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Grayling commits £5m to install digital signalling on TransPennine route

Passengers travelling between Manchester and York could be the first in the north to enjoy an intercity railway that uses digital signalling, Chris Grayling has announced today.

A tranche of £5m funding has been announced to let Network Rail develop plans for installing the new technology that will increase capacity and stability on the line.

Digital signalling is already in use on the London Underground and will be rolled out as part of the Thameslink Programme, but if the plans are delivered it would make the TransPennine line the first intercity route in the country to be digitally controlled.

The funding is part of the £13bn Great North Rail Project which is seeking to upgrade the TransPennine route between Manchester, Leeds and York from 2022 and cut journey times from Leeds to Manchester down to 40 minutes.

But it also comes after Grayling suggested that electrification plans for the route could be scaled back, prompting Transport for Greater Manchester to state that it would fight against the proposed changes.

“We are about to see a digital revolution in our railways, and we want the north to lead the way. New technology on the Manchester to York route will help us deliver a more reliable and safer railway, with more space for passengers,” the transport secretary said today.

“Travel will be transformed across the north as we invest £13bn to improve journeys, expand our motorways, scrap the outdated Pacer trains, and spend £55bn on HS2 to cut journey times between our great northern cities.”

The money will be taken from a £450m digital railway fund that was announced by Philip Hammond back in the Autumn Statement last year.

Grayling to defend decisions on electrification

Today’s news follows numerous criticisms against Grayling for failing to provide the north with adequate transport funding and certainty.

The transport secretary provoked uproar in the north after he publicly put his support behind the £30bn Crossrail 2 project just days after he officially cut three electrification projects that would have been beneficial for the north of England.

But according to the Manchester Evening News, Grayling is expected to defend his decision at next month’s Conservative Party conference to cancel the programmes, where he will argue that electrification should only be committed to where it clearly benefits passengers.

“Our programme of electrification is continuing, and soon we will have electrified not three times, but dozens of times more railway than Labour did,” he is due to say. “That means more electrification in and around Manchester, and looking at electrification as part of passenger improvements across the Pennines.

“But people have got to stop only thinking about how a train is powered, and focus instead on getting the best possible improvement for passengers.

“And what delivers better journey times is actually the way you upgrade the tracks and the signalling, and how you invest in trains.”

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Andy Jones   22/09/2017 at 12:43

So £5m to have a think about it, no guarantee it will actually happen.

Graham   22/09/2017 at 12:51

Amazing these clowns can give the EU 20 billion but they cannot spend a tenth of that on our countries future it would be different if these so called ministers have to pay for their actions like normal people

Robby   22/09/2017 at 12:59

5 million in the modern railway will get you a report telling you it's feasible

Colin Brazier   22/09/2017 at 13:05

How a train powered is important. Grayling has obviously never heard of the "sparks effect".

Chrism   22/09/2017 at 14:44

Meanwhile what the SoS seems blissfully unaware of is that the Hitachi bi-mode trains were never designed to be operated at high output and at high speed on their diesel engines. These engines are having to be uprated, and the fuel tanks increased in size, adding more weight. All this is making the trains even more expensive to buy and run and also marginal on cooling capacity. What is being saved from one budget will come from another, these trains cannot change the laws of physics. How will First TPE be able to meet it's franchise obligations if their bi-mode trains are forever crawling on diesel over Standedge, loosing time? Penny wise, pound foolish - this sums up the hapless Grayling.

Dave   22/09/2017 at 15:01

Talk about emperor's new clothes. "Digital Signalling" What a meaningless term. Do they realise signalling has been digital since the invention of SSI, oh in about 1985!

Jak Jaye   23/09/2017 at 08:53

Time for this useless,smirky idiot to be replaced(by another!) The second comment says it all. Yet another privatised railway c-up!

SWB   23/09/2017 at 19:23

Note that the £5m is only to "develop plans" for digital signaling. The installation and integration will cost much more, and could easily be withdrawn at a later date. They really think we should be thankful for this beneficence and ignore the canceled electrification project.

