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GSM-R: communicating on the railway

A £1.86bn investment in digital technology, GSM-R paves the way for more efficient signalling systems

The Global System for Mobile Communications-Railway (GSM-R) ensures digital, secure and dependable communications between drivers and signallers. This helps to increase safety, reduce delays and improve performance – providing a better experience for passengers.

How it works

GSM-R allows secure and reliable driver-signaller communication by bringing together the most effective combination of technology, processes and people.

Using a customised fixed telecoms network alongside mobile technology, its processes include journey registration, operational messaging and prioritising driver-signaller communications. Those involved range from drivers and signallers to managers, controllers and maintenance staff.

Why use GSM-R?

Compliance

There were two key drivers for the introduction of GSM-R: the requirement to comply with the European common standard for digital data and voice communications in railway applications, and to follow recommendations from major incident enquiries.

Improving safety

GSM-R ensures direct radio driver-signaller communications at all times. This includes areas such as tunnels and deep cuttings, where radio communications have not previously been possible, therefore the system:

  • improves safety for drivers, maintenance teams and passengers
  • ensures faster and more effective responses to potential hazards with applications such as Railway Emergency Call
  • eliminates the need for drivers to exit the train in the event of a problem.

Reducing operating costs 

By replacing the patchwork of increasingly inefficient and expensive legacy systems, GSM-R reduces ongoing maintenance costs, improves reliability and delivers the foundation for a digitally enabled railway network.

Moving away from analogue

Previous radio driver-signaller communications relied on analogue radio networks. These had limited functionality and had become increasingly expensive to maintain.

New digital technology also means we can keep pace with industry developments such as ERTMS (European Rail Traffic Management System) and ETCS (European Train Control System).

You can read more about this on the Digital Railway website.

The benefits

GSM-R raises safety, performance and customer experience standards across Britain’s whole rail network, while delivering the foundation for a digitally enabled railway that will deliver real benefits to passengers and industry alike.