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Government confirms digital go-ahead for East Coast Main Line

FUNDING worth £360 million for the replacement of conventional lineside signalling with digital train regulation on the southern section of the East Coast Main Line has been announced by transport secretary Grant Shapps. The Department for Transport says it is ‘new investment’.

The installation of ETCS (European Train Control System), the signalling element of ERTMS, will be carried out on the East Coast line from London King’s Cross to Stoke Tunnel, about 9km south of Grantham, which is where the four-track main line becomes two.

The scheme is running some six years behind its original schedule. Since at least 2014 the ECML has been the host to a major ETCS experiment at Hitchin, where test laboratories have been monitoring the performance of an ETCS-equipped Class 313 test unit running on the Hertford Loop between the morning and evening peak hours.

The trials based at Hitchin followed a pioneering installation on the central Wales lines west of Shrewsbury, where all trains were fitted with ETCS for operation in normal service on the routes to Aberystwyth and Pwllheli.

ETCS uses in-cab signalling, in which equipment on board trains uses the track to communicate with the control centre.

This means that lineside signals informing the driver are no longer needed. Instead, a screen in the cab acts as a speedometer and warning panel in one. From this the driver knows how fast the train is moving, how fast it is allowed to move, and if it is moving too fast. If the permitted speed limit is exceeded for more than a few seconds (shown as a prominent warning on the screen) the train is automatically slowed down and if necessary brought to a stand.

Grant Shapps said: ‘This is just the beginning. In time, we will digitise signalling right across the country to make good on our promise of better reliability and punctuality.’

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