It is just over a year since Network Rail launched its Digital Railway Strategy, setting out the modernisation blueprint for the next 15 years.
Over this time, more than half of existing traditional signalling systems will become obsolete, so it is vital that modern forms of signalling are implemented to improve efficiency, reduce operating costs, and increase the number of trains for passengers.
Michael Flynn, Digital Railway Programme Director, explains what has been achieved so far and how the Strategy is already benefiting the UK rail network.
The full interview with Michael will appear in issue 10 of Transport Britain.
It’s been more than a year since the launch of the Digital Railway Strategy. How would you assess the progress and success so far?
We have made great strides. The main recommendation of the Digital Railway Strategy was that an “industry-wide Signalling and Operational Control Systems Strategy was required to implement this (Digital Railway) Strategy”. In response, the DfT requested that the Digital Railway Programme develop a plan for digital train deployment from CP6 onwards that shows signalling renewals to be ‘digital’ or at the very least ‘digital ready’. We achieved this on target and it was published in June 2019 https://www.networkrail.co.uk/running-the-railway/railway-upgrade-plan/digital-railway/digital-railway-strategy/digital-railway-long-term-deployment-plan/ .
In addition to this, digital railway now plays an integrated and central role in the new Rail Sector Deal. This agreement builds on the strong partnership between the rail sector and the government to exploit the opportunities of new technologies, improve the efficient use of our rail network capacity and enhance the experience of those who use our railways.
And, on the ground, we have been successful too with many digital signalling and traffic management schemes being introduced, for example the commissioning of such systems in our Anglia, Western and Wales regions, where this technology is now in daily use making a practical impact and with the operators reporting very positive results.
During this time, we have changed. We have become a service provider and enabler of digital solutions rather than a national programme. Our role going forward is as a support programme to devolution to the Regions, who are closer to passenger and freight customer needs, to enable those regions with digital aspirations achieve digital railway implementation. This is articulated in the Long-Term Deployment Plan.
What have been the biggest achievements in that time?
The East Coast Digital Programme has established a blueprint for bringing track and train together to deliver a better performing railway for passengers. It is the first major route deployment of digital train control and Network Rail is working with train operators and technology providers in a long-term partnership to modernise one of the most economically important parts of the network.
Strategic partners from the private sector will be appointed to help deliver the 10-year transformation programme. First a Train Control Partner, followed by a Rail System Integration Partner.
Some of the other exciting activities include:
- Commissioning of the Traffic Management Systems for Anglia, Western and Wales
- Approval of the East Coast Digital Programme Strategic Outline Business Case and the start of procurement process to appoint train control, traffic management and railway system integration partners
- The incorporation of digital railway into the centre of the Rail Sector Deal
- Northern City Line – ETCS agreed to be the signalling renewal system
- Publication of the Long-Term Deployment Plan
- Supporting the Trans Pennine Upgrade Programme’s digital aspirations
- Working with North West and Central Region on the interface with HS2 at Crewe
- Delivering a number of national enabling projects.
Is the rail sector starting to see benefits already, and if so, how?
Wales, Anglia and now Western Traffic Management systems have been commissioned and are in operation. Other projects are in development and going through their business case steps (for example the East Coast and Trans Pennine Traffic Management systems).
Already in Western, Wales and Anglia routes we have seen successful interventions by operators, using information from these digital traffic management systems, resulting in passengers benefitting from faster train service recovery times, minimisation of delays and more timely information.
Are there areas you haven’t made as much progress as you’d hoped, and how has this changed the schedule of ensuring the railway is digital ready?
All parts of the programme have proceeded well. We are concentrating in the current period on delivering train and signalling, and traffic management control systems because these will in time give the user benefits first. Passengers will come to see benefits in timetable reliability and recovery. We will provide a better service, and enable better information to be available, so giving passengers the confidence they deserve from us. These are two very important factors for passengers, and we will deliver them together with increased safety. Business case analysis shows us where to act first.
For the full interview, read issue 10 of Transport Britain.