Network Rail on the hunt for partner to deliver the first major digital railway

Bosses at Network Rail have revealed plans for a digital transformation of UK railways as the organisation seeks a partner to support the UK's first inter-city digital railway on the East Coast Mainline (ECML).

The London North Eastern and East Midlands (LNE & EM) route is looking to team up early, and on a whole life basis, with a technology provider to work together on designs, plans, phasing, costs and realising benefits in a way never done before.

The selected supplier will play a key part in the development and deployment of the European Train Control System (in-cab signalling) on ECML, starting on the southern end. The first inter-city introduction of modern signalling is expected to increase capacity, improve resilience, enhance safety and reduce long-term operating costs.

Starting with the southern 160km route between London King’s Cross and Grantham, the framework contract is worth up to £1.8bn and is expected to be awarded in spring 2019.

According to the organisation, the southern section of the ECML presents a “once in a generation alignment of opportunities” for a “cost-effective digital railway transformation”. Existing train control systems need to be renewed, and new rolling stock coming into service has been designed for cab signalling.

David Waboso, managing director of the Group Digital Railway, said: “There is a compelling case for a digital transformation on this southern section of the East Coast Mainline. The big challenge of digital railway is the integration of the infrastructure and rolling stock, and with the need for asset renewal coming at the same time as 70% of passenger trains being fitted, we are presented with a huge opportunity to align track and train in an efficient way. The procurement is being done in a radically different way and which will build on the key learnings from our Early Contractor Involvement programme.”

Toufic Machnouk, route programme director for the LNE & EM route, added: “This is the beginning of a journey and we are seeking this partnership early in the process to develop the best plan for realising a digital railway. This is a route transformation programme that will bring together the operational railway and technology providers to deliver real passenger benefits.”

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