There is no situation so bad Government intervention can’t make it worse

Informed Sources

Network Rail’s Digital Railway operation badly needs a success to maintain its credibility. As Institution of Railway Signal Engineers (IRSE) Chief Executive Francis How told a recent seminar, ‘The Digital Railway Programme has to deliver some tangible benefits without further delay’. As Mr How reminded the audience, ‘We have been working on this technology for 16 years with very little to show so far. We have to make it succeed.’

Network Rail’s Managing Director Digital Railway David Waboso reinforced Mr How’s message. ‘We are making huge steps forward, but we need to make sure they are all successful. We have huge political support from the Department for Transport and the Treasury to do more, but we must prove we know how to deliver.’ Quite.


With European Train Control System (ETCS) struggling to make a business case, TM is the Digital Railway’s poster child. My timeline (opposite) makes instructive, if depressing, reading.

During 2017, Network Rail’s Traffic Management Programme (TMP) team set out to capture and discuss key lessons learned so far with the first deployment TM schemes at Cardiff and the new Rail Operating Centre (ROC) at Romford. The result was a 33-page A5-sized booklet.

When it comes to the many lessons learned, the findings are brutally honest and contain much common sense, for which Project Director Traffic Management Andrew Jones is to be congratulated. On performance, for example, the report admits that because TM is being deployed for the first time on the UK network, ‘we do not fully understand the impact on performance’.

Then there is the issue, referred to in the November 2017 column, of how TM is to be used in the control room environment. The operating model for TM Integrated, due to go live on the Great Western main line this summer, was still being refined when the report was published.

So what TMP has produced is rather more than a ‘lessons learned’ wash-up report. Rather it is a primer for how to specify, procure and implement the next tranche of Traffic Management systems.

Which is timely because, as David Waboso told the IRSE Seminar, with the number of trains working to timetable ‘embarrassingly low’, Network Rail intends to ‘go large’ with Traffic Management and Connected Driver Advisory Systems (C-DAS) in CP6, which starts on 1 April 2019. One reason for this policy is that it promises major benefits with ‘less intrusive heavy engineering’.

Traffic management conundrum: Thameslink unit No 700003 and Southeastern unit No 375608 at Shortlands on 16 January 2018. Keith Fender


Network Rail issues OJEU Notice July 2009

Three demonstration suite contracts awarded August 2012

National roll-out planned to start From 2014

Demonstration suites operational End 2012

Thales awarded Cardiff and Romford first deployment schemes May 2014

National roll-out aborted March 2015

Hitachi awarded Thameslink TM contract July 2015

Cardiff and Romford delivery dates missed December 2015

Atkins brought in to support Hitachi July 2016

Revised Cardiff and Romford delivery dates missed December 2016

Cardiff and Romford (initially) de-scoped to Isolated TM June 2017

Resonate awarded Great Western main line Integrated TM contract June 2017

Thameslink TM delivery date missed August 2017

Cardiff Isolated commissioned (non-operational) December 2017

Romford Isolated commissioning date 2018

Resonate GWML commissioning date June 2018

Romford Integrated TM commissioning date TBC

Hitachi Thameslink TM commissioning date TBC

Thameslink initial service December 2018

Thameslink steps up to 22tph (TM essential) May 2019

Thameslink 24tph service December 2019


Note that this is Stage 3 of a five-stage programme, and readers should brace themselves for a Victor Meldrew moment. The addition of the further TM functions making up Stages 4 and 5 is subject to a separate contract currently under negotiation. Enhancements would include the automatic exchange of service perturbation information with TRUST, the handling of rolling stock diagrams and crew rosters, and providing information to Passenger Information Systems such as platform changes.

Subject to contract, these would be available towards the end of 2018. But hang on. The original contract price for Cardiff and Romford was £28.8 million for the pair. This subsequently escalated to £73 million.

Now, it seems you only get TM very-lite for that money. And the price being quoted for implementing Stages 4 and 5 is reported to be raising questions on affordability.


Compared with the first deployment schemes, Hitachi’s TM system for Thameslink came in at £24 million and is intended to provide Interfaced TM for the central core and ODST for the fringing boxes at King’s Cross and West Hampstead. When ordered in July 2015, commissioning was scheduled for August 2017.

According to informed sources it is now running a year late, although sources are not clear on the baseline for that lateness. Fortunately, under Chris Gibb’s phased introduction of the Thameslink timetable (p10, December 2017 issue), TM is not considered essential until the 22tph service is introduced in May 2019. So fingers crossed.


That leaves David Waboso depending on Resonate’s addition of its Luminate TM platform to its IECC Scalable at the Thames Valley Signalling Centre for some early good news. At the IRSE Seminar already mentioned, Resonate’s Chief Executive Anna Ince reported that design, installation and integration testing was largely complete and staff training had started. This is being funded by Resonate on a ‘payment by results’ basis (‘Informed Sources’, August 2017) and is reported to still be on course to go live in June this year.

Now, bearing in mind that two mighty multinationals have spent £100 million and have yet to deliver anything, and the plucky Brit from Derby is aiming to go from Automatic Route Setting to full-house Integrated TM in 12 months, you would expect this column’s default mode to rank this as an heroic aspiration. I suspect that meeting that date will depend on the efforts of the customer as well as the contractor.


With the future of Traffic Management at a tipping point, enter the Department for Transport. The box below ranks among the most howlingly stupid proposals ever published in this column.

So stupid, that it is hard to know where to start.

Well, first of all, the three shortlisted franchise bidders – Abellio, with East Japan Railway and Mitsui, Govia and Stagecoach – have damn all experience of TM, let alone its specification and procurement. As experienced operators, they know what they would like in terms of capabilities and outputs, but as for procurement, forget it.

