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UK Rail Freight Group calls for certainty on digital railway funding

The Rail Freight Group has welcomed the launch of Network Rail’s Digital Railway Strategy, which aims to ensure that all new trains and signalling are digital or digital-ready from 2019 onwards. It cautioned, however, that without certainty of future funding freight risks being left behind in this revolution, delaying delivery of benefits across the whole network

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The digital railway is a key enabler of future rail freight growth, delivering improved capacity for new services, better reliability and enhanced information for freight customers. Digital signalling should also facilitate quicker and cheaper connections to new freight interchanges and terminals, bringing new users to the rail network and enabling a growth in modern rail-linked sites.


To begin this upgrade, Network Rail has contracted with Siemens Rail Automation to develop ‘first in class’ fitment of digital signalling to freight locomotives, and is working with freight operators, ROSCOs and the supply chain to deliver the first prototypes. However, Government has not yet committed funding in Control Period 6 to enable the full roll out of the programme.

Without this, freight services cannot benefit from the new signalling on East Coast Main Line, Transpennine and elsewhere. As freight locomotives operate on a network-wide basis, fleet fitment is also a key national enabler for the overall realisation of benefits of digital railway.


Maggie Simpson, RFG Executive Director, said: “Digital transformation of the railways is an exciting proposition and one that we fully embrace. Government and Network Rail have taken the first steps to ensuring freight is part of this story but must now commit to fund ongoing fleet fitment in CP6 to ensure that freight operators and their customers can take full advantage of the benefits of digital railway.”

ETCS promises shorter intervals between train paths
ETCS promises shorter intervals between train paths

RFG has provided a number of links on the digitalisation project:


Network Rail’s Digital Railway Strategy


Network Rail: "Freight trains in Britain to be upgraded with delay-busting in multi-million pound ETCS deal"


Multinational engineering firm AECOM also welcomed the British government’s strategy, but similarly has concerns. “We fully support the Transport Secretary and Network Rail’s commitment to ensuring all new trains and signalling are digital or digital ready from 2019, said Richard Robinson, AECOM’s Chief Executive, Civil Infrastructure, EMIA. "After years of industry wrestling with the productivity gap, the time has come to embrace digital innovation and take the necessary step forwards to accelerate delivery. We now have the keys to unlock the future - and they lie in the combination of new delivery models and the smart use of technology.


“However, in order for the full benefit of this transformation to be realised we must continue major enhancement investment in the railway, including from the private sector. We look forward to hearing how this announcement aligns with the DfT’s ambitions for increased third party investment and how it could compliment projects such as the AECOM-backed Heathrow Southern Rail proposal.”


“AECOM is a long-term strategic partner of the UK government and remains committed to developing the necessary infrastructure to serve the country’s future needs, as well as bringing our engineering and delivery capability. Already a valued client, we hope to continue working with Network Rail to support them in achieving their Digital Railway goals.”

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