It is four years since the rail industry signed up to a vision of the future, set out in a document called the Rail Technical Strategy (RTS) 2012. That strategy is now accompanied by a Capability Delivery Plan (CDP), which sets out the steps and a road map needed to be taken in order to bring about the railway of the future.
The plan was issued recently by RSSB on behalf of the industry. An important point is that, while RSSB has facilitated and published the plan, it is not ‘their’ plan but is the industry’s plan. It has been produced with significant input and consultation from the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), Rail Supply Group (RSG), Rail Industry Association (RIA) and Department for Transport (DfT).
It is built around a set of twelve key capabilities that have been developed following detailed consultation with the industry. These will provide a framework to transform the industry and deliver a railway of the future.
The aim is to run trains closer together with more space inside, to have fewer service disruptions and self-regulating trains arriving and departing precisely on time with quicker boarding and alighting for passengers who will enjoy a personalised customer experience. Improved connectivity for freight movements is also in the plan, and the objective is to deliver all this at a lower cost and with less damage to the environment.
Each key capability is broken down further into a sequence of milestones and a programme structure. These provide the industry and suppliers with a clear set of near-term delivery priorities that can deliver benefits to the railway and realise the future vision in the RTS.
The industry needs to look beyond conventional solutions and towards the transformative power of new technology. The objective is therefore to enable a technologically enabled railway that delivers efficient, affordable, flexible, and attractive transportation for the increasing number of customers who now use rail.
Rail Technical Strategy
The first edition of the RTS was published by the DfT in 2007, in conjunction with the white paper Delivering a Sustainable Railway. It set out a long-term vision of the railway as a system and explored how technologies and technical approaches could help respond to key challenges.
RTS 2012 updated the first edition and was intended to assist the industry’s strategic planning processes, inform policy makers and funders about the potential benefits of new techniques and technologies, and provide suppliers with guidance on the future technical direction of the industry. It was based around 4Cs – the challenges of increased Capacity, reduced Carbon, lower Costs and improved Customer satisfaction.
The publication describes a vision and strategies to address the main operational and engineering technical domains in the rail industry – control, command and communications, energy, infrastructure, rolling stock, information and the customer experience. The strategy includes a number of common foundations to support all the domains, including a whole-system approach, innovation and people, along with the design concepts of whole-system reliability, resilience, security, automation, simplicity, flexibility and sustainability.
The first step in producing the supporting CDP during 2016 was to review the RTS 2012 and to see if it was still relevant. The good news for the industry, and a credit to all those involved in its development, is that the authors concluded that the RTS 2012 was sound and valid and did not require any change. The industry was very clear that it didn’t want another strategy document, but a plan to deliver the RTS with priorities and milestones.
Capability Delivery Plan
The CDP is based around a complete system approach and recognises that a number of subsystems and processes will need to be adjusted in order to bring about the transformational change required. It will provide a greater understanding to suppliers and others of the rail industry’s requirements.
Given the higher research and development resources in other sectors, it is essential that the rail industry does not specify and develop rail-only technologies. The key is to take new technology and adapt it for rail, rather than start again with a blank sheet of paper. Other industry sectors such as defence, energy, aviation, maritime and automotive, have similar requirements and challenges.
It is even possible that the rail industry could be used as a controlled test bed for some of the new technologies and systems. For example, could some of the technology being developed for autonomous vehicles be used in rail first? The safety profiles may be different, but this is an area where rail could contribute to other sectors with its excellent safety processes.
Achieving all twelve capability targets will take concerted and coordinated effort from all parts of the railway industry, but it’s not about totally reinventing the wheel – all the technology to deliver the plan is generally either available or in development.
A new area of the RSSB website will offer all stakeholders the opportunity to contribute to the development and delivery of the CDP. It will also serve as a portal with updates and new information, and provide the opportunity to engage with the team developing the CDP. It will also be a means of distributing tools and updated information to support organisations and companies to deliver the RTS vision.
