Interviews

01.05.14

Great expectations

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Apr/May 2014

Network Rail’s £330m ORBIS programme to revolutionise asset information and data management is now in its third year. RTM spoke to the director of Network Rail’s Asset Information division, Patrick Bossert.

At the heart of the ORBIS programme (Offering Rail Better Information Services) is a quest to ‘turn data into information and insight’. It is about improving the data available to engineers and workers
‘in the field’, and improving the way information is managed centrally.

Patrick Bossert is director of Asset Information, the section of Network Rail responsible for ORBIS. The programme is based in London, with about 250 people working on it. The Asset Information operations business, which has been rebuilt over the last two years around a ‘data-to-intelligence model’, is based primarily at The Quadrant:MK in Milton Keynes and at Derby, with 285 staff. The underground services team at York is 40-strong.

Many of these staff have come from a dedicated recruitment drive over the past two years, often from outside the rail industry: people have joined from the military, Ordnance Survey, pharma companies, aerospace and other sectors.

“It’s created a very vibrant place in which to work,” according to Bossert, who began our interview by noting that ORBIS was getting started just as Network Rail was devolving its routes to 10 managing directors.

He said: “The programme still remains centrally-driven and centrally-enabled, but we’ve had to do a huge amount of work to reset ORBIS as a business change programme delivering into 10 separate and different customer organisations.”

Those 10 are becoming eight – LNE and East Midlands are being consolidated into one business unit, as are Sussex and Kent, in what Network Rail calls a “purely administrative” change.

Bossert spoke of “very strong engagement” through the route forum, as well as with representatives involved with asset management and work delivery.

Turning data into useful information

Bossert said: “The programme is all about better information from which the business can make better-informed business decisions. There have been various aspects to that: how we select data in the first place, how we turn that into information and join it so it becomes collated and relevant information to different activities; and then how we analyse that and the sorts of decision support tools that we can offer.”

The programme generated headlines early on with the decision to deploy ruggedised iPhones and iPads to thousands of staff:
13,500 currently. 

Bossert said: “They were delivered as a personal tool for the job, very much like PPE. You’re expected to turn up to work with your phone charged as one of the tools to do what we need you to do.

“In that first year we did a lot of work with the unions on the industrial relations aspect of what we were doing. They were very supportive and saw it as giving people the right tools for the job. We issued those devices as personal devices, effectively unlocked so people could have their own applications, own music, own email and use the internet.

“We very successfully rolled out that technology, with some new apps, and introduced GPS to the railway. We moved from miles and chains to also being able to talk the language of GPS co-ordinates, and convert easily between the two.”

He said the GPS Finder app has made it far easier to find the right place that works need to be done. A track geometry correction,
for example, is easy to spot when there’s a train rolling over it, but trying to find it “with a spirit level in the middle of the night on a
half-mile of track” is quite a challenge – one that GPS has “revolutionised”.

Many other apps are now available, and when the scheme launched, Network Rail asked for ideas for new ones too. Bossert said: “We had so many ideas – over 700 ideas for applications came in. The appetite for it was absolutely huge. The programme has been challenged to keep up with the production of apps in line with the expectation that created.”

He said his team has been working with Network Rail Group Business Services on a corporate app development capability, meaning they can be developed with the relevant corporate style and user experience standards much more quickly.

Digital enablement

Another key aspect has been LADS, linear asset decision support. Databases of linear assets – assets maintained in segments or sections, of which rail of course has plenty – are notoriously difficult to create. Bossert said: “Many businesses have struggled with it, and we now have a lot of other linear infrastructure managers from around the world coming to see what we’ve done.

“We’ve imported lots of different datasets that relate to track; whether it’s the rails or the sleepers or the ballast quality or the ground penetrating radar or geology data, or the drainage data – it’s all there, all in one place, and it’s geo-aligned. We put an analytic engine behind it and we also imported the historical workbank and the future workbank. By bringing all of those into one place we can, for the first time, see exactly how effective our maintenance and renewals plans have been historically, and will be predictively into the future. This is a hugely powerful tool, because it enables us to rebuild our renewals workbank to optimally target the right work in the right place.”

It also cuts down on unnecessary work, such as renewing assets whose performance is still high.  Section managers’ feedback has been “overwhelmingly positive”, Bossert told us. “For the first time, they’ve got all the information they need to better understand how the asset in their particular section is performing.”

Edward Morley, head of business engagement at Network Rail, has explained the company’s five asset-related information types: fixed asset information (physical infrastructure, asset type, location, condition, failure history, utilisation); fleet asset information (FAMS, RVAR, National Vehicle Register); topological information (schematics: capacity, capability, gauging, real-time status); topographical information (geography: underground services, CAD, GIS, photogrammetry); and unstructured information (drawings, controlled documents, schematics).

