Network Rail is embarking on its most ambitious railway expenditure scheme yet. Next year will mark the beginning of the next five-year control period.
Control Period 6 (CP6) will see the owner and operator of the railways spend £48 billion on renewals, improvements, trains, track, signalling and electrification, ensuring journeys fit for the future.
This adds to work already underway as part of huge infrastructure programmes to increase the number of passenger journeys, reduce congestion and make the whole experience better for all businesses and commuters.
But with more trains – passenger and freight – expected on the railways in the coming year, managing this traffic is absolutely crucial.
It is the reason why traffic management systems are becoming more prevalent in plans to improve the network.
With that in mind, Andy Jones, Network Rail’s Digital Initiation Director, Digital Railway Programme, spoke to us about how the organisation is using traffic management systems now, and in the future.
What do Network Rail’s traffic management systems provide to the network?
A greater granularity of the current and future status of the daily plan and its timetables.
Could you describe the systems, and how they affect the wider network?
By using train graphs, the system operates in real time and forecasts any conflicts that will occur if interventions are not made. The systems can be used to just identify these conflicts, identify and suggest resolutions, or identify and automatically enact a solution.
When did this drive to more modern technology start and how is it implemented?
We have been on this journey for about five years, running some pilots, testing options, evaluating with suppliers and learning lessons on how best to deploy the system.
In the wider context of the digitisation of the railway, how does the traffic management system fit into the strategy?
I would describe traffic management as the brain that controls the daily plan and users, while also directing other digital railway systems to execute the plan.
What benefits do these systems provide?
Traffic management is about being able to deliver the timetable in a world where we are running more trains. The system allows us to identify and address issues before they have impact, to recover services better when disruptive events do occur and to provide real time useful information to rail users.
Why are the traffic management systems so important to Network Rail and the need to hit overall targets?
Our congested railway is very heavily impacted when disruption occurs – something that has been well publicised this year – and we have many issues that we can’t always fully control, such as fatalities, weather events, bridge strikes. By using traffic management systems it allows us to successfully re-plan train services quickly and efficiently when things do go wrong.
How is it decided the type of technology to implement?
Business cases are presented and through these, we move forward with the development and implementation of the different types of technology.
How long have these systems existed and how does Network Rail ensure they are renewed and updated to keep pace with technology?
We are at the start of the journey, however our procurement approach is based on securing support for the whole of the asset life.
What are the challenges of implementing this technology and how do you get around it?
Integrating technology and business systems to make them work will always be a challenge. However just as big a challenge are the business change elements, such as people and processes. Being aware that these areas need addressing and adopting a whole system approach is critical.
How vital are these for the future success and efficiency of the network? How would it survive without these systems?
We believe they are critical to managing a modern railway and will deliver major passenger benefits. This has been proven on other modes of transport such as aviation and smart motorways.