Track and signalling

10.05.18

Digital Railway strategy sets out major upgrade targets for next 15 years  

Transport secretary Chris Grayling and Network Rail boss Mark Carne will today convene in York to launch the much-anticipated Digital Railway Strategy, which will confirm that the industry will benefit from “a plan, impetus and the funding” to introduce the technology across “large swathes” of the rail network over the coming years.

In what Carne will tout as a “turning point in the history of our railways,” their speech is set to announce that 70% of journeys will benefit from digital railway technology within 15 years – while in some routes, such as the Thameslink core and Crossrail, this is already a reality.

In the five years to 2024 – the end of CP6 – the industry is also planning to launch the technology in the Pennines, on the southern end of the East Coast Main Line into London King’s Cross, and onto some of the major commuter routes that feed London Waterloo.

Overall, more than half of the country’s currently analogue signalling systems, some of which still rely on Victorian technology, will need to be replaced in the next 15 years. While a like-for-like replacement would reportedly cost around £20bn and deliver “very little,” digital signalling offers a cost-effective alternative.

As previously announced, the government is prepared to invest £450m on digital railway schemes, with £5m earmarked specifically for the Manchester-York route as part of the £3bn upgrade set to kick off next year. This will make the TransPennine route the country’s first digitally-controlled intercity railway.

No further funding announcement has been made today as part of the strategy launch.

“Not since the railway transformed from steam to diesel in the 1960s has a technological breakthrough held such promise to vastly improve our railway for the benefit of the millions of people and businesses who rely on it every day,” Carne will say.

“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 Network Rail chief also hailed the UK’s world-first roll-out of digital train control with ‘fly-by-wire’, or automatic train operation, which is already in operation on Thameslink services through London Bridge.

“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,” Grayling is set to comment.

“Investing in a railway fit for the 21st century will help the UK become a world leader in rail technology, boosting exports and skills.”

The promised benefits of digital technology are already well-known, with the government revealing that it will safely allow more trains to run per hour by operating closer together, cut delays by allowing trains to move faster after disruption, and enable better mobile and wi-fi connectivity.

Top image: Danny Lawson, PA Images

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