Standardizing European Railways: A Supranational Struggle against Persistent National Languages and Emergent Local Dialects

Special Report: Low Density and Costs of Urban Development
By Simon Paye

This article depicts the harmonisation of European railway signalling as a technological standardisation process that follows the “Esperanto case”. Instead of choosing an existing national signalling system, the European Commission preferred to launch an ambitious project geared to designing a new European standard system: the ERTMS (European Rail Transport Management System). The ensuing simultaneous development of this system and its associated technology caused critical problems, especially during the phase of implementation. While the system is promoted as a “standard”, we notice that 1) its technical specifications are unstable and that 2) its deployment throughout the European rail network is hampered by conflicting interpretations of these technical specifications. The final result is an emergence of local dialects in what was intended to be an “Esperanto”.

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