DfT paper urges policy and programme commitments for digital railway signalling

Written by Sam Trendall on 19 December 2017 in News
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Report acknowledges numerous ‘false starts’ in the past but sets out eight recommendations to ensure digital is placed at the heart of the railway of the future

Credit: Uwe Zucchi/DPA/PA Images

A Department for Transport-issued report has urged the government to commit to creating policy and undertaking programmes to support the rollout of digital railway signalling. 

The DfT’s ministerial group for digital railway, which features expert representatives from the public and private sectors, has published a paper making a series of recommendations for policy and programme initiatives. The report acknowledges that the complexities of the rail sector hav meant that, to date, “there have been a number of false starts to the implementation of innovative signalling and train-regulation technology”.


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The paper adds: “The use of digital solutions will, increasingly, be at the centre of a modern and efficient railway, and this will support economic growth and productivity, improve connectivity, and help people to get around more quickly and safely. The current traditional signalling infrastructure is gradually becoming life-expired, with an ever-increasing backlog of renewals and a greater risk of failures and resulting delays.”

To help support the implementation of new digital signalling technologies across the country, the report makes eight recommendations for government and industry:

1) The government “should publish a clear statement of policy for the delivery of digital signalling”, including an articulation of the benefits for train companies and their customers.

2) Government should work with commercial partners to promote and foster digital skills and awareness of technology across the rail sector.

3) Network Rail “should find ways to open up its supplier base to a wider range of organisations”, while government should propose ways to help the publicly owned company increase the speed with which it is able to adopt new technologies.

4) The government and Network Rail should work together “to encourage alternative models of funding, financing, and delivery” for rail projects, and include investors much earlier in planning discussions.

5) A programme for delivering digital signalling should be developed by government. This should give industry partners compelling incentives, while ensuring they are held accountable for any failures to deliver.

6) In the name of building “an approach to delivery that is sustainable and affordable”, Network Rail should ensure it collaborates effectively with all forms of industry partner, including private companies, their individual employees, the investor community, and trade unions.

7) The programme for the nationwide delivery of digital signalling should include incremental goals, including some “early quick wins, which build upon lessons learnt from previous deployments”.

8) The government and Network Rail should jointly develop “an appropriate governance structure for the digital railway programme… [with] clarity of roles’ responsibilities and accountabilities”.

The digital railway ministerial group was formed just over a year ago to advise the DfT on digital signalling and the wider use of technology in the rail industry. Its members include David Waboso, Network Rail’s digital rail group managing director, National Infrastructure Commission deputy chair Sir John Armitt, and Cisco UK and Ireland chief technology officer Dr Alison Vincent. 

About the author

Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology

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