A PROGRESS report issued on May 19 by Britain’s Strategic Rail Authority and the new Rail Safety & Standards Board says there is now a sound business case for developing and installing the European Rail Traffic Management System across most of the 16666 km network. The capital cost (at current prices) of converting the network is now put at £2·4bn.

A key assumption is that ERTMS Level 2 eliminates conventional lineside signalling as it falls due for renewal. For this reason, the latest economic evaluation compares the net present value of costs and benefits over 40 years. Using the Treasury’s 3·5% discount rate for publicly financed projects, the NPV of costs is £3·7bn and the benefits are £7·5bn, giving a cost/benefit ratio of 1:2.

The most important costs are development, installation and operation of ERTMS; and additional train services to exploit the capacity increase of around 10% that it unlocks. The principal benefits are avoidance of renewing and maintaining signals; better use of engineering possessions; gains by rail users of more frequent, more reliable and less crowded services; and reduced road congestion through modal shift from road to rail.

While ERTMS will also deliver the safety benefits of full ATP, the potential gain is now modest as the network-wide roll-out of Britain’s unique Train Protection & Warning System will be completed this year. This has removed the threat of regulations mandating installation of ERTMS before it is fully developed.

Having abandoned ERTMS as a component of the current West Coast Main Line upgrade, the report confirms that the first route to be equipped with ERTMS by 2006 for trial purposes will be the 217 km of single track from Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth and Pwllheli in mid-Wales. This will be at Level 2, as there is no investment case for Level 1.

All but 7 km of the Cambrian lines are currently controlled by Radio Electronic Token Block, due for replacement by 2008. RETB will be replaced by Level 2 System E, a simplified version of System D adopted as the British standard (RG 6.02 p314). The 7 km of track circuit block, including a simple junction with one set of points, will get System D linked to a computer-based interlocking.

The North Wales Coast line to Holyhead is likely to follow by 2010, in effect as a further trial, before System D is installed on the 200 km/h Great Western main line from London to Bristol and South Wales, replacing a pilot ATP system installed in the early 1990s. SRA Chairman Richard Bowker said ’what is likely to be the case is that by the target of 2015 you are looking at rollout across all three’ EC-designated high speed routes, covering the East and West Coast main lines as well as the GWML.