£350m digital signalling equipment to be installed on East Coast Main Line

King Cross sation
Credit: GOV.UK

The East Coast Digital Programme is the start of upgrading the UK’s railways with digital signalling, which will reduce delays and improve services for passengers and freight transport.

The first mainline to benefit from the new digital signalling equipment will be the East Coast Mainline, one of the most important routes in the UK.

Carrying millions of passengers and tonnes of freight, the current system of signalling holds back the potential of many routes. The new signals will be fitted between London King’s Cross and Stoke Tunnel, Lincolnshire, and although not fitted along the whole 394-mile route, the Northern sections will benefit from the improvements to the South.

At the heart of digital signalling is train-to-track infrastructure, allowing both trains and track to communicate, known as the European Train Control System (ETCS). The key gain of ETCS is the signals know what type and speed each train is travelling at, adjusting to the needs for each train in real-time, whether fast passenger trains or slow freight trains. Many trains which use the East Coast Mainline are already fitted with ETCS, with upgrades fitted the new trackside equipment, replacing the old life-expired system.

The program to install the digital signalling comes thanks to a recent £350 million investment by the Government. Combined with the further £1.2 billion set aside for East Coast Mainline improvements, passengers should gain from all upgrade projects over the next few years, with these big investments helping the UK economy recover from the impact of COVID-19.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “As the country recovers from COVID-19 we want to speed up our economy and reap the benefits of new transport technology. The Victorians gave us the world’s first great rail network and now it’s our turn to be modern transport pioneers and build on that great tradition.

Upgrading this country’s conventional signalling system, and giving drivers technology fit for the 21st century, will boost train performance, cut delays, improve safety and support the supply chain. This is just the beginning. In time, we will digitise signalling right across the country to make good on our promise of better reliability and punctuality for passengers.

Passengers shouldn’t have to worry about missing connections or being late home to see their children, and I’ve been clear that getting the trains to run on time is a personal priority. Today’s funding comes on top of the government’s investment of £1.2 billion between 2014 and 2024 to improve passenger journeys on the East Coast Main Line, creating capacity for up to 10,000 extra seats a day on long-distance services, speeding up journeys and improving reliability for passengers.

Development work is already underway with Network Rail to roll out digital signalling on further routes including sections of the West Coast Main Line, Midland Main Line and Anglia from 2026, leading to safer, more reliable, more resilient railways. The government also announced today that £12 million is being invested in fitting out 33 new trains for the Midland Main Line with digital signalling equipment.”

Programme Director of the East Coast Digital Programme Toufic Machnouk said: “Today’s announcement is a big step towards transforming the network for the millions of passengers that use the East Coast Main Line and a welcome endorsement of the partnership approach that the rail industry has adopted to deliver Britain’s first inter-city digital railway. The funding detailed by the Secretary of State is very significant and will enable the vital building blocks needed to build a modern, right time railway.

David Horne, London North Eastern Railway (LNER) Managing Director and Chair of the East Coast Digital Programme’s Industry Steering Board said: After LNER and other operators on the East Coast successfully introduced brand new fleets, in-cab signalling will be the next exciting step we take to maximise the benefits of the technology that Azuma and all the trains on this route offer. This investment is good news for all customers, who will see even more improvements in services, reliability and sustainability.”

Managing Director of East Midlands Railway Will Rogers said: “This vital signal investment is great news for the Midland Mainline and all the passengers we serve. Our new state of the art bi-mode trains will now come into service during 2023 with digital signalling technology ready to take advantage of the greater efficiency and flexibility this route upgrade will offer.”

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