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UK needs to accelerate Digital Railway ambition

Chief executive of Keolis, and chairman of the Rail Delivery Group’s technology and operations working group, Alistair Gordon said the business case exists to accelerate the rollout of digital signalling in the UK.

Speaking during the Future of Rail conference, Alistair Gordon said the railway’s recent growth will be for nothing if the industry doesn’t modernise through the introduction of technology like ERTMS and traffic management.

ERTMS would remove the need for a fifth track to be built between London Waterloo and Surbiton.

The working group is looking at the implementation of ERTMS on nine routes: Midland Main Line, South West Main Line, Brighton Main Line, Essex Thameside, Grantham – Skegness, Peterborough – Ely, Northern Powerhouse area, Glasgow – Aberdeen and the Cardiff Valley lines. In June 2016, it will submit a final outline business case to inform the industry technical plan.

One route being studied is the South West Main Line, which is currently restricted to running 24 trains an hour.

The arrival of digital signalling on this route would create 10 additional train paths and would remove the need for a fifth track to be built between London Waterloo and Surbiton.

During his talk, ‘Why we need a Digital Railway’, Alistair said, ‘We’re talking about the future of the railway… We’re not talking about massive changes, we’re actually talking about making the network work today using technology today.’

Speaking later in the day, Patrick Bossert, digital transformation director at Network Rail, said there were similarities between the railway’s implementation of ERTMS and the introduction of air traffic control and autopilot systems in the aviation industry in the 1980s.

Individual projects are already being piloted around the country: traffic management has been implemented at new operating centres in Romford, Three Bridges and Cardiff.

The industry working group intends to submit a final business case in September 2017 to kick start a 25-year plan to realise the Digital Railway vision.

‘It’s not if we’re going to have a Digital Railway, it’s when we’re going to have a Digital Railway,’ said Alistair.

Photo: Hugh Llewelyn/ CC BY SA 2.0.

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