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Technology to speed up rail services

Rail tracks

Today brings potentially more good news for the UK’s rail passengers as Network Rail has outlined an ambitious upgrade plan that it says will deliver faster and more frequent services to millions of passengers.

The National Digital Railway Strategy aims to modernise technology on both trains and tracks across the country. Network Rail claims that by the time HS2 opens in Manchester in 2033, about 70 per cent of journeys will benefit from upgrades.

The firm has spent the last three years setting up the ‘key elements’ needed to launch the transformation, which will include replacing the current analogue signalling system to a digital one.

Network Rail chief executive Mark Carne says the move would avoid the need to spend £20 billion on a similar system that would limit the ability to create extra capacity. Speaking at the launch of the initiative, Carne claimed the new system can be delivered for 30 per cent less than the current cost based on deployments across Europe.

In order to achieve this, Carne says those working on developments at track level need to work closely with train manufacturers, praising transport secretary Chris Grayling’s announcement that all new rolling stock used in the UK will need to be digital or at least digital-ready starting next year.

The plan includes upskilling thousands of train drivers to work with digital signalling systems and hiring new drivers to unlock the potential for increased capacity on an updated railway, but Carne says he remains confident that Network Rail has the capability to deliver an upgrade for the majority of the railway in the next 15 years.

He said: “Not since the railway transformed from steam to diesel in the 1960s has a technological breakthrough held such promise to vastly improve our railway for the benefit of the millions of people and businesses who rely on it every day.

“The age of a digital railway has today moved from the drawing board and into reality as we reveal a blueprint that will improve the lives of millions of passengers and freight users across the country.

“In a world first, digital train control with ‘fly-by-wire’ trains (automatic train operation) – coupled with smart infrastructure, is now a reality on Thameslink services through London Bridge. We now have a plan, impetus and the funding to introduce these systems across large swathes of our railway network over the coming years.”

In addition to the current operation on Thameslink and the upcoming Crossrail trains, digital control is set to be rolled out over the next five years across the Pennines, on the southern end of the East Coast main line into King’s Cross and onto major commuter routes that feed into Waterloo.

Earlier this week Chris Grayling announced a £2 million investment in two sub-national rail bodies in the South East of England, while Rail Delivery Group announced plans to hold a public consultation on reforming fare regulation across the country.

Read Mark Carne’s full speech here.

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