The UK’s rail infrastructure manager Network Rail has begun dynamic testing of its first freight locomotive fitted with European Train Control System (ETCS) technology, a significant step forward for the country’s digital signalling upgrades. 

DB Cargo locomotive 66039 of the UK’s principal freight fleet (Class 66) has completed static testing and has now been moved to Network Rail’s Rail Innovation and Development Centre (RIDC) to begin test of the test track there. 

Neil Ethell, chief operating officer of DB Cargo UK, said: “We’re incredibly proud to be undertaking the first in class fitment of a Class 66. 

“Overall, the design and installation for the Class 66 has taken 4 years, which shows the level of complexity in a retro fitment project of this scale. We’re excited to see how it performs under rigorous testing at RIDC.” 

After dynamic testing at RIDC in Lancashire, England, next steps for the locomotive testing programme, part of the East Coast Digital Programme (ECDP), will include a series of on-track tests to accumulate 5,000 miles of fault free running before it can receive the necessary regulatory approvals. 

Testing and retrofitting of the locomotive has already taken 16 months but will form the base for regulatory approval of ETCS upgrades for all types of Class 66 and Class 67 locomotives in the UK, with hundreds expected to be upgraded over the next few years. 

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Ed Akers, Network Rail’s principal sponsor for the ECDP, said: “The task of retrofitting hundreds of freight locomotives is one of the biggest challenges we face in the transition to a digital future. 

“The Class 66 FiC project has required innovation, tenacity and perseverance to get to this point. I pay tribute to the hard work of all those involved.” 

The upgrade of the freight locomotive joins similar work to upgrade passenger trains as part of the ECDP, with operator Govia Thameslink Railway already receiving approval to operate its Class 717 fleet with level 2 ETCS signalling, and beginning work to install the technology on its Class 700 and Class 387 fleets.