Digital Railway: new supply chain relationships

Source: RTM Aug/Sep 17

Stuart Calvert, head of the Early Contractor Involvement (ECI) initiative at the Digital Railway Programme, outlines the companys latest developments and explains the importance of creating a new relationship with the supply chain.

The challenges facing our railways are well known: a doubling of passenger numbers since the 1990s resulting in a network operating at and above capacity on many of the busiest routes that connect our major cities; performance impacted by the capacity shortage; and budgetary pressures constraining future investment. 

To compound matters, our collective national love affair with the railway shows no sign of abating, with passenger numbers increasing by 6% year-on-year. By common consent, passenger numbers are set to double again by the mid-2030s. 

In contrast to other transport modes, rail has arguably been slow to harness the potential of digital technology to increase capacity. Both the aviation and road sectors have benefitted from ‘smart’ technology, which has significantly boosted air traffic volumes and eased congestion on the motorway network. In contrast, the national rail network is still encumbered with a signalling system that hasn’t changed in principle since the railway began, and which is beholden to the limitations of the oldest and least efficient trains. 

ATO and ETCS capacity boosts 

The good news is that things are beginning to change, and the first tranche of the Digital Railway is well advanced. The Thameslink Programme and Crossrail will both feature digital signalling and train control, while the first deployments of Traffic Management will come into operation later this year. 

The new Thameslink timetable that will come into operation at the end of 2018 will increase significantly the number of trains running through the ‘core’ from St. Pancras to Blackfriars during the peak. 

This capacity boost is being made possible by the deployment of Automatic Train Operation (ATO) in conjunction with the European Train Control System (ETCS), which replaces lineside signalling with in-cab signalling. This reduces the headway between trains safely and increases capacity. 

ETCS communicates movement authorities to trains via GSM-R radio messages. ‘Balises’ or track-mounted electronic beacons provide information of the track ahead, such as line-speeds, gradients and level crossings. Then it calculates safe braking distances and informs the safe distance and speed profile to the driver through a display in the cab.

Traffic Management – which manages the flow of trains across the network in the most effective way – is being introduced later this year in an early ‘isolated’ format in Wales and Anglia. This will provide signallers with information to help reduce delays when disruption occurs on the network. This will be a precursor to the introduction of ‘integrated’ Traffic Management in 2018, which will automate train flow and the re-planning required to ensure the timetable can return to normal as soon as possible following disruption. 

Network Rail recently announced a Traffic Management pilot on the Western Route between Paddington and Bristol, in conjunction with the British signalling manufacturer, Resonate. This could bring significant passenger benefits and reduce reactionary delays by up to 15%. 

Following the deployment of Resonate’s Traffic Management system ‘Luminate’, a year-long trial will take place to evaluate the systems and assess the level of benefit achieved.  

Meanwhile, digital signalling and train control will be a major part of the technology that underpins Crossrail when the first trains run across the new Elizabeth Line in 2019. The Heathrow tunnel has been fitted with ETCS already and the track from Paddington to Airport Junction will be similarly equipped. Once the integration testing is completed later this year, Network Rail and Crossrail Ltd will seek authorisation from the ORR to place ETCS into passenger service. 

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Change programme 

Modernising the network at scale and pace will require a major transformation that brings together all parts of the rail industry and supply chain. That is the role of the Digital Railway Programme which is leading the change programme on behalf of the rail industry. 

The Digital Railway Programme facilitated the development of a series of Strategic Outline Business Cases (SOBCs) earlier this year, which analysed the case for deploying packages of digital technology to address specific pinch points on the network. These evaluated interventions in five routes: Western, Wessex, South East, Anglia and LNE. 

The SOBCs were developed and overseen by discrete Route Steering Boards that comprised senior route executives along with industry stakeholders. They are currently being reviewed by the DfT and will help determine the priorities for modernisation in CP6 and CP7. 

Last autumn, the chancellor announced £450m funding to trial digital signalling and we anticipate confirmation of how and where this will be utilised before the end of the year. This is likely to include a small number of projects that will provide discrete benefits and also enable wider-scale future transformation.  

Early Contractor Involvement 

Fostering a closer and more collaborative relationship with the supply chain is essential to achieve the transformation passengers and other rail users need. 

Developing new ways of working with our supply chain partners was a major priority for David Waboso, the managing director of Group Digital Railway, when he joined from TfL. The ECI initiative was established to harness the knowledge and expertise of supply chain partners to help develop solutions to capacity and performance challenges and drive down cost. 

Working in tandem with the Rail Supply Group, a group of major suppliers concluded that the costs of deploying digital technology could be reduced by between 10-30% if the rail industry radically changes the way it works with the supply chain. Procurement based on very detailed specifications should be replaced with early collaboration to find joint solutions to achieve the outcomes required. 

The same group established that early engagement with the supply chain would help to identify risks, thereby avoiding unnecessary costs and delay. There is also an opportunity to reduce the level of passenger disruption by minimising the number of track possessions required to deliver rail upgrades and enhancements. 

A second phase of the ECI programme has now been completed in conjunction with a number of household technology companies that are not traditional suppliers to the rail industry. This involved a number of well-known firms from the aerospace, defence, automotive, electronics and petro-chemical sectors which provided cross-industry experience and expertise. 

These organisations highlighted that one of the imperatives to achieving the modernisation agenda is the need to build a common dataset to support multiple business uses including asset management, timetabling and signalling. This will require the development and adoption of an industry-wide data strategy, with the involvement of all stakeholders including government, rail operating companies, the supply chain and other network operators. 

The ECI programme will continue to challenge traditional thinking and will underpin the drive to put suppliers at the heart of the Digital Railway Programme.




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