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Telecoms Failure

How problems with our telecoms systems can cause delays - and what the industry is doing to prevent them

Rail services increasingly rely on complex telecommunications systems.

Train drivers and signallers communicate using GSM-R (the R stands for railway), a high performance mobile communications network. Track-side signals, points, electrical systems and line-side telephones rely on 17,000 km of optical fibre and 18,000 km of copper cable running alongside the track.

If communications fail then no longer can you guarantee the line is free of trains or obstructions. Trains subsequently have to be stopped.

Problems with a level crossing phone cause the most significant delays: it is vital that if anything is obstructing a level crossing someone is able to warn the signaller so trains can be slowed or stopped. These phones are exposed to the elements, and whilst they are sealed to protect them against bad weather they do eventually need to be replaced.

The GSM-R radios in the train cab very occasionally fail to connect to the network and must be reset. As well as delaying the train, this can have knock on effects for other services if it is in a busy station.

How the industry is reducing telecoms related delays

  • Program to replace level crossing phones starting with those with the most problem reports
  • Working with our GSM-R system providers to upgrade the software on over 8,000 trains to improve reliability and eliminate problems connecting to our network

Last updated:   16 January 2017