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Will £1bn Government Funding Bring Rail Into 21st Century?

3 min

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More than £1 billion of UK Government funding will be used to replace outdated Victorian infrastructure with digital signalling technology. Quadrant Transport looks at how the funding will help to bring the railway into the 21st century.

The investment is an example of how the UK Government wants to bring the rail industry into the 21st century. One-third of the UK’s population live within 20 minutes of a station on the East Coast Main Line and together produce more than 40 per cent of the UK’s GDP, making it one of the UK’s busiest rail routes while also playing a vital role in the prosperity of the UK’s economy.

From London’s King Cross to Stoke Tunnels, just south of Grantham, the technology will be rolled out across the entire southern section of the line. Therefore, passengers will see faster, safer and more regular trains.

The Technology Means Fewer Delays For Passengers

Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, said: “This £1 billion investment will allow us to replace unreliable infrastructure with cutting-edge technology, which will mean fewer delays and more regular services for millions of passengers.”

The world is changing and, despite the best efforts of unions, I am determined to help our railway change with it.

Removing outdated lineside signalling and replacing it with the European train control system (ETCS), the funding will bring signalling into train drivers’ cabs and provide them with continuous real-time information throughout their journey.

There will be many benefits to the new in-cab technology, such as it will create a more responsive, more resilient railway, it will create a railway which can recover quicker when journeys don’t go to plan and because the system will constantly monitor the train’s speed, it will also build a safer railway.

As revealed in Department for Transport’s Rail Factsheet 2021, in 2020-21, there was a 22 per cent decrease in planned train serviced and a 9 per cent point improvement in punctuality compared with the previous year.

Since the decline in punctuality in 2018/19 due to timetabling difficulties, punctuality has increased and remained at a higher level.

“We will upskill our people and use new technology to improve the way we work for the benefit of passengers and freight customers.” Director, Industry Partnership for Digital Railway, Network Rail, Toufic Machnouk

It Will Help The UK’s Pathway To Net Zero

Director, Industry Partnership for Digital Railway, Network Rail, Toufic Machnouk, said: “We are delighted to have been given the go-ahead for this ground-breaking programme that will transform the capability and resilience of the East Coast Main Line and be a key enabler for the wider network.

“The East Coast Digital Programme (ECDP) is uniquely bringing together all elements of track and train through a pioneering industry partnership that is working beyond boundaries in a deep collaboration.”

We will upskill our people and use new technology to improve the way we work for the benefit of passengers and freight customers.

In addition to the passenger benefits, the ECDP is said to deliver a much-needed financial boost to the industry and, over its lifetime, is 42 per cent cheaper than the current system.

It will also help the UK Government towards its net zero goal by decreasing carbon emissions by 55,000 tonnes – the equivalent of more than 65,000 one-way flights from London to New York.

Both Decarbonisation And Economic Growth Will Be Supported

Director General, Rail Freight Group, Maggie Simpson OBE, said: “Freight customers throughout supply chains are dependent on reliable rail services to deliver goods to people. “

We welcome this investment in digital signalling that will provide a more flexible and resilient railway, unlocking future growth potential in rail freight traffic supporting both decarbonisation and economic growth.

The ECDP follows more than £350 million of prior investment to fit other services on the route with the new technology, with over 80 per cent of passenger rolling stock on the East Coast Mainline South using the ETCS.

Network Rail has said that they will prioritise the request for further investment of £427 million as part of the next control period settlement, bringing the overall investment to just under £2 billion.