Capabilities in detail
The twelve capabilities can be summarised, together with a few examples, as:
1. Running Trains closer together. Delivered mainly by the ERTMS programme, this will increase the capacity of the railway. While the question has been raised whether ERTMS is the right technological solution, as it is now some years old, the industry believes that it is the correct choice but a work stream is underway to check this and keep it under review. ERTMS does have some advantages over the alternatives such as Positive Train Control and CBTC. In the telecoms industry, Ethernet and packet switching were introduced over 40 years ago, but they are flexible and scalable technologies that show no sign of becoming obsolete. The rail industry needs to make sure ERTMS is similar.
2. Minimal disruption to train services. Predictive and preventative maintenance, plus faster repair times when systems do fail, will improve the reliability and availability of the railway. Systems will require self- diagnostics, redundancy and to be adequately soak-tested before going live. A few years ago, F1 racing cars were inherently unreliable, but fast. Nowadays they are very reliable, and even faster and safer, so it can be done and rail now needs to adopt a similar approach.
3. Efficient passenger flow through stations and trains. Smarter ticketing and human-centred design will make moving through stations and trains easier and quicker, reducing overcrowding at busy stations. This is important and is an example of why the railway is a system of systems. It’s no good just increasing the capacity of trains and routes if people can’t move through stations. One example is that escalator reliability is just as important as control and communications systems reliability.
4. More value from data. Data collection and real-time information that helps rail staff to make better decisions and provides customers with useful and up-to-date information. Already this is happening with, for example, people using smart phones to find platform changes before they appear on station displays. In the future, real-time information such as the amount of car parking spaces available could inform passengers which station to use.
5. Optimum energy use. Intelligent distribution and energy storage technologies will deliver more cost-effective use of energy on the railway. Rail is already an efficient energy user when compared to other modes of transport, but there is so much more that can be done to build on this advantage and it is an area where perhaps rail can learn from the R&D in other industries.
6. More space on trains. More generous and flexible train interiors will better meet the different and changing demands of customers. An example is trains that serve airport terminals may need more luggage space than when on a commuter service.
7. Services timed to the second. Knowing the exact location and speed of all trains in real time will improve situational awareness, increase operational flexibility and allow for faster recovery from disruption.
8. Intelligent trains will be aware of themselves and their surroundings, knowing where they need to be and when, and able to automatically adjust journeys to meet demand. Could a future signalling system be based on intelligent trains?
9. Personalised customer experience. Providing customers with tailored information and services so that travel by rail becomes a seamless part of their overall journey. For example, this may be something like the Uber App for taxis, but for ordering a complete end-to-end journey with rail only part of the service.
10. Flexible freight. Trains designed to carry varying loads, combined with better planning and tracking capabilities, will increase flexibility and capacity for freight customers. Some parcel delivery organisations are looking to use drones to deliver parcels, but these would be restricted in town and city centres, locations that rail already serves with stations that could be used as collection points.
11. Low-cost railway solutions. Railway lines and trains which are designed, built and operated at low cost will make lightly used lines viable and allow rail to compete for new transport links. This could be the merging of light and main line rail, with more main line using the principles of metro operation and far lighter and more efficient rolling stock, together with simpler and cheaper signalling systems. Is there an opportunity for ETCS light or CBTC for captive routes?
12. Accelerated research, development and technology deployment. Enabling technologies to be more readily and rapidly integrated into the railway system by creating the environment for increased R&D investment, technology demonstration and removing barriers to the adoption of new technology.
The CDP contains more detail, breaks down each capability into component parts and explains how it will all dovetail together to deliver the RTS. The publication of the plan is the start of the process and not the end. In the next few months, there will be more detail and tools produced to help evaluate the rail industry readiness level for new technology developments, and the CDP will be updated based on feedback from stakeholders.
The message to the wider technology industry is: “This is what we believe we need, but if you have something better please let us know. We are ready to work with you to make the rail industry grow even further.”
Written by Paul Darlington