UK invests in digital system, will allow trains to ‘talk’ to tracks

GP: Part of the East Coast Mainline just outside London, England.

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The U.K. government has announced £350 million ($434.15 million) of funding for a digital railway signaling system, in a bid to reduce delays and upgrade ageing infrastructure.

Under the plan, traditional signals on a stretch of the East Coast Mainline will be replaced by a digital system that will enable staff to see the exact location of a train throughout its journey.

The busy line is used by both passenger and freight trains. In the announcement Monday, the Department for Transport said the new “smart” signaling would recognize different types of train, “allowing train and track to talk to each other continuously in real-time.”

“This ‘in-cab’ system will mean an end to conventional signalling at the side of tracks – first used in the Victorian era,” the department added.

The East Coast Mainline runs between London and Edinburgh. The new system will be introduced to a section of the railway between King’s Cross station, in the U.K. capital, and Stoke Tunnel in Lincolnshire. Monday also saw the government announce £12 million in funding to install digital signaling equipment on 33 trains running on the Midland Main Line.

Britain is home to an extensive railway network that has been used for well over a century. While it may have spearheaded innovations in the industry all those years ago, some parts of the system are now facing issues relating to increased demand, overcrowding, old train stock and punctuality.

“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,” Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, said in a statement Monday.

“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.” 

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