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Digital rail and new lines ‘must not be mutually exclusive’ in TransPennine route

The TransPennine route cannot solely rely on existing infrastructure and digital signalling to accommodate growing demand, but rather must be served by new capabilities, such as Northern Powerhouse Rail, in order to thrive, it has been argued.

Late last week, transport secretary Chris Grayling announced that he would earmark £5m from the £450m Digital Railway funding pot launched in last year’s Autumn Statement exclusively to upgrade the TransPennine corridor.

The money will mean passengers travelling between Manchester and York could be the first in the country to enjoy a digitally controlled intercity route, despite programmes in London already having pioneered the concept of digital railway itself.

Although welcome, his announcement closely trailed suggestions that a comprehensive electrification programme across the region could be scaled back or scrapped, a measure Transport for Greater Manchester has promised to fight against.

And now, Peter Loosley, policy director at the Railway Industry Association, who wrote for the latest edition of RTM about Grayling’s CP6 announcements, has argued that digital signalling by itself will not suffice.

“We support the digitalisation of the rail system as a means of improving capacity through increasing the frequency of trains. By using digital technologies like in-cab signalling and traffic management systems, we can provide a higher number of and more reliable train services,” he explained. “This is integral to the sector’s strategy of utilising our existing rail infrastructure as best we can and this development funding is very welcome.

“However, demand for rail services continues to rise on the TransPennine corridor and we cannot just rely on the current infrastructure we have in place, even with a digital upgrade. We also need to add new capabilities, such as Northern Powerhouse Rail – integrated with HS2 – to connect different regions across the UK.”

These two options should not be seen as mutually exclusive, Loosley added; instead, the government and Transport for the North should perceive them as “two crucial elements in developing a modern, reliable rail system.”

“The rail supply chain looks forward to working with both to develop these plans further,” he concluded.

According to local press, Grayling is expected to defend his decision to scale back electrification in the north at the upcoming Conservative Party conference, which starts next week. He will allegedly argue that electrification should only be committed to where it clearly benefits passengers.

But the government appears to still be committed to developing Northern Powerhouse Rail, although timescales for its implementation are unclear. Many, including rail minister Paul Maynard and former chancellor George Osborne, have argued that HS2’s full potential will not be realised unless east-west rail links are properly strengthened as well.

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham has already urged the transport secretary to “show the colour of his money” at the Tory Party conference next week, much like he did with Crossrail 2.

(Top image c. NurPhoto, SIPA USA, PA Images)


Huguenot   29/09/2017 at 10:11

"Digital Rail" may increase capacity on a congested route but will do nothing to improve journey times. If electrification is needed anywhere it is cross-Pennine as only electric traction can provide the acceleration and power needed to climb the gradients. That is why the Sheffield-Manchester via Woodhead line was electrified in the early 1950s. It was madness to sell the modern Woodhead tunnel to National Grid as this could have provided a revived electric railway between Manchester and Sheffield (Manchester to Hadfield already has 25kV). The Standedge route needs electrification almost more than any other: diesels are just nor powerful enough, quite apart from their contribution to emissions. Why can't the DTp see this?

King's Lynn   29/09/2017 at 10:12

Grayling: In the future, there will be robots... and these will solve all of Today's Problems. Travelling public: But... the problems need to be solved now, Mr Grayling, with tangible solutions. That's why they're Today's Problems, you see... Grayling: Ah yes, but don't forget I'm a politician and by the time all this goes tits up or gets sorted in a half-arsed way, I'll be doing something else and it'll be Someone Else's Problem. Travelling Public: Oh yes, sorry, silly us *tugs at forelock in deference*

Andrew JG   29/09/2017 at 23:00

Still hate Grayling on what he’s doing to our railways. Jeremy Corbyn is the right man to nationalise our railways. #JeremyCorbyntoNationaliseourRailways #BRINGBACKBRITISHRAIL

Rail Realist   30/09/2017 at 21:12

So just what does a 'digital railway' across the Pennines mean in reality? The term 'digital' is overworked and largely meaningless unless an explanation of the systems to be employed is given. Is the subject here ERTMS, ETCS, TMS or whatever. Does anyone actually know|?

John B   03/10/2017 at 13:31

Northern Powerhouse Rail is a step in the right direction but proper investment in the Trans Pennine route, not just digital signalling, is needed. The laying of track through the newest Standedge single tunnel is essential. It is in good condition for its age and connectivity at both the Marsden and Diggle ends is relatively easy. In fact, a lot of the route used to be quad track and serious consideration to reinstating some, if not all, should be considered in view of the number of trains along this route. If proper and sensible upgrades to this route are not done the Northern Powerhouse could easily become the Northern Poorhouse!

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