Rugby ROC opens

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Rugby Rail Operating Centre (ROC) was officially declared open on 11 and station building remains, with a November 2015 by Councillor Michael Stokes, leader of Rugby Borough quiet existence these days with few Council, and Martin Frobisher, Network Rail’s London North West route director. This is the second of the two ROCs which will eventually control all LNW operations, the other at Ashburys, Manchester, was described in issue 118 (August 2014). Rugby ROC currently houses Network Rail route controllers, and signals trains in the Stafford area.

Councillor Stokes said at the opening: “I’m reminded every day of how important the railway is to our town and what strong historical links we have with the railway. Rugby is the fastest growing town in the Midlands and one of the fastest growing towns in the UK. This facility highlights our commitment to work with businesses to ensure they receive a warm welcome to our town and I am pleased we will continue to be part of the future of the railway in Britain.”

The busy junction station on the West Coast route has always featured key signalling installations. Railway history books show the famous semaphore signal gantry guarding access to the station from the south whilst, in more recent years, the 1964 power signal box (PSB), with SGE geographical relay interlocking, controlled what was a complex station area.

The large island platform hosted just one through line in each direction, though mid-platform signals split the platforms in two, allowing trains to arrive and depart independently from each half – a facility soon rendered superfluous in the timetable of the newly electrified railway. Bay platforms served a myriad of long-discontinued local and branch line services.

During the life of Rugby PSB various rationalisation and layout improvements were made to the station area including making the Down platform bi-directional. However, with the introduction of Virgin’s Very High Frequency high-speed Pendolino services and other (now London Midland) semi-fast services, the old layout was no longer fit for purpose.

Accordingly, the station area was completely remodelled in 2008 and provided with three new through platforms. The original island platform and station building remains, with a quiet existence these days with few staff and passengers to be seen explained by the fact that most trains booked to stop at Rugby now do so at the new platforms. Signalling control is from the Rugby workstation in Rugby Signal Control Centre (SCC), a separate building next door to the ROC.

Inside the ROC

As at Manchester, the high security building at Rugby has been constructed by Morgan Sindall and is situated near the station on a long narrow parcel of land between the Up side of the West Coast main line (WCML) and Rugby College. The offices have a pleasantly light and airy ambience with windows track side so that staff, glued to their PC screens for most of their shifts, may stretch their legs and watch the trains go by, giving them a tangible sense of being part of the live railway.

Inside the three-story building, the route controllers, signalling work stations and, in the future, the electrical controllers are all on the top floor. The remaining two floors are split between equipment rooms and the maintenance delivery unit (MDU), the base for the orange army of engineering maintenance personnel and associated support staff, managers and supervisors. This therefore replaces the shantytown of temporary relocatable buildings seen on the Up side of the WCML for many years.

Other rooms supporting the day-to-day activities include:

  • Breakout area – not a rapid exit facility for stressed-out signallers or controllers but a general kitchen area with seating, to procure refreshment or take a meal break.
  • Medical/rest room.
  • Visualisation room for weekly reviews, updates and focus on live operational matters affecting the area.
  • Incident room. As the name suggests, this is where senior staff gather to take control and manage serious incidents. The room has a state-of-the-art communications suite for tele-conferences and information sharing.
  • Signaller training room. It is intended that standard signaller training courses will be run in-house in the future, obviating the need for staff to lodge away from home – necessary today when attending courses at one of the national signalling schools.
  • Mission Room. This is actually the name of a company that provides 360o virtual realisation of the railway within a cubicle, replicating the sounds and vision as if one is actually standing in a place of safety with trains passing by. Several Network Rail projects have utilised this concept to brief staff and ensure that they are familiar with the trackside locations before actually venturing outdoors.

Outside the building there are two 1.25MVA standby power supply units that supply the building and all systems in the event of a loss of grid supply. The diesel generators consume 286 litres of diesel per hour and the tank holds 14,000 litres of diesel.

05 Rugby ROC operating floor

Managing operations

The operating floor of the ROC houses the Network Rail LNW (South) route control manager, train delay attribution, information controller, incident support controllers and the train running controllers who monitor the service, liaise with their train operator (TOC) counterparts, and deal with general incidents and infrastructures faults. This control unit manages the West Coast main line (WCML) from Euston to just south of Crewe.

LNW(S) has a control office counterpart based in the West Midlands Signalling Centre (WMSC) at Saltley (issue 134, December 2015).

Network Rail and several TOCs have supported the principle of the Integrated Control Centres, wherein Network Rail controllers
sit in the same room with their TOC counterparts. The LNW(S) Birmingham ‘Mailbox’ offices hosted such a configuration, although not all TOCs running through the area had a presence there. However, this arrangement has been disbanded over time.

