In May 2018, Network Rail and the Department for Transport (DfT) launched the Digital Railway Strategy, which is designed to ensure all trains and signalling are either digital or digital ready by 2019.
It is a crucial aspect of Network Rail’s plans to make the railway more efficient; the digital revolution in the industry will introduce technology that allows trains to run closer together, will cut delays and deliver more frequent services.
Group Digital Railway is a function within Network Rail that is responsible for delivering a broad range of services and working with stakeholders to ensure new technology and digital solutions are delivered across the network.
David Waboso is the Managing Director. He spoke to Business Britain to discuss the digital railway plans and how they will be implemented.
The full interview will be in the next Transport Britain publication.
Could you explain more about Network Rail’s digital railway plans?
Digital Railway is a cross-industry programme to transform the rail network. It is a response to the chronic need to release more capacity and improve performance on the busiest routes, in and out of, and between, the major urban areas.
When did the idea to digitise the railway become more serious and why do you feel this is required?
The technology has been available for a while and most recently is being demonstrated on Thameslink. More broadly, the capacity and performance challenges we face dictate that a fundamental change in the way the network operates is needed.
Passenger numbers have doubled since the mid-1990s and the network is operating at or above capacity in many places. This is having a negative impact on performance.
How much will be spent on new technology?
That will depend on a number of factors and is subject to business case approval.
How will you ensure the tracks are capable of withstanding the extra capacity of trains each day?
Network Rail is using more and more digital technology to monitor the condition of its assets remotely. This will improve efficiency and move from a fix on failure railway to one that can predict and prevent when and where infrastructure needs replacing.
In your opinion, why is this digital revolution so important for the sector?
Because the railway is such an important economic driver of growth and enables people to have access to jobs in our major cities. But the railway has to adapt to meet the needs of passengers and industry.
How will this process benefit the UK rail capacity?
Modern train control replaces colour light signals trackside and puts the signal in the cab, allowing more trains to run closer together safely and to automate the flow of trains in the most effective way.
Which parts of the country are benefiting from this, and will it be rolled out further?
The first route to run with no lineside signals (ETCS) was the Cambrian railway in Wales in 2011. In Spring this year the Thameslink route achieved a world first by running trains through central London in ATO (Automatic Train Operation) with far fewer lineside signal. By the end of next year this will enable a 50% increase in trains per hour at peak times.
A further set of Digital Railway schemes are being developed for introduction in CP6 using innovative procurement approaches and Network Rail announced recently that from CP6 all signalling renewals will be made either with digital technology or in a way that conversion can be made easily and cheaply in future.
The full interview will be published in the next Transport Britain publication.