UK’s first major commuter fleet retrofitted with digital ETCS in-cab signalling

The first Class 387/1 Great Northern Electrostar train, Operated by Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) and owned by Porterbrook, has been retrofitted with ETCS in-cab signalling as part of the East Coast Digital Programme, designed to reduce delays and give passengers a more reliable service.  

Ben Ackroyd, Chief Operating Officer at Porterbrook said: ““This critical project plays a key role in the transition to a digital railway, enabling a more reliable service with less delays, improved safety and reduced costs through the removal of lineside infrastructure. We’re delighted to be playing our part in supporting Network Rail on this and commend the excellent collaboration across the industry to retrofit the UK’s first commuter train with digital ETCS in-cab signalling equipment.”   

The Class 387 is the country’s first major commuter fleet to have the technology retrofitted, and it lays the foundations for the upgrade to be applied to the rest of the UK’s vast Electrostar fleet, should ETCS be expanded across other routes.   

The work to unit 387101 was carried out at Alstom’s Worksop Depot. It installed the latest iteration of ETCS in the UK (BL3 R2, also referred to as version 3.6.0), and incorporated:    

  • A new digital driver's dashboard   
  • A new AWS/TPWS system   
  • Doppler radar and ETCS antennae beneath the soleplate  
  • A European Vital Computer – the main computer – fitted at the body end of the first carriage  
  • Onboard ETCS software – in line with the latest revision of the ETCS standards  

Each component went through powered-down electrical testing to ensure correct installation of the ETCS system.    

On 13 April, the train was hauled by GBRf from Worksop to Litchurch Lane manufacturing site in Derby, where Train Control Management System software will be installed and the onboard ETCS system (Atlas 3) will be commissioned ready to start static testing, expected to take approximately five weeks.    

The unit will then be taken to Network Rail’s RIDC test track at Melton Mowbray for dynamic testing.     

This ‘first-in-class’ unit is set to return in December 2023, after which GTR will fit the remaining 28 387/1 units at its in-house depot in Hornsey, north London.     

GTR’s ERTMS Fleet Project Manager Aaron Meakin said: “We’re delighted that our Class 387 train is the first commuter train to be retrofitted with the latest ETCS system – a key milestone for both us as GTR and the East Coast Digital Programme as we move towards digitally signalled operations on some of our key routes. We’re looking forward to seeing how it performs in static and dynamic testing in the coming months.”     

Aaron Weeks, Project Director for Alstom said "Alstom is proud to be supporting the East Coast Digital Programme and our partners at GTR and Porterbrook as they transition to a new, digital railway. The Alstom team completing the fitment of the ATLAS equipment on the First in Class unit is an important milestone for the project. We are now looking forward to static and then dynamic testing in the coming months which will validate the system and give us the evidence required for authorisation of the unit".      

The Government-funded East Coast Digital Programme will see traditional signals removed from the tracks on the Northern City Line to London Moorgate and the East Coast Mainline from London to Stoke Tunnels, south of Grantham. They will be replaced with state-of-the-art digital signalling technology. This will improve reliability, meaning a better performing rail service for customers using this key route.     

In-cab signalling provided by ETCS Level 2 operation supplies continual speed information and movement authority to the driver via a computer screen in the driver’s cab, rather than relying on fixed lineside signals.       

Ed Akers, Principal Programme Sponsor, East Coast Digital Programme, said “The Class 387 is the largest passenger fleet requiring retrofitting for the ECDP, so the move into static testing is an important step forward in the delivery of digital signalling on the East Coast Main Line and an enabler for future deployments across the network. Collaboration across all parts of the industry is enabling progress towards the benefits this will deliver for passengers and users.”