International law firm Stephenson Harwood has hosted over 100 delegates at a two day event which brought together the leading voices across the rail industry. The conference, which took place on 22 and 23 March 2016, considered the future of railway signalling in the UK. It focussed specifically on the challenges and opportunities regarding the implementation of the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) and the European Train Control System (ETCS).
Farha Sheikh, (Rail Digital Services, Infrastructure Safety and Security) of the Department for Transport's Rail Digital Services, reiterated the business case underpinning the introduction of ERTMS, saying that the benefits remain strong. Illustrating the Department’s on-going support of the technology, she confirmed that future franchise agreements will continue to include ERTMS requirements on operators.
Andy Norris, (NJRP Project Director – Digital Railway) of NJRP, confirmed that the NJRP is currently engaging with the six potential ETCS suppliers, and a procurement process is well underway covering both FiC and also full fleet roll out . However, Andy reiterated that the lack of test facilities remains a major challenge and is holding the programme up – early upgrade to have BL3 Release 2 at the RIDC Melton is essential.
Suzanne Tarplee, (Partner) of Stephenson Harwood LLP, emphasised some of the difficult cyber security questions and issues that need to be considered by the industry. This was a point picked up on by Christos Voudouris, (Head of Digital Business Systems) of Network Rail, who reassured delegates that cyber security is a key consideration for Network Rail. He said that they are working with experts to explore and put in place solutions to address those questions and risks.
Throughout the conference, speakers were keen to emphasise the benefits of the introduction of ERTMS. Andrew Simmons, (Chief Systems Engineer – Digital Railway) of Network Rail, spoke about how the digital railway would increase capacity by allowing for more flexible use of the railway as trains could run more closely together and lines could be quickly reversed in the event of an incident or engineering work, and timetables could be adapted to account for special services. Network Rail continues to develop a solid business case to persuade Government and industry stakeholders to agree this approach.
Ben Dunlop, (Director, Digital Railways) of Atkins, spoke at length of the compelling need for culture change and skills shift in order to fully embrace a digital railway, where customers are at the centre. He said that in order to achieve this, the rail industry will need to work more collaboratively and push forward together to overcome the still considerable stumbling blocks that remain. This was a view that was shared by many of the delegates.
Speakers including Julian Gill, (Business Development Director) of Thales, Mike Harvie, (Head of Signalling Engineering) of London Underground and Pieter Rypma, (Key Account Manager) of Siemens, examined the lessons that can be learned from the implementation of the LU signalling upgrades. They particularly warned of the need to ensure that the right system is chosen and to look at examples of successful implementation in Europe. Jon Alzate, (Director) of CAF, looked at the similarities of the introduction of the ATO system and how the UK could look at its implementation to find workable solutions of ERTMS.
A discussion on whether the UK was ready for the introduction of ERTMS certainly had the audience engaged. Delegates and panellists questioned how close the UK was to being ready for ERTMS, and agreed that if the industry worked more intelligently the UK could become 'ERTMS ready', but that there is still some way to go. Suzanne Tarplee also emphasised the need to work together as an industry in order to overcome the obstacles of implementing ERTMS in the UK.
Commenting on the success of the event, Suzanne Tarplee said:
"This annual event brings together some of the leading experts across the rail industry, and creates a unique opportunity to discuss the key issues and developments in rail signalling. We were encouraged to again see such a high turnout, something which in itself demonstrates the perceived value of the event. We are grateful to the speakers and delegates, as well as the sponsors, exhibitors and partners, all of whom contributed to the success of the conference".
For further information on the themes arising from the conference, please contact Suzanne Tarplee.