A digital future for Britain’s railway to benefit passengers and support economic growth
Over the last 20 years the number of passengers using Britain’s railway has doubled. However, the railway is facing acute capacity problems, which need investment now. Together with others in the rail industry, and the Department for Transport, we’re looking at innovative ways of using our existing rail network to address this.
A cross-industry programme
For wider picture on Digital Railway and to follow what we, and our industry partners are delivering, please visit the Digital Railway website.
What is the Digital Railway programme?
Digital Railway is the proposal for the UK to adopt modern digital signalling and train control within the next 25 years and create credible options to upgrade the railway to next generation technology as it becomes available.
Conventional upgrades to the network are vital. But they can’t deliver the major increase in capacity the UK needs without costing too much, disrupting too much, and taking too long. This capacity can only come from making the infrastructure we already have more productive, which is what proven digital technology does.
By using in-train signalling (called the European Train Control System) and traffic management systems which optimise the speed and movements of trains on the network, they can be run closer together without supervision.
What problem is Digital Railway solving?
Quality infrastructure underpins national prosperity. That’s why economic growth has gone hand in hand with a doubling of rail use.
But without reform, a lack of capacity in rail will hold growth back.
Passenger journeys have nearly doubled since the early 1990s. Parts of the network are so full they run at nearly 200% of planned capacity at peak and performance has stopped improving.
As capacity is so limited, trains are crowded, reliability has stopped improving, and there are fewer choices about where trains go – including less space for freight.
But there will be 1 billion more passenger journeys by 2030, so we need to act now.
Industry has already agreed a plan to address this through digital modernisation, but it extends into the 2060s and hasn’t been designed to prioritise capacity. The Digital Railway programme is building the case to bring forward its delivery in a faster and more focused way.
Group Digital Railway
As part of the Digital Railway cross-industry partnership, we have a national Group Digital Railway function within our business. This delivers information and telecommunication services to a broad range of customers and stakeholders to keep the railway running today, and works with industry partners to introduce new technology and digital solutions across the network.
Two areas of Network Rail provide these services for Group Digital Railway in addition to their other functions.
Asset Information Services collects, evaluates, collates, analyses and communicates information about our infrastructure assets, so we can make improved business decisions. Network Rail Telecom provides national operational and corporate telecommunications capability, so our systems and people can talk to each other effectively.
Group Digital Railway runs two programmes. These are Offering Rail Better Information Services (ORBIS), which is developing better ways to collect and manage data, and deliver it via tools and apps, and our Digital Railway Programme (DRP). DRP works with the wider rail industry, supply chain and government to develop the technology solutions and deliver the transformation needed to provide for the one billion journeys on the railway predicted to be taken over the next 35 years.