Network Rail, the UK rail manager, announced the “switch on” of the digital European Train Control System (ETCS), across Great Northern passenger trains, which commenced on the City of London route on 27 November.

This introduced the first use of a digital in-cab signalling system across the Northern City Line, which is set to give passengers a more reliable service by increasing the line’s reliability.

The digital ETCS Level 2 signalling system forms part of the £1.4bn ($1.7bn) East Coast Digital Programme (ECDP), which aims to enhance travel along the East Coast Mainline.

The “switch on” featured a cross-industry partnership between Network Rail, Siemens Mobility and Govia Thameslink Railway.

Ed Akers, Network Rail’s Principal Programme Sponsor, ECDP, emphasised the joint work from the cross-industry partnership.

Akers said: “Today is a huge step forward towards a digital future where traditional ‘lights on sticks’ are removed and technology delivers a more reliable and punctual railway. 

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A driver’s-eye-view of the new digital interface. Credit: Govia Thameslink Railway

“On the Northern City Line, our cross-industry partnership has learned by doing, and the experience we’ve all gained will help us progress digital transformation on the main line and beyond.”

According to Network Rail, traditional signals will remain on the track until everyone gets the appropriate training and the previous system can be switched off.

Digital signalling aids in making railways less destructive to the environment. Network Rail stated how these improvements will result in an additional 55,000-tonne decrease in carbon emissions over the next 60 years.

ETCS installation on the Northern City Line has been in the works since 2020, but has only previously been tested on trains during off-peak hours.

Oliver Turner, Head of ERTMS for GTR added: “I’m delighted for our team and I’m delighted for our passengers. Getting to this point has been a monumental cross-industry effort.

“It will pave the way for the wider rollout of digital signalling on the East Coast Main Line, promising better reliability for everybody.”