UK-based train operating company Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) has obtained the approval of the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) to operate its Class 717 fleet with in-cab digital signalling.

GTR can now run its Class 717 fleet using Level 2 European Train Control System (ETCS) digital signalling.

According to GTR, the authorisation is a crucial step for the implementation of digital signalling on both the Northern City Line, between Finsbury Park and Moorgate in London, as well as the East Coast Main Line between London and Grantham.

Both lanes form part of the government-funded East Coast Digital Programme (ECDP).

This programme will help replace traditional lineside signals with modern in-cab signalling technology.

Leased to GTR by Rock Rail, the trains will start passenger service after Network Rail concludes its approval works to switch on the trackside ETCS system.

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GTR will begin training 250 of its Great Northern drivers to drive using ETCS, upon reaching its second milestone by the end of this year.

Drivers can continue using ETCS alongside their untrained colleagues as the new system overlays the traditional signals.

GTR engineering director Steve Lammin said: “Achieving authorisation to place our Class 717s into passenger service using ETCS is significant, both for us as an operator and the programme – it’s the first train to achieve this for digital signalling as part of the East Coast Digital Programme.

“It’s the culmination of months of hard work by the team – both within GTR and our partners Tailor Airey and Aegis – and demonstrates that we’re making real progress towards being ready for digitally signalled operations to begin on the Northern City Line later this year.”

Last month, GTR collaborated with DB Cargo UK to share its digital signalling expertise related to the East Coast Digital Programme.