Automatic Route Setting: Railways

Transport – in the House of Commons on 30th June 2022.

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Photo of Mary Foy Mary Foy Labour, City of Durham

What assessment he has made of the (a) management and (b) specifications of the use of automatic route setting on railways.

Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Department for Transport)

Automatic route setting is an existing system that Network Rail has used for more than 30 years to support the safe and efficient running of our railways. I am delighted to report that this week, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced a £1 billion investment in digital signalling on the east coast main line, which will mean faster, safer and more regular trains for millions of people.

Photo of Mary Foy Mary Foy Labour, City of Durham

My constituent Paul Day is a recently retired signaller for Network Rail. While in his role, he provided the Office of Rail and Road and Network Rail with nearly a decade’s-worth of information about the safety issues posed by poor data quality, data management and information security on the nation’s rail network. Despite the fact that he first raised his concerns in 2012, nothing has changed, with Network Rail’s 2018 report highlighting that the issues were the same as those identified in 2015. Does the Minister agree that the lack of accountability in the rush for further automation cannot be ignored any longer? Will he meet me and my constituent to look at the issues further?

Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Department for Transport)

We will never compromise on the safety of our railways and the UK railway network will remain one of the safest in Europe. It is important to emphasise, however, that ARS is not a safety system and would never be able to override one. Interlocking is a key safety part of the signalling system and would never permit ARS to set a train into a collision. The Department has invested in early design and testing work to enhance traffic management systems, and we will continue to invest record amounts to ensure that our railways remain some of the safest in Europe.