Overcoming language barriers is one of the challenges that needs to be tackled to achieve complete railway interoperability.
Currently, this issue is governed by point 8 of annex VI of Directive 2007/59, as amended. Community provisions require drivers to meet level B1 in the language indicated by the Infrastructure Manager to be able to travel on the latter’s railway infrastructure.

Last year, through EU Regulation 2019/554, the Commission allowed Infrastructure Managers and Railway Undertakings to carry out pilot projects for experimenting with alternative language tools enabling drivers to have a lower level of language ability and, at the same time, enable effective and safe communication with train traffic monitoring personnel.

RailNetEurope (RNE) then decided to start a project under the name Language Programme, in collaboration with UIC, ERA and ERFA, participating in the call for tenders “S2R-OC-IPX-02-2019 Breaking language barriers” with “Translate4Rail - Translation for breaking language barriers in the railway field".

The aim of the Language Programme project is to develop a digital translation system which may be implemented on railway systems subject to proper testing in a laboratory and in operation allowing all the railway safety factors to be checked.

In simple terms, this means developing software which allows voice recognition of the predefined messages exchanged between the driver and the traffic operator and which then matches them to the respective languages of the speakers and reformulates them in voice format. A further development of the system could be the simultaneous translation of open, non-predetermined communication between the driver and the traffic operator.

At RNE level, we at RFI are also contributing to the objective of overcoming the language barrier, through a pilot project carried out in cooperation with ÖBB INFRA on the Tarvisio/Villach border.

The pilot project, RFI- ÖBB INFRA Language Programme Project Pilot, is being developed over two years and comprises two stages:

  1. First phase: Participation in RNE working groups to define the functional and technical specifications for developing a language translation prototype by RNE through the support of a provider sought on the market. Contextual preparation of the legal and operational context that will make it possible to test the use of predefined messages and the mapping tool for trains running across the Tarvisio/Villach border.
  1. Second phase: execution of laboratory tests and, if successful, carrying out of the field test following authorisation from the European Commission on the basis of a favourable opinion from the National Security Agencies and the European Security Agency. We are currently completing the first stage and will keep you updated on subsequent developments.