Looking forward 30 years

On the 13 December at the British Library Conference Centre, Steve Yianni, Network Rail’s director of engineering, presented the Railway Technical Strategy (RTS) 2012 for the British railway for the next 30 years. It builds on the RTS that was published by The Department for Transport in 2007.

The RTS 2012 has been produced by the Technical Strategy Leadership Group (TSLG). This is an RSSB-facilitated, cross-industry expert body, made up of senior executive staff, charged with developing and championing the implementation of the RTS. They are also responsible for the supporting communication, managing the strategic research and identifying opportunities, barriers and actions. Working closely with the Rail Delivery Group that was created following publication of the McNulty report, the TSLG also has strong links with many other railway industry groups and its remit and terms of reference are agreed by the Board of RSSB. Therefore, it is safe to say that this strategy document has the support and endorsement from all of the key railway leadership groups; a critical requirement if the RTS 2012 is going to be taken seriously.

Industry reclaiming technical strategy

Tim O’Toole, Chair of the Rail Delivery Group, opened the event by giving his endorsement to the RTS 2012. He said that the railway industry is all about engineering and it was right and proper for the industry to reclaim ownership and leadership of its technical strategy. He added that this was essential to ensure that the government did not lose faith in the industry and spend money elsewhere.

In his remarks, Tim O’Toole also emphasised the importance of a strategy that bridges different financial periods, recognising that if the industry is going to effectively manage the fantastic growth that it is experiencing, then significant step changes need to be made which will require engineers to come to the fore. This is interesting because it touches on the knotty subject familiar to many: how can we justify spending significant amounts of money making improvements today that do not bring about real financial benefits until 15 or 25 years time by which time contracts, franchises have expired and governments changed.

Unlock potential savingsTim_OToole_RTS [online]

One example of a long term project that could offer significant savings is changing from DC to AC power supply on electrified lines. It is well known that this would offer significant improvements to journey times. Track renewal costs would reduce as would the carbon footprint. However, it would be an extremely challenging undertaking and to date it has sat in the “too difficult pile”. Yet, as Steve Yianni kept emphasising throughout the event, it is an opportunity to unlock savings and that is what this strategy is all about.

During the presentation there was a very interesting short animated video of the railway world in 30 years time. The video described how technology can introduce the step changes necessary for a railway fit for its time. It focussed on improving capacity by the design of lighter and longer trains.

A question was asked about how coaches could be designed to be lighter when, to date, we have never managed to design a coach as light as the Mark 3 which was designed in the1970’s. It was an interesting question that was not easily answered, although it was suggested that a possible solution could be found by looking at potential improvements to the whole system. So, if the industry was successful in transferring the control of trains from signals to onboard controls using ERTMS-style technology that is already well advanced, then this could unlock the opportunity to design lighter rolling stock. Once this ERTMS technology can be relied upon, and the likelihood of a collision reduced, it would then be feasible to remove aspects of the design associated with collision impact thereby offering the opportunity to reduce the weight of the rolling stock. The key underlying message is that it is only when one looks at the whole system is one able to see the potential benefits and opportunities.

None of this is new but it is refreshing to hear a strategy that focuses on the opportunities to do something and the benefits for a sustainable, long term railway system instead of focussing on possible future problems that could arise.

Essential requirements for the passenger

The video also highlighted the passenger who, it was suggested, will expect to have information at their finger tips. Ticket offices will become redundant, tickets will be virtual and information about parking spaces, train times, taxi on arrival, facilities for bikes, instantly available.

portable scanner on blackberry [online]To protect and grow the freight business on rail, the strategy suggests that trains will have to run at night. This will require dedicated paths which are regulated and balanced so that the trains can cover long distances at constant speeds. This will mean that braking will be kept to a minimum, thus reducing both impact on the track and fuel consumption. It may be imagined that many freight train drivers would have a very cynical reaction to this vision. Certainly track maintenance and renewal will have to deliver all the initiatives planned to offer a 24-hour railway.

The RTS is aimed at identifying and eliminating many of the causes of cost, including: lineside signalling which costs £100m/year, oil based traction fuel £600m/year, service interruptions caused by asset failure, frequent unplanned maintenance, customer experiences of unreliability in the system, compensation for failure.

Key themes

The RTS 2012 document itself focuses on six themes each with their vision, objectives, strategy and enablers. The themes and their visions are:

  • Control,command and communication- intelligent traffic management and control systems that dynamically optimise network capacity and facilitate highly efficient movement of passengers and freight;
  • Energy – a low carbon, energy efficient railway;
  • Infrastructure – a simple, reliable and cost- effective rail infrastructure which meets customer requirements and is fit for the twenty-second century;
  • Rolling stock – mass and energy efficient, low whole-life cost rolling stock which meets the evolving needs of its customers;
  • Information – rail is customers’ preferred form of transport for reliability, ease-of-use and perceived value;
  • Customer experience – a whole-system approach that enables the rail industry to implement change easily and improve reliability, availability, maintainability, and safety.

There are seven common design concepts. They are: whole system reliability, resilience, security and risk mitigation, automation, simplicity, flexibility and sustainability. These common design concepts are supported by three common foundations:

  • A whole system approach which enables the rail industry to implement change easily and improve reliability, availability, maintainability and safety;
  • Innovation in a dynamic industry that innovates toevolve, grow and attract the best entrepreneurial talent;
  • Skilled and committed people who are adaptable and able to deliver an efficient and customer- focused railway.

Steve Yianni explained that each chapter of the strategy document has a road map to successful implementation. He closed the event by saying that there are two key messages that he would like everyone to retain and share. The first is that the initiative is industry led and the second is that the strategy is about the whole system.

To fully understand the vision and scope of the RTS 2012, it is necessary to read the whole document which is available from the website below. A 30 year strategy is quite a challenge. The fact that the industry, under the facilitation of RSSB, has managed to focus collectively on the difficult railway issues is commendable. The fact that they have facilitated a process that has enabled industry to consider opportunities, costs and savings that are outside their timeframe within the industry is even more commendable. It could also mean that the industry might start to address the real issues that need to be resolved to ensure that the railway system is fit for purpose in 30 or 40 years time. That would be a legacy to be proud of but only time will tell!

How old will you be in 30 years?

One Response to "Looking forward 30 years"

  1. KitGreen says:

    The problem with looking over thirty years ahead is that those with the most industry experience will be dead, never seeing the true potential of their efforts.

    The “youngsters” who are now around forty years old should have vision with enough experience, living long enough to see what goes wrong…

    Reply

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