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UK’s first self-drive mainline train takes passengers through Crawley

Automation will make this ‘core’ north-south connection across the capital the new heart of the region’s railway network.

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A driver engages Automatic Train Operation (ATO) in a Class 700 Thameslink train.

Govia Thameslink Railway passengers have ridden the UK’s first self-drive mainline train, on a journey passing through Crawley and arriving in Horsham, in a major milestone for the industry.

The Thameslink trains will in future use the technology, developed by Siemens and operating on Network Rail’s new digital signalling system, to run between London St Pancras and London Blackfriars at a rate of a train every 2-3 minutes – a frequency never before achieved on Britain’s railways.

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Automation will make this ‘core’ north-south connection across the capital the new heart of the region’s railway network.

It will serve 80 more stations than today on 12 separate routes, helping create capacity for up to 60,000 more people in each peak and speeding journeys for hundreds of thousands of passengers.

Delivered by the Government-sponsored £7bn Thameslink Programme, which also includes Britain’s biggest new train fleet and the £1bn upgrade of London Bridge station, it is a key element in GTR’s RailPlan20/20 modernisation plans.

GTR Engineering Director Gerry McFadden said:

“Govia Thameslink Railway is blazing a trail with self-drive trains which can run at higher frequency than manual operations. We are embracing digital technology to boost capacity through the heart of London, an historical bottleneck that has held back rail expansion across the south of the country.

“Self-drive technology also has great potential for the rest of the country’s rail network, particularly on congested routes, and could in future reduce the need for costly infrastructure projects.

“This is a world-first in terms of the technology being used and a UK-first for self-drive trains. It’s a fantastic achievement and a vital part of our RailPlan 20/20 plans to modernise Thameslink, Southern, Great Northern and Gatwick Express on the busiest part of the UK rail network.

“We’ll always need a driver in the cab but this technology allows us to run more trains, more frequently than we could by driving the trains manually and for passengers, the trip will be as smooth as ever.

“Trains can run more frequently, which allows us to add 80 more stations to the Thameslink network across the south and east of England, speeding journeys for hundreds of thousands of passengers. Drivers and their union representatives have been fully consulted.”

The Siemens in-cab system uses optimum acceleration and braking on board the Class 700 Thameslink trains while maintaining a smooth ride for passengers. The driver remains in the cab to check the platforms at stations, close the doors, and manage the overall safe operation of the train.

Automatic train operation works with Network Rail’s new digital signalling system, which means trains can safely travel closer together through the central section of London with knock-on benefits for hundreds of thousands of passengers across the wider network.

Today’s trip from Peterborough to Horsham was a demonstration of the technology that will be put into use in 2019 when the service gradually increases to 24 trains per hour in each direction – the equivalent of a train every 2 to 3 minutes.

Twelve different routes will pass through the central section from places as far afield as Peterborough and Cambridge, and Brighton and Maidstone, meaning passengers will be less likely to need to switch to the Tube.

This automatic train operation is one of a series of innovations to significantly boost capacity on the most heavily congested network in southern and eastern England, creating space for 40,000 more commuters into London each morning and evening peak this May, and 60,000 by December 2019.

Martin Chatfield, Network Rail Project Director for High Capacity Infrastructure, said:

“Seeing the first UK mainline train running in ATO for passenger services is a truly momentous day for the Thameslink Programme High Capacity Infrastructure Team, and the wider industry teams that have been involved. This underlines the combined efforts of Network Rail, the supply chain, and the train operators over the past five years to reach this point. It not only proves the digital railway technology within the heavy rail environment, but it also demonstrates that an industry approach is the way to solving railway capacity issues in the future.”

Mark Ferrer, Operations Director Digital Rail, Siemens said:

“This brings to life the hard work and commitment from the entire Siemens, Network Rail and GTR team, collaboratively proving the operation of digital signalling and automation technology on a critical part of the railway infrastructure and realising the future of train control. This major milestone is the culmination of years spent testing in labs, on various test tracks and on the actual Thameslink Core with the new Class 700 Desiro City trains. The introduction of these technologies delivered in the UK, maintains Siemens’ position as a world leader in the application of leading edge solutions to the in train control systems, and new generation digital trains.”

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Crawley Labour’s push for railway clean-up

Years of littering led to a potential health hazard in the areas close to Ifield station.

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Before & after the clean-up [Images: Cllr Geraint Thomas].

Crawley Labour party members and residents in Ifield are delighted that after many months of trying Network Rail have eventually cleared up the rubbish alongside the railway by Ifield Station.

The rubbish alongside the footbridge at the end of Ifield Drive had gradually accumulated over many years forming both an eyesore and a potential health hazard.

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Cllr Geraint Thomas, the Cabinet member for Environmental Services and Sustainability took up the challenge after residents complained about the rubbish alongside the footbridge at Ifield Station in Ifield Drive. Former Cllr John Stanley had tried every which way to find who was responsible for this litter and to get someone to clear it up – Crawley Borough Council could not remove it as it was on railway land but action was soon taken to find out who was responsible and prepared to act.

Clearing up litter and fly-tipping is often made more difficult by the need to establish the actual owner of the land. Contrary to what many people think the public land in Crawley is not always owned by Crawley Borough Council and may typically be owned by WSCC or a private organisation or individual. Establishing the right owner is just part of the process as the owner must be willing to effect a clean-up.

And then there is the question of who pays for the work.

Of course, on the railways it has to be the appropriate organisation. Especially as access and safety concerns have to be addressed – but which is the right organisation?

Cllr Geraint Thomas, Cabinet member for Environmental Services and Sustainability’ said:

“After much persistence I am delighted to have found a contact at Network Rail that was able and willing to clear up this mess. I am now looking to take advantage of this contact and have other trouble spots cleared up as well.”

Ifield councillor Cllr Peter Smith said: “I’m pleased that Cllr Thomas has succeeded in getting this cleared up. My former colleague John Stanley had invested a lot of time and effort trying to get this done and I know that he would have been pleased to see the results achieved. We now have to get the bridge on Berrymeade Walk in Ifield West added to the list for cleaning.”

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