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Delays and cutbacks in TMS plans cast doubt on entire Digital Railway

Changes to Network Rail’s Enhancements Delivery Plan (EDP) following the Hendy Review – including further delays to ETCS commissioning on the East Coast and Great Western main lines – mean that phase 1 milestones are likely being pushed back to CP6, “inevitably” creating uncertainty about the entire delivery of the Digital Railway, Hitachi has said.

In its evidence submission to the Transport Select Committee’s inquiry into rail technology, Hitachi Rail Europe outlined a series of concerns around the many ambitions for delivering the Digital Railway proposals.

It cited, for example, reductions in the ETCS Cab Fitment Fund, delays to ETCS commissioning and the revision of the Innovation Fund for CP5 from £52m to £19m and the Strategic Research and Development Fund from £50m to £13.5m.

“Beyond the above references to ETCS infrastructure plans, there is no mention of Network Rail’s plans to implement an accelerated vision for a digital railway, including the traffic management pilot scheme in Norwich and Great Yarmouth. This is in contrast to Network Rail's Digital Railway plans for CP5 and CP6-7, as well as the DfT's focus on digital solutions,” the company added.

Hitachi, which has been contracted to provide the Traffic Management System (TMS) for Thameslink as well as a portfolio of train builds across the country, argued that rolling out TMS can increase railway capacity by around 40%.

But the current plan “lacks the pace, prioritisation and scope needed to meet passenger and freight growth”, as has been pointed out by the Digital Railway Programme Steering Group.

“There is a real need to address the capacity challenges for fare paying customers today – by rolling out TMS capacity enhancement can be achieved more quickly,” the company said.

“This current plan is based on making the most use out of existing signalling infrastructure and achieving the lowest whole-life cost approach. It therefore fails to account for the range of economic benefits that could be derived from a faster programme of implementation.”

It added: “Given the various complex elements involved in a digital railway, an effective joined-up approach to ERTMS is crucial. The current slow development of ETCS-enabled signals means that ETCS-enabled trains and TMS developments cannot fully take advantage of the capacity and reliability benefits proposed.”

While the full business case of the accelerated Digital Railway programme is still being drawn up – with a target submission date of September for the CP6 initial industry plan – there is already “too much uncertainty” around the programme at present, Hitachi said, as well as around subsequent tender opportunities.

In addition to that, a lack of information about existing assets and access to date is “discouraging the supply chain from investing in research and development, new services and skills”.

“It is also a barrier to businesses within the supply chain to developing collaborative working arrangements on digital solutions,” it added.

“Given the complex technologies involved, it is vital that suppliers across each of the different digital railway systems collaborate to better understand the challenges and interoperability of their technologies, and achieve stated milestones.

“Likewise, supplier input needs to be greater on the Digital Railway Programme Steering Group. At present, industry representation is largely comprised of train operating companies, rather than those who would be providing the technology.”

As well as including greater supplier input in the steering group, the entirety of Network Rail’s Digital Railway team must also operate “with a degree of separation” from the rest of Network Rail in order to “prevent any operational conflict with the day-to-day rules and organisational structure”.

Greater supplier input and training

To break down current barriers to achieving a digital railway in the UK, Hitachi recommended that Network Rail and the DfT publish a clear programme of works for this programme for CP6 and beyond, as well as develop a supplier steering group linked to the current general steering group “to drive collaborative and innovative approaches”.

“In order to deliver the accelerated Digital Railway proposals, more extensive supplier collaboration is required at a technical level, and decision-making level within the Steering Group,” it said.

“International expertise from companies such as ProRail can help to understand some of the challenges experienced with implementation in other European countries, looking at lessons learned and the most appropriate actions necessary to improve procedural developments.”

But the Digital Railway programme will also require a digitally-talented workforce, Hitachi said, of which the requisite skills exist in the industry at the moment, but not in the necessary amounts to “bring innovation to scale”.

“Greater visibility on plans for rolling out the digital railway will allow the supply chain to invest in the talent and training required,” it added.

As well as placing greater focus on suppliers, Network Rail must work closely with TOCs to develop efficient plans for training on integrated systems.

Read more about this in the April/May edition of RTM, where leaders from Network Rail and NSAR discussed the fundamental need to support suppliers to invest in skills and training.

Have you got a story to tell? Would you like to become an RTM columnist? If so, click here.


Ned Rail   06/05/2016 at 13:51

Network Rail has run out of money like it not, the overspends on Electrification by the government mean there is no money for fancy signalling schemes. Network Rails Signalling programme for CP5 and CP6 has been decimated by the lack on money. Hitachi aren't the only company to suffer, other signalling companies are seeing programmes of work removed from the original work banks, yet I don't see them complaining! Hitachi as a company should be thankful they have all the rolling stock orders to keep them happy!

Hugh   07/05/2016 at 02:57

Is Ned Rail the industry apologist? While the operating companies syphon off funds to pay their dividends the rail system falls further and further behind other European rail operations. The sooner that the railways are taken back into public ownership the sooner the public will see an improvement in services, and more importantly the safety. Energy costs have significantly fallen in the last 9 months so the operating companies must be awash with funds. No let up in UK fare increases though. With so many snouts in the trough it's not surprising that there are no funds left for long overdue signalling, track, and rolling stock upgrades. It's an insult to the long suffering British public who have increased their rail patronage, but receive ever worsening service.

Lutz   07/05/2016 at 09:22

Well done Hitachi; I am glad that others are now becoming more vocal about Hendy's light-weight review. A lot more is required to NR fit for purpose.

Voice Of Reason   09/05/2016 at 12:39

Oh dear Hugh, are you actually Mick Cash in disguise because you have certainly spouted the same half truth, sound bite ridden rubbish that he comes out with. Please, enlighten us all about the way safety would be improved when we already enjoy probably the safest rail network in the world. Also, tell us all how much the "snouts in the trough" actually siphon away from the industry.... we all wait with bated breath!

Lutz   09/05/2016 at 19:41

@Hugh You seem to be in denial of a few facts; the operating companies are not making excessive profits, NR the nationalised business is the one that has failed to deliver on key improvements to the system, it is NR that is the biggest contributor to daily impacts on services, and the state we are in now was because the railways where a nationalised industry for so long that they stopped serving the customer and only served the interests of the shop-stewards.

Rail Realist   10/05/2016 at 11:51

Network Rail would be well advised to prioritise investment in TMS over and above the ETCS programme. TMS systems can provide useful capacity gains and operational benefits to areas of the railway that are controlled by modern day power boxes without having to wait for ETCS schemes to come along. Add in Driver Advisory Systems as well in connected mode (C-DAS) and you get a further efficiency gains

Ned Rail   11/05/2016 at 10:53

@ Hugh Not sure you have read the article correctly - this is about TMS and Digital Railway nothing to do with Train Operating Companies, Energy Costs or fare increases! Try reading the article again??

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