GOVIA THAMESLINK Railway will start training drivers to use European Train Control System (ETCS) signalling on the Northern City line (NCL) from Finsbury Park to Moorgate as soon as authorisation is received for the on-train and trackside equipment to be used in service; this is expected to be received in March or April.
‘Approval to Place in Service’ is required for both elements before driver training can begin, although Network Rail has begun training its signallers. GTR has around 250 drivers to train for ETCS on the NCL, a process which is expected to take about a year, although 15 test and commissioning drivers are already using ETCS as part of the testing programme, which is nearly complete.
The NCL is the first element of the East Coast Digital Programme to roll out digital signalling from King’s Cross to Stoke Tunnel, south of Grantham. After the NCL has migrated to ETCS, the next section will be an overlay from Welwyn to Hitchin, with existing lineside signals retained initially. Future sections will then switch straight to ETCS, with Biggleswade to Fletton (south of Peterborough) likely to be the first to do this. The aim is to complete the programme as far as Stoke Tunnel by the end of the decade.
Testing of ETCS on the NCL started in mid-2022, comprising a variety of test case scenarios also covering communications between the driver and signaller. This followed an infrastructure upgrade to Train Protection and Warning System, which was required to provide the electrical interlocking for ETCS and was completed in May 2022. The upgrade included the removal of tripcocks from the tracks, with the train-borne equipment on GTR’s Class 717s also to be removed shortly.
The transition from TPWS to ETCS on the Northern City line takes place between Finsbury Park and Drayton Park, meaning four conventional signals will remain in use as a semipermanent overlay. These will be removed once the adjoining section of the ECML has migrated to ETCS, but on the rest of the NCL signals will be removed once all drivers are trained.
Driver training for the NCL migration will be carried out in a facility at Hornsey depot. The one-week course comprises two days of classroom and simulator training and three days of practical handling, with a final exam at the end of the week. Once ETCS rolls out on the ECML, GTR will need to train around 1,000 drivers in total, although some of these will already have been trained as part of the NCL programme or to utilise ETCS through the Thameslink core from St Pancras to Blackfriars/London Bridge. The training programme incorporates lessons from the Thameslink element, with GTR preferring not to use full cab simulators but instead to use computer desks so drivers are taught the principles of the system rather than linking it with a specific type of traction. As training rolls out more widely for the ECML migration, GTR plans to set up satellite training locations at depots, taking the training to drivers, as this is deemed the most efficient way to organise it. Oly Turner, Head of ERTMS for GTR, highlighted the collaborative effort engendered on ECDP and the way the operator is sharing lessons with others. Rob Forde, Network Rail’s Senior Programme Manager, agreed that the programme felt ‘inclusive’ and cross-industry working is fundamental to its success.
Mr Turner highlighted the importance of engagement with trade unions, saying GTR had taken drivers to the Cambrian line (where ETCS has been in use for more than a decade) to learn the technology. Mr Forde said ASLEF can see the safety benefits ETCS offers by providing a forward view of the line ahead, as compared to the limited visibility with conventional signals. Experience on the Cambrian line with moving to a ‘signals away’railway is also valuable.