HS2

27.01.17

ORR warns that ROC risks ‘not yet adequately assessed’ by Network Rail

The chief inspector of railways, Ian Prosser, has told the Transport Select Committee that Network Rail has not yet assessed all of the risks arising from its move to rail operating centres (ROC).

The infrastructure operator is currently transitioning to ROCs as part of its long-term strategy to replace antiquated signal boxes and streamline the signalling workforce.

Prosser told the committee that while a “great deal” of work has been done, there is more to be done, particularly to assuage concerns that the rail network may now have a “single point of failure”.

“While ORR welcomes the substantial measures being planned to introduce redundancy and flexibility into ROC operation, we consider Network Rail has still to demonstrate that it has adequately assessed all of the risks arising from moving to ROCs or has yet given consistent effect to suitable and sufficient controls and mitigations of those risks,” Prosser wrote to the committee as part of its ongoing inquiry on rail safety.

“While the process of moving fully to ROCs will take place over a number of years and the key risks will only be realised gradually over time, we look forward to seeing evidence of their being addressed in 2017.”

Prosser told the committee that the risks of moving to fewer ROCs included a potential impact on signaller workload as a result of having fewer signallers controlling larger areas, particularly during “perturbation”.

He also said that there is the potential for any failure or perturbation to impact “on a greater area than currently”, casting doubt on how train movement will be safely restored, or even a “single point of failure”.

“We are alive to concerns about the potential consequence of a single point of failure,” Prosser said, but assured the committee that there has been “progress” in this area.

Network Rail is looking to alleviate this by putting certain ‘critical national platforms’ like power management and IT in separate ‘data centres’ away from ROCs, providing sufficient connectivity between them to allow one to pick up the other’s workload if a failure occurs.

The infrastructure owners is also considering six ‘workplace recovery sites’ to provide alternative operating locations should a ROC experience significant disruption such as a natural disaster, Prosser said.

The chief inspector of railways warned that the ORR has had to intervene on a few occasions since the migration to ROCs such as when Network Rail made an ‘inadequate’ assessment of the workload impact of migrating to its York ROC in 2014, leaving some maintenance activities to not be carried out.

The regulator has also intervened after trade union safety representatives raised concerns about ergonomic aspects of the ROCs such as noise and lighting levels, although Prosser said that there are now more consistent arrangements across the network.

Network Rail began carrying out a full review of what requirements ROCs would need in 2016, including risk assessments, although the ORR has not yet seen the final outcome of these. The ORR expects to see Network Rail’s revised standard early this year.

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Comments

John Grant   27/01/2017 at 17:51

Pity privatisation happened before the transition to IECCs was complete. The ones that were going to be running the WCML (before the project was killed by privatisation) would have been linked together so that the whole line could be run from any one of them. Unions raising "safety" issues again: when there was a signallers' strike in (I think) the early 90s the only parts of the network that were running were the ones with IECCs, so you can see the unions would be against them.

GW   27/01/2017 at 21:05

On those that already exist there have been times when large sections of the control area have ground to a halt due to fire alarms sounding and the ROC being evacuated.

John Grant   27/01/2017 at 22:37

@GW: true, there was one at King's Cross last year. I don't remember it happening with the IECCs, but on the other hand as I remember them the signallers all sat in a single room (though maybe with a less trigger-happy fire alarm?). The various subsytems were connected by a network that would go several hundred metres, so they could have had two control rooms. There were two networks and most of the equipment was duplicated (and connected to both networks) so they'd certainly thought about avoiding single points of failure.

G   28/01/2017 at 20:18

Network started a review into requirements in2016 at least a year after the first ROCs opened or were meant to be open. I think that sums the whole project up.

John Grant   30/01/2017 at 13:52

Oh great! Ready, aim, fire but not in that order.

Jerry Alderson   31/01/2017 at 19:51

The "single point of failure" issue is a bit of a red herring. With 800 small signal boxes there are 800 single points of failure that impact local areas initially but the failure spreads out as it impacts on every route thereafter. With 12 (11?) ROCs then the potential is for a major failure affecting a wide area at the same time. The impact is down to how you manage failure. There is no failover possible with the small local signal boxes but a ROC should be able to failover to a neighbouring ROC. There were going to be 14 ROCs. It was reduced ot 12. I've heard that the plan is to have only one rather than two in Scotland (Edinburgh and Glasgow). If this is the case then I think this is wrong as you cannot have (politically) a Scottish ROC failing over to an English one, especially if BR is broken up and even more so if Scotland becomes independent.

Richard Ash   05/02/2017 at 17:00

With old-fashioned signal boxes, there was a well-used protocol for "switching out" a box so that trains could run through without the signal box, or it's signals, being operational. You lost line capacity (because two blocks merged) but trains kept running. Now it seems that any level of signalling fault results in a complete stoppage because the processes for managing with degraded facilities have been allowed to be lost (as per the signalling power failure at York which stopped all trains for half a day).

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