The Government has announced a £1.2m fund to accelerate development work to roll out digital signalling along three key rail routes in a move hoped to create jobs and more reliable rail journeys.
The Department for Transport said the fund will mean accelerated 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. Also in the scheme is the Warrington and Wigan area on the West Coast Mainline North.
The department said the work will 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”.
It’s hoped to “improve safety and slash delays”, and follows a £350m fund announced for a 100-mile stretch of the East Coast Main Line announced earlier this year.
Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris said: “We have 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 and 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.”
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The Government said the “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, hours later.
The new technology hopes to give signallers better real-time information about train movements, allowing them to communicate with train drivers 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.
The department said it is engaging with suppliers of digital signalling and industry experts across the country to learn from similar schemes and drive efficiency in the nationwide programme to roll-out the technology on the railway.
Andy Jones, director of operational programme delivery at Network Rail said: “We are 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 three schemes – on the East Anglia route, the West Coast Mainline and the Midland Mainline – will help drive forward the modern railway we all need.”