East Coast

Work for UK's first intercity digital railway continues this Bank Holiday

Work for the latest stage of the East Coast Digital Programme will be underway across Bank Holiday Weekend, which will see upgrades to the track and signalling systems.

The East Coast Digital Programme is the first mainline route to introduce European train control systems in the UK.

The project - being carried out by Network Rail, Siemens Mobility and Atkinsis set to create the first intercity digital railway in the UK, with £350m in investment - on top of £1.2bi in government funding - and will fit trains with the latest in-cab signalling technology, removing the old lineside signals.

The East Coast Main Line is a mixed-use railway which caters to various train sizes and speeds, both freight and passenger, which all use the same tracks. 

The pioneering approach will allow signallers to communicate with trains continuously rather than only at fixed signal points, responding in real time, therefore reducing delays, and greatly improving performance.

It will also mean the train speed is being continually supervised by the system, thus increasing safety.

Scott Kelley, Strategic Rail Director, Atkins said “this is a genuinely game changing transformation programme at the leading edge of rail industry integration.”

He added, “our team will bring together unique skills and experience to enable the industry collaboration to deliver the East Coast Digital Programme, establishing the gold standard for future delivery programmes.”

The East Coast Main Line links London with Edinburgh, but there is congestion on the route combined by signalling nearing the end of its life. The new ‘in-cab’ system means an end to conventional signalling at the side of the tracks, first used in the Victorian era.

Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, said “as the country recovers from COVID-19 we want to speed up our economy and reap the benefits of new transport technology. The Victorians gave us the world’s first great rail network and now it’s our turn to be modern transport pioneers and build on that great tradition.”

He continued, “this is just the beginning. In time, we will digitise signalling right across the country to make good on our promise of better reliability and punctuality for passengers.”

The Transport Secretary added, “passengers shouldn’t have to worry about missing connections or being late home to see their children, and I’ve been clear that getting the trains to run on time is a personal priority.”

A third of the UK’s population lives within 20 minutes of an East Coast Mainline station, together producing 41% of GDP, and carries more than 80mi passenger journeys, alongside tens of millions of freight tonnes, worth £30b, annually.

Project objectives:

  • Renew signalling assets using a lowest whole life cost approach, to reduce long-term industry wide costs.
  • Provide capacity for demand growth without a subsequent performance risk.
  • Improve performance across the East Coast Main Line route through a reduction in both initial and reactionary delay.
  • Preserve and enhance safety for passengers and workers.
  • Unlock wider socio-economic benefits and support the government’s Industrial Strategy.

The development of the line is just one component of the government’s plan for a 21st century rail network set to spread prosperity to all parts of the country.

Passengers will be able to enjoy more punctual and reliable journeys by next summer, but the full line won’t be fully digitally signalled until 2023.

Rail Technology Magazine latest edition Jun/Jul 22

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