Jerry Alderson   24/09/2017 at 18:31

Re: Colin Brazier's reference to the so-called "sparks effect". Whilst I wouldn't go so far as to say it is a complete myth, in terms of growing patronage it is more accurately a 'service-improvement effect'. If you improve the service then more people will use it. When lines were electrified they replaced the rolling stock - in almost all cases newer trains - and they changed the timetable (usually faster services or similar speed but with more stops - the Fen Line is a good example of that) and they often tarted up the stations. It was a complete package of improvements. If people believe there was a 'sparks effect' then ask the question: if the same trains had been used (simply with a pantograph added - so it remained loco hauled or under-floor motors) and the same timetable stayed the same then would patronage have increased? Just because electrification coincided with increases in patronage (and in the past it went beyond correlation into causation) we shouldn't see it as the sole solution for the future. Electrification is clearly a way of delivering service improvement. It isn't necessarily the only way. Having said that, it does deliver quite a lot of benefits, and if you add all of those together it is significant. It has its downsides as well - viz the pigeon being fried, causing an arc to damage an over bridge and halt all trains on the Great Western Mainline for two hours, and then the imposition of speed restrictions. See: Channel 5 programme about Paddington on 18 Sept 2017.

Andrew Gwilt   24/09/2017 at 19:50

If Chris Grayling is planning to electrify the North Pennine Route between Manchester and York via Leeds and Harrogate. Then what about upgrading Colton Junction south of York where the North Pennine route meets with the East Coast Main Line with a new flyover to be built.

Lutz   25/09/2017 at 04:53

@Robby. Precisely, and that is what the article states. There will be funding once TfN has defined what it wants doing, and the projects have been given the OK. @Graham You are spouting activist dribble. @Colin Brazier No it is not; it is the improvement in service and reliability that matter - see service impact of HST. @Chrism You can thank NR for that; their failure to deliver and botched work along the way has made electrification largely prohibitively expensive - at least until NR sorts it's act out. @Andrew Gwilt Chris Grayling does not do the planning, as you will know.

Tim   25/09/2017 at 15:12

What do they really mean by digital signalling? What is the real technology they are thinking about, before the PR people `simplified` it.

J, Leicester   25/09/2017 at 15:18

I'm sure the passengers on TPE will be delighted to know their bi-mode train is digitally-signalled! They will marvel at the modern railway as their train slogs up the gradients on an underpowered diesel engine before grinding to a halt from excessive equipment and passenger weight. "Oh, but of course, in theory we can operate twice as many of these trains at once! Now we can catch a train that is slower than what it replaced twice as frequently! How convenient!" TPE should drop the nonsense, tell the DfT to do one with their snake-oil IEP programme and at the very least stick with 68s/88s and Mk. 5s if electrification is dead in the water. Cheaper, off the shelf operation and way lighter to deal with the gruelling TPE network. Grayling continues to draw more and more of my ire with each passing day. The man is unfit for his office. Hell, I'm even finding myself nostalgic for the Adonis days, and the national economy was going down the pan at the time - at least the man had some understanding of what a railway was and what it needed to grow.

David   25/09/2017 at 15:46

IEP isn't the problem, J, Hitachi's SET is a remarkable bit of kit. The problem is, as you rightly state, Grayling himself. As has been stated countless times before, the bi-mode capability should be more akin to 'last mile' useage and not as a replacement for electrification of the Great Western and Transpennine mainlines.

Andrew Gwilt   26/09/2017 at 21:30

Fair enough Lutz.

Neville Hill   28/09/2017 at 14:00

Tim hits the nail on the head: what exactly is being proposed? Take away all the silly buzz-words like 'digital' and 'transformational' and there isn't really a story here. As I see it, a bloke with hundreds of billions of pounds at his disposal is spending £5m on a feasibility study into a type of signalling which is, well, err, we don't really know what it is. But it's digital, and that sounds nice. Does RTM just copy and paste political press releases without thinking about the content? I'm surprised they haven't added the obligatory quote from the trade union leaders...

Graham Smith   28/09/2017 at 21:30

We are running into a catastrophe with global warming and stupid Grayling wants more diesels. So NR made a hash of GWR but we need electrification. Yes new signaling can improve the frequency of trains but the funding comes from a different budget. We urgently need a continuous budget to get electrification on most of our railway.

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