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Journey times to be cut as plans revealed for £350 million digital railway on East Coast Main Line between London King’s Cross and Stoke Tunnel near Grantham

The East Coast Main Line is set to become Britain’s first mainline digital rail link with £350 million of new investment to install state-of-the art electronic signalling designed to cut journey times.

The cash injection — on top of £1.2 billion already earmarked to upgrade the line — will fund the replacement of conventional signalling with a digital system that allows trains to 'talk' to the track. This is designed to make journeys safer and reduce signal failures that every year result in thousands of hours of delays.

The East Coast Main Line's signalling is to be digitalised (37188433)
The East Coast Main Line's signalling is to be digitalised (37188433)

The new smart signalling allows trains and track to 'talk' to each other continuously in real-time. The ‘in-cab’ system will mean an end to conventional signalling at the side of tracks, first used in the Victorian era.

The introduction of digital signalling is also set to create high-skilled jobs across the supply chain, helping boost the economy as the country builds out of Covid-19.

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

The upgrade will take place between London King’s Cross and Stoke Tunnel near Grantham. Delays in the south of the route have a knock-on effect further north, so modernisation work aims to make life easier for people along the entire length of this vital national asset.

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.

“Passengers shouldn’t have to worry about missing connections or being late home to see their children, and I’ve been clear that getting the trains to run on time is a personal priority.”

Today’s funding comes on top of the Government’s investment of £1.2bn between 2014 and 2024 to improve passenger journeys on the East Coast Main Line, creating capacity for up to 10,000 extra seats a day on long-distance services.

Development work is already underway with Network Rail to roll out digital signalling on further routes including sections of the West Coast Main Line, Midland Main Line and Anglia from 2026. The Government has also announced 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 and a welcome endorsement of the partnership approach that the rail industry has adopted to deliver Britain’s first inter-city digital railway. The funding detailed by the Secretary of State is very significant and will enable the vital building blocks needed to build a modern, right time railway.”

David Horne, 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. This investment is good news for all customers, who will see even more improvements in services, reliability and sustainability.”

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