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Exclusive: Network Rail Plans Massive £2 Billion IT Spending Spree

IT spending plans revealed as Network Rail begins ambitious digitalisation project across rail infrastructure

By CBR Staff Writer

Network Rail, the infrastructure manager of most of UK’s rail network, plans to spend a massive £2 billion over the next decade on IT goods and services, Computer Business Review can reveal.

The figure were seen in a new “Supplier Qualification System” (SQS) for potential IT partners, posted today by the publicly owned infrastructure giant on Europe’s electronic tenders hub, “Ted“.

The SQS was released after Network Rail last week published an ambitious strategy to digitalise the nation’s railways  – which run on a wide range of legacy infrastructure, including analogue signalling systems.

First up…

A initial near-term £25 million tender by Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd, launching June 22, will cover “Software as a Service” for a wide range of back-end applications, the SQS highlighted.

Medium-term IT spending will include investment in professional services across IT architecture, benchmarking, consultancy and information security, as well as mobile application development and integrated “Infrastructure-as-a-Service” the notice says.

Network Rail told Computer Business Review that the figure was based on “on current and forecast demand” without offering further details.

Spokesman Jack Harvey added: “Interaction with the supply chain has indicated that suppliers want better access to the Network Rail Technology supply chain and a more efficient contracting process”.

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Network Rail engineers at work.

What’s Needed?

Over half of Britain’s analogue signalling systems will need to be replaced within the next 15 years, the company says, with Chief Executive Mark Carne noting in a press release last week: “Not since the railway transformed from steam to diesel in the 1960s has a technological breakthrough held such promise to vastly improve our railway.”

“There isn’t a ‘do nothing’ option”, he emphasised in at the National Digital Railway Strategy Launch on May 10.

He added: “Over half of Britain’s signalling system will be life expired in the next 15 years… Shall we spend £20 billion renewing signals with fundamentally the same limitations we’ve been living with for decades? £20 billion to create no extra capacity? Or shall we invest in the technological transformation of our network?”

£2 Billion by 2028

A significant sum, as seen, will need to be spent on IT services as the company ramps up its digitalisation drive. And suppliers across all technology categories will need to use the new SQS system to tender for contracts for the next decade, Network Rail said.

The company anticipates the total value of spend under the SQS “including associated Dynamic Purchasing Systems (DPS), Frameworks, Contracts and Innovation Partnerships” to reach circa £2 billion by 2028, it said.

The SQS was set up to provide a single platform for suppliers. Qualification will mean suppliers do not need to complete Network Rail’s mandatory and discretionary questions every time they are invited to participate in a competitive process, the company added in a post on Europe’s “Tenders Electronic Daily” hub.

First Class Digital Upgrade?

Mark Carne emphasised that the technology is ready to finally fully digitalise network infrastructure, which will be moving to he European Train Control System (ETCS); a standardised digital signalling and train control technology that allows trains to cross national borders without the need to stop to change locomotives.

The Network Rail chief executive said: “Six weeks ago we achieved a world first. On a massive scale. We successfully ran trains using the European Train Control System (ETCS) coupled with Automatic Train Operation on Thameslink through the centre of London. Within 15 years, we could expect 70% of journeys to be ETCS and Traffic management enabled. In time for the arrival of HS2 in Manchester in 2032. It is an exciting prospect that when this country first has a high speed backbone, it could also have a Digital Railway skeleton.”

Computer Business Review has contacted Network Rail for further comment on planned IT spending.

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