Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris has announced £1.2 million of new government funding to accelerate feasibility work for digital signalling on vital sections of the West Coast main line, Midland main line and East Anglia route, including Peterborough to Kings Lynn on the Anglia route, and in the Warrington and Wigan area on the West Coast main line North.
The new funding will be used to identify the most effective way to apply this type of technology to the railway and new way of working, capitalising on early engagement with the supply chain, and creating further opportunities to encourage innovation and drive efficiencies across regions.
Learning from the recent experience of the East Coast Digital Programme, where a partnership with route-based operators has been a success, this early scoping work will lay the foundation for future digital signalling renewals, as part of a wider national plan to introduce digital signalling across the rail network in Great Britain.
Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris said: “We’ve come a long way since the era of metal levers, used by Victorian signallers to provide safe passage for trains rolling into and out of stations. Now it’s our turn to be modern transport pioneers as we build the railway of tomorrow.
“Today’s investment brings forward early investigation work with Network Rail engineers and suppliers on how best to roll out digital signalling across the rail network, reducing delays and improving safety in the long term.
“Our ambitious programme to modernise Britain’s rail network will support the supply chain by creating high-skilled jobs and boosting the economy, as we level up the country and build back better after COVID-19.”
Conventional signalling means the network can struggle to recover quickly following disruption with a small delay on one part of the railway still causing knock-on delays hundreds of miles away on other parts of the network, many hours later.
This new technology gives signallers much better real-time information about train movements, enabling them to communicate with train drivers continuously to reduce the impact of delays. This ‘in-cab’ system will mean an end to conventional signalling at the side of tracks – first used in the Victorian era.
As part of this work, the Department for Transport will be engaging with suppliers of digital signalling and industry experts across the country to learn from similar schemes and drive efficiency in the government’s nationwide programme to roll-out this technology on the railway, part of the commitment with industry in the rail sector deal.
Work is already underway on a £350 million investment in the East Coast Digital Programme , which will introduce digital signalling on the East Coast Main Line, between London King’s Cross and Stoke Tunnel in Lincolnshire, ensuring that more passengers reach their destinations on time.
Andy Jones, director of Operational Programme Delivery at Network Rail, said: “We’re delighted with this development funding, which reconfirms the DfT’s commitment to pursuing the long-term deployment plan for digital signalling on Britain’s railway.
“The first 3 schemes – on the East Anglia route, the West Coast Main Line and the Midland Main Line – will help drive forward the modern railway we all need.”
David Clarke, technical director at the Railway Industry Association, said: “With around 60% of signalling equipment units on the UK rail network needing to be replaced over the next 15 years, rail suppliers will need to gear up to ensure they are ‘match fit’ for a significant amount of work, ensuring its rollout is delivered efficiently, to time and to budget, and in order to ensure value for money for taxpayers and passengers.
“New digital technology will improve the reliability and resilience of the network, providing better services for passengers and freight, and will create highly skilled jobs across the UK, at a time when they are vitally needed.”