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Q&A

Frequently asked questions about the digital railway
What is the digital railway?

Digital railway is the proposal for the UK to adopt modern digital signalling and train control within the next 25 years and create credible options to upgrade the railway to next generation technology as it becomes available.

The Digital Railway programme is the industry programme which brings together diverse stakeholders to make this happen.

What problem is digital railway solving?

Quality infrastructure underpins national prosperity. That’s why economic growth has gone hand in hand with a doubling of rail use.

But without reform, a lack of capacity in rail will hold growth back.

  • Passenger journeys have nearly doubled since the early 1990s. Parts of the network are so full they run at nearly 200% of planned capacity at peak and performance has stopped improving.
  • As capacity is so limited, trains are crowded, reliability has stopped improving, and there are fewer choices about where trains go – including less space for freight.
  • But there will be 1 billion more passenger journeys by 2030, so we need to act now.

Industry has already agreed a plan to address this through digital modernisation, but it extends into the 2060s and hasn’t been designed to prioritise capacity. The Digital Railway programme is building the case to bring forward its delivery in a faster and more focused way.

Why Digital?

Conventional upgrades to the network are vital. But they can’t deliver the major increase in capacity the UK needs without costing too much, disrupting too much, and taking too long. This capacity can only come from making the infrastructure we already have more productive, which is what proven digital technology does.

How much will this cost?

A business case completed in 2016 will determine future cost and confirm whether a faster plan for digital railway is better value than conventional options.

Initial analysis has been completed for one route that suggested that a digital component to modernisation could deliver up to 40% more capacity than a purely conventional solution at 30% less than building new lines to deliver equivalent train path throughput.

When is this going to happen?

We are working to a timetable that will allow proposals for faster digital modernisation to be included in the rail industry’s “Initial Industry Plan (IIP)” in September 2016. A full and final business case will be complete in Autumn 2017.

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