ATP to miss Cullen-Uff deadline

An expert has admitted the timetable recommended for UK train safety implementation ‘is no longer feasible.’

Railtrack’s safety chief has admitted that a recommended train protection system will not be installed before the target date of 2010.

Sir David Davies, head of Railtrack’s safety expertise centre, said that automatic train protection, or ATP, will not be in place in time.

The deadline of 2010 was set by the Cullen-Uff report into the fatal Ladbroke Grove and Southall rail disasters that were caused by trains passing signals set at danger.The report said that no train travelling over 100mph should be in service by 2010 unless ATP had been installed. The various levels of ATP are designed to automatically prevent trains passing red signals.

While there are plans to fit ATP to some parts of the UK network, general coverage as proposed by Cullen is unlikely to be achieved by the end of the decade, said Davies.

‘It’s no longer feasible. Cullen is no longer implementable. And I made a study with similar recommendations to Cullen.’ The problem for ATP in the UK, as Davies sees it, is that nobody knows how much it will cost. A version of the technology is being fitted to the West Coast main line which is due to be completed in 2005.

If the decision to roll out the system is put off until then, the installation of ATP across the UK could be delayed until 2014. ‘No one knows the cost of something as complicated as this until you have a working system installed somewhere,’ he said.Despite the media’s claims of a £3.5bn price tag, the estimate in the Cullen-Uff report was only £1.9bn. But that figure was also qualified in the report, which said there was little hard evidence of what the overall cost might be.

The West Coast main line is the only line being upgraded with ATP. It will have the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS), as agreed by EU member states.

However, Davies is under no illusion about the complexity of the task ahead. ‘It is immensely more difficult to add train protection to an existing system than putting it on a new one. That is a key issue.’

The line will not receive the most sophisticated version of ATP, or level 3 ERTMS, as it is known. This performs signalling and train control over a digital GSM-R radio network to regulate the speed and position of each train. It has yet to be fitted anywhere in the world, said Davies.

The question of installing ATP on the West Coast main line could have been further complicated by the announcement that Railtrack is to be bought.

The bid for the company is from Network Rail, a consortium of banks and private investors. But a spokesman claimed all existing infrastructure projects will remain unchanged by the new management.