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East Coast Main Line digital signalling upgrade will boost train frequency

The East Coast Main Line will get a £350m digital signalling system that should help to cut journey times and lower the number of delays.

Most of Britain’s rail signalling relies on line-side lights to control the trains, but the new system will let the trains talk directly to the track.

Plans to upgrade outdated systems were first announced in the 2016 budget and the technology should let trains operate closer together and therefore run more services on the same line.

Despite the original announcement four years ago, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the current upgrade programme actually represents an acceleration of the digital signalling roll-out as part of plans to speed up Britain’s economic recovery from the Covid-19 crisis.

It’s part of a wider national plan aimed at introducing digital signalling on to the entire rail network in Great Britain. The London Underground has also had similar technology installed in recent years and it is already in use on the Thameslink network for trains passing through London Bridge.

The funding will enable the technology to be deployed on a 100-mile stretch of the line between London King’s Cross and Lincolnshire.

It is hoped the upgrade will cut thousands of hours of delays each year.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “As the country recovers from Covid-19 we want to speed up our economy and reap the benefits of new transport technology.

“The Victorians gave us the world’s first great rail network and now it’s our turn to be modern transport pioneers and build on that great tradition.

“Upgrading this country’s conventional signalling system, and giving drivers technology fit for the 21st century, will boost train performance, cut delays, improve safety and support the supply chain.

“This is just the beginning. In time, we will digitise signalling right across the country to make good on our promise of better reliability and punctuality for passengers.

“Passengers shouldn’t have to worry about missing connections or being late home to see their children, and I’ve been clear that getting the trains to run on time is a personal priority.”

The £350m is part of the Government’s £1.2bn investment plan to modernise the UK’s railways.

No date has been given for when digital signalling will be operational on the route.

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