As part of the development of the national rail network, the deployment of digital signalling has been authorised on the East Coast Main Line from Kings Cross. From 2026, all trains on the route will need to be fitted with ETCS to continue operating south of Peterborough: Tornado's home route. A cross industry initiative, The East Coast Digital Programme (ECDP), was launched to deliver this transformation across all parts of the industry. In due course ETCS will roll out across the network with key routes being operational around 2030.
All trains are affected, including steam, so the Trust was asked to partner with ECDP to fully install ETCS equipment to enable operations on routes where there would be no traditional signals remaining. This is described as a Level 2 No Signals ETCS railway, and would be a world first for steam. Tornado's overhaul provided the opportunity to design and implement this upgrade, with Tornado's unique power system a key reason the locomotive was chosen. Additionally, a West Coast Railway Co Black 5 and a Locomotive Services Black 5 are also being fitted as part of a ground breaking pathfinder project, funded by ECDP.
With the design complete, relevant enabling works have taken place to make Tornado ETCS ready. This has involved changes to cupboards and cubicles, conduit runs, pipe runs and more. In recent weeks electrical components have been fitted so as Tornado continues to be reassembled at the end of its overhaul all of the ETCS equipment will be in place. Testing will take place in the spring at the Network Rail test track near Melton Mowbray, with further testing next year on the ECML itself.
This world first will not only allow Tornado to continue to operate on the national rail network for many years to come, but will also pave the way for fitting to other steam locomotives in the UK and overseas thus protecting heritage operations into the digital railway age.
Having made the necessary alterations over the last 12 months to allow space in the tender and cab for ETCS equipment, the first components are now installed, and areas of change in the metalwork are being prepared and painted, in line for completion with the wider overhaul. Our gallery below shows close up photos of the changes made.
ETCS: European Train Control System - bringing signalling into the 21st century with in-cab alerts.
ECML: East Coast Main Line
GSMR: Global System for Mobile Communications Railway - used for communication between train and railway control centres - a two-way radio.
EVC: European Vital Computer - heart of the ETCS system: the main data processor.
DMI: Driver Machine Interface - resembles an iPad and delivers the signalling information to the Driver.