Rejuvenating an old fleet to deliver a 21st century service

Written by 

Michele Martoccia

Vice President Market Manager

Within the United Kingdom, just over one in five (21%) disabled rail passengers reported that they find train travel difficult. Much of the region’s railway systems continue to rely on antiquated infrastructure, and with research from the Department of Transport stating that more than two-thirds of disabled passengers experience at least one issue throughout their rail journey, change was required to make trains more accessible for the people who rely on them. The Persons with Reduced Mobility – Technical Specifications for Interoperability (PRM TSI) framework was introduced to improve the accessibility on high-speed rail systems for persons with disabilities and persons with reduced mobility.

For train operator Northern Trains Limited, the PRM TSI legislation, along with planned franchise commitments, led to ‘The Digital Train Project’ – the largest single project relating to legacy fleet updates within the United Kingdom. 

Consolidating the new PRM TSI legislation, as well as planned franchise updates, The Digital Train Project involved more than eight major suppliers, and numerous stakeholders, including the Department for Transport. The challenge facing Northern Trains Limited was monumental: the existing fleet of trains required charging sockets and wider toilet doors for wheelchair access. New display screens throughout the cabins and significant upgrades to on-train CCTV were also needed as part of the project.

Furthermore, reliable connectivity was required for Automated Passenger Counting (APC) and Passenger Information Systems (PIS) to enable Northern Trains Limited to receive up-to-date, precise data regarding capacity and passenger footfall for effective train data management.

nstallation timescales and train availability are limited in order to ensure trains are not kept out of service longer than necessary. Material availability therefore was paramount for a fast train turnaround and completion of upgrades.

To fulfil the requirements of the new legislation and its franchise commitments, Northern Trains Limited turned to HUBER+SUHNER and its wide product portfolio, quality assurance and industry expertise. By bringing in HUBER+SUHNER at an early stage, Northern Trains Limited was able to access the technical skills and knowledge, along with strong management skills, required for the complex project. HUBER+SUHNER worked closely with the customer to understand the specifics of the project, building tailor-made solutions to work within the necessary parameters and providing quality assurance throughout.

Due to the turnkey solution portfolio offered by HUBER+SUHNER, it was possible to develop the best on-train design connectivity requirements for Wi-Fi, Closed-circuit television (CCTV), passenger counting and information systems, 10 gig inter-vehicle jumper systems and communication backbone incorporated HUBER+SUHNER RAILCAT7 ethernet cable configuration, and SENCITY® Rail MIMO & SENCITY® Rail Low Profile in-carriage and rooftop antennas. HUBER+SUHNER optimised the transitions between the sensors on the train and data centers by providing the ethernet cable to transmit information between the train and the operators or digital displays, making this available to passengers waiting at the upcoming stations. 

Every industry is looking to make operations more sustainable, and transport is no exception. The cables fitted throughout Northern Trains’ legacy fleet are lighter than the ones used previously, offering greater sustainability as less fuel is consumed when in use. They are also thinner, meaning more space can be utilised in tight areas. This is perfect for older trains which can be limited in space. 

The overhaul of the Northern Train rolling stock means commuters using its fleet of trains are now experiencing a much more accessible and adaptable service, with wider door frames, lower charging sockets and necessary upgrades to on-train security.

For Northern Trains Limited, the impact of the project was reliable connectivity for safety-critical and security-focused technology on-board the refurbished trains. While technological innovations such as real-time incident footage and live travel updates significantly improve the passenger experience – they are only as successful as their connections. The quality of products and commitment from HUBER+SUHNER enabled dependable connectivity for the fleet’s future-ready solutions.  

And it is not only the connectivity which proved to be dependable – there have been no reported issues with any of the solutions provided by HUBER+SUHNER since the project started in 2018. The highly reliable solutions mean that trains will suffer less downtime as a result of maintenance, keeping passengers happy and optimising profit. As of 2022, more than 80 trains within the rolling stock have been enhanced as part of the Digital Train Project, with many more to follow suit over the next three years.

Product Information


A databus cable for Ethernet network connections of up to 10 gigabits. The 4-pair cable, specially developed for the railway market, fulfils its demanding environmental requirements and fire protection specifications in line with DIN 5510-2 and EN 45545-2 and NF F 16-101.
SENCITY® Rail MIMO Antenna
Omni-directional MIMO broadband railway rooftop antennas for all types of trains. Designed to meet the special requirements of railway applications including high current and high voltage protection.

SENCITY® Rail Low Profile Antenna
Omni-directional broadband MIMO and SISO rooftop antennas for all types of trains. Ultra low profile design with a maximum height of only 40mm. Designed to meet the special requirements of railway applications including high current and high voltage protection.