I have received the enclosed letter from Sir Peter Hendy, Chairman of Network Rail:
Thank you for our recent meeting.
I was pleased to read your subsequent blog in which you call for the modernisation of the rail network with digital technology to release more capacity from the existing infrastructure. I agree wholeheartedly.
Other industries, from aviation, to roads and the London Underground, have already unlocked significant additional capacity through digital control systems. We are hitting the limit of analogue signalling faster than other countries in Europe because of our successful growth – over 40 per cent of the EU’s officially declared ‘congested railways’ are in Britain.
This is why our Chief Executive established a discreet digital railway programme 18 months ago to bring the required pace to modernising the network. We are currently building the business case for the digital railway that will demonstrate the business benefits for the country. In additional we are developing a rolling programme of digital modernisation of traditional command and control signalling.
This is a time of unprecedented growth on our railway. Beyond critical upgrades and projects now planned or underway, a national capacity strategy that is rooted in conventional enhancements would cost too much, disrupted for too long and would deliver too little.
Digital technology will change the way we operate and manage our network. It could create up to 40 per cent more capacity on the most congested urban networks, while making trains more reliable, safer and our network far more resilient to disruptions. This incremental capacity can be unlocked at significantly less cost and with massively less disruption, than building new railways in dense urban centres.
It is not a question of whether we transform our signalling technology, but when. Plans exist already, but they are small and will mean that Britain will not see the full benefits for many decades. Network Rail believes that the country cannot wait that long. We already have brought together parts of railway delivery and planning into an integrated Digital Railway programme, with the aim of bringing forward and maximising the benefits of digital capacity.
We are currently building the business case for the Digital Railway that will demonstrate the business benefits to Britain.