Commuters look forward to more reliable services as first passenger trains run to City of London using digital signalling

Great Northern commuters today began travelling to the City of London in trains controlled by cutting-edge digital in-cab signalling (European Train Control System, or ETCS), giving them a more reliable, greener service.

This is a significant milestone for the £1.4bn government-funded East Coast Digital Programme (ECDP), set to improve journeys along the East Coast Mainline, from London to north of Peterborough, providing the foundations for the expansion of digital signalling across the UK network.

The first digitally signalled passenger train operated today on the Northern City Line between Finsbury Park and Moorgate after parent company Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), Network Rail and Siemens Mobility switched on the system.

Introducing digital signalling on this busy commuter line is an important first stage in the ECDP, which will see the first introduction of digital ETCS to an intercity mainline in Great Britain.

Progressively, more trains will operate with digital signalling, as more Great Northern drivers are trained to use the technology. Traditional signals will be kept at the side of the track until everyone is trained and the old system can be switched off.

Ed Akers, Network Rail’s Principal Programme Sponsor, ECDP, said: “Today is a huge step forward towards a digital future where traditional ‘lights on sticks’ are removed and technology delivers a more reliable and punctual railway.  On the Northern City Line our cross-industry partnership has learned by doing, and the experience we’ve all gained will help us progress digital transformation on the main line and beyond.”

Oliver Turner, Head of ERTMS for GTR said: “I’m delighted for our team and I’m delighted for our passengers. Getting to this point has been a monumental cross-industry effort. It will pave the way for the wider rollout of digital signalling on the East Coast Main Line, promising better reliability for everybody.”

Drivers using digital ETCS aren’t told to stop and go by fixed signals at the side of the track. Instead, they drive according to a target speed set by the system in their cab that is kept continually updated about the location of other trains by a multitude of beacons positioned along the track.

The system effectively allows drivers to ‘see’ much further ahead than line-of-sight signals would ever allow, meaning trains can run more efficiently.

The next phase of the ECDP will see digital signalling introduced between Welwyn Garden City and Hitchin, on the East Coast Mainline. The first digitally signalled trains are expected to operate on this section of the route by the end of 2025.

Ben Lane, Siemens Mobility’s Project Director, ECDP said: “This is a major milestone for the rail industry and I’m proud that Siemens Mobility has brought the technology and experience to help deliver in collaboration with programme partners. Certain to transform the everyday for passengers, economies and communities along the route, this milestone demonstrates we’re on the right track to bringing innovative digital signalling to the East Coast Main Line and beyond.”