Posted 10th May 2018 | 8 Comments

Digital Railway plans move to next stage

THE Department for Transport has unveiled the next stage of plans for modernising the railway by launching a Digital Rail Strategy.

Transport secretary Chris Grayling is telling the audience at an event in York that digital signalling will now be extended to the Northern Transpennine route.

A major upgrade is due to start next year on the line between Manchester and York, which may now only be partially electrified at best. However, the government is making £5 million available so that Network Rail can develop its digital technology proposals.

Digital signalling, which usually means ETCS, has already been used on Thameslink and will also be one of the systems on the Elizabeth Line. ERTMS and its train control element ETCS has been under test for some time, initially on the Cambrian lines in central Wales and more recently on the Hertford Loop, where a specially adapted test train has been feeding data back to a test centre just outside Hitchin station.

The DfT said Mr Graying and outgoing Network Rail chief executive Mark Carne will ‘commit to ensuring all new trains and signalling are digital or digital ready from 2019. They will also set out that they want to see digital rail technology benefiting passengers across the network over the next decade.’

Transport secretary Chris Grayling said: “Passenger numbers have doubled in recent years – which means we need to invest in new technology to help deliver the reliable and frequent trains that passengers want.  Investing in a railway fit for the twenty-first century will help the UK become a world leader in rail technology, boosting exports and skills. As we celebrate the Year of Engineering, this is a chance to show young people how digital innovation is opening doors to careers that will shape the future of travel.”

Mark Carne of Network Rail said: “Not since the railway transformed from steam to diesel in the 1960s has a technological breakthrough held such promise.

“The age of a digital railway has today moved from the drawing board and into reality as we reveal a blueprint that will improve the lives of millions of passengers and freight users across the country. Today’s commitment is to adopt and roll-out new digital technology, for both trains and track, that will deliver faster more frequent services for passengers and businesses alike, giving our economy a massive boost.”

The new strategy has been welcomed by companies in the rail supply chain. Railway Industry Association chief executive Darren Caplan said: “We live in a digital age, and rail should be at the forefront of the Government’s plans to modernise major transport infrastructure.

“With almost two thirds of rail signalling needing to be replaced in the next 15 years, this is the ideal time to transform the railway through new technology.

“Rail industry suppliers are more than up to the task of delivering this shift to digital, and we urge the Government to ensure there is a visible and consistent pipeline of work, so the sector can plan, upskill and invest in the exciting challenge which lies ahead. RIA and its members look forward to working with the Government, Network Rail and all in the industry to secure this exciting future.

“Whilst the digital upgrade is implemented, it is important that existing conventional systems are maintained too. So we ask the Government and Network Rail to continue supporting suppliers of legacy signalling products and services, as we migrate from traditional signalling to digital in the years ahead.”

RMT general secretary Mick Cash was less impressed, saying: “It's nothing but a smokescreen for Chris Grayling to suddenly start parading around as a great rail moderniser when he's the man who deliberately pulled the plug on a raft of key electrification and upgrade plans. No one is going to believe a word he says.

"‎Britain's railways have been jammed in the slow lane for decades due to a toxic combination of under investment, fragmentation and private profiteering.

"To drag ourselves into the digital age will take more than a PR stunt.”

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • steve, devon

    It’s funny how in all this time we have heard nothing from Carne, the last time I remember seeing him in public was when he was summoned in front of the publics accounts committee to explain the horrendous overspend on the GWR electrification project. And now he’s the “outgoing” CEO and Now decided to make a massive statement like this. Let’s face it, he’s going, he can promise the world, he’s not going to be around to be questioned about it.

    So, please can someone explain how this is going to actually be rolled out? I was under the impression that this system requires amongst many things “suitable modern rolling stock” so are saying that the current stock will have to be replaced, or are we hoping to retro fit the current stock? And how does this system work where you have mixed traffic such as freight? What about delays, breakdowns, possible system shutdowns? If it’s anything like the underground system then the manual overrides only allow a maximum set speed.

    Sorry, In my view it’ll cost way to much and the TOC’s and FOC’s won’t want to take the risk

  • Tony Pearce, READING

    Unions still behaving as 'Luddites', - the workers who smashed the Mills because they feared losing their Jobs. I am interested what the back up system would be should power be lost to the system. I am aware that in the 'Good Old Days', a Driver would stop at a signal and ask for permission to proceed to the next one. Slow yes, but safe. With 'virtual' signals how will this be achieved ?

  • Jez Milton, Manchester

    Mark Carne keeps spouting nonsense (Digital Railway / 24 hour railway). The benefits of 'digital signalling' are marginal at best, and realistically illusory in most scenarios. The two line section through Manchester Piccadilly to Oxford Rd will not miraculously have any less congestion with new signalling, for example. To suggest otherwise either confirms that oil-man Carne knows nothing about rail operations or he is being massively disingenuous. After Network Rail's pathetic failure with enhancements in CP5, who can blame Grayling for using these Carne dreams as a means of getting out of throwing away more government money?

    Replace Carne with someone with a decent rail operations background, and we'll hear a lot less of this Digital railway drivel. Meanwhile, Carne's pension should be reviewed, and other senior NR management should face dismissal.

  • david c smith, Bletchley

    My understanding is that the main justification for spending £57billion - plus on HS2 is to give extra capacity, with very high speeds a secondary consideration.

    If this new Digital train control can acheive a similar capacity relief , at a lot lower cost, what does this tell us about the current HS2 project ?

  •, Bradford

    AND RAILWAY technology.

  • Chris Neville-Smith, Durham

    Strawbrick, Watford: Yes, potentially. The extreme example we know about is the Euston terminus of HS2, which needs 11 platforms to accommodate 16-18 tph. Although there are other factors in play, such as dwell time at platforms (you generally need longer to turn around long-distance trains than commuter ones) and slack time for recovery from disruption.

    Whether you could actually achieve something so dramatic elsewhere is still anyone's guess. As I said before, the capacity benefits on mixed-use lines are less clear than single-use lines. So it will probably depend on how good digital signally actually turns out to be.

  • strawbrick, Watford

    Apparently the digital transformation will mean that more trains can be run per hour on existing tracks. Will there not be many circumstances where the existing termii will need more platforms to cope?

  • Chris Neville-Smith, Durham, England

    Hmm. I don't like Chris Grayling's over-reliance on new unproven technology. Like electric/diesel hybrids, this will be great if it does everything it's supposed to do, but that's far from guaranteed. So far, digital signalling has only demonstrated *proven* benefits on single-use lines where all trains have the same speed and stopping patterns. We don't know whether this will have the same benefit on a route with a mixture of fast and stopping services. That would be fine if this was being developed over and above what's needed for the route, but Grayling is moving towards these solutions as a substitute for improvements, not an addition.

    That said, I'm not taking any lessons from Mick Cash either. I'll take him seriously when he names one rail improvement he supports. Suddenly deciding he supports an improvement after it's been cancelled or scaled back is opportunism and nothing more.