The Department for Transport (DfT) is investing £1.2 million to roll-out digital rail signalling to improve safety and reduce delays.
Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris said the development funding 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.
Feasibility work for digital signalling will be accelerated on 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 Mainline North.
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.
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.
The DfT said the new digital 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 is 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.
The £1.2m investment follows the announcement of £350m of new investment toward 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.
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.”