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DfT exploring digital ETCS roll-out across all East West Rail phases

The government is exploring the possibility of implementing ETCS across the entirety of East West Rail (EWR) in the future if analysis shows that it can provide significant benefits for the programme.

Rail minister Jo Johnson revealed that although Western Section phases 1 and 2 will be delivered with conventional signalling, it would be a mistake to assume that the entire scheme will shrug off potential benefits of digital railway.

Responding to shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald’s parliamentary question about what signalling system will be used on the east-west rail link, Johnson said: “The EWR programme will be delivered in a phased approach with the Western Section Phase 1 already delivered with conventional signalling and the Western Section Phase 2 to also be delivered with conventional signalling.

“The Central Section Phase 3 is currently in its definition phase and its signalling system is yet to be confirmed. However, the possibility of using a digital ETCS across East West Rail is being explored and could be implemented in the future, across all phases, should it provide significant additional benefits for the programme.”

According to documents from the EWR Alliance, the project proposed ETCS deployment starting in late 2014, but this was rejected by the Industry Plan Group. This was restated last year, but due to a need to reduce cost, duration and risk, the government agreed a project scope based on conventional signalling.

In March 2018, a report concluded that underlay options were not the answer, but found that if “industry constraints preventing ETCS deployment could be unlocked, there could be a cost saving.”

While digital railway provision must be able to show a clear business benefit, it must also fit into the large-scale project’s many logistically-challenging stakeholder and interproject dependencies. There are also HS2 construction constraints to consider, as well as intense pressure to unlock EWR’s capacity benefits as soon as possible – completing the missing rail link in the ‘golden triangle’ of London—Oxford—Cambridge.

At this stage, no costs are included in Network Rail’s strategic business plan for a potential digital upgrade scheme. “As these schemes’ business cases are developed, Network Rail will continue to discuss with DfT how best to take them forward,” documents stated.

Last week, roads minister Jesse Norman announced the chosen central corridor for the Oxford to Cambridge Expressway, which is expected to slash 40 minutes off the journey between the A34 south of Oxford and the M1. The government argues that building the new link close to EWR will also offer more options for commercial development in line with the National Infrastructure Commission’s proposals, as well as encourage more people to travel by train rather than by car.

(Top image c. Chris Radburn, PA Images)


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