Piling Pelion on Ossa, the ITT notes that ‘technical and operational outcomes and requirements specific to the TMS geography are not yet available and will need to be developed collaboratively between Network Rail, the franchisee and industry partners as part of the design development process’.



The Department requires a franchisee who will procure and implement, in consultation and collaboration with Network Rail, an Interfaced Traffic Management System on the Ashford IECC control area and an Isolated Traffic Management System elsewhere together with a supplementary Connected Driver Advisory System and a TMS compatible Stock & Crew system, to provide operational performance benefits through the application of improved pathing of trains. The TMS will be operated and owned by Network Rail. As a minimum a bidder’s solution will demonstrate how the franchisee will ensure the successful delivery of the procurement of a digital rail solution for the franchise including:

a) The procurement of a TMS, including the tendering and supplier selection process;

b) The installation of the TMS, including within Network Rail premises where required;

c) Systems integration for the TMS, ensuring that the system is compliant with and allows for:

i) Interoperability of the TMS with, and exchange of data between, the TMS and:

A) The traffic management system being developed for the Thameslink Programme;

B) The traffic management systems being developed for TfL’s East London line and the remainder of Network Rail’s South East Route; and

C) Any other interfacing traffic management system.

First deployment location: GWR Turbo DMU No 166204 arrives at Cardiff Central with a service from Taunton on 26 January 2018. Darren Ford


Right, so this is all about keeping the cost of the TM off Network Rail’s and the Treasury’s books. But hang on, hasn’t the Treasury ringfenced a £450 million Digital Railway Fund for Network Rail? And wouldn’t this be an ideal use of a tiny part of that funding?

And the ITT notes that ‘funding of up to (redacted) is available to fund the capital cost of the Digital Rail Proposal. The implementation of such proposal must be completed by the end of the third franchise year. The operational cost of the Digital Rail Proposal is to be funded by the franchisee’.

Some informed sources have suggested all the franchisee will do is buy what Network Rail tells it to and just cough up the money. That is not how the ITT reads.


Now let’s get down to practical issues. Note that the TM is to cover the Ashford Integrated Electronic Control Centre (IECC) control area. And note the four-letter abbreviation.

Ashford has two IECCs with five IECC classic workstations. Has any supplier overlaid an Interfaced TM on IECC classic? No. In fact, no supplier has yet to overlay functioning TM, let alone Interfaced, on any control system, whether Siemens WestCAD or GE (now Alstom) MCS. So, lots of unknowns for our TM procurement novices.

And why only ‘interfaced’ TM? When I checked this with DfT I was told it was a misprint and would be amended to ‘integrated’. However, industry sources report that it is still interfaced which, as we will see, is perverse.

As mentioned earlier, at the Great Western Route’s Thames Valley Signalling Centre, Resonate is piloting Integrated TM on IECC Scalable. TVSC was originally equipped with classic workstations which were upgraded to Scalable as part of the Great Western Route Modernisation.

How much would it cost to upgrade Ashford IECC to Scalable? Around £5 million. How long would it take? Nine months max, and possibly less.

Then, if the GWML TM works as advertised, you could sit Luminate on the Scalable platform and have Integrated TM up and running well before the third year of the franchise. Note that there is an ‘if’, but, unlike the other TM schemes, it’s an if with a finite timescale.

But what about the requirement for interoperability of the TMS with the TM systems being developed for the Thameslink Programme and TfL’s East London line and the remainder of Network Rail’s South East Route?


Well, Thameslink is Hitachi, but as for the East London line (ELL) and the remainder of the South East Route, DfT appears to be a bit premature. But note that the strategic outline business case for TfL’s ELL 20tph project has been shortlisted to receive funding from the Digital Rail fund.

According to TfL, funding of £6 million has been received to develop the ELL project to outline business case, with a final decision expected in ‘spring 2018’. Funding will be shared with Network Rail, which will also be using it to develop its wider plan to implement Traffic Management technology on the South East Route.

So that’s clear as mud. South Eastern has two other control centres. North Kent Signalling Centre, confusingly co-located at Ashford, has two MCS workstations. East Kent Signalling Centre is the most recent, with four MCS workstations commissioned this decade.

Just how you would define interoperability between TM systems, I’m not sure. Presumably revised train plans would have to be exchanged between ‘fringing’ TM systems so that all shared a common database. The thought of interfacing a Thales ARAMIS system running on an Alstom MCS with a Hitachi system on WestCAD is migraine inducing – especially, as we have to keep on reminding ourselves, as we don’t have an operational TM to play with.


So, to recap, here is the rational way forward for South Eastern TM.

1 Wait until the GWML Luminate trial has produced results.

2 June 2019 – if there are worthwhile benefits from the Integrated TM, upgrade Ashford IECC to Scalable paid for from Digital Railway’s £450 million fund. Ashford is due to be renewed anyway.

3 January 2020 – install Luminate on Scalable – ideally persuading Resonate to enter another payment by results contract.

4 2021 – think about TM for North Kent and East Kent.

Unfortunately, this approach falls foul of various ‘Informed Sources’ laws and industry tropes. The first law states that we should never assume that railways are rational organisations. Then Resonate, being British and based in Derby incurs the seventh law: the attractiveness of technology is directly proportional to the square of the distance of its factory of origin from London. One conspiracy theorist mused that the reversion to Interfaced might be to keep the market open.

And, finally, there is the ingrained belief that if you don’t get competitive bids the private sector will rip you off. As I once remarked of British Rail procurement, it couldn’t buy cheap food in Tesco.

So expect the burnt fool’s bandaged finger to go wobbling back to the fire. And what makes it worse is that informed sources report Network Rail is collaborating with DfT on this process. Now that really would be worrying. And a final twist is that the franchise bids have to be in by 14 March