Strategy Highly Commended 2022: PWC with Network Rail


The Digital Railway transformation will deliver a more dynamic and responsive railway for rail users in the digital age. It’s a revolution in signalling that opens up ways of improving wider railway operations. Adopting digital train control technologies improves safety, creates service efficiencies, increases freight and passenger capacity, and lowers operational costs.

Network Rail has developed a partnership approach to deliver on the potential of digital railway capability. The long-term plan to achieve this across Britain’s railway network is complex and extensive, requiring active involvement from multiple stakeholders. The full plan involves fitting out in excess of 4,000 trains, and upgrading more than 19,000 miles of network, on one of the busiest and most intensively operated railway networks in the world.

The first part of the network to be upgraded is the 100-mile stretch of the East Coast Mainline (ECML) between King’s Cross and Peterborough. At the heart of the problem is the pending obsolescence for 67% of the signalling assets along ECML South. These assets are vital to the safe running of the line, and require complete replacement. The traditional signalling solution has run its course, and is no longer sustainable.

The East Coast Digital Programme (ECDP) was launched, to implement digital railway capability on this part of the network, and PwC was engaged to bring together the full business case for the ECDP scheme through the multiple funding approval stages. A cost-effective, sustainable strategy and business case were required, to improve the quality of service for passengers and freight users. Without such a solution, line closures would be inevitable.

What makes this engagement so special is that the renewal programme is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to unlock the benefits of digital signalling. It’s the route where the return on investment is the highest, which means the ECDP can bear some of the one-off costs of pioneering the design work, and from the freight and passenger trains that will be equipped with digital signalling equipment. ECDP will improve the return on all future schemes.

ECDP therefore marks the start of the national digital upgrade, and enables the long-term plan for digital signalling to get off the ground. Indeed, around 70% of the cost of ECDP will have follow-on benefits to schemes beyond ECML South.

PwC’s involvement in the digital transformation programme established, in the client’s view, a new standard for business cases in the rail industry. As a result, this programme has been given approval to proceed. ECDP has also created repeatable industry standards for deployment, improved delivery models, completely new operating procedures, higher levels of operational readiness, and dedicated digital model training.

Until now, the UK’s rail infrastructure has not advanced much since the Victorian era. The ECDP is the first programme of its kind to create a more dynamic, more reliable, more flexible railway; the first major deployment of digital railway signalling in the UK, for the benefit of passengers, freight users and the whole economy.

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