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TOCs call for greater role in Digital Railway

The heads of major train operating companies (TOCs) told the Transport Select Committee that they wanted more involvement in the implementation of the Digital Railway.

In an evidence session on 13 June, Roger Cobbe, policy director at Arriva, said that he had been “very concerned” about Network Rail’s roll-out plan, as he felt it was too expensive and placed too many burdens on TOCs.

He added that he was “very pleased” that Network Rail was now changing the plan, but said more needed to be done.

“What we’d like to see is further integration of the operators’ expertise and knowledge of cost effectiveness,” he said.

Cobbe added that the Digital Railway upgrade programme needed to focus more on the rate of fitment, not just the rate at which the infrastructure supply industry can carry it out.

Christian Roth, engineering director at South West Trains, said the upgrade could not be a “purely Network Rail-led activity” after the infrastructure owner’s problems delivering other major projects, such as traffic management systems.

He added that the industry needed to agree a programme for the implementation of the European Train Control System (ETCS) on railways.

“What is needed is an industry programme,” he said. “There needs to be an agreement to have that as an industry programme, to put some funding behind that and then to roll it out and not to change it. In the rail industry, we often change too much of the approach halfway through the roll-out.”

He added that timing would be more important than different types of technology in rolling out ETCS, saying that it should be implemented in areas with the highest pressure on capacity.

Roth said demand in low capacity areas could be met at a lower cost by introducing traffic management. He also insisted that ETCS had to be implemented despite the risk that it could become outmoded.

“I think traffic management alone will not deliver the upgrades we need in the next 10-15 years,” he said.

Cobbe agreed that ETCS should be implemented, saying that TOCs were “on the practical stages of conversion” because it was clear that the upgrades were “the right thing to be done”.

He said that although trials of ETCS on the Cambrian Line had led to “very good service”, lessons had to be learned from it, including the need for “carefully planned” training of drivers and maintenance staff.

Cobbe added that another area to learn lessons from was other European countries. In the Netherlands, for example, he said the rail industry had experienced high costs from retrofitting old trains and had inadvertently installed three sets of ETCS which were incompatible with each other. Instead, he said that older trains should be converted “in a selective way”.

Cobbe also said that ETCS would benefit drivers. “This is actually a system which assists the drivers to be even safer, not something which imposes a burden on them,” he said. “On this screen right in front of them they can see what’s coming ahead for some distance, they can see what speed they’re meant to be doing at. Previously, that was information the driver had to remember.”

He also said this increased data would allow safety requirements to be altered in a way which would increase capacity, although he could not give an exact estimate of the impact.

Richard Pierce, engineering development manager at Arriva, denied the suggestion that ETCS would replace the role of the driver. He said that drivers were still needed to be aware of factors which might affect the train such as weather conditions and visibility.

“Driving a train is a complex experience,” he said. “It’s a very skilled task. I wouldn’t trust that skill to technology at the moment.”

Recently, Mark Carne, chief executive of the Network Rail, told the committee that delivering Digital Railway will require extra funding in CP5.

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Lutz   13/06/2016 at 18:42

The technology is moving on again, and at a faster tempo that the rail industry is accustomed from other technical domains. It is also incorrect to say the the driver is still essential; may be for the next few generations of the technology, but we are coming to the point were the crew will not be required through-out the journey, and remote supervision of vehicles will play a bigger part in operations.

John Grant   14/06/2016 at 12:34

Richard Pierce clearly doesn't know much of the history of railways, where more and more technology is being introduced to prevent human drivers making mistakes. And skills such as accelerating and braking smoothly are easy to teach to automated systems. It's the guard's job that can't be automated; as Lutz suggests, it might sometimes be done remotely, but that's not ideal.

Rail Realist   14/06/2016 at 15:13

It is regrettable that the Digital Railway has become associated with ETCS. Whilst that will happen in the longer term, much speedier benefit can be obtained by a faster roll out of TMS and C-DAS. These can be used with many of the older IECCs and power boxes to good effect and are should not be restricted to only the new ROCs that will take several years to implement

Graeme Christmas   14/06/2016 at 17:21

it is almost as-if ATOC are not participating in ETCS and its design for GB........

Anon   14/06/2016 at 17:34

@John Grant - Richard is correct. ETCS doesn't replace the driver nor does it control the train unless an error is made or a failure happens. ETCS also doesn't prevent mistakes, it mitigates the effects. ATO may replace drivers and there is provision under ERTMS for ATO. Also, whilst fundamentally braking and acceleration are simple, in reality they are complex and affected greatly by weather, adhesion, rail profile, gradient etc. These can be overcome and there are many systems that run ATO under an ATP system but not many in mixed mode environments on complex networks. So will drivers disappear - probably but it is unlikely at any time soon nor do there appear to be plans to do so.

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