Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Debate | Digital Railway

Digital railway bandw

Late last year New Civil Engineer, in association with Siemens, convened a round table looking at how the digital railway could be implemented.

Fast forward 12 months and the round table was repeated to see just how far the industry had come.

The potential offered by digital train control is ridiculously hard to overstate. Analysis of the main South West Trains corridor has shown that replacing traditional signalling with digital train control, which allows trains to operate closer together, enabling more services to run without building new lines, would yield a 40% capacity increase, and the potential nationwide is 60%.

And it is not even untried technology, London Underground is already achieving greater capacity on the Victoria Line using digital train control. Yet on the UK heavy rail network, traditional signalling remains, and on average 50% of the network is empty at any one time.

Paul copeland bandw

Paul copeland bandw

Copeland: progress has been positive

With £450M set aside in the Autumn Statement for digital railway investment, this second round table discussion brought together innovators from across the industry to discuss the current blockers and enablers to the delivery of the digital railway.

“From where we were last year, I think we have moved forward,” said Siemens managing director Paul Copeland. “The supply chain has come together. We can see that traffic management is being implemented, European Train Control System (ETCS) is in Thameslink, and Crossrail is moving on.

“The digital railway is here, particularly on London Underground, and the main line needs to catch up. It is much more positive than this time last year.”

The digital rail business case

“The first deployment [of the digital railway] is already there with what will go into Thameslink,” agreed Digital Railway Programme head of ECI programme Stuart Calvert. “It will be world class, world leading application of ATL and ETCS in an urban environment. Everyone is looking at it.

Stuart calvert b&w

Stuart calvert b&w

Calvert: Timing for new ideas is crucial

“This is a fantastic opportunity to get the message into the industry – this is how we can do it, this is what we could do –  and then find out what the customer actually wants, and this will drive us [the supply industry] to deliver, and how we create the best business case to do it, and how to find the money. Then we’ll crack on and do it’.”

Digital railway solution does not fit all

Railway Industry Association (RIA) technical director David Clarke said there had been one big change in the last 12 months. “Last year I suspect the digital railway programme was a digital railway rollout progressively everywhere, with the one ‘full fat’ solution, whereas now it looks more like a location- appropriate solution.”

“We will never modernise the infrastructure in one go, it will take decades to do” added John Martin, director from Atkins “Therefore we need to work out how we enable and prepare, to ensure we can take that step in the future.”

 Keeping the momentum going

London Underground’s Capital programmes engineering director George Clark thought it was easy to lose momentum across the industry “the key thing is there is a path that takes you from the your Victoria Lines into Thameslinks and beyond into the Crossrails and so on. That path or strategy is already there .

“It is not so much about the technology. It’s about getting the requirements right, aligning and engaging the supply chain, and then the case of that momentum taking it forward. Now is the key opportunity for the digital railway to keep that momentum.”

Delivering performance above everything else

Using Thameslink as an example, David Clarke of the RIA thought that by “eeking out the absolute maximum out of the infrastructure” by using technology and civil engineering was the biggest advance. “ The integration of the train and the infrastructure is working and we didn’t get hung up on the huge technical risk.

“Business case driven, thinking about the system, having an ambitious specification that delivers the business case, not underestimating the technical challenges, but saying we are going to do them.”

Siemens new technology directory Mark Ferrer agreed. “It’s the focus on the incremental improvement in an integrated way. That is the important model.”

Culture is holding the industry back

Christian Fry, head of strategy and marketing at Alstom Signalling, thought that the culture of the industry was holding it back “and technology was just an excuse”.

“We can’t scrap what we have today. We can’t start with a blank sheet of paper with the railway industry” agreed Nick Dunne director technology at Siemens. “We can’t move from there.”

Ian Maxwell, head of ERTMS at the Office of Rail and Road thought it was culture too. “It’s not a lack of motivation or ideas that could be used. It’s very much about a lack of momentum in the industry itself and lack of confidence to try new things.”

