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The Railway Infrastructure Manager’s challenge

4 June 2015  •  Author(s): James Lewis, Network Rail

As the railway Infrastructure Manager in the UK, Network Rail is entering uncharted territory – new possibilities in traffic management are opening up through the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS), and the ability to measure the performance of the infrastructure in ways not previously imagined is becoming increasingly available. These are indeed exciting times, writes James Lewis, Network Rail’s Head of European Research and Development (R&D) Programme.


The future of our railway lies in harnessing technology that is available right now. Today we still use technology that fundamentally hasn’t changed from when it was first invented in the 1840s. We’ve inherited an ageing Victorian rail network, parts of which hark back to Brunel days and are in desperate need of upgrade and modernisation. Lever frames in traditional signal boxes to control traffic, semaphore signs worked by wires and gravity, points switched by long rodding runs of mechanical linkages and an infrastructure which maintains many of the design traits that it inherited from its early beginnings. There is certainly plenty of room for modernisation.

More bluntly, it could be said it’s not an infrastructure that is going to meet the future needs of railway customers and more needs to be done. Societal changes will see population growth, energy and carbon challenges, economic constraints for Europe in a competitive global marketplace and the increasing expectations of customers in a digital age. For Network Rail these challenges, together with safety and performance, are best summed up as the 4C’s; Capacity, Carbon, Cost, and Customer. Ultimately, Network Rail needs a railway that is affordable and attractive to customers in the future; a future in which Network Rail expects capacity to double by 2030…

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