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Infrastructure blog

We need to get smart in how we deliver and use our transport networks

23 February 2017

Harnessing the potential of mobile and digital technologies will create a better transport system for both people and freight.

We need to get smart in how we deliver and use our transport networks

This was the overarching message in our submission to the National Infrastructure Assessment call for evidence. The strain placed on our road and rail networks increases as the population grows; simply building more capacity is no longer enough to deliver high performing transport infrastructure.

Urban interventions

There is much low hanging fruit still to pick when it comes to improving transport in our urban centres. Investing in the digital infrastructure underpinning the UK’s largest cities to improve mobile internet connectivity and data sharing is crucial. More reliable, faster and accurate travel information shared through mobile networks enables transport users to make smarter decisions on travel in real time – avoiding busy stations and congested roads helps to smooth out peaks in demand.

But bolder interventions are required in the future. Choosing to back connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) could revolutionise the management of our road networks.

Autonomous vehicles could enable greater capacity to be extracted out of existing road networks through closer lane running. Connectivity and information sharing between vehicles – and the wider network infrastructure – could enable smoother traffic flows, through the detection of traffic hotspots and real time rerouting capability. CAVs may even be sophisticated enough to carry out routine network maintenance operations, feeding back diagnostic information to asset operators.

We need to research, test and trial to unlock the potential of these new technologies and approaches.

Inter-urban measures

HS2 and major road building projects will go some way to meeting future strategic transport demand, but intelligent transport systems also have a significant role to play.

The introduction of managed motorways – effective use of gantry signs for communicating road hazards, variable speed limit management and all lane running – around the UK has already resulted in a number of improvements to journey reliability and a reduction in accidents. There is a case to be made for the wider rollout of this technology.

Progressing with the Digital Railway programme is fundamental to transforming passenger operations. The programme will mean a modern railway that can accommodate more trains, enable more and faster connections, and greater reliability. A digital railway should also mean more efficient rail freight operations through timetable flexibility, the greater availability of paths and optimised running.

Delivering smarter networks requires change that takes place in an agile and iterative manner, piloting and learning with a culture of innovation at pace without inhibition.

What’s next?

This blog is the first in a series of entries covering our submission to the National Infrastructure Assessment. Further blogs covering what our submission had to say on energy, digital and cross-cutting issues will appear over the next few weeks.

Read ICE’s full submission to the National Infrastructure Assessment

  • Ben Goodwin, lead policy manager at ICE