Ian maxwell b&w cropped

Ian maxwell b&w cropped

Maxwell: Lack of momentum in the industry

“We need free-thinking engineers from a wide range of the industry and in a culture of ‘can-do’. We have created a culture of ’can’t-do’” added Digital Railway Programme’s Calvert.

“They need support from the innovators from across the industry. It has to be a relationship formed from academia and business large and small.”

Need bravery to introduce innovation

CH2M’s regional business group manager transportation Europe Mark Southwell said thar one of the biggest blockers was the lack of bravery within large programmes. “There is an adversion to risk. Programme directors have a date to deliver something, and it’s hard to be brave and bring an innovation in. No one wants to fail.”

RIA’s Clarke agreed and added that he thought the industry needed centres of excellence where innovation could be tested safely. “We can have academic and industry collaboration, do the perceived, more risky things, de-risk them and bring them into service.

“Open them up to everyone and you can start to de-risk the next generation of technology and you suddenly start to get the innovation cycles you see in other industries.”

Specifying the specifics

Calvert argued that the challenge was to change the mind-set of the industry. “If we want to get a traffic management system in, we think it needs to be the perfect answer that does everything, and we are not going to commission, implement, test or put it into service until it can do all that. But why do that if the traffic management layer is non-safety?”

He asked why the industry couldn’t have “just have parts of that layer that brings customer benefit and interconnect parts of it and bring them forward. That is the sort of thinking that app developers use.”

Siemens’s Copeland agreed, but said it was the specification that needed to be less detailed to enable the supply chain to innovate. “If we have to work in a regulated controlled environment, we get what we ask for.”

Leaving the five-year planning cycle behind

“We need to get away from the five-year planning cycle,” added Siemens’s Dunne. “As soon as you complete the planning cycle, someone puts a number to it, and as soon as you put a number to it, it becomes a debate around that number and why is it that number. The whole management becomes focused on delivering that number and not on what they are trying to deliver.”

CH2M’s Southwell thought that the supply chain should have a hunger for funding the digital railway. ”To make this happen it is up to the industry, where we can lead and come up with a different model of funding.”

“For efficient effective project delivery, however it is funded, you need to create a boundary requirement,” added Calvert. “It then becomes fundable and deliverable, but we’ve not been very good a creating the boundary and specification for what we really want.

“Trying to do that for a digital railway environment is not impossible.”

The next 12 months

Calvert thought that a strong message had to be delivered “you want this, you have to do that” with support from across the industry and giving confidence for investment.”

The ECI report, which was due to be published last month “will be about engaging with the supply chain, competing for global resources, and giving corporates confidence to invest. There needs to be a strong message which is listened to and acted on.”

Philo daniel black and white cropped

Philo daniel black and white cropped

Daniel: Technology is not the problem

The RIA’s Clarke said the key word is confidence. “Confidence for the government that the industry can deliver; confidence in the industry that there is work to deliver, and confidence in Network Rail that the industry can deliver. It has be an industry programme to deliver with that mutual confidence.”

Thales head of strategy and marketing ground transportation systems Philo Daniel added: “It’s not simple, otherwise it would have happened already. It’s not a technology issue, otherwise we are always waiting for the next best thing, we will never get there.”


At the table

Chris Binns chief engineer, Crossrail

Stuart Calvert head of ECI programme, Digital Railway Programme

George Clark engineering director, capital programmes, London Underground

David Clarke technical director, Railway Industry Association

Paul Copeland managing director, Siemens

Philo Daniel head of strategy and marketing, ground transportation systems, Thales

Nick Dunne director technology, Siemens

Mark Ferrer new technology director, Siemens

Christian Fry head of strategy and marketing, Alstom Signalling

Andy Gordon engineering manager, world class capacity, London Underground

Shelina Hargrove skills and supply chain lead, rail digital services, Department for Transport

Ian Jones key account manager, Siemens

John Martin director, Atkins

Ian Maxwell head of ERTMS Office of rail and road

Mark Southwell regional business group manager transportation, Europe CH2M


 In association with

Sie logo petrol cmyk

Sie logo petrol cmyk











Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Please note comments made online may also be published in the print edition of New Civil Engineer. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.