Ergonomics at the heart of signalling in new ROCs

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Aug/Sept 2014

Tim Hadfield, The TEW Group’s director with special responsibility for the rail signalling sector, explains its work at Network Rail’s rail operating centres.

An expert team of engineers and ergonomic designers is quietly hard at work behind the scenes developing new, state-of-the-art workstation technology from which to safely and efficiently control the UK network’s signalling.

The introduction by Network Rail of VDU-based control systems in the new generation ROC (rail operating centre) control rooms, in place of electromechanical signalling control systems, goes hand-in-hand with the introduction of new and updated work stations. Creating a single, flexible template that can accommodate all requirements of the system and the operator are amongst the long list of challenges facing suppliers tasked with the job.

The TEW Group is a Nottingham-based electrical and mechanical engineering business with almost a quarter of a century’s experience in the rail sector, including the detailed design, manufacture and installation of signalling control and indication systems, level crossing control systems, passenger information screens and complete control room solutions.

Now The TEW Group’s team of expert designers and experienced engineers is working with the UK’s leading rail industry ergonomic design consultants and Network Rail to develop new-generation workstations that are purpose-designed to accommodate the burgeoning demands of the multifunctional ROCs. TEW has been involved in most of the signalling control centres for the UK railway and delivers expertise in how signallers can better cope with new technology.

The TEW Group’s current ROC projects include Manchester, York, Three Bridges and East Midlands, all of which are planning to adopt Network Rail’s latest traffic management technology systems.

A number of new ROCs are currently being built and six are now operational. Network Rail’s vision is to have the entire UK railway network controlled by these centres by 2058. The eventual number required is still not finally decided but those in operation are Thames Valley, West of Scotland, East Kent, East Midlands, East of Scotland, South Wales and, now, Manchester (see pages 74-78). Others are planned for Rugby (West Coast Main Line), York (East Coast Main Line), Romford (Anglia), Basingstoke (South West) and Three Bridges (South of England).

The development and implementation of traffic management technology adds the systems to complement the physical construction and investment taking place at these locations. The first of two contracts for the deployment of the national traffic management system has been awarded to Thales UK. This is designed to produce a single source of data for train timetabling, rolling stock allocation and train crew deployment and to use this data for operations planning and comparison to real-time operational events, thus automating the signalling of trains in the optimum way.

Track record

The TEW Group has been involved in the design and installation of bespoke operator signalling workstations since the early days of British Rail’s Network Management Centres and subsequent signalling control centres, working alongside major contractors including Siemens, Atkins, Signalling Solutions, GE and working directly for Network Rail. Previous commissions include signalling control panels, workstations and overview display works across all regions of the UK rail network.

The TEW Group identified a niche in the rail sector back at the start of the 1990s for its electrical and mechanical engineering expertise. As a result, we have been developing and diversifying our product and service portfolio to mirror the requirements of the network operator ever since.

The way that signallers’ workstations have evolved, specifically reducing in size and assuming a standardised and more ergonomic design, mirrors the broader changes to the network. Operators in the original VDU-based Signalling Control Centres sit at enormous curved workstations involving multiple systems, with separate VDUs, keyboards and mice to control them.

The TMS-compliant workstations for the new generation ROCs on which we are working are considerably more compact and rectangular in shape, with the operator interface streamlined for maximum efficiency. We’ve already completed installations at West of Scotland, East Midlands, South Wales, Manchester, Three Bridges and York.

Long journey

The TEW Group entered the rail market in 1991 at the start of British Rail’s network migration plans to consolidate control of the network into 10 Network Management Centres. Twenty-three years later, the rail sector continues to deliver significant opportunities for The TEW Group.

It is currently making investments intended to future-proof its position in the supply chain for a further 30 years, when Network Rail’s current network integration strategy is realised in 2058.

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