Time for change: developing the future of signalling systems

Ben Dunlop | 21 Mar 2016 | Comments

Safety, cost effectiveness and reliability are the essential success factors for the UK signalling system. With changing requirements and standards to enable European Train Control Systems (ETCS) and the digital railway, how can clients confidently commit budget to improve performance today and meet the needs of tomorrow?

The growth in demand for rail services in the UK is soaring, with over 1.6 billion passenger journeys recorded by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), the highest recorded figure since the series began. With continued growth of 4% per annum anticipated, there is an urgent need for affordable solutions that will help improve reliability and reduce delays, while improving the experience for passengers who also expect greater value for money.

So, standing still is not an option. By innovating now and selecting the right solutions, using proven technology that’s flexible, increases effectiveness, and adds value we can take confident steps towards the signalling systems of the future.

To do this well requires delivering both significant improvements to the sector’s technological capability, while transforming future delivery methods so we are better equipped to support a positive and lasting cultural change across the industry that can deliver greater benefits for many years to come.

New digital technology and delivery methods provide the opportunity to re-engineer the whole signalling system so future rail services can offer greater efficiencies and transform the way in which services are managed to meet the growing demands.

For example, by adopting modern software techniques with progressive assurance ‘in-built’ and standards aligned to the right technologies, it is possible to implement signalling systems on complex railways with a greater level of confidence than has previously been experienced. High levels of automated testing can also save time to commission projects, while reducing the amount of resource required and associated risks. These digitally enabled signalling systems are fit for the future, more reliable and easily reconfigurable to adapt to changing demands.

To work in this way requires a totally new approach, you can’t just take your old processes and improve them. Which is why successfully delivering this level of change raises something of a dilemma that needs careful consideration by clients and the sector.

Working collaboratively with Network Rail and a range of leading suppliers to drive innovation, requires us to overcome barriers and challenges such as:

  • Not wanting to go first
  • Using the railway as a test bed for new technology
  • Innovating without affecting performance of the railway
  • If the railway does not innovate, how do we improve performance?

By analysing the industry from a cultural level to understand the issues preventing the deployment of modern, multi-industry open technology, we can devise programmes that meet both the ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ needs of the customer to deliver future signalling systems to the rail industry.

Using partnering principles we can deliver the best possible outcome for the customers, the industry and our businesses increasing the potential to deliver change and to leave a lasting legacy that can overcome cultural issues such building trust in an open system and safety critical environment, shifting the socio-political environment of the UK and Europe so we can manage innovation and by gradually introducing change.

Building on our experience in other sectors such as nuclear and defence, deploying similar technologies and delivery methods, at Atkins, we are combining the expertise of our people with the latest technology and ways of working to create signalling improvements today to enable and deliver the digital railway services for tomorrow.

Atkins has chosen to invest now – to develop and design integrated signalling systems that can deliver change and offer real improvements. 

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To find out more about how Atkins is helping its clients to shape the future of transportation at this year's InnoTrans, visit the Speakers’ Corner (Hall 15.2) at 11.30am on Wednesday 21 September and come to stand 225A, CityCube A to speak to one of its consultants.