Unlocking Innovation: A New Structure for Digital Railway

The Railway Industry Association (RIA), with strategic partners Network Rail and the UK Rail Research and Innovation Network (UKRRIN), held its first webinar of the Unlocking Innovation – Digital Railway – The Future series on Monday 29 June. Part of a five day series of online events, the first covered the new structure for Digital Railway, following the devolution of Network Rail.

Webinar host Richard Jones of RIA stated that ‘the Digital Railway programme, is perhaps one of the most significant engineering programmes in the industry over the next 20 years’. Going on he observed that since the last time RIA held an event exploring Digital Railway in Birmingham last year, there had been much progress and change. Network Rail had substantially reorganised to better focus on passengers and freight, with five regions with devolved responsibilities and the first major contract for delivering the Digital Railway, East Coast had been placed.

‘Data, data, everywhere’

Network Rail Group Director of Network Services, Nick King, spoke on Network Rail’s Transformation programme. He spoke about how the new Network Services function in the organisation incorporated the Freight and National Passenger Operators activities, as well as elements of Group Digital Railway, providing assurance for national operational performance and coordinating the organisation’s national programmes and capabilities.

King also focused on the opportunities of digital driven data on the railway. He quoted a front-line engineer who had said their thoughts on data in the industry were that there was “data, data everywhere and not a drop to use”. King suggested that an abundance of data in the industry was not the issue, more having the tools to make informed decisions that will impact the network.

An Operator’s View

The second speaker was Paul Boyle, Head of ETCS, at London North Eastern Railway (LNER). Boyle focused on why the Digital Railway programme is important to train operators including LNER. The East Coast Main Line (ECML) route will be the first to be part of Network Rail’s digital railway programme. Using case studies from driving simulators Boyle showed how the Digital Railway programme improved performance and resilience, but stated that challenges included change management. He also stated that there are many environmental benefits from the Digital Railway, including energy efficiency which could be more widely recognised.

The Digital Railway Systems Authority

Every mega project has a number of aspects to it. Two vital ones are Programme Management and Technical Assurance and, to handle that second challenge, Network Rail has set up a Digital Railway Systems Authority to support the industry in implementation. The next speaker was Andrew Simmons, the Chief Systems Engineer for Digital Railway. Simmons expanded on the components that make up the Digital Railway Systems Authority to provide technical oversight, support, and governance, he also discussed the positive impact that it would have on the UK rail industry, users (both passengers and freight) and the wider society.

Pitch Session

The end of each Unlocking Innovation event gives SMEs the opportunity to pitch their ideas and innovations. This time Lucy Prior, Business Engagement Director at 3Squared gave her pitch,  stating that Digital Rail is more than about just signalling. She stressed that it was about the businesses that make it happen and the people that help to carry it out. Lucy stated that 3Squared’s objective is to help the industry to have the tools to analyse the data – a direct response to King’s challenge to the industry.

The webinar will be followed by the four more each day this week – find out more and register here.