‘The biggest modernisation of our railway since Victorian times’ announced in York

The Rail Operating Centre in York today. Photograph: Danny Lawson / PA Wire
10 May 2018 @ 7.58 am
| News, Politics, Transport

York was again at the centre of a rail revolution today (May 10) as the Transport Secretary chose the city to announce that the network was going digital.

Chris Grayling is due to launch the government’s digital railway strategy at York’s Rail Operating Centre this morning.

All new trains and rail signalling will be digital or digital-ready from next year to reduce overcrowding and cut delays, the Transport Secretary has announced.

He promised new digital rail technology will:

  • safely allow more trains to run per hour by running trains closer together
  • allow more frequent services and more seats
  • cut delays by allowing trains to get moving more rapidly after disruption
  • enable vastly improved mobile and wi-fi connectivity, so that passengers can make the most of their travel time and communities close to the railway can connect more easily.

Future proof the railways

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling (left) and chief executive of Network Rail Mark Carne (right) announce plans for using more digital technology on Britain’s railways during a visit to the training development centre at the Rail Operating Centre in York.

Chris Grayling compared the move to when consumers bought future-proof digital televisions ahead of the switchover from analogue broadcasts around a decade ago.

Much of Britain’s rail signalling uses Victorian technology, with line-side traffic lights controlling trains.

With more than half of these systems needing to be replaced within the next 15 years, Government-owned Network Rail will install digital versions which will enable trains to run closer together, boosting frequency, speed and reliability.

The technology is being used to enable extra capacity for 40,000 more passengers on Thameslink trains through London Bridge later this month.

It is due to be rolled out to services at London King’s Cross, London Waterloo and across the Pennines by 2024.

Network Rail has pledged that 70% of journeys will benefit from digital signalling within 15 years.

Mr Grayling said:

We are investing in the biggest modernisation of our railway since Victorian times to deliver what passengers want to see – faster, more reliable and more comfortable journeys.

We’re at the stage with the railways that we were with digital television when everything was being sold as HD Ready.

What we want to do is make sure that all new trains and all future signalling projects are digital ready.

This will enable the transfer of trains to digital systems to be a simple “plug and play” process and “not rewiring the train”, Mr Grayling added.

Improve the lives of millions

On track for better times? York Railway Station. Photograph: YorkMix

Network Rail chief executive Mark Carne said: “Not since the railway transformed from steam to diesel in the 1960s has a technological breakthrough held such promise to vastly improve our railway for the benefit of the millions of people and businesses who rely on it every day.

“The age of a digital railway has today moved from the drawing board and into reality as we reveal a blueprint that will improve the lives of millions of passengers and freight users across the country.

“Today’s commitment is to adopt and roll out new digital technology, for both trains and track, that will deliver faster, more frequent services for passengers and businesses alike, giving our economy a massive boost.”

Labour’s shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald claimed digital signalling upgrades will have a “limited impact” without more lines being electrified.

Minister denies cutting North’s rail spend

‘I would challenge anybody who said we’re not doing the right thing for the north of England’ – Chris Grayling

During his York visit Chris Grayling denied cancelling “a single project” for upgrading the rail network in the north of England.

Think tank IPPR North claims planned transport investment in London is two-and-a-half times higher per person than in the North.

The capital will receive £4,155 per person compared with just £1,600 in the North West, North East and Yorkshire and the Humber regions combined, according to the analysis.

Asked whether he understood why people in the North were angry about the amount of money being invested in the region’s transport network, Mr Grayling replied: “I have not cancelled a single project in the north of England. All the passenger benefits that we planned to deliver are going to be delivered.

“Every train is going to be replaced. The Transpennine upgrade is going to be a huge flagship project for the country.

“We’ve just finished the electrification of the Liverpool to Manchester railway line. We’re in the process of electrifying from Manchester to Bolton.

“So I would challenge anybody who said we’re not doing the right thing for the north of England.

“We’re spending more money on transport upgrades in the north of England than any government has for decades.”

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