Whilst there are benefits of having Network Rail and TOC controllers co-located, and this works fine if the two operating areas are coterminous, TOCs serving the West Midlands and WCML operate over a much wider area involving more than one Network Rail ‘route’, such as Virgin Trains West Coast, Cross Country, and Arriva Trains Wales.

TOCs have evidently concluded that their rolling stock and train crew resources are more efficiently managed by integrating their controllers with their own respective management teams. This means that the information-sharing opportunities provided by the ROC project are all the more important to ensure that the remote nature of the teams does not affect the ability of the team to manage incidents well.

Boots on the ground

Staffordshire Alliance, a partnership of Atkins, Laing O’Rourke, Network Rail and VolkerRail working as part of a new collaborative contract, is delivering the three key projects of the Staffordshire Area Improvements Programme, a £250 million package of works which will create extra capacity, reduce journey times and reduce congestion and delays in the Stafford area.

The first of the three projects, completed in March 2014, increased the line speed of the Slow lines between Crewe and Norton Bridge from 75 mph to 100 mph. This work included modifications to the Overhead Line Equipment (OLE) and the installation of four new banner repeater signals.

Next up, completed in August 2015, was the wholesale replacement of life-expired signalling, telecommunications and power supplies in the Stafford area including ancillary OLE alterations and civils work such as the installation of foundations, cable routes and new signals and gantries. Enhancement work consisted of conversion of the existing but defunct postal line to a new freight loop, and provision of bi-directional signalling to all platforms.

The third project, progressing well, will provide grade separation of lines in the Norton Bridge area and is due for completion during Easter 2016. The track layout alterations and civil engineering work here was fully described in issue 130 (August).

Signalling equipment used by the Alliance includes Thales Type K axle counters, SPX IBCL In Bearer Clamp Locks for all new points, and some existing point conversions to SPX RCPL Rail Clamp Point Locks. Fitment of RCPLs on diamonds can give improvements over HW machines through better accommodation of thermal expansion of rails, one reason that a number are being changed out to the SPX RCPL.

Signals are mostly Dorman with some VMS.

Stafford signalling workstation

Stafford is the first workstation for the signalling of trains to be introduced at Rugby ROC, and it replaces the lever frame signal boxes Stafford No. 4 and Stafford No. 5 (left overs from de-scoping of the 1960s modernisation power box programme!). The Siemens Rail Automation Controlguide Westcad signalling control and display system was introduced last August, following commissioning of the Stafford station area resignalling, and currently controls the route from Norton Bridge (exclusive) to Colwich (exclusive) and also towards Wolverhampton.

Automatic Route Setting (ARS) is not currently provided, but will be added during Easter 2016 when the area of control is extended to include the remodelled Norton Bridge complex and onwards towards Basford Hall, Crewe, taking over this stretch from Stoke SCC.

Two Siemens Rail Automation Trackguard Westlock interlockings are employed for the Stafford station area, and three existing Solid State Interlockings (SSI) that are currently in use covering the Norton Bridge to Madeley area will remain and be upgraded to embrace the remodelled area. All these interlockings are located at Stoke SCC. Communication between the Stafford Westcad workstation and the interlockings at Stoke are via the Fixed Telecommunications Network (FTN) using IP over SDH (Internet Protocol over Synchronous Digital Hierarchy).

03 Rugby ROC external 3

The signaller workstation replicates, in modern digital computerised form, the functionality of the traditional Entrance/Exit (NX) panel box. The main tools of the trade for the signaller are:

  • Signalling control and display system. At Stafford this takes the form of the Westcad display which shows the status of signalling infrastructure including the white route set, and red track occupied indications. A bespoke keyboard provides the various control functions whilst a tracker ball may be used in conjunction with Points Normal/Centre/Reverse buttons for individual point movement, and Set/Cancel buttons for NX route setting and cancelling.
  • Communications.GSM-R provides secure wireless speech communication between signaller and driver, whilst a traditional telephone concentrator connects with wired telephones including signal post telephones, stations, depots, electrification control, and route controllers.
  • TRUST (Train Running System TOPS – Total Operations Processing System). TRUST enables the national timetable to be consulted for any train, continuously updated with the actual times at the calling points and intermediate timing points. TRUST takes current train running data from the live signalling and train description systems which know where the trains are. Trains are individually identified by the standard 4-character alpha numeric description (such as 9S34). Network Rail makes available open data feeds from these systems to third parties which may produce web sites and apps for public consumption. For example, Stafford ‘TRUST’ information can be found at: www.
  • CCF. This acronym, standing for Control Centre of the Future, is arguably something of a misnomer. CCF has no signalling control function but is a diagrammatic live train running monitor for the industry as a whole, including Network Rail and TOC control office staff, station staff and signallers. The display shows a simplified layout plan of the area being viewed showing the train description ‘berths’ (typically at each signal).

