The UK has one of the most complex rail networks in the world, spanning 20,000 miles of track, 2,500 stations and 40,000 tunnels and bridges. In a continual state of renewal and repair, it employs an army of staff, sub contract organisations and engineers to keep it operational.
As you would expect, safety is paramount and regulated by the UK Office of Rail Regulation, making sure passengers, the public and engineering teams alike are safe when working on, and using the rail network.
But with the best will in the world, accidents or just near-misses can happen and when they do, it is the responsibility of the RAIB (Rail Accident Investigation Branch) to look into what happened and make recommendations to avoid a reoccurrence. Their role is not to assign blame, but to help improve the network many of us use on a daily basis.
It is and has to be a safety led culture.
Fundamental to safety across the network is ensuring maintenance is planned carefully, staffing in every critical area, together with some levels of redundancy, made even worse with the recent Covid challenges.
For example, if a 'section' of track needs scheduled maintenance (or even repair), you have a very small window of time in which to repair it without impacting train schedules, but work can be time consuming, so needs to ensure you have all the equipment and teams ready to 'go' when planned.
Throw into the mix, remote locations, transport to and from, weather etc etc, and the logistical challenge can quickly become a nightmare. (... perhaps knowing this we have some sympathy when there are network delays?)
Finally we have the information challenge of finding accurate, up to date asset, timetable, schedule and staffing information which can be used to establish the plan in the first place and then produce meaningful, actionable information, again safety led.
So, who does this planning? Well it's planning engineers, and we also need to make sure we have enough of them, at all points across the network.
We were asked to develop a fast, intuitive solution which allowed engineers across the UK to work at a 'section' level and establish the amount of effort and time needed to perform the maintenance planning activities.
Available remotely with connectivity to centralised locations, the solution allowed the customer to view the necessary planning workload and recommended number of planning engineers from the 'section' level, and rolled up to the routes and overall network.
The solution provided a great example of distributed information provided through efficient apps being able to quickly impact workloads, providing evidence of sufficient planning capacity to support safety related maintenance activities for the customer and regulators.
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