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£350m for digital signalling on East Coast Main Line

Mark Moran
22 June 2020
The East Coast Line`s London terminus is King`s Cross
The East Coast Line`s London terminus is King`s Cross


A section of East Coast Main Line is receive £350m of new investment to install electronic signalling designed to cut journey times and slash delays.

The Department for Transport said the cash injection is new money that comes  on top of £1.2bn already earmarked to upgrade the line, which links London with Edinburgh.

The £350m will fund the replacement of conventional signalling with a digital system that allows trains to talk to the track. The DfT said this will smooth the flow of trains, make journeys safer and reduce signal failures that every year result in thousands of hours of delays.

The upgrade will take place between London King’s Cross and Stoke Tunnel in Lincolnshire. Delays in the south of the route have a knock-on effect further north.

The new technology will allow signallers to know exactly where each train is at every minute of every journey.

The East Coast Main Line is a mixed-use railway, with trains of different sizes and speeds, both passenger and freight, all using the same tracks. This smart signalling recognises these different trains, allowing train and track to talk to each other continuously in real-time.

The use of an ‘in-cab’ system will mean an end to conventional signalling at the side of tracks – first used in the Victorian era.

More than 80 million journeys are made each year on the East Coast Main Line, with congestion on the route compounded by signalling nearing the end of its useful life.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “As the country recovers from COVID-19 we want to speed up our economy and reap the benefits of new transport technology. The Victorians gave us the world’s first great rail network and now it’s our turn to be modern transport pioneers and build on that great tradition.
Upgrading this country’s conventional signalling system, and giving drivers technology fit for the 21st century, will boost train performance, cut delays, improve safety and support the supply chain.

“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 for passengers.”

Network Rail is set to roll out digital signalling on further routes including sections of the West Coast Main Line, Midland Main Line and Anglia from 2026, leading to safer, more reliable, more resilient railways. The government also announced today that £12m is being invested in fitting out 33 new trains for the Midland Main Line with digital signalling equipment.

Toufic Machnouk, Programme Director of the East Coast Digital Programme, said: “Today’s announcement is a big step towards transforming the network for the millions of passengers that use the East Coast Main Line.”

David Horne, London North Eastern Railway (LNER) Managing Director and Chair of the East Coast Digital Programme’s Industry Steering Board said: “After LNER and other operators on the East Coast successfully introduced brand new fleets, in-cab signalling will be the next exciting step we take to maximise the benefits of the technology that Azuma and all the trains on this route offer.”

Will Rogers, Managing Director of East Midlands Railway, said: “This vital signal investment is great news for the Midland Mainline and all the passengers we serve. Our new state of the art bi-mode trains will now come into service during 2023 with digital signalling technology ready to take advantage of the greater efficiency and flexibility this route upgrade will offer.”

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