Track and signalling

05.01.17

IMechE calls for Digital Railway and ERTMS to be fast-tracked

Digital Railway and other innovations must be fast-tracked to deliver sufficient capacity on British railways, according to a new report from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE).

IMechE argued that British rail is “in heavy catch-up mode” after nearly 100 years of under-investment. While stating that projects such as High Speed 2, Crossrail, Northern Powerhouse Rail and work on London Underground will deliver significant inter-city and sub-urban capacity, the institution added that “we need more”.

It also called for greater investment in the railway to meet rising demand, despite the economic uncertainty generated by Brexit. Philippa Oldham, IMeche’s head of transport and manufacturing, said: “To meet Britain’s transport capacity requirements and facilitate economic growth, we need to enhance existing rail infrastructure, build some new railways, develop advanced traffic management systems, expand terminus capacity and enlarge rolling stock fleets.

“Although there are already exciting projects nearing completion, such as Crossrail, these are largely about catching up with under-investment over the past 100 years. With demand set to double in the next 30 years, we need to step-up efforts to ease crowding, improve punctuality and unlock further capacity.”

In particular, IMechE urged the Rail Supply Group (RSG), Rail Delivery Group (RDG) and RSSB to promote European Railway Traffic Management System (ERTMS) levels 2 and 3 in their January 2017 technical advice to the government to attract more funding.

ERTMS is ultimately intended to replace existing signalling systems in the UK as part of the Digital Railway initiative. Last year’s Transport Select Committee report into Digital Railway largely welcomed the overall plans, but warned that digital railway initiatives should not be so over-ambitious that they later have to be scaled back.

Paul Plummer, chief executive of the RDG, which represents rail companies and Network Rail, said he agreed that cross-industry collaboration was vital to bring forward digital railway “as quickly and efficiently as possible”.

Overall, IMechE said the rail industry needed to use 2017-18 to “work out how to think in a more holistic risk-based way”, instead of relying on an “if it fails, we stop the trains” system of signalling. It also urged the ORR and DfT to become more closely involved in digital railway plans.

In addition to future solutions, the report argued that the RSG and RDG needed to identify the barriers to implementing currently viable technological solutions in the next year.

If necessary, the institution suggested that the DfT and ORR should offer individual operating companies compensation to get the solutions implemented more quickly. Bringing forward innovations more quickly than in the current 5-10 year timeframe would also inspire more confidence in suppliers and encourage them to make more solutions market-ready, the report added.

IMechE also called on bodies including the DfT, Network Rail, the National Infrastructure Commission, Transport for London and Transport for the North to speed up funding for solutions to relieve known bottlenecks.

Furthermore, it recommended accelerating the Closer Running research stream, which would allow trains to communicate with each other and even couple together while in motion. It said that while the concept sounded “far-fetched”, it was already being trialled in autonomous road vehicle research.

The Institution also warned that the government would need to provide greater investment in rail research and development to compensate for the loss of EU funding. This support should be directed through the RSSB and the newly emerging University Centres of Excellence for railways.

(Image c. Network Rail)

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