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Women rail-blazers spearhead groundbreaking tech

This International Women’s Day (8 March) three senior women engineers at Network Rail are spearheading research on one of Europe’s most exciting rail innovation projects.

Watch this film to find out more:

Engineering Expert Nicola Furness, principal engineer Imtithal Aziz and senior engineer Katherine Stowe (featured in header image) have been developing and testing a signalling solution on Britain’s railway that can support automated train operations (ATO) on European main lines.

This technology – not yet in use on our main line railway – means the driver supervises the system and opens and closes the doors while the train drives and stops automatically. Its benefits include greater energy efficiency and better performance.

Groundbreaking work

The work is part of a wider initiative under Shift2Rail – a European technology, research and development collaboration programme, of which Network Rail is a founding partner.

ATO is already used in metro environments but complex infrastructures, including various train protection systems across the continent, mean the technology is not in wide use for mainline operations.       

Working closely with Shift2Rail partners, the three Network Rail engineers have been testing an interoperable, European Train Control System (ETCS) solution that can automate trains across main line rail systems.

Successful trial

In December 2020, the team successfully piloted this technology on a train and track facility in Hertfordshire, which included testing the communication link between the onboard and trackside kit.

Having validated this technology, the European Union Agency for Railways aims to add these specifications to the next version of the control, command and signalling technical specification for interoperability (CCS TSI), which is due to be published in 2022. Once published, this will allow an enhanced interoperable ETCS that railways can use.      

Nicola Furness, engineering expert, Network Rail said: “Over the last 10 years we have moved from exploring the feasibility of introducing ATO on mainline railways to a reality, when the Thameslink core section through central London became an ATO route over ETCS in 2018.

Principal engineer Imtithal Aziz stands next to a train door
Principal engineer Imtithal Aziz

“During this period, the appetite for introducing an interoperable ATO for main line railways across Europe has grown exponentially, which led to its inclusion in the Shift2Rail programme. This is a fantastic opportunity to showcase innovation in rail and I’m proud to be a part of this groundbreaking work, alongside such talented colleagues.”   

Archiving modern history

The research undertaken by Nicola, Imtithal and Katherine builds on the important legacy of women in the rail industry.

Our corporate archive team have recently launched a project documenting the experiences of women working at the organisation since 2002. As part of this evolving programme, the archive is capturing business records on policy, organisational training and communications on gender equality. It aims to show the progression of diversity and inclusion over the course of Network Railway’s history and how this can be used to shape and inform future initiatives.  

More girls and women into STEM   

Engineering Expert Nicola Furness speaks at a conference

We continue to work with schools in early years engagement and other organisations, including Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) to increase the number of female role models and encourage women into a career in STEM.

We’ve partnered with WISE to deliver a new transferable skills mentoring programme for women. The six-month programme will partner successful external applicants with Network Rail employees who will provide mentoring support and offers an insight into how transferable skills can be used in the rail industry.      

Click here for more information on how to apply.

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