The UK's inaugural freight locomotive equipped with digital signaling technology has commenced its testing phase. Following the successful integration of ETCS technology, Network Rail has relocated the locomotive to its development center in Lancashire.

​The UK's rail infrastructure manager, Network Rail, is making strides in upgrading its digital signaling system with the dynamic testing of its first freight locomotive equipped with European Train Control System (ETCS) technology. This marks a significant advancement in the country's railway technology.

The locomotive in question, DB Cargo's 66039, part of the Class 66 fleet, has successfully completed static testing and has now been transported to Network Rail's Rail Innovation and Development Centre (RIDC) for testing on its track.

Neil Ethell, DB Cargo UK's chief operating officer, expressed pride in the achievement, stating, "We're incredibly proud to be leading the way with the Class 66 fitment. It's been a four-year journey of design and installation, showcasing the complexity of such a large-scale retrofit project. We're eager to see its performance under rigorous testing at RIDC."

Following dynamic testing in Lancashire, England, as part of the East Coast Digital Programme (ECDP), the next phase of the locomotive testing program will involve on-track tests to accumulate 5,000 miles of fault-free running before obtaining the necessary regulatory approvals.

After undergoing 16 months of testing and retrofitting, the locomotive now serves as the foundation for obtaining regulatory approval for ETCS upgrades across various Class 66 and Class 67 locomotives in the UK. This process is expected to extend to hundreds of locomotives over the coming years. Ed Akers, Network Rail's principal sponsor for the ECDP, acknowledged the immense challenge of retrofitting numerous freight locomotives for the digital era, praising the innovative and persistent efforts of all involved.

The freight locomotive upgrade initiative aligns with similar endeavors aimed at upgrading passenger trains under the ECDP. Govia Thameslink Railway, for instance, has already secured approval to operate its Class 717 fleet with level 2 ETCS signaling. The operator has also commenced efforts to install this technology on its Class 700 and Class 387 fleets.