Network Rail ponders Automatic Train Operation extension

British track authority Network Rail is considering installing Automatic Train Operation under European Train Control System (ETCS) Level 3 signalling on one of its busiest routes. The possibility is contained in the Wessex Route Study, which is undergoing consultation.

Network Rail's Wessex Route Study asks whether ATO under ETCS is a viable solution on one of its busiest routes.

Network Rail’s Wessex Route Study asks whether ATO under ETCS is a viable solution on one of its busiest routes.

The Surbiton to London Waterloo section of the Wessex Main Line, which serves a large commuter area and cities including Southampton, is operated more densely at peak times than any other route in the United Kingdom and to meet predicted demand by 2043 37 train paths per hour are needed.

While conventional capacity enhancements such as grade separation of junctions and additional tracks are being considered, Network Rail argues that installation of ETCS and ATO are likely to ‘have a significant positive impact on capacity in the inner area’ and could help boost the number of train paths to 34 per hour at peak times. It plans to study the implications of accelerating its ETCS programme to cover the route from London Waterloo to Woking, a key junction on the main line as a matter of priority.

Network Rail is already pioneering the use of Automatic Train Operation with ETCS in the short central section of the Thameslink route, which will provide a north-south link across London, in a bid to provide reliable operation and sufficient capacity.