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Whole-industry approach needed to implement Digital Railway – ORR

Failure to take a whole-industry approach to planning Digital Railway could limit the benefits to users, or unnecessarily increase costs to funders, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has said.

In its submission to the Transport Select Committee’s inquiry into railway technology, the ORR said that the upgrades to signalling and communications technology required by the Digital Railway will be “a major issue” for Network Rail, its funders and industry in CP6 and beyond.

The ORR said that this process must consider issues including upgrading rolling stock, capacity planning, service provision and franchising, to ensure that the full benefits of Digital Railway are achieved without unnecessary costs.

Following the recent recommendations of the Bowe Review, the ORR also said that some aspects of the Digital Railway should be funded outside the forthcoming periodic review of Network Rail’s CP6 spending.

Aspects including large-scale or longer-term projects and projects that are at too early a stage for all the expenses to be included could be excluded at the government’s discretion.

However, the ORR will evaluate Network Rail’s business plan, saying they expected it to minimise the whole-life costs of the project, reduces disruption to the operation of the network, and maximises the benefits of the outputs to passengers and freight users, and determine efficient funding accordingly.

It will also provide ongoing assessment of the economic efficiency of the programme and authorise new technology. The regulator added that it is already working with Network Rail to ensure that planned technology is likely to be compliant with regulatory requirements, so the ORR should be able to authorise them at the appropriate time.

It noted that the phasing of costs and benefits needed to be considered, as Digital Railway might be more expensive in the short term when two dual systems operated together.

“There might be a distinction between the most ‘economic’ deployment plan and the most ‘affordable’ one,” the ORR said.

The regulator added that the benefits of Digital Railway vary by route and within route, so decisions on deployment might sensibly reflect this. Similarly, decisions whether to deploy ETCS Level 2 and (when established) Level 3 could be made depending on potential benefits.

Hitachi also made a submission to the committee recently, in which it warned that phase one milestones in the Digital Railway are now likely to be pushed into CP6, casting doubt on the whole project.

The latest edition of RTM features interviews with supply chain leaders on the best ways to implement Digital Railway.

David Waboso, the current capital programmes director on London Underground, will take up a new post as director of Digital Railway next month.

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