What is the Digital Railway programme?

The Digital Railway programme is a Network Rail led initiative to modernise train command, control and signalling systems used on the British railway network with the aim of substantially improving the capability of such systems to enhance network capability and efficiency. This will permit both passenger and freight operators to provide additional services to meet customer demand.

The House of Commons Transport Select Committee recently published its 7th Report on rail technology in advance of the publication of the business case for the Digital Railway programme by Network Rail, and we have provided a brief overview of the findings of the Report below.

What does the Report say?

The Report evidences that there is continued governmental support for the Digital Railway programme, and amongst others puts forward the following comments:

  • Impact of Brexit - In relation to the impact of the European Union referendum result on the Digital Railway, the Report states that regardless of the potential disapplication of EU Directives once the UK leaves the European Union, the Committee believes that “it would be counterproductive and costly not to continue using the same standards as used in the rest of Europe and the wider world”. The view of the Committee is that Brexit would have no impact on the requirement for new or upgraded rolling stock to be required to be compatible with the common technical specification used in the European Union, which it believes should remain a requirement post the UK leaving the European Union.
  • Importance of Digital Railway - The Report emphasises that improvements to signalling and traffic management technology are needed to deliver a world-class rail network and that the deployment of the European Train Control System, Traffic Management Software and Driver Advisory systems should be accelerated subject to full consideration of the business case for these projects being carried out.
  • Conclusions and Recommendations - The report makes several recommendations as to the contents of the business plan for the Digital Railway programme including:
  • making it clear how first-in-class design and cab fitment will be funded;
  • the development of a cross-industry and whole-sector approach to the programme including the central involvement of supplier and the rail technology industry;
  • ensuring that the rail freight industry and rail staff are involved and engaged in the deployment of technology; and
  • that the proposed timetable for the implementation of the works should be flexible and able to accommodate delays arising for legitimate reasons.

What is the effect of the Report?

Whilst the Report does not advocate or reject any specific option for the choice of the specific technology which will underpin the Digital Railway programme, the Report does provide a series of recommendations, suggestions and opinions on the development and implementation of the Digital Railway programme which seek to set out a suggested blueprint for the successful deployment of digital technology for the rail industry in a post Brexit United Kingdom through industry collaboration, flexible project planning and open minded strategies.

Source:

House of Commons Transport Committee – Rail Technology: signalling and traffic management (17 October 2016). http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmtrans/67/67.pdf