New technology on the Irish Rail signalling system will make train travel faster and safer.

A speed of 90 mph is now commonplace on the Dublin to Cork rail line. To halt a speeding train of over 400 tonnes with some 600 passengers on board is not easy. To do it safely Córas Iompair Éireann (CIÉ) Iarnród Éireann (Irish Rail) have introduced the Continuous Automatic Warning System (CAWS) which can bring a speeding train to a halt automatically and safely.

Courtesy of CIÉ, a special train 'The Zero Special’ is used to demonstrate the latest on board high tech signalling systems. The train driver shows what happens when he ignores CAWS. He has seven seconds to respond to a signal to decelerate. When he does not react,

During the following seven seconds brake pressure dropped, and the trains breaks were automatically applied.

Centralised traffic control systems like the one at Connolly Station in Dublin are taking over from over 100 line side signal cabins. Although The Zero Special is in Ballybrophy in County Laois, the progress of the train is being monitored at central traffic control. An operator in central control can telephone through to the driver in the cab to find out why he ignored CAWS.

On the Dublin Area Rapid Transit (DART), the braking and speed of trains can automatically controlled. Signalling projects engineer Peter Cuffe explains this is not possible on the mainline railways due to the different breaking distances involved. Here, driver judgement and expertise is relied upon,

In truth a driver is the best computer to work out that breaking distance.

However, if the driver makes a mistake or fails to react, CAWS will take over.

CAWS is in operation at Charleville, Carlow, Athlone and Knockcroghery in County Roscommon and CIÉ intends to equip most of the railway network.

'Zero' was a magazine-style programme covering developments in science and technology. The first programme was broadcast on 7 January 1987 - the series ran until 1989.

This edition of 'Zero’ was broadcast on 30 November 1987. The reporter is Raymond Maxwell.