Creating resilience in digital infrastructure

The government has announced that it is investing £1.5 million into trialling innovative transport projects to find new ways of using data to cut congestion on England's roads and promote the decarbonisation of our transport network. The funding forms park of the Govtech Catalyst, a £20 million fund to help councils and SMEs to promote trial projects and solve local transport issues through tech, reducing the cost to the UK economy resulting from congestion.

Whether commuting long distances or using public transport for the school run, trials will take place using data generated by transport in cities and towns to improve driving conditions for thousands of people. Working closely with Oxfordshire Council, Technology SME IM23, for example, is creating a tool which predicts and tackles congestion by helping traffic controllers understand how to keep traffic moving while making efficient improvements to their road network.

At our February forum 'Infrastructure 2020' Nathan Marsh, Chief Digital Officer for Costain was asked about how improvements to safety on smart motorways could be made:

'The smart motorways programme has been in the press a lot recently. It is an intensely complex and high speed environment which is being maintained, being upgraded, sometimes being built - and used all at the same time. Costain and other firms working on these projects have to take the utmost care. We certainly don't want to start building more road. It is about how we leverage technology to manage the flow and capacity as well as challenging user behaviour. Are certain journeys really essential? The future is about a more predictive and data-driven foresight which beyond question will make the motorway network safer.

Nathan also spoke on the challenges to moving forward with digital railway infrastructure and the future of working with government to solve complex problems:

'We've got to think globally as to where the best exemplars of tech for critical infrastructure are, and then access those global markets and capabilities. I think that working with the IPA on a regular basis - on the A14 upgrade and Crossrail - has been helpful but getting government to regulate appropriately is tougher for digital infrastructure than for physical infrastructure. I am really passionate that my appointment at Costain and that of other chief digital officers at construction and consulting firms can start that mutual education with government on what's required - from both sides - for the assurance that digital infrastructure at scale can be both secure and resilient.'

HS1 CEO, Dyan Crowther, also joined the panel discussion and commented that from her point of view, how simplicity and consistency in digital transformation is fundamental:

'We have to replace our signalling system in 2030. I understand the appetite for digitisation but my one plea on the digital side is keep it simple and consistent! I want to grow my railway but if we make it difficult for train operators like Eurostar to work with different signalling systems in the UK, France, Belgium and Germany it makes it complicated for future operators to enter the market. It would be a lot cheaper if there was just one system. From the human perspective think about how complex it is for the driver to cope with four systems. We have recently signed an agreement with Eurotunnel, Infrabel, SNCF Reseau and we are going to keep our signalling consistent. This all keeps cost down and makes the railway sustainable and efficient.'

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