East Coast Digital Programme hits major milestone as section commissioned: Engineers working to commission the Welwyn to Hitchin section of ECDP, Network Rail

Wednesday 21 Feb 2024

East Coast Digital Programme hits major milestone as section commissioned

Region & Route:
| Eastern: East Coast

In a big step forward for the East Coast Digital Programme (ECDP), new technology has now been successfully commissioned between Welwyn Garden City and Hitchin, bringing digital signalling on the East Coast Main Line a step closer.

Engineers have worked around the clock between Saturday 17 and Tuesday 20 February to carry out the work.

Later this year, the first overnight test trains will be operated, in preparation for the first digitally signalled trains on the main line to run from 2025.

ECDP will change how train services on the East Coast Main Line are operated, with traditional lineside signalling being replaced by digital signalling displayed inside the train drivers’ cabs. This will lead to more reliable journeys for passengers and a greener railway.

Ed Akers, Principal Programme Sponsor, ECDP, said: “This is a major milestone towards digital signalling on the main line and I’m incredibly proud of everyone involved in reaching this point.  Digital signalling is the future of the railway, and ECDP will deliver a more reliable and greener railway for passengers in the long term.

“We want to thank passengers for their patience and understanding over recent days while work was carried out.”

A spokesperson on behalf of passenger train operators said: “Our teams have been working hard over the last four days to keep passengers on the move and to get them to their destination as quickly as possible.

“We know that changes to services are never ideal and we want to thank our passengers for their patience while this vital work was carried out.”

In the first stage of the ECDP, digitally signalled Great Northern passenger trains have been operating since November on the Northern City Line between Finsbury Park and Moorgate. Traditional signals are being kept at the side of the track until all drivers are trained and the old system can be switched off, which is expected in 2025.

Currently, a quarter of all the trains operating between these stations are using the ETCS system, with this number increasing as more drivers are trained on the system. It is expected that the Northern City Line will be a ‘no signals’ railway from early 2025.

Notes to Editors

Digital signalling

Digital signalling, using ETCS is a proven technology already in use in many countries in Europe and elsewhere. The ECDP will see the first introduction of ETCS to an intercity mainline in Great Britain, and will provide the foundation for the future expansion of digital signalling across the network.  ETCS is currently in use in the central London section of Thameslink and on the Cambrian Line in Wales, and now on the Northern City Line (Finsbury Park to Moorgate), in the first stage of ECDP.

More reliability: With signalling information being provided directly to the driver, via a screen in their cab, there will no longer be a need to maintain a large amount of lineside equipment involved with traditional ‘traffic light’ signals.  As a result, the amount of signalling-related engineering work will reduce in the future by around almost half. Additionally, trains are sometimes affected by signal failures; moving to a modern, digitally based system makes this less likely, potentially reducing thousands of hours of delays, and making train services more reliable.

More punctual services: Digital signalling gives train drivers continual information about the safe maximum speed for their train. It provides drivers with additional information about the route ahead, that today’s fixed ‘traffic light’ signals do not. This enables more ‘efficient’ operations, helping trains stay on time.  The new technology allows continuous communication between the trackside and onboard equipment. Signallers can continuously communicate with every train on the network and respond in real time using digital tools to help smooth the flow of trains and recover services more quickly after disruption.

Greener journeys: Digital signalling contributes to a greener railway. The East Coast Main Line is already electrified, and these upgrades will deliver a further 55,000 tonne reduction in carbon emissions over 60 years – the equivalent to over 65,000 one-way flights from London to New York, or over 2 million passenger train journeys from London to Edinburgh. This is because there is much less physical equipment to produce and maintain compared with what’s needed for ‘traffic light’ signals. The estimated whole life carbon saving over a 60-year period (the expected life span of a ‘traditional’ signalling system) is around 39%. The technology also allows gentler braking, meaning journeys are smoother and use less energy. Finally, a more reliable and punctual railway will encourage more people to choose rail over road and air, ultimately reducing transport emissions for the long-term.

For further information about the ECDP please visit www.eastcoastdigitalprogramme.co.uk

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Joshua Chapman
Media Relations Manager
Network Rail

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