Major investment to create first digital mainline rail link

The East Coast Main Line is set to become Britain’s first mainline digital rail link with £350m of investment to install state-of-the art electronic signalling to cut journey times and slash delays.

This cash injection – on top of £1.2bn already earmarked to upgrade the key rail artery – will fund the replacement of conventional signalling with a digital system that allows trains to “talk to the track”.

It is intended to smooth the flow of trains, make journeys safer and reduce signal failures that every year result in thousands of hours of delays.

The upgrading of the line is one element of the Government’s plan for a rail network that will help spread prosperity to all parts of the country.

A third of the UK’s population lives within 20 minutes of an East Coast Mainline station and together they produce 41% of GDP.

New technology destined for this line allows signallers to know exactly where each train is at every minute of every journey.

The East Coast Main Line is a mixed-use railway, with trains of different sizes and speeds, both passenger and freight, all using the same tracks.

This smart signalling recognises these different trains, allowing train and track to talk to each other continuously in real-time. It will mean an end to conventional signalling at the side of tracks – first used in the Victorian era.

More than 80 million journeys are made each year on the East Coast Main Line, linking London with Edinburgh via the East Midlands and Yorkshire.

Congestion on the route is currently compounded by signalling nearing the end of its useful life.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “As the country recovers from COVID-19 we want to speed up our economy and reap the benefits of new transport technology.

“The Victorians gave us the world’s first great rail network and now it’s our turn to be modern transport pioneers and build on that great tradition.

“Upgrading this country’s conventional signalling system, and giving drivers technology fit for the 21st century, will boost train performance, cut delays, improve safety and support the supply chain.

“This is just the beginning. In time, we will digitise signalling right across the country to make good on our promise of better reliability and punctuality for passengers.

“Passengers shouldn’t have to worry about missing connections or being late home to see their children, and I’ve been clear that getting the trains to run on time is a personal priority.”

Toufic Machnouk, programme director of the East Coast Digital Programme, said: “Today’s announcement is a big step towards transforming the network for the millions of passengers that use the East Coast Main Line and a welcome endorsement of the partnership approach that the rail industry has adopted to deliver Britain’s first inter-city digital railway.

“The funding detailed by the Secretary of State is very significant and will enable the vital building blocks needed to build a modern, right time railway.”