railway electrification

£1bn fund announced to upgrade Britain's railways to digital signalling

The UK’s railways are set to benefit from a £1bn investment in a new digital signalling system, with some of the network still relying on old Victorian infrastructure.

The Department for Transport (DfT) said the plan will deliver safer and more reliable services on East Coast Main Line which is one of the UK’s busiest rail routes.

The technology, which will be rolled out across the entire southern section of the line – from London’s King’s Cross to Stoke Tunnels, just south of Grantham – will mean faster, safer and more regular trains.

As part of the announcement, transport secretary Grant Shapps took the opportunity to lay into railway workers who have carried out a series of strikes recently over pay disputes.

“While union bosses waste time touring television studios and standing on picket lines, I am busy getting on with the job at hand and modernising our railway,” he said.

“This £1bn investment will allow us to replace unreliable Victorian infrastructure with cutting-edge technology which will mean fewer delays and more regular services for millions of passengers.

“The world is changing and, despite the best efforts of unions, I am determined to help our railway change with it.”

The funding will be used to remove outdated lineside signalling and replace it with the European train control system (ETCS), which brings signalling into train drivers’ cabs and provides them with real-time, continuous information throughout their journey. The system will also constantly monitor the train’s speed, which should help improve safety.

The Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) said the news was a “non-announcement”, as much of the existing system needs replacing anyway.

Mick Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union, described Grant Shapps as a “straw man” who was falsely comparing the strike action with the digital signalling investment.

“RMT is fully committed to the development of a digital railway and genuine modernisation, as long as our members have a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies, something Network Rail has offered us for over a decade,” he said.

“The digital railway is a 15-year project undertaken by Network Rail that RMT is negotiating on how to best implement, so it is bizarre of the transport secretary to attempt to weaponise it to score cheap political points.

“What holds back the development of the railway is private companies and contractors making a mint from the taxpayer and charging exorbitant fares to customers while overseeing a decaying Victorian railway line.”

He added: “It is outrageous that the transport secretary is taking credit for a modernisation programme on digital signalling that RMT helped develop and is now implementing alongside the rail industry.”

Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Recent articles