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UK trains could run more frequently using digital technology, MPs claim

The number of trains running on the UK’s railways could be boosted by using digital traffic management technology according to a report by the Commons’ Transport Select Committee.

However it warned that Network Rail, which owns and manages Britain’s rail infrastructure, must act with caution when introducing the technology.

Labour MP Louise Ellman, chair of the committee, said: “There is an urgent need to increase capacity and the digital railway is an exciting programme which could have real impact. We have seen successes on some metro lines already.

“However, measured and realistic plans are essential to the progress of the digital railway. Network Rail needs to keep a firm grip on their plans and they need to include the whole sector.

“There will need to be a full cost/benefit analysis published case by case, for consultation, before strategies can be finalised.”

She added: “This is a real opportunity to give the UK’s rail passengers a world-class system.

“Network Rail’s past performance in planning major enhancements has been poor but this is an exciting opportunity to restore confidence by co-ordinating a whole sector approach which delivers real improvements for the passenger and industry.”

Network Rail was widely criticised over its handling of electrification projects, including the Great Western line.

Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union general secretary Mick Cash said: “RMT has serious concerns that the trendy-sounding digital railway project could just be another wrapper used to try and smuggle through a fresh package of cuts.

“RMT has made it clear that the union will fight any attempts to unleash a jobs massacre, a dilution of safety standards and the bulldozing through of a faceless, dehumanised railway. Any new technology must be fully tested, proven and safe. It must not be a convenient smokescreen for axing jobs.

“The travelling public will be well aware that it is a major challenge to get a basic Wi-Fi signal on our trains which puts the concept of a digital railway into context.”

Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) general secretary, Manuel Cortes, added: “The Transport Committee are right to be cautious about the remit of a digital railway and I am glad they don’t see it alone as a panacea for improving our rail network.

“Digital systems are just one way of cosmetically enhancing Britain’s rail network and helping better customer experiences.

“But digital can’t transport rail passengers. For that you need track, carriages and stations.”

In November last year, Network Rail announced it was selling off £1.8bn in assets in order to meet the costs of major infrastructure projects. 

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