'Our systems are at capacity; we cannot build our way out - we must innovate' - Digital Railway chief

Written by Sam Trendall on 20 July 2017 in News
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David Waboso claims he has the highest levels of government support for vision to improve rail infrastructure via better use of digital

Digital Railway has backing "right at the heart of government", its managing director claims

The UK’s full-to-capacity railway infrastructure is a problem that “we cannot build our way out of – we have to innovate our way out of”, according to Digital Railway group managing director David Waboso.

Speaking at an event in London, Waboso pointed to examples where technology, automation and digitisation have allowed transport infrastructure to boost capacity without building more roads or railways. The implementation of smart motorway technology in the UK has increased capacity by 20 per cent, Waboso said.

Meanwhile, the implementation of better management and scheduling platforms in recent years has helped London Underground boost its capacity by between 20 and 40 per cent, he added. This has been crucial as, in the 21st century, the number of people travelling on the tube on an average day has risen from little more than three million to 4.5 million.


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He pointed to the use of digital technology for better timetabling and management of the Victoria Line as a particular success.

“Because the Victoria Line has more trains than platforms, the focus on reliability has had to be relentless,” Waboso said.

Such examples need to be replicated across the UK’s national rail set-up, he added.

“A lot of our systems are at capacity. We cannot speed more trains through Manchester, London, or Leeds,” Waboso said. “We cannot build our way out of this – and HS2 or a Crossrail are once-in-a-generation projects.

“We need to innovate our way out of it.”

Ensuring that engineering work is conducted as efficiently as possible – with downtime minimised and used as effectively as possible – is one area that could be looked at, the Digital Railway chief said.

“We have an army of people in orange crawling over the infrastructure,” he added. “We have to really challenge ourselves – is that really necessary?”

Waboso said the Digital Railway project is backed throughout Whitehall, right up to the top of the Westminster hierarchy.

“One of the things about Digital Railway that is exciting is that it goes right to the heart of government,” he said. “I cannot praise [the government] highly enough in terms of the support I have had for this. They see that this [project] has potential, and are excited about it.”

The Digital Railway programme was launched by Network Rail, and includes on its advisory board representatives of the arm's-length government body, as well as Transport for London, the Department for Transport, and a number of private sector entities.

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Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology

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