East Coast Digital Programme progresses and introduces new customer communications

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Upgrades to enhance rail travel to and from London progressed further on Sunday with work on the East Coast Main Line (ECML) as part of the East Coast Digital Programme (ECDP).

ECDP is a landmark scheme set to introduce in cab digital signalling on the southern part of the ECML, between London King’s Cross and Grantham. The weekend work was undertaken to prepare and test new technology between Welwyn Garden City and Hitchin in Hertfordshire ready for digital signalling. Engineers installed new cabling, and undertook key testing, all working towards a more reliable, resilient and greener East Coast Main Line.

In a major step forward for ECDP, the first Great Northern passenger trains recently began using digital signalling on the Northern City Line between Finsbury Park and Moorgate in the City of London. It is expected that trains will begin using digital signalling on the main line between Welwyn and Hitchin from 2025.

With ongoing work impacting on passengers, there is a need to explain the benefits of digital signalling to a wider audience.  To help with that challenge, Transport Focus was commissioned to undertake customer research.   Their report ‘Digital signalling: how to communicate the upgrade programme to rail passengers’, will help to inform how ECDP is communicated in the months and years ahead.   

Based on interviews and focus groups with passengers along the East Coast route, the report found:

  • Awareness of ECDP is currently low
  • When explained, digital signalling can be seen as a ‘game changer’
  • Passengers accept that change will involve disruption, but expect the benefits to be clearly outlined, with a focus on improving punctuality and reliability
  • Passenger priorities are to understand the immediate impact on journeys, and where and when the work is taking place; but they also want to know why the disruption is happening

ECDP is launching a passenger campaign aimed at highlighting the long-term benefits to punctuality and reliability that digital signalling will deliver.  A new website www.eastcoastdigitalprogramme.co.uk has content explaining what digital signalling is and how it will benefit passengers and freight customers. It provides information on the phasing of ECDP and gives key dates on which passenger services will be impacted in the coming months.

Ed Akers, Principal Programme Sponsor for Network Rail’s East Coast Digital Programme, said: “Digital signalling will provide long term and lasting improvements to journeys, making them more reliable with less disruption.  It has been really useful to work with Transport Focus to understand how best we communicate that to passengers whose journeys will be affected by work taking place to deliver ECDP.

“Our new campaign and website will help passengers to understand what is happening and why, and we will continue to provide updates as ECDP progresses.

“We thank passengers for their understanding as we worked to progress the digital upgrade, during a weekend also impacted by industrial action.”

Alex Robertson, chief executive at the independent watchdog Transport Focus, said: “Passengers understand that improvements to the railway will mean some disruption, but they need plenty of information before, during and after the works. This includes how their journeys are affected and what their travel choices are.

“We are pleased to have worked with Network Rail to understand how to best communicate the East Coast digital signalling upgrade to passengers. We hope this research will result in effective communications that inform passengers about disruption to their journeys while explaining the need for the work – and how they will benefit.”

Jenny Saunders, Customer Services Director at Govia Thameslink Railway, said:  “Introducing digital signalling will mean better, more reliable journeys for Great Northern and Thameslink customers in the long-run and we are thrilled this technology is now benefiting our customers on the Northern City Line.

“Where planned engineering works are required, we are committed to providing our customers with the best possible information about the impact to their journeys, as soon as we can, so they can plan ahead. The report from Transport Focus and refreshed ECDP website will help us to do so.”

Dr Linda Wain, Engineering Director at LNER said: “We’re delighted to be now seeing real progress on this programme which will transform customer journeys for the long term and enable us to fulfil the full potential of our Azuma fleet, which is already fitted with the technology for digital signalling.”

Further ECDP work will take place affecting services on Sunday 24 December.

LNER will be operating a reduced service with train services starting and terminating at St Neots. Rail replacement coaches will run between St Neots and Bedford, where passengers can re-join rail services to London St Pancras.

Lumo services will operate between Newcastle and Edinburgh only. Hull Trains will be running a reduced train service which will divert and terminate in St Pancras.  No Grand Central service will operate.

Buses will replace trains for Great Northern and Thameslink passengers between Potters Bar and St Neots, between Potters Bar and Royston, and between Hertford North and Stevenage.  Before 1000 buses will also replace trains between Finsbury Park and Potters Bar/Hertford North.

Further details are available at www.nationalrail.co.uk or on train operator websites.

Photo credit: Network Rail

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