THE East Coast Digital Programme (ECDP) that British infrastructure Network Rail is undertaking to install ETCS Level 2 on the southern section of the East Coast Main Line (ECML) has taken a major step forward with the operation of the first test train between Welwyn Garden City and Hitchin.

A Siemens class 717 EMU operated by Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) became the first train to run under ETCS on the core section of the ECML on June 2, and also the first digitally-signalled train to operate on an inter- city main line in Britain.

“I can’t stress how tectonic that milestone is for us,” says Mr Ed Akers, Industry Partnership Director for ECDP at Network Rail.

Work to install lineside ETCS equipment on the 18km between Welwyn Garden City and Hitchin was completed earlier this year. Following further testing, approvals and driver training, migration to ETCS will start at the end of 2025 and Akers expects lineside signals to be removed from this section of the ECML in late 2027.

The next section of the ECML to be fitted with the ETCS overlay will either be from Biggleswade to Fletton, south of Peterborough, or the Hertford Loop that provides an alternative route for ECML trains between London King’s Cross and Stevenage.

Completion of the entire first stage of ECDP between London and Stoke Tunnel, north of Peterborough, is due for completion around 2030.

The pathfinder project for ECDP saw ETCS Level 2 enter service for use by passenger trains in November 2023 on the Northern City Line, the short suburban branch of the ECML running from Finsbury Park to Moorgate in the City of London.

As driver training continues at GTR, around 60% of trains on the Northern City Line are now running under ETCS Level 2, receiving movement authority from the Radio Block Centre (RBC) installed at Network Rail’s Rail Operating Centre (ROC) in York.

Akers expects migration to ETCS on the Northern City Line to be completed very early in 2025, with colour light signals and other conventional lineside signalling equipment removed in spring 2025.