation within European railway telecommunications. It paved the way for GSM-R to be established as a European standard and to become the international standard for railway telecommunications worldwide.

In 1992, UIC, together with the EC and the railways, launched a project called EIRENE. The aim of this project was to specify the requirements for mobile networks which would both fulfil the needs of railways and ensure interoperability across borders. This involved the description of mandatory requirements for operational communication services in, and between, networks of neighbouring railways, with the aim of eventually enabling uninterrupted train services when crossing borders.

A project team headed by Michael Watkins was established. The group was tasked with preparing a set of requirements which would mainly describe the mandatory features necessary for interoperability. In addition, a description of some optional features was envisaged to also take account of national requirements.

This document also set out the requirements related to railway operation and the specification of the additional Group and Broadcast Calls features.

Following a European Call for projects launched in 1995 to develop the detailed specifications and then validate that these EIRENE functional specifications could be transferred into technical implementations, a consortium of railways, GSM suppliers and laboratories teamed up to find this answer and successfully win the European MORANE (MObile radio for RAilway Networks in Europe) project in 1996.

This led to successful teamwork between the EIRENE and MORANE projects, involving both railways and industry, as they established the whole functional and system specifications for GSM-R, validated by trial sites set up in France, Germany and Italy. This ensured the success of GSM-R as the worldwide railway standard.

These EIRENE FRS and SRS specifications became the cornerstone of the introduction of the unique and interoperable telecommunications and signalling system known as ERTMS (European Rail Traffic Management System).

We were all deeply sad to learn of Michael Watkins’ passing on 10 September.

For further information, please contact Karine Van Ceunebroeck at

or Robert Sarfati at

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