Continuous improvement holds the key to world - renowned efficiency

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Aug/Sept 2012

Jeremy Long, CEO – European Business at MTR, which is shortlisted for the Essex Thameside and Thameslink franchises, explains how engaging staff in continuous improvement methods is key to driving efficiencies for the UK’s railways.

At MTR, we believe that taking small steps is the key to continuous improvement. It’s these small steps which cumulate to ensure that MTR consistently achieves on-time performance of over 99% in Hong Kong (on the same delay measures as the UK), where the company is based. Furthermore, applying this ethos of continuous improvement to the LOROL franchise in the UK (which we run in a 50% joint venture) has meant that we have bought performance on the London Overground up to 96% in four years, and customer satisfaction up to 92%.

As an employer of over 20,000 people worldwide, we know that our staff play a key part in this success. This is why in Hong Kong, MTR devised a scheme some time ago to empower its staff to identify and implement the small changes which make a big difference to the business – the Work Improvement Team initiative (WIT).

WITs were introduced to MTR in 1989, and give staff the opportunity to work with their colleagues to design and implement initiatives which make their everyday jobs easier and more efficient. Today, nearly one-third of MTR’s Hong Kong workforce is involved in Work Improvement Teams.

There are a number of reasons for the popularity of this scheme amongst the workforce, and for why MTR decided to set up the WIT initiative. Firstly, because they allow staff members to develop self-organisation, planning, problemsolving and decision-making skills. Secondly, because they are an effective means of employee engagement. Solving an operational problem which directly impacts upon the success of the business gives staff a stake in the organisation. Finally, because programmes like WITs lead to more competent and bettertrained staff, improving customer service, and therefore company competitiveness.

In addition to these benefits, WITs have produced tangible, financial results since the implementation of the scheme. For example, one team addressed an issue relating to tunnel ventilation on the Tseung Kwan O Line.

The section of track between Tseung Kwan O Station and Tseung Kwan O Depot is used for non-passenger carrying operations, i.e. there are no passengers on board trains running in this section, but (as per the design for the whole line), the tunnel’s ventilation fans were automatically activated once the track had been occupied by a train for more than 105 seconds.

This was in order to keep the tunnel at optimal temperature levels for the train’s on-board ventilation to operate. The (socalled) ‘congestion mode’ was often triggered unnecessarily as waiting times in this section of the track are longer. This resulted in excess energy consumption and unnecessary reduction of the life cycle of the ventilation fans.

Having identified this problem, the WIT formulated a solution, disabling the triggering function of the congestion mode for the Tseung Kwan O Depot arrival and departure tracks.

Furthermore, the time after which the mode was triggered was increased from 105 seconds to 150 for other affected sections of the track. As a result, between Tseung Kwan O Station and Depot the run time of ventilation fans was reduced by 95% and the frequency of congestion mode being triggered was reduced by 98%. Reducing energy consumption and the need for maintenance and system supplier’s modification work while extending the life cycle of the ventilation fans achieved cost savings of HK $1.72m (over £140,000) for the first year alone.

Other projects have included saving a total of HK$12.8m (over £1m) by reducing the need for system development and maintenance on MTR’s Access Control System, standardising the cleaning of EMU trains, and adjusting a bogie assembly process to make savings in maintenance costs.

The WIT initiative is so successful because individual workers are familiar with the various areas of the business in which they work very well, and therefore know better than anyone else how to solve problems.

This is why we have begun to apply this initiative to London Overground in UK and to Stockholm Metro in Sweden, and hope to apply it to other franchises in the UK.

We’ve seen in Hong Kong how giving employees the power to make small changes leads to tangible, financial impacts, as well as improving train performance and, subsequently, customer satisfaction.

I believe that applying schemes like this in the UK is the key to making savings in the running of our railways, as well as being integral to a better-trained, more competent workforce.

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