What Is The Digital Railway?
Britain’s railway usage has doubled in the last 30 or so years. Like the choked motorways, peak periods on busy networks in commuter areas see Britain’s railways full to overflowing. Industry experts estimate that demand will continue to rise in the next 25 years, to such an extent that there will be a billion more journeys undertaken. This puts real pressure on the existing framework, which urgently needs some way of providing new capacity to meet this demand.
Building new railway infrastructure in the conventional manner would be massively disruptive and costly. Most experts think it probably won't help, and are exploring the benefits of integrating digital technologies into the existing network. Together with additional targeted upgrades of conventional infrastructure, this could be the most cost-effective way of expanding capacity on Britain's existing network.
What Is The Digital Railway?
The Digital Railway is a national, government supported initiative that would deliver substantial improvements in train control, command and signalling systems within a single generation. The rail industry plans to transform Britain's rail network by the strategic deployment of modern train control and signalling technology. They aim for an increase in overall capacity, enhanced safety and a reduction in delays. This would ultimately drive down their operating costs, and benefit both passengers and business users.
What Are The Benefits Of The Digital Railway?
1. Better Connections
Digital Traffic Management (DTM) uses modern analytics to create greater flexibility in train services. Instead of manually planned timetables, set up and fixed years in advance, DTM can supply more effective routes and flexible timetables that can respond to daily, weekly and seasonal travel demands. Digital signalling frees up additional space to allow greater flexibility, regarding when, where, and how fast the trains are running.
2. Capacity improvements
Demand for capacity is most acute in Britain's major cities. Network Rail suggests that by 2043, London will need 180,000 more seats and standing room places, amounting to almost 50% greater capacity. This is about 80,000 more than was previously estimated, even taking into account schemes such as Thameslink and Crossrail, and from 2020 demand for seats will increasingly outstrip supply. Digital railway integration offers improvements in both capacity and performance, at an earlier date and at a lower cost than if enhancements were made conventionally. It also avoids the disruptive works that these would entail.
Targeted digital modernisation has already delivered benefits to the national rail network. For example, on the South West Main Line, digital railway improvements integrated with Crossrail 2 have already added six trains an hour during peak periods.
On Thameslink, digital deployment will enable 24 trains to run hourly in each direction at peak times, between Blackfriars and the main line station at St Pancras International.
3. Greater Reliability
Railway planning professionals have a hard job delivering efficient services that run on time, but the digitisation of planning and control has already seen results. UK rail is claimed to be Europe's seventh most reliable, even while its network is the most congested, but scheduled arrivals have already improved to a level of 90% on time. This is largely due to better performance through digital controls, especially in train control and signalling.
Signalling failures are the most common cause of network delays, with thousands of events per year sufficiently severe to disrupt services. DTM systems can now identify and carry out real-time tests on possible new train routes, creating rapid-response alternatives that result in more effective and efficient timetables. Many leading operators are now using this timetabling technology to control the railway network and enhance reliability. On London's Jubilee Line, for example, new digitised signalling has increased train frequency to 30 per hour, with capacity increased up to 12,500 additional hourly passengers. The service is also now 50% more reliable.
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