BRITISH infrastructure manager Network Rail (NR) says that a significant milestone has been reached in the first phase of the East Coast Digital Programme (ECDP) to install ETCS Level 2 on the East Coast Main Line (ECML), with the completion of system reliability testing on the Northern City Line.

The Northern City Line is a 5.4km branch of the ECML running from Finsbury Park to Moorgate in the City of London, and is operated by Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) using a fleet of 25 class 717 EMUs supplied by Siemens.

National safety regulator the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has granted GTR authorisation to place the ETCS-equipped class 717 fleet into passenger service.

Once ORR approval is granted for the trackside ETCS equipment installed on the Northern City Line, GTR will then be able to start driver training on the new signalling system, in preparation for ETCS to be used in passenger service from summer 2024.

ETCS training will involve two days in the classroom at GTR’s Hornsey depot in north London, where desktop simulators have been installed, followed by three days of practical training in the field. An ETCS Baseline 2.3.0d overlay is being used for driver training, which will then migrate to Baseline 3.6.0 when the lineside signals are removed.

Qualified drivers will be able to continue using ETCS alongside their unqualified colleagues, ensuring they maintain full competency until all drivers have completed ETCS training and the legacy signalling system can be decommissioned.

The ETCS Driver-Machine Interface (DMI) in a class 717 cab. Photo Credit: Network Rail

NR says that the final event in a series of proving runs to test system reliability was simulating the peak Northern City Line timetable of 10 trains an hour by running six trains at close headways in 30-minute periods, in order to demonstrate that ETCS will support a high-frequency commuter service.

During the overnight proving runs, support was provided by a team of train test officers, formed of representatives of NR’s partners in ECDP including freight operators.

“We’ve now done all the testing, have submitted the operational safety case to the relevant review bodies and we await final regulatory approval to move to operating passenger trains in ETCS,” says Mr Ed Akers, NR’s principal programme sponsor for ECDP.

“We’ve got to this point through excellent collaboration, innovation and learning by doing.”

“Having all the necessary paperwork and approvals in place is one thing, but we won’t start driver training until we have demonstrated we can reliably deliver our timetabled passenger service in ETCS,” says Mr Ollie Turner, head of ERTMS at GTR.

“Thanks to the proving runs this week, we can now say we are fully confident in the system and in a good position to start training our drivers as soon as the trackside system gains formal approval."