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Parliamentary Transport Committee initiates inquiry into the rail industry’s plans for digital signalling and traffic management

The House of Commons Transport Committee has announced it is to investigate industry plans for deploying new digital technologies and how they will impact the use of the network by passenger and freight services.

The Committee will also examine how traffic management technology could improve how timetables are planned by bringing in real-time traffic management and how the ongoing centralisation of signalling responsibilities to large Rail Operating Centres is achieving this.

According to the committee, the concept of the Digital Railway is seen by some as a necessary response to increasing growth in demand for rail services. Signalling and traffic management technology are a key part of Network Rail's Digital Railway programme. The European Train Control System (ETCS), and the European Railway Traffic Management System (ERTMS) of which it is a component, will replace existing signalling infrastructure, offering the potential of better reliability and increased capacity on the network.

The particular areas of interest to the Committee are:

  • The efficiency of Network Rail's planned roll-out of ERTMS and ETCS across the rail network.
  • How the state of current GSM-Railway technology (a standard for wireless technology used for railway communication and applications) impacts rail infrastructure.
  • How realistic the timings proposed in Network Rail's "Digital Railway" programme are and how these will be achieved.
  • How changes to Network Rail's Enhancement Delivery Plan following the Hendy Review will impact the rollout of ETCS/ERTMS systems.
  • How the transfer of signalling responsibilities to Rail Operating Centres (ROCs) is proceeding, and what implications this transfer has for the overall rollout of new signalling and traffic management technology.
  • What legislative and other action the Government could take to support the rate of change in signalling and traffic management technology.
  • Whether timetable planning is suitably optimised to meet demand for both passenger and freight rail, and how traffic management technology can be used to improve this.

The deadline for written submissions is 6 April 2016.

Further information and how to contribute


Rail industry 'working on a proposal for faster digital modernisation'

Digital Railway, the rail industry’s proposal to tackle the UK's capacity crunch by accelerating the digital modernisation of the railway, said it is working to a timetable that will allow proposals for faster digital modernisation to be included in the rail industry’s “Initial Industry Plan (IIP)” in September 2016. A full and final business case will be complete in Autumn 2017.

The business case will determine future cost and confirm whether a faster plan for Digital Railway is better value than conventional options.

Initial analysis has been completed for one route that suggested that a digital component to modernisation could deliver up to 40% more capacity than a purely conventional solution at 30% less than building new lines to deliver equivalent train path throughput.

In December, Digital Railway announced a Network Rail test train has run through central London completely under the control of the European Train Control System (ETCS) over two weekends of testing. This marks the culmination of six years of development work by the Thameslink Programme and the first time a train on the national rail network has run under the cab signalling system in the capital.

European Train Control System (ETCS) is the train-control element of ERTMS and includes Automatic Train Protection (ATP). The ETCS equipment used on the Thameslink Programme is supplied by Siemens, who are also building the Class 700 trains.

ETCS and automatic train operation will be in place from Elephant and Castle to Kentish Town and also towards London Bridge station

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