A signalling upgrade that’s currently underway on the Northern City Line, between Finsbury Park and Moorgate, is now ready for passenger service, Network Rail has confirmed.

Overnight testing (c) GTR

Since the new signals were installed, tests have been carried out, and the latest set of overnight tests ran six digitally signalled trains in 30-minute periods. During the peak service, Great Northern operates up to 10 trains per hour on the Northern City Line. By running 6 trains at close headway in 30-minute periods, the testing demonstrated that the system would be able to support the timetable.

It was the final event in a series of proving runs designed to build confidence in the system before Great Northern drivers begin their training on ETCS in passenger service. This will start once the trackside system has received the required safety approvals from the Office of Road and Rail (ORR).

In cab controls (c) GTR

The new system, the European Train Control System (ETCS), will allow Network Rail to remove lineside signalling and put all that information on a display screen inside the train cabs instead. Not only does that reduce the cost of a signalling system as there’s less hardware, but there’s also a reduction in maintenance costs, as there are no longer any signals to maintain.

The trains have been dynamically tested on the route and GTR has been given authorisation from the Office of Road and Rail (ORR) to use them in ETCS passenger service. This will happen once Network Rail has received its authorisation from ORR to switch on the trackside ETCS system. GTR will then steadily train its 250 Great Northern drivers to drive using ETCS in passenger service on the Northern City Line.

The new system overlays the traditional signals, so drivers will be able to use whichever they are trained on, and when all the drivers are trained to use the new system, the old one will be switched off.

The Northern City Line is expected to operate solely using digital signalling by 2024.

Oliver Turner, GTR’s Head of ERTMS, said: “We are all delighted with the results from this week’s system reliability testing on the Northern City Line. Having all the necessary paperwork and approvals in place is one thing, but we won’t start driver training until we have demonstrated we can reliably deliver our timetabled passenger service in ETCS. Thanks to the proving runs this week, we can now say we are fully confident in the system and in a good position to start training our drivers as soon as the trackside system gains formal approval.”

Once the Northern City line has been fully upgraded, the lessons from that project will feed into the larger project to upgrade the entire East Coast Mainline railway.

Overnight testing (c) GTR


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