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.

Missed opportunities at Infrarail?

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The United Kingdom’s big trade show of the year, Infrarail, runs next week from May 20 to May 22 in London, and it’s usually been a good opportunity for companies to boost their business. The UK rail market, and signalling in particular, is booming – so why aren’t more signalling companies exhibiting?

UK track authority Network Rail has a huge and long-term signalling investment programme incorporating European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS), replacement of mechanical signalling with more modern equipment and a host of other upgrades all over the country. In European terms, it is probably the biggest and fastest growing signalling market there is right now – why aren’t companies taking the opportunity to talk to the signalling designers and engineers who might have to work with their equipment?

Obviously InnoTrans in September casts a shadow over virtually all other events but can this explain the absence of companies such as Thales, Ansaldo and Alstom? Siemens Industry is present, but the other really big players seem absent. Is it a question of limited marketing budgets, procurement methods in the UK or something else? Maybe the view is that they won’t be missing out at all. Who knows?

The smaller companies exhibiting won’t be too disappointed though – Infrarail will give them a chance to really shine in a way that they never could at InnoTrans. With record investment in the UK rail industry, Infrarail’s set to be a good show for everyone with a stake in the UK’s infrastructure market.