DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY WILL SHAPE THE FUTURE RAILWAY ISSUE NUMBER: TT135
Digital technology has transformed our daily lives. A smartphone in your pocket can send and receive vast quantities of data at a few taps of your screen. Digital technology has made a positive impact on transport too. It has transformed air traffic control, enabling busy airports like Heathrow to expand capacity significantly since the 1990s. It has been used to reduce congestion and keep people moving on "smart" motorways like the M25.
I've argued previously that improving Britain's railways is vital to economic growth, jobs and housing, but rail hasn't yet fully embraced the potential of digital technologies to achieve this.
The basic signalling system based on fixed blocks – distances of between a few hundred yards and a couple of miles – has not changed since the inception of the railway nearly 200 years ago. Only one train can enter a block at a time, and the length of the block, speed, and braking characteristics determine capacity. This surely acts as a barrier to the capacity the railway desperately needs.
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