The Northern City Line experienced its first taste of digital signalling, as a passenger train controlled by the in-cab technology ran between Finsbury Park and Moorgate on Monday the 27th of November.
The introduction of this type of signalling – known as the European Train Control System, or ETCS – is a first step towards wider adoption across the rail network and represents an important milestone in the government-backed £1.4bn East Coast Digital Programme (ECDP). The programme is designed to improve journeys between London and north of Peterborough, with reliability and environmental outcomes at the forefront of the project's deliverables.
Digital signalling differs from the traditional track-side signals in a number of respects. Rather than being instructed to stop and go by physical systems outside the cab, drivers are told to maintain a target speed. The in-cab technology is constantly updated thanks to a series of beacons that tell it where trains are in relation to each other on the track. This means that drivers can ‘see' much further ahead than they can using standard line-of-sight signals, making it easier to run trains more efficiently.
However, there are no immediate plans to switch off existing signals until all Great Northern drivers have been trained to use the technology.
Once this phase has been completed, the focus will move to the track between Welwyn Garden City and Hitchin on the East Coast Mainline, with the first digitally signalled trains expected to travel on this section of the route in 2025.
Oliver Turner, Head of ERTMS for GTR said: “I'm delighted for our team and I'm delighted for our passengers. Getting to this point has been a monumental cross-industry effort. It will pave the way for the wider rollout of digital signalling on the East Coast Main Line, promising better reliability for everybody.”
Ed Akers, Network Rail's Principal Programme Sponsor, ECDP, said: “Today is a huge step forward towards a digital future where traditional ‘lights on sticks' are removed and technology delivers a more reliable and punctual railway. On the Northern City Line our cross-industry partnership has learned by doing, and the experience we've all gained will help us progress digital transformation on the main line and beyond.”
Ben Lane, Siemens Mobility's Project Director, ECDP said: “This is a major milestone for the rail industry and I'm proud that Siemens Mobility has brought the technology and experience to help deliver in collaboration with programme partners. Certain to transform the everyday for passengers, economies and communities along the route, this milestone demonstrates we're on the right track to bringing innovative digital signalling to the East Coast Main Line and beyond.”