Digital Railway: Proceed with caution

 

The Digital Railway programme could have a real impact on the UK rail network and Network Rail needs to keep a firm grip on its plans, MPs have said.

The Transport Select Committee has published a new report, Rail technology: signalling and traffic management, which says the intelligent use of signalling and traffic management technology could bring substantial benefits but that Network Rail should take its time to get it right.

”Local
Traditional signals are likely to remain on some rail routes

The Digital Railway programme is a national initiative to modernise train command, control and signalling systems to deliver improvements in reliability and capacity. Network Rail has said it could deliver an increase in capacity of up to 40%.

The report notes that elements of the programme are already in use while others being trialled but says it will be impossible for the programme to deliver the benefits it promises without a whole sector approach and calls a cross-industry delivery plan.

MPs say the Government and Network Rail should recognise that such benefits are ‘not a panacea’ and may not lead to dramatic capacity improvements on all routes. They say ‘moving ahead with caution will help ensure the right interventions are used on the right routes’.

Committee chair Louise Ellman MP said: ‘There is an urgent need to increase capacity and the Digital Railway is an exciting programme which could have real impact. We have seen successes on some metro lines already.

‘However, measured and realistic plans are essential to the progress of the Digital railway. Network Rail needs to keep a firm grip on their plans and they need to include the whole sector.’

The report argues that if Network Rail produces over-ambitious plans that need to be scaled back, it risks discouraging further investment in the UK by rail technology suppliers. It says: ‘This has happened before, and must not happen again’.

MPs say the Department for Transport and Network Rail should make a realistic assessment of how much extra capacity the Digital Railway can deliver. They point out that it is one of a number of responses to demand for extra capacity and add that where it is used it is important that other work, such as improving station capacity, is done to enable it to deliver its full potential.

Network Rail is planning to finalise its business case for its Digital Railway programme by the end of 2016. MPs say they ‘await [this] with interest’.

 

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