Unlocking Innovation: Digital Railway - Making it Real

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30 June 2020

The Railway Industry Association’s (RIA) Unlocking Innovation – Digital Railway – The Future series, returned for its second day on Tuesday 30 June, focusing on ‘’Making it Real’’. With the East Coast Mainline Digital Railway programme well underway, delegates had the opportunity to hear and examine the how digital railway was being turned from concept to reality.

East Coast Digital Programme

The session started with Toufik Machnouk, Network Rail’s Route Programme Director giving a presentation on the East Coast Digital Programme (ECDP), the largest UK roll out of digital signalling to date and a cross-industry initiative that will help transform the performance of the East Coast Main Line.

ECDP is the first intercity digital railway in the UK, fitting trains with the latest in-cab signalling technology and removing the old lineside signals, allowing signallers to provide instructions to trains continuously rather than only at fixed points.

Machnouk explained how the recent Government announcement of £350 million for digital signalling on East Coast Main Line is a vote of confidence in the approach being adopted and allows the project to go forward. He also highlighted the key challenges for Digital Railway and East Coast, which are accountability in a virtual organisation, business capability to respond to change, the train control partner stepping into the new role, retro-fitment of legacy fleets, intelligent timetable development for a high-speed mixed use railway and finally credibility and affordability. Machnouk was very clear about the objectives of the projects and the vital role that the supply chain would play.

Freight Opportunities

Machnouk was followed by Ewan Spencer ETCS Onboard Project Director at Siemens, who manages the programme for installing the ETCS digital in-cab signalling equipment in the national freight fleet of 745 locomotives. Spencer highlighted the complexity of the challenge with varying ownership, ages and numbers of locomotives and the information and stakeholder input which needs to be collated to allow design to commence. ‘First in Class’ (FIC) designs are progressing well and the next step will be to mobilise for FIC installations and dynamic testing at the Rail Innovation and Development Centre (RIDC). Closing with a before and after cab photograph, the scale of the change was clear.

Delivering the benefits

Andy Stringer Chief Engineer at Siemens, who is responsible for delivering the infrastructure parts of the system, continued the discussion. Stringer updated attendees on Siemens recent confirmed role as the train control partner (TCP). Setting out the deployment of ETCS, Stringer proposed that industry should have confidence given the scale and success of its achievements; the speed and service frequencies we achieve, for example on the West Coast Main Line and the benefits that brings to the passenger and the economy. He laid out the challenges for the transition on the East Coast including bringing the existing system up to a level where digital could be ‘overlayed’. However he emphasised that the industry should be confident in its delivery ability and should unite behind one message which is the role digital signalling can play in enhancing the rail network.

Elevator Pitches

The discussion continued with two Elevator Pitches from SMEs. The pitches give SMEs an opportunity to share with the industry the innovative work they are doing in or around this project.

Emily Kent, Director of One Big Circle, a specialist in Intelligent Video solutions started the pitches. Kent introduced One Big Circle who have a background in video which they have used to enter the rail industry. Their system called AIVR (Automated Intelligence Video Review), is easily installed in a cab window to capture a video of the journey, allowing engineers to remotely review and mark up on screen observations and measurements on screen that can be easily shared and actioned. The pitches were ended with Martin Pocock, Development Director for The Oakland Group who aims to integrate all project data from multiple applications to provide new insights and potential early warning of issues or opportunities.

The session ended with a question and answer session with several common themes emerging. The first was an emphasis on the necessity for good communication with the Government and the public. Machnouk and Stringer pointed out that there is a need to convince the industry itself and get everyone to support the project.

The next session which was held on Wednesday 1 July focused on Digital Railway – The Future Outlook.


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