Over the years – over generations in fact – there have been many questions that have been posed in the sphere of permanent way maintenance. Surprisingly few have been answered – or, at least, answered with any degree of certainty.
Take, for example the simple question: “How much does it cost to fix a wet bay (variously known as a wet bed, a wet yard, a slurry bed etc etc)?”
Of course, there are answers, but most will be qualified by the catch-all – “Ah, but it all depends on…” followed by a long list of factors and, it must be conceded, an equally long list of subjective judgements.
Then there’s the vexed issue of whether measured shovel packing works in the Midlands or in Wales or in East Anglia. Again, whatever answer is given is accompanied by qualifications and caveats. There are no straight answers.
But ask the question “How much paperwork is involved?” and the answer will be – universally and without hesitation – “TOO MUCH!” It’s an answer that has echoed down the decades. It’s nothing new. No matter how sophisticated a work control system may be – be it computer driven or otherwise – if it causes grief to the user right at the start and right through to completion, then it will not succeed. People just get in the way as they always do.
But there is hope
Imagine a permanent way management system that has an easy user interface and that does not rely on paper.
If this is not fantasy, then it’s jumped the first hurdle. People will like it.
Then couple in a few more useful features. A system that accurately references the location of each job, that checks the GPS coordinates and takes the user to the right job – not one that is a few yards away and that has already been done anyway.
Imagine a system that allows image files to be referenced so as to reduce the verbiage needed to describe a mundane task – all combined with technology that doesn’t choke on the quantity of data.
Add on a facility to amend a task or to generate a new one. Perhaps there are problems with a wet stretch of track that could so easily be reduced if only the drains were cleared out. Maybe this drain clearance requires the use of specialist kit. But if the number of repeat manual treatments to the track can be called up, then a sensible investment case can be made for a one-off use of an expensive drain clearer.
And finally, glue together a raft of disparate databases within the controlling software so that nothing is missed and – just as importantly – nothing is lost.
Too good to be true?
Take a pause for breath as this all seems too good to be true – even alien to many responsible for track maintenance.
Ian Barber (Network Rail’s technical lead on the project) has spent many years dealing with track geometry and maintenance. Tasked with delivering a drastic reduction of repeat twist faults, he set about drafting an ‘ideal’ maintenance system that would be built to help those at ground level rather than generate buckets of data to be explored only by those in suits.
Over the years, many have tried and, to give them credit, many have succeeded – to some extent. But technology, or the lack of it, always got in the way.
It is only now that there are serious (affordable and robust) hand-held devices that have a realistic battery life, that have sufficient memory and processing power to crunch all the input. There are now multiple ways of sending and receiving data at speeds that seem almost instantaneous.
There are also now many who are computer savvy and who are at ease with the protocols involved. This was not always the case and there are still a few lingering outposts that need to be encouraged.
All this – the technology, the battery life, the memory, the processors and the data handling – was not available until relatively recently and so it is easy to write off the efforts in the past. It takes just one element to clog up the system and to frustrate the user. In the past, any failure of technology has had to be bridged with… paperwork!
Infrastructure management software
Ian has worked with his team at Network Rail’s HQ in Milton Keynes to put together a seamless package. The team has worked with three computer companies – ABB, the owner of the infrastructure management software Ellipse, undertook specialist customisation, AMT Sybex wrote the apps for the iPad and DXC worked on the data input side.
And the name of the system? TIGER – Track Integrated Geometry Engineers Reports. It’s a simple acronym but, as it’s simple and logical, it is effective and memorable.
Geometry data is gathered using the Track Recording Vehicles (TRVs), and sent to Milton Keynes for processing. The data (geometry faults and alerts, dip defects and super reds, very-poor and poor track quality) is loaded into the CDMS (Condition Data Management System).
TIGER captures all these faults from CDMS and simplifies the process of raising work orders. The faults can be managed throughout their lifecycle to closure and sign-off, replacing the existing paper process. It also offers more functionality to correctly identify potential repeat faults, faults within S&C and faults occurring within a registered eighth of a mile, simplifying appropriate sign-off where necessary.
Manual geometry measurement fault data can also be loaded into TIGER locally, so all geometry fault data is in one place.
Booking a hotel on-line
Tiger uses the same search and find logic now accepted in many non-work applications – such as when booking a hotel on-line. Select a country, select a city, select the price and decide which cheap dive is most suitable.
From the home screen, maintainers can select the fault/faults they wish to deal with, selecting when it’s to be carried out and who will do it, reducing the current work load by 90 per cent.
Once the fault has been selected, work orders are generated and sent to the allocated persons (work-groups) electronically through the My Work app.The work can then be carried out, notes made, and photos taken on the iPad, before closing the work order. The work order passes back into Ellipse and is closed out.
The vital information on the work order is also sent on to TIGER for review by the section manager, who can assess what is required next or if the fault is fixed. If it has, then the status can be altered prior to the section manager signing it off. It then awaits sign-off by the track maintenance engineer (TME) before clearing the system.
Any resolved faults can still be accessed and, if further work is undertaken that can be related to that fault, then this work order number can be added later.
Built for track maintenance engineers and section managers, TIGER allows the rapid raising of work orders moving from the previous manual method to a maximum of just ‘three clicks’.
The system has gone live. Starting in October 2019, there will be a steady and gradual roll-out throughout the network, after periods of training.
TIGER builds its success on the integration of modern, and now stable, technologies. Doubtless, with further developments in communications and data storage, more ways of assisting ground level staff will become obvious.
This won’t be the end of the story, but there’s now a chance that the many questions posed at the start of this article may have some simple and, most importantly, objective answers.