A landmark deal has been struck by all four Channel Tunnel Rail Link track operators to collectively rollout a digital signalling upgrade, potentially saving millions of pounds.
High Speed One (HS1) head of route engineering Richard Thorp told New Civil Engineer that collectively carrying out the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) works would minimise disruption and cost compared to individually conducting upgrades when the life of each existing system expired.
HS1, Getlink, SNCF and Infrabel have signed a deal to work together on a common deployment schedule, sharing technical information and expertise with one another as works begin.
“Doing this together there are economies of scale,” said Thorp. “If we put all the smaller projects together we will have more power in the market.
“It’s a big message to the rail industry that we’re working together to deliver the project as efficiently as possible, especially for re-signalling projects that can attract some hefty price tags.”
The project to upgrade to the new signalling system has been estimated at around £500M across the four operators with HS1 pricing the UK section at around £90M.
HS1 manages the track between St Pancras in London to Folkstone, Getlink (formerly Eurotunnel) operates on the Channel Tunnel section, SNCF is the French track operator and Infrabel is the Belgian track operator. Eurostar operates the trains across the network.
Speaking to New Civil Engineer Thorp said despite having the same basic system across all track operators, there were currently five different signalling systems. This means each train operator must carry out safety validations of its systems on each of the five before it is allowed to run on the route.
The time and cost of carrying out these checks has been identified as another barrier to other international train operators using the track, said Thorp.
“Another driver for this is to encourage more international traffic onto the railway,” said Thorp. “This new system will take out that barrier.”
Each operator’s signalling system expires at different times. HS1 has plans to replace its system in 2030 to 2035, and SNCF and Infrabel must replace their systems by 2028 to 2030.
Over the next six months the track operators will set out their priorities over six key areas; international demand forecasts for the route over the next 50 years; an engineering development strategy to look for common technical design solutions; development of a clear interface strategy between each operator; funding strategies; a common procurement strategy and the development of a common communications strategy to give investors confidence.
“The beauty of all of the chief executives signing up to all of the parameters is that they can then be held accountable at the end of it,” said Thorp. “I think it’s a powerful piece of work.”
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