British freight locomotive. Photo: Roger Carvell

Rail Freight Group urges government to fund digitalisation UK fleet

Rail Freight Group (RFG) urges the UK government to fund the fleet fitment of freight locomotives in order to realise its Digital Railway Strategy for the sector. “Without certainty of future funding, freight risks being left behind in this revolution, delaying delivery of benefits across the whole network”, it warned.

UK rail operator Network Rail launched its Digital Railway Strategy last week, in a bid to ensure that all new trains and signalling become digital or digital-ready from next year. For the rail freight sector, this will result in improved capacity for new services, better reliability and enhanced information for freight customers, quicker and cheaper connections to new freight interchanges and terminals, bringing new users to the rail network and enabling a growth in modern rail-linked sites, Rail Freight Group (RFG) explained.

Fleet fitment

To begin this upgrade, Network Rail has contracted with Siemens Rail Automation to develop ‘first in class’ fitment of digital signalling to freight locomotives, and is working with freight operators, ROSCOs and the supply chain to deliver the first prototypes. However, the British government has not yet committed funding in Control Period 6 to enable the full roll out of the programme, RFG explained. “Without this, freight services cannot benefit from the new signalling on East Coast Main Line, Transpennine and elsewhere. As freight locomotives operate on a network-wide basis, fleet fitment is also a key national enabler for the overall realisation of benefits of digital railway.”

Maggie Simpson, RFG Executive Director, said: “Digital transformation of the railways is an exciting proposition and one that we fully embrace. Government and Network Rail have taken the first steps to ensuring freight is part of this story but must now commit to fund ongoing fleet fitment in CP6 to ensure that freight operators and their customers can take full advantage of the benefits of digital railway.”


Over half of Britain’s analogue signalling systems – some still based on Victorian technology –will be replaced within the next fifteen years. Digital train control is already a reality on the Thameslink core through London Bridge and on Crossrail. In the five years to 2024 the industry is planning to introduce it across the Pennines, on the southern end of the East Coast main line into London King’s Cross and onto some of the major commuter routes that feed London Waterloo.

The aim of the new strategy is to see seventy per cent of journeys benefit from digital railway technology in the next fifteen years. At the launch of the Digital Railway Strategy, the Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling, Mr Carne concluded: “Transforming our railway into the digital age offers the chance to deliver huge benefits for our passengers and the freight that this country depends on. It is the most cost-efficient way to deliver the future railway Britain needs.”

Author: Majorie van Leijen

Majorie van Leijen is the editor-in-chief of, the online magazine for rail freight professionals.

Add your comment

characters remaining.

Log in through one of the following social media partners to comment.