The berths are populated by actual train descriptions which ‘step’ from berth to berth as trains progress. Each train description is highlighted with a colour to indicate its timing status (early, on time, late or very late). The displays are real time and some also show live signal aspects. Any area of the national network may be called up for display. Again, Open Data feeds are available. For the Stafford area the ‘CCF’ live data may be viewed at:

Wembley takeover

The southern end of the WCML between Euston and Harrow has been controlled by Wembley Main Line SCC NX panel since 2000, when an extensive grade separation and track remodelling exercise between Euston and Camden was completed. The panel, a type SM48 manufactured by TEW, exercises control through fifteen Westinghouse (now Siemens) MkIIIA SSIs.

Originally, it was intended to control the Watford Junction area from Rugby SCC but, with the eventual control from the ROC in mind, it was decided that operationally it fitted in better to provide a new Westcad workstation alongside the NX panel at Wembley Main Line SCC which thus now controls from Euston to Apsley. A new Westlock interlocking at Watford replaces the 1992 Westinghouse MkIIB SSI.

Although the NX panel is comparatively young, it is possible that migration of control to Rugby ROC may well be scheduled to coincide with forthcoming layout changes at Euston in conjunction with the arrival of HS2. HS2 enabling works in this area commence in December 2018 with the temporary removal of line X which currently enables departures from low-numbered platforms to dive under the station throat and surface without much conflict onto the Down Fast towards Camden.

06 Rugby ROC Stafford workstation


Also requiring migration to Rugby ROC around the 2020s will be the Euston-Watford DC suburban lines Westcad work station located within Wembley Main Line SCC, Wembley Yard NX panel plus the surviving electro- mechanical lever frame signal boxes at Willesden Carriage Shed North and Willesden Carriage Shed South.

Rugby SCC

Heading north from Apsley, control of the WCML passes to Rugby SCC all the way to Colwich where it interfaces with the new Stafford workstation at Rugby ROC. Opened in 2004, the SCC was originally intended as an interim control centre pending completion of the WCML Passenger Upgrade 2 (PUG2) which envisaged 140mph running with cab signalling controlled from the building at Saltley.

The rest is history, and the Saltley building now houses the WMSC whilst the Rugby SCC is likely to continue in service for a few more years until the work stations require upgrading and/or ETCS/Traffic Management is introduced, with control being transferred next door to the ROC.

The Rugby SCC workstations – Tring, Bletchley, Northampton, Rugby, Nuneaton, and Trent Valley – are all of GE Transportation Systems (GETS) Modular Control System (MCS) without ARS. Each signalling display is fixed for the respective geographical area under control but a large overview screen at the back allows signallers to observe movements throughout the area.

Down in the equipment room, the interlockings are predominantly Invensys/Westinghouse MkIIIA Solid State Interlockings (SSI) with the exceptions that Wolverton is Alstom MkIIA SSI and Rugby is an Alstom Smartlock 400T Computer Based Interlocking.

Further migration

The project to concentrate West Midlands signalling at Saltley was commenced before Network Rail’s National Operating Strategy was finalised and Rugby ROC built. Thus the former will continue to consolidate the remaining areas still to be resignalled such as New Street.

It remains an intention to move the Saltley workstations to Rugby at a point in the future but as this will be a technically challenging and costly project, its business case justification may be aligned with the programme to introduce ETCS and Traffic Management.

And finally, other areas to migrate to the ROC, probably post 2020, include Stoke-on Tent SCC, Marston Vale (Bedford-Bletchley) SCC, Marylebone IECC, the routes towards Worcester and, possibly, the immediate Crewe area.

Thanks to Andy Scott, Jonathan Harris and Ian Johnson of Network Rail for help in the preparation of this article.

David Bickell MIRSE
David Bickell MIRSE

Signalling and signalling programmes, signalling and rail operating centres, ERTMS and ETCS

David Bickell joined British Railways as a student engineer in 1968, undertaking a work-based training programme covering all aspects of signalling and telecommunications. His career took him through various roles in Derby, Crewe and Nottingham before, in 1996, he was posted to London as Standards Engineer, Control Systems at Railtrack headquarters.

A spell as Signal Area Maintenance Engineer in Kent was followed by that of Regional Signal Maintenance Engineer at Liverpool Street and York. His responsibilities included the management of general safety regimes, including SPAD mitigation, and being Chair of the Signal Sighting Committee.

David retired in 2005 as Signal Standards & Assurance Engineer for Network Rail, managing its portfolio of signal engineering standards and sitting on the RSSB Group Standards Signalling sub-committee.

Since then, he was a visiting lecturer on railway signalling at Sheffield Hallam University and has been writing for Rail Engineer on major signalling projects since 2013.


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