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ETCS coming to the UK

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Although Network Rail is a member of the ERTMS Users Group, as described in Clive Kessell’s article, the Cambrian Line is the only ERTMS equipped line in the UK. The 134 miles between Sutton Bridge Junction, Shrewsbury and Machynlleth compare poorly with the size of installations in other countries.

That is about to change, though, as Network Rail has announced the next stage of the development programme. A framework contract has been awarded to four concerns; Invensys Rail, Signalling Solutions (Balfour Beatty / Alstom joint venture), Infrasig (Carillion / Bombardier joint venture) and Ansaldo STS. All have experience in ERTMS installations elsewhere, and Ansaldo STS was responsible for converting the Cambrian Line.

Network Rail’s medium-term goal is to install ERTMS on three major routes, the Great Western, the East Coast Main Line and the Midland Mainline. However, this new framework contract is for a one year period to help define the specification of the ETCS (European Train Control System) component of the system.

Phase 1, 2, 3….

Guy Stratford, Head of Contracts and Commercial at Network Rail, explained the company’s thinking. “I don’t like labelling projects as ‘Phase1’, ‘Phase 2’ etc,” he commented, “but it is probably appropriate in this case. In Phase 1, the four companies will work collaboratively with Network Rail, and with each other where we are discussing non-commercial aspects, to come up with a technological solution and a commercial proposal for going forward. Network Rail has a clear idea of what it wants to achieve. The discussions will revolve around how each company proposes to achieve that.”

This is a framework contract, not part of the tendering process, so Network Rail will contribute towards the costs of the four organisations involved.

At the end of Phase 1, likely to be in around 9-12 months time, Network Rail will assess the technical and commercial proposals that each company has put forward and ask a number of them, probably three, to demonstrate their proposals using a test installation on the Hertford Loop. This is a double-track, 24 mile loop off the East Coast Main Line between Stevenage and Alexandra Palace.

Commuter trains will be restricted to a single line over a 5.5 mile stretch, freeing up the other line for use as an ERTMS test track. Starting in 2013, the chosen firms will be asked to demonstrate their ETCS solutions, one after the other, over a twelve month period.

Main line implementation

Following these trials, the most robust technical and most cost-effective solutions will be chosen to be installed on the Great Western and East Coast Main Line.

Guy Stratford explains, “We will have as much flexibility as possible at this stage. It is possible that one company will be head-and-shoulders above the others, but we will have to bear in mind the logistical difficulties of one organisation working on two major projects at once.”

Work is likely to start in 2014, with the Great Western coming on stream first (commencing 2016) followed by the East Coast Main Line (2018) and the Midland Mainline (2020).

So it all starts with discussions between Network Rail and the four companies involved over the rest of this year. As Andrew Simmons, Network Rail’s director of future trains and operation control systems, said on announcing the contract awards, “ETCS is now a crucial part of our plans for resignalling the railway – our focus now is on building confidence and experience in the technology so that future schemes can be delivered seamlessly.

“These new frameworks are the building blocks to developing this capability and will allow us to work closely with our chosen suppliers to develop long-term plans for work to be carried out more quickly and efficiently.”

So, at future ERTMS Users Group meetings, Network Rail will have a bit more to discuss!


  1. Slow, slow, slow. Another laborious stream of trials, debates, challenges, arguments, developing, reporting, and approving… yawn, yawn.

    Cambrian has been commissioned for over a year now. It’s at least five years since the Hertford loop strategy was proposed as an option fora trial.

    Proven, reliable and safe ETCS systems are in daily use on numerous rail networks globally. Even New Zealand is streets ahead of Network Rail on this one (indeed on many things signalling!)

    When will Network Rail get out of their slippers and give the UK public what they deserve – in a timely, cost effective manner ?

    Use the evidence from development, trial, approvals and acceptance documentation that has already been done by other rail operators and suppliers and simply transfer it into the UK….

    • So you think we could use lessons learnt on a quiet railway and transfer it to the busiest railway in the world..

      You don’t by any chance see any problems with this ?

      • Quite the opposite, Simon – Ignore the quiet railway – Use the lessons learnt from the many installations in operation around the world – and transfer them to the busiest railway in the world…


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