NR says the plan takes account of the scale and complexity of equipping more than 4000 vehicles and upgrading 30,570 track-km, and shows how modern signalling and train control technology can be delivered in a way that makes the best use of renewals funding.

NR’s plan proposes a partnership with passenger and freight train operators, suppliers and the government. “The delivery of digital signalling requires multiple stakeholders to work together, coordinating budgets and asset renewal plans,” NR says. The plan has been produced in collaboration with the Railway Industry Association, Rail Delivery Group, and rolling stock leasing companies.

NR says in the future major signalling renewals will be either digital or digital-ready to pave the way for ETCS which is already being deployed on the Thameslink core section through central London and on NR’s sections of Crossrail. Traffic management tools have also been deployed on NR’s Western, Anglia and Wales routes to predict and prevent timetable conflicts and to recover services more quickly when disruption occurs.

An analysis of infrastructure renewals work suggests the maximum volume of works deliverable for digital signalling schemes is 3000 signalling equivalent units (SEU) per annum compared with 1800 SEU for conventional signalling.

The train fitment delivery schedule assumes that all future train procurement specifies ETCS, existing trains will be retrofitted at the rate of one train/fleet/week and operators are limited to one first-in-class trial at any one time.

The budget available for train fitment and infrastructure renewals will comply with CP6, which is currently anticipated to be £830m per annum. NR says unit cost estimates for digital signalling have been agreed with industry at £315,000/SEU, compared with £419,000/SEU for conventional signalling.

However, given the relative infancy of implementing digital signalling within the supply chain, NR says there is an opportunity for investment in R&D to make a digital plan more affordable. “European experience indicates that a benchmark rate of £190,000/SEU could be achievable, which would make it possible to deliver the plan at close to CP6 budgetary levels,” NR says.

NR says the ETCS plan offers value for money over the medium to long term compared with conventional signalling. NR says even without including the potential performance benefits, a purely financial appraisal indicates that over 30 years the case for investment is financially positive; with a net-present value ranging between £500m and £5bn at 2017-18 prices and a pay-back period falling between CP9 and CP11. “This is a compelling case compared with other rail investment options, that are commonly evaluated over 60 years,” NR says. “Over a 30-year period, the total benefits could range from £7bn to £18bn, for the worst and best-case scenarios.”


To support the vision that all renewals and upgrades in CP6 and beyond should be digital or digital ready, the report proposes:

  • starting a retro-fitment programme for passenger trains
  • fitting ETCS to all new trains
  • commitment to the long-term funding of a freight fitment programme, and
  • a technology roadmap to coordinate and channel R&D funding to improve ETCS technology and process efficiency.

“Two-thirds of our network’s signalling system will need replacing in the next 15 years,” says NR’s CEO Mr Andrew Haines. “It’s a challenge that I believe makes now the right time for the digital railway. But the digital railway will only happen if we are committed as an industry to deliver it in an efficient way. This plan provides a long-term pipeline of projects, providing suppliers with greater clarity on the investment needed in resources and staff, and helping the industry to research and develop innovative ideas and broaden skill sets and capabilities.”