RAILSTAFF SEPTEMBER 2016
THE FUTURE IS
THE WORLD IS GOING DIGITAL, AND RAILWAYS ARE NOT EXEMPT FROM THAT PROCESS. THE DIGITAL REVOLUTION IS STARTING TO AFFECT EVERY ASPECT OF RAILWAY OPERATIONS - SIGNALLING, TRACTION POWER SUPPLIES, TICKETING, MAINTENANCE, STATION MANAGEMENT AND THE PASSENGER EXPERIENCE
he recent Digital Rail Summit, organised by Rail Media at Addleshaw Goddard’s impressive facility near London’s Barbican and sponsored by digital imaging specialists Hanwha Techwin, examined the whole topic of the future digital railway. Experts in their fields, including the DfT, Network Rail Digital Railway, London Underground, RSSB and suppliers, explained what is being planned, when it will be implemented and how it will affect everyone involved in the railway today.
SUCCESS BRINGS PROBLEMS
The British rail network carries twice as many passengers as it did just two decades ago, but demand is projected to rise dramatically in the years ahead. The major initiative to address the capacity constraint is to digitalise the railway. This will enable more trains to run on existing tracks, safer, faster and more economically, complementing the additional capacity increases from new railways. But exploiting digital technology is not just about additional capacity. New technology and ways of working will have the same, if not a greater, impact on the whole industry. This includes an enhanced passenger experience that will commence from considering a journey, through the station and platform experience, to on-board. Digital rail will bring a wealth of new thinking from the supply chain as the industry exploits what is possible without the constraints of old technology. With the fastest growing network in Europe, many key routes are overcrowded, not just in London but in cities like Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Glasgow and Edinburgh, where peak-time travel is already standing room only. If passenger growth in the next twenty years matches that experienced over the last 20, there will be a billion extra journeys by 2035. At the same time, the network needs more space for freight trains, which now travel 600,000 miles a year and carry 75 per cent more consumer goods than they did in 2005.
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Traditional options cannot deliver on the scale the economy demands. While schemes like Crossrail and HS2 are vital to help meet this need in key economic hotspots, traditional options such as building new tracks or extending trains and platforms will not, on their own, deliver the space for extra trains we need across the network.
WHERE ARE WE TODAY?
The concept of railway fixed-block signalling has not really changed in over 100 years. Yes, colour light signalling with auto sections has replaced semaphore signalling (but not everywhere) and track circuit block has supplemented absolute block. Signalling control areas have become larger, but the method of fixed-block signalling is a constraint on running more trains over the network. While digital electronic interlocking systems have been used since the 1980s, and digital electronic telecommunication systems since 1966, there are many mechanical signal boxes still in use. The oldest was installed at Monks Sidings near Warrington in 1875. Skilled staff to service and maintain this technology is becoming scarce, but it is somewhat ironic that relay and early electronic signal boxes installed in the last 20 to 40 years are even more of a concern from an asset maintenance perspective. European Train Control System (ETCS), together with GSM-R and traffic management, form the European Train Management System (ERTMS). This tried-and-tested system will replace traditional railway signals with a computer display inside every train cab, reducing the costs of maintaining the railway, improving performance and enhancing safety. ERTMS is now in service on the Cambrian route, is providing excellent performance and is well received by the train crew.
WHY THE DIGITAL RAILWAY? The challenge is unlocking the growth potential of rail. The ambitious programme of railway investment is at a record high: £38 billion between 2015 and 2019. Demand, however, continues to grow, outpacing capacity. Keeping up with demand is key to economic growth.
RailStaff September 2016