Network Rail, the owner and operator of Britain’s rail infrastructure, has unveiled plans to introduce a train control technology that removes the need for line-side signalling systems and enables more trains to use the tracks.
The system is part of a £38 billion, five-year investment programme, ‘Delivering a better railway for a better Britain: 2014-19 delivery plan’, that the organisation announced today to transform the country’s railway by providing more trains, reducing congestion and improving stations.
Network Rail hopes to introduce the European Train Control System (ETCS) initially on the Great Western Main Line and part of the East Coast Main Line, before rolling it out across the rest of the network. The technology allows trains to run faster and closer together without compromising safety, it said.
“It represents the biggest change in the way we operate trains since the time of Stephenson and Brunel,” Network Rail said.
“The way trains are controlled today by signals operated from signal boxes along the line would have been recognisable to them, but ETCS removes the need for lineside signals and introduces instead a control mechanism in the driver’s cab which relays all the information that is needed from one of 12 regional operating centres around Britain.
It added: “The end benefit for passengers and freight services will be that more trains will be allowed to safely use the track. It will also have substantial benefits in terms of both reliability and the drive to reduce costs.”
The railway operator is also adopting consumer technologies in the business to help improve staff efficiency, including rolling out 10,000 smartphones and tablets to employees.
Frontline maintenance staff can use these devices to access tools such as Network Rail’s Asset Rail app, so that they have information about the company’s assets, which includes tracks, rail buildings, telecoms equipment and signalling, at their fingertips, regardless of their location. They can also use the app to report asset information back to a central source.
“More convenient than paper on wet, cold days, plus reports can be completed on site,” Network Rail quoted an Asset Information App user saying.
Asset Information is Network Rail’s infrastructure information services business unit, which collects, analyses and communicates data. It signed a contract with Informatica in 2012 to use its platform, including Informatica Master Data Management (MDM), Informatica PowerCenter and Informatica Data Quality as part of its ORBIS (Offering Rail Better Information Services) programme. Capgemini helped to implement the ORBIS Master Data Management project.
“Programmes such as ORBIS allow us to move from an [infrastructure maintenance] approach based on ‘find and fix’ to one of ‘predict and prevent’,” Network Rail said in its plan today.
“We are increasingly moving to a system of risk-based maintenance that allows us to monitor our assets, judge how well they are performing and then decide when to carry out maintenance work or renewals based on real-time, accurate data and judgements about criticality.”
Network Rail also aims to better align the information it provides to customers about their journeys across all channels.
“We plan to improve the consistency of information across stations. We’re integrating the different systems we use into one which will feed into screens at stations, apps on smartphones and websites, and on-train information,” it said.
It added: “Our aim by 2019 is to operate the best possible timetable every day on the network, and to be nearer our goal of operating a ‘right time’ timetable which uses GPS equipment on trains to ensure the right train is at the right place at the right time.”
In January, the railway operator signed a £65 million, five-year deal with Computacenter to transition and transform its desktop services.
Meanwhile, last year, Network Rail signed framework agreements with Accenture, BAE Systems Detica, Cognizant, CSC and TCS to simplify its IT and computing relationships.
The company currently works with more than 270 individual IT suppliers and manages a variety of systems of varying complexity, including some that were designed as far back as the 1970s.