29 June 2020
The Railway Industry Association (RIA), with strategic
partners Network Rail and the UK Rail Research and Innovation Network (UKRRIN),
held its first webinar of the Unlocking Innovation – Digital Railway – The
Future series on Monday 29 June. Part of a five day series of online events,
the first covered the new structure for Digital Railway, following the
devolution of Network Rail.
Webinar host Richard Jones of RIA stated that ‘the Digital
Railway programme, is perhaps one of the most significant engineering programmes
in the industry over the next 20 years’. Going on he observed that since the
last time RIA held an event exploring Digital Railway in Birmingham last year,
there had been much progress and change. Network Rail had substantially
reorganised to better focus on passengers and freight, with five regions with
devolved responsibilities and the first major contract for delivering the
Digital Railway, East Coast had been placed.
‘Data, data, everywhere’
Network Rail Group Director of Network Services, Nick King,
spoke on Network Rail’s Transformation programme. He spoke about how the new
Network Services function in the organisation incorporated the Freight and
National Passenger Operators activities, as well as elements of Group Digital
Railway, providing assurance for national operational performance and
coordinating the organisation’s national programmes and capabilities.
King also focused on the opportunities of digital driven
data on the railway. He quoted a front-line engineer who had said their
thoughts on data in the industry were that there was “data, data everywhere and
not a drop to use”. King suggested that an abundance of data in the industry
was not the issue, more having the tools to make informed decisions that will
impact the network.
An Operator’s View
The second speaker was Paul Boyle, Head of ETCS, at London
North Eastern Railway (LNER). Boyle focused on why the Digital Railway
programme is important to train operators including LNER. The East Coast Main
Line (ECML) route will be the first to be part of Network Rail’s digital
railway programme. Using case studies from driving simulators Boyle showed how
the Digital Railway programme improved performance and resilience but stated
that challenges included change management. He also stated that there are many
environmental benefits from the Digital Railway, including energy efficiency
which could be more widely recognised.
The Digital Railway Systems Authority
Every mega project has a number of aspects to it. Two vital
ones are Programme Management and Technical Assurance and, to handle that
second challenge, Network Rail has set up a Digital Railway Systems Authority
to support the industry in implementation. The next speaker was Andrew Simmons,
the Chief Systems Engineer for Digital Railway. Simmons expanded on the
components that make up the Digital Railway Systems Authority to provide
technical oversight, support, and governance, he also discussed the positive
impact that it would have on the UK rail industry, users (both passengers and
freight) and the wider society.
The end of each Unlocking Innovation event gives SMEs the
opportunity to pitch their ideas and innovations. This time Lucy Prior,
Business Engagement Director at 3Squared gave her pitch, stating that Digital Rail is more than about
just signalling. She stressed that it was about the businesses that make it
happen and the people that help to carry it out. Lucy stated that 3Squared’s
objective is to help the industry to have the tools to analyse the data – a
direct response to King’s challenge to the industry.
The webinar will be followed by the four more
each day this week.