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Exclusive: Digital Railway pilot revised as Waboso focuses on route issues

Network Rail is set to revise the Digital Railway’s Norwich – Yarmouth – Lowestoft (NYL) pilot which was being designed to  showcase the full deployment of digital technology by the end of CP5, RTM has learned.

After only a few weeks in the job, David Waboso, the new manging director of the Digital Railway programme, told RTM that instead of having full ERTMS deployment on NYL by 2019, there will instead be a “focus on a signal solution” to provide the capacity it needs, but it would be ERTMS-enabled.

“I looked at NYL and spoke to the route and they have an absolute drop dead date of 2019 where they need new signalling infrastructure,” he said.

“They also have a human problem in that the signallers who are used to working that lever frame technology are retiring. If we don’t make something by 2019, at the absolute latest, they have a real problem.

“The lines there serve a real set of connected commuters, so you can’t do anything that gets in the way of that. I thought, ‘do I really want to put ERTMS in the middle of that? Or should I support a signal solution, still using ERTMS technology, but not the full Monty by then?’ Instead we then roll out ERTMS digital railway subsequent to that because the route still has ambitions to roll out digital railway.”

In the meantime, Waboso said he wants the team to focus on where digital railway can solve real problems.

“Brighton Main Line, for example, East Coast and TransPennine Express upgrades, these are routes that have real challenges in performance and capacity,” he said. “I really want to use digital railway to solve those problems.” However, no firm plans for projects have been put in place, as yet.

He added that, going forward, the Alliance model is going to be very important in delivering digital railway, which has been described as the biggest game changer since the conversion from steam to diesel.

“The whole route system and devolution is meant to align more the train companies and infrastructure together in terms of the outputs for that region of passengers,” said Waboso. “We have to be very aligned to the routes, and I am working very closely with the route MDs to make sure digital railway is delivered on their routes in a way that makes sense for them.”

Outline business case by autumn

Last week, the new Digital Railway boss told the Transport Select Committee the programme should be introduced in stages to allow time to learn from mistakes and avoid an ‘over-heroic’ approach.

He told RTM that he aims to have a first draft plan of how to apply digital railway in the autumn, which then forms the input to the programme’s industry advisory group.

Waboso, who led the Victoria Line upgrade during his time at London Underground, added that he also wants to publish the outline business case in the autumn, putting forward the proof points, capacity benefits and the compelling arguments for digital railway.

Network Rail’s chief executive Mark Carne recently sang the praises of the ambitious programme, which intends to roll out digital signalling across the UK railway network in just 25 years – a significant leap from the original target of 50 years. Carne refused to reveal an initial figure for how much the programme would cost, saying only that it would be “a great deal of money” but “a great deal less than the alternative”.

“We will try and have some indicative numbers in the autumn,” said Waboso, but added that they will be heavily banded.

Although full ERTMS on NYL looks set to be pushed into CP6, Waboso argued “the shift is that I’m being more ambitious”.

We have Thameslink; it isn’t there yet, but it is going to be punching the lights out on what it is delivering,” he said. “It is the first ATO (Automatic Train Operation), 24 trains per hour, ETCS through a tunnel. That is something which is going to be ready in 2018.

“I’m aiming to build on that and say ‘where else can I apply this technology?’ We also have traffic management going in at Romford, which will demonstrate how an integrated traffic management system provides huge benefits to recovery and timetable performance, etc.”

Supply chain involvement

During the Transport Select Committee’s inquiry into rail technology, there were calls for a whole-industry approach to digital railway from TOCs and the rail regulator.

Martin Arter, Digital Railway’s development director, also recently told RTM that the programme provides huge opportunities for the supply chain.

Reiterating Arter’s points, Waboso said he is asking supply chain partners to work with the programme to apply their systems and algorithms to work out how projects can benefit from digital railway early.

“Building on the experience of the Underground, this is a system,” he said. “This is not just about doing the infrastructure and trains: you have to make sure everything is co-ordinated and synchronised where it needs to be. For example, the big issues about access to trains, train fitment programmes, train performance, operations and access, driver training, all need to be part of the programme. We need to put a lot of work into this.

“My urge is to apply this quite exciting technology where it solves real problems. Rather than doing things for engineers, I want to do things for passengers.”

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GW   22/07/2016 at 13:36

Why do we keep heading full speed into the digital cul-du-sac?

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