The technology driving ‘most complex’ project in the world

Posted on 21 April 2021

The Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) project will use digital twin technology to facilitate the efficient construction of the "complex" rail project.

NPR director Tim Wood told a Bentley Systems TwinTalk webinar that he would “very much” like to see the project used as a “live lab” for the technology.

“Ultimately what that will do is allow us to test a lot of our theories as we build the railway,” he said.

“We will face many issues but I want to make sure we’ve already crystalised those issues because we’ve built them on the laptop. So we understand them and can put early mitigation plan in place. We can’t afford to have a programme with stops and starts because we’re still trying to solve those issues.”

Digital twin technology involves building a digital replica of projects which, Wood explained, would allow elements of the NPR network to be "examined, altered and tested without interacting with it in the real world".

The complexity of the project could make this an invaluable approach.

“We’ve thought about really difficult rail schemes before but one thing I can assure you is NPR is the most complex rail scheme I have ever seen certainly in this country and probably in the world,” Wood said.

“It’s the mix of existing and new lines and it’s the fact that HS2 compatible services will run on the NPR lines and vice versa. It’s about the power, the re-control of those trains and making sure the timetabling works and that you have the resilience and reliability in the network to run those services."

At the request of the Department for Transport (DfT), in February Transport for the North (TfN) agreed to delay submitting the business case for NPR until the Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) has been published.

At the time, former TfN chief executive Barry White said that the IRP will allow a greater understanding of the government’s plans for HS2 and how it might integrate with NPR.

Meanwhile in March TfN bosses agreed a final preferred route for the NPR network.

This includes plans to connect Sheffield to HS2 and on to Leeds.

The route remains unchanged from the initial preference submitted in November last year, but TfN has now formally written to the government with its official plan for rail investment over the coming decades.

It has called for the government to commit to the "full, transformational vision" for both NPR and HS2.

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