Image: Network Rail

ETCS retrofit for UK freight fleet

A highly efficient UK rail freight network is a step closer with the signing of a new deal to upgrade the nation’s freight trains with European Train Control System (ETCS) onboard technology.

ETCS ensures that trains operate within standardised limits and speeds, providing the driver with continuous pinpoint information through a dedicated display. It enables the driver to operate the train but if distance or speed is in danger of being exceeded, the onboard system intervenes to slow or stop the train.

Network Rail says freight trains support the national economy by connecting British businesses to the world through direct links to ports, and reduce congestion by removing 7.6 million lorry journeys from the road every year. New digital technology will support this essential industry – which contributes a colossal 870 million Pounds to the economy annually – by enabling more effcient and reliable running of freight trains alongside passenger services.

‘Landmark contract’

National rail infrastructure manager Network Rail has awarded this ‘landmark contract’ to Siemens Rail Automation to begin installation of the onboard ETCS systems, with the aim of eventually equipping some 750 trains. It forms part of the Government’s Digital Railway Programme, a plan to tackle growing demands on the network by making it truly fit for the 21st century.

Initial focus will be on the heaviest types of locomotives used, with learning from this phase used to inform the wider fleet roll-out from 2022 onwards. This is expected to become one of the world’s biggest ETCS retrofitting programme. Siemens will install its Trainguard 200 on freight locomotives across the UK, while its Trainguard Level 2, Baseline 3 system will also be installed to complement Network Rail’s proposals for deploying ETCS. They will work closely with the UK’s six principal rail freight operators: DB Cargo, Freightliner, GB Railfreight, Colas Rail, Direct Rail Services and Devon and Cornwall Railways.

Trainguard 200 is a proven, low power solution with a highly reliable fall-back odometry and radar configuration. It features Automatic Warning System and Train Protection and Warning System functions within the driver display. Crucially, the system is particularly suited for design and installation across the various freight classes.

Huge potential

Chris Grayling, Transport Secretary, said: “We are making the biggest investment in the railways since Victorian times and this includes £450m for integrating digital technology on our railways. This technology has huge potential to improve journeys for passengers and to boost our freight industry by cutting delays and increasing the number of services. Today is an important step towards our future as a digital railway that is fit for the 21st century.”

The design, testing and approvals stages for each class of vehicle has already started, and work to retrofit the whole fleet starts in 2022. This process will continue through to what the Government calls Control Period 7, which is the period from 2024 to 2029. Around 2,400 drivers will require extra training, and it’s also expected the programme will involve around 150 skilled engineering jobs.

David Waboso, Managing Director at Digital Rail said: “This is another hugely important milestone for digital rail technology on the railway, following the Crossrail and Thameslink deployments. It is a key enabler for a modern network and we have to address these go-anywhere vehicles first. It will support our future deployment of infrastructure with no lineside signals, more capacity and increased safety.”

Job security

Pieter Rypma, Key Account Manager at Siemens, said: “This programme provides confidence to the supply chain that there is a strong market for digital railway technology in the next railway period. It is a framework for long-term commitment to investment throughout the supply chain and provides job security across the UK. We are delighted to win this major contract and look forward to working with our freight sector partners.”

Rob Morris, Managing Director of Siemens Rail Automation in the UK, said: “We are delighted to be working closely with Network Rail and the Freight Operating Companies (FOCs) on this landmark digital railway project, which will ultimately be one of the largest ETCS on-board retrofit programmes in the UK. This solution will allow the freight operating companies to continue to safely deliver a reliable service as ETCS technology continues to be rolled-out across the UK. Having proven our equipment and delivery capabilities in a number of similar projects in Europe, our experienced teams are now looking forward to working collaboratively with Network Rail and the freight operating companies to deliver this digital railway project.”


Paul McMahon, Freight Managing Director at Network Rail said: “This is a significant investment and underlines our commitment to the freight sector. It will assure long-term competitiveness through increased performance and is a key part of a cohesive portfolio of freight investment for CP6 and beyond.”

Nigel Jones, Chair at Freight Stakeholder Group, said:  “Freight operators recognise the need for the digital railway transformation and have come together in a spirit of co-operation to support modernisation. This programme is the most efficient way of getting the freight sector ready to operate on digital infrastructure.”

Author: Simon Weedy

Simon is a journalist for - a dedicated online platform for all the news about the rail freight sector

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