The man in charge of the East Coast Main Line (ECML) upgrade has insisted that the £1.8bn scheme is “a northern project” despite initial route upgrades taking place in the South.
Network Rail route programme director LNE&EM Toufic Machnouk said that starting in the South was “the best business case” for the project and would “benefit the North”.
The initial works will see train control systems updated to the ETCS digital system, spanning from connecting lines from Margate to either Peterborough or potentially up to Stoke.
Manchnouk said that upgrading the southern part of the route would then “act as a catalyst” to deploy the same technology on the northern section of the ECML.
“I want to make it clear that this is very much a northern project,” he said. “The initial upgrade will take place in the South simply because it makes sense to do so.
“The South has the highest concentration of ETCS-ready trains and therefore it makes the best business case to upgrade that part of the route first.”
He added: “Upgrading the southern section of the line will also enable more trains to head north.”
Network Rail has already launched the contract to find a single supplier to deliver a £1.8bn digital train control system on the ECML route. The upgrade is expected to increase the number of high performance trains to Lincolnshire, Leeds, Newcastle and Scotland from six trains per hour to eight.
And while no time frame has yet to be established, Machnouk said that he wants to see “trains running on this system by the end of CP6”.
The contract is split into two parts, the first being for the outline design for the new system and the second for the detailed design, build, supply and installation of the system. It also includes the installation of an ancillary conventional signalling system and its long-term maintenance.
The overall scope of the framework is for the entire ECML, which comprises the London North East (LNE) and East Midlands (EM) operational routes.
The train control partner (TCP) will be appointed under an initial four year term that may be extended to up to eight years in annual increments. The contract for design, build and maintenance is envisaged to last for 30 years from system commissioning.
The contract follows an announcement made by transport secretary Chris Grayling and Network Rail in May this year, which set out a joint 15 year digital train control strategy for the whole railway industry.
Network Rail commercial director for the digital railway programme Phil Bennett confirmed that the contract for a transformation partner would be put out to tender in October and the traffic management contract would then follow at the turn of the year.
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