Digital Railway: All change on the ECML

Source: RTM Oct/Nov 2018

Network Rail route programme director, Toufic Machnouk, explains why only a radically new approach to contracting will deliver a better service for passengers.

Network Rail’s current search for a train control partner to renew train control systems on the southern end of the East Coast Main Line (ECML) – from Kingʼs Cross to Grantham – represents a bold attempt to manage the railway in a very different way.

Reflecting Henry Ford’s maxim that ‘if you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you’ve always got,’ we are adopting a very different way of working with our supply chain partners, and the wider industry, in pursuit of an enhanced service for passengers.

So out go highly specified contracts that don’t allow our supply chain partners to use their technical and operational expertise to help develop technical solutions to meet our biggest challenges, and in comes a new long-term partnership approach based on collaboration and a relationship that will last for the whole of asset life.    

The ECML Programme will herald the first major route deployment of transformative digital railway technologies and, in the process, will fundamentally challenge everything we do – from how we procure technology to how we operate the railway.

There is one very simple objective: to make the railway work better for its users and stakeholders.

Modernising the train control systems will allow us to tackle the structural limits of today’s railway and transform the long-term costs of operating the network.

It will facilitate a cross-industry transformation to realise the potential of modern technology and provide an ongoing opportunity to continuously improve the operation of the network.

Specifically, the technology will allow us to improve the train control system to increase capacity and improve reliability on the southern end of what is a high-demand, mixed-use railway. This will provide a more resilient, better-performing railway that will enable better intercity services for the north east of England.

Implementing digital railway will remove the rigid divide between track and train which has existed since privatisation. This will remove many of the barriers towards creating a more flexible network in which the infrastructure provider and train operators work together hand in glove to focus on what matters: delivering for passengers.

As with all change, timing is fundamental. And for ECML, the time is most definitely now.

The train control system was last substantially upgraded in the 70s, and is entering a renewal cycle which has aligned with the deployment of new digital trains. This means a tipping point has been reached on the southern section of the route. With 70% of passenger trains being digital, we have a compelling case for a digitally-based, renewal-led train control system upgrade.

The significance of this area means it will act as a route- and network-wide catalyst.  By starting to deploy a digital railway here, renewals further north will naturally become digital.

As the programme director for the ECML Programme, I am in no doubt that how we do this must be fundamentally different in order to succeed.

We have launched the procurement to establish a route-based partnership with technology providers focused on industry outcomes and deliberately early in the development cycle.

The nature of this new relationship means Network Rail needs to focus on industry-level integration and change, and allow the technology partner the freedom to develop solutions, getting the best out of each other.

Based on extensive engagement across the industry, I am confident that this approach will lead to a better railway.

Our passengers, users and stakeholders are counting on us.

Top image: Andrew Milligan, PA Wire 


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