In a presentation for the BCS last year, Morley explained that Network Rail spends £30m a year surveying bits of land, but that historically the results have ended up “in deep storage in Cheshire”. But it is data with tremendous value once digitised and geo-linked.

Morley said that across Asset Information, terabyte after terabyte of data is being turned into information that actually informs people out on the track, making their jobs quicker, safer, and more efficient.

In the same presentation, programme manager Keith Farquharson said the transformation over seven years consisted of around 40 projects.  The graphic on the previous page gives a flavour of them.

Paper cuts

We asked Bossert for progress reports on some of the specific aims of ORBIS, such as cutting down on Network Rail’s 4.3 million paper-based inspection records every year.

Bossert said the first target was simple but cumbersome – track engineering forms, usually known as TEFs. Typically, patrollers who spot faults or work that needs doing pass that information to the track section manager via the TEF, who, using a ‘work arising instruction form’ (WAIF), has it implemented on Ellipse.

Bossert said: “We effectively digitised those with some helpful and visual apps. That was making sure we didn’t try to run before we
could walk.

“The gas industry, when it went digital, changed all of its forms and paperwork – the adoption by the workforce was very low as a result. The lesson is that the first step should be giving people what they already know, but in a digital form, to take the cumbersome paperwork and re-entry aspects out.

“We have very successfully delivered a lot of digital forms over the past year. We’re now piloting mobile work management, which is effectively taking the 135,000 jobs that we run through Ellipse every four weeks and delivering those as digital work orders via the handheld platform.

“Our approach has always been to do a trial followed by a proper pilot on a number of routes and then make the adjustments before we roll it out nationally.

“We’re at the pilot stage, and it’s been incredibly well-received. We envisage, this year, we will move to paperless works order management, plus remove other items of paper from the actual delivery procedures as well.”

Buried services enquiries

Another aim has been to improve buried services enquiries. These can now be turned around in 24 hours, instead of weeks.
The eventual aim is a full self-service model, but Bossert admitted that this is a much
bigger step.

“That’s something we haven’t progressed over the last year. We wanted to see how the 24-hour turnaround on buried services information was working. That turnaround still involves scrutiny by a competent buried services engineer within the Asset Information organisation, before it’s issued. It was quite a big step to move to complete self-service, where we’re not providing a level of assurance.

“We certainly envisage buried services being digitised over the coming 24 months and included in the geographic information datasets that we make available. But clearly there’s a lot of safety risk associated with those services, and it’s not something we’d want to do without all right assurance processes in place.”

Visualising the railway

Visualisation is a powerful tool when planning, preparing for and carrying out work. Using three dimensional images overlaid with geo-information, planners can see, measure and mark up much more effectively.

Bossert said: “This is the year that we bring the railway from the outside world to the inside world. This is what ORBIS will be known for.

“It will help with work planning and grouping, and it helps with the individual work plans. We will have better information on access points, what can be brought on to site through those access points, what the height and weight restrictions are for cranes or MPVs, and so on.

“So, as well as making the work safer through better planning, it will also result in fewer aborted jobs, where we find once the job starts that there were some unexpected parameters, like bridge height restrictions and other things that maybe couldn’t be taken into account during the planning phase.

“Being able to visualise the railway is also really important for the COSS briefings – the safety briefings. On our railway, we have about 60,000 people with Sentinel cards, of whom 22,000 are our own staff. So the ability to extend this into the supply chain, so we can brief contractors less familiar with some of the work sites, again is very important.

“Through ORBIS, we’re building a geographic information portal. That will be extensible to the supply chain as well as our own staff.”

Grayrigg – never again

The Grayrigg derailment in 2007 in Cumbria, which caused the death of 84-year-old Margaret Masson, was caused by a faulty set of points.

Recommendations 2-4 of the RAIB report were about new processes to gather and analyse data via a single national database and to move to a risk-based regime for the maintenance and inspection of S&C.

Bossert told us: “Grayrigg highlighted some real deficiencies and the business has done a lot in the past 24 months to address those. ORBIS contributed specifically to recommendation 2, which was to establish an accurate inventory of S&C to a component level.

“Through handheld data collection and driving this digitally we have built a complete inventory of all our switches and crossings, down to the component level – that’s 269,00 components now recorded and kept up-to-date through an annual verification programme. That was all done using the iPhone handheld technology.

“It means if we identify a problem with an asset or a type of asset within a system, we can look at all of the other assets on the railway to identify whether it’s a systemic problem or a one-off. That helps move us towards a proper predict-and-prevent approach, rather than an inspection and reactive maintenance based approach.

“The asset inventory has been created and the mobile work management will now enable us to schedule and record the outcome of
asset inspections against that inventory. Historically we only reported defects or actual faults as part of the inspection work, whereas now in every inspection we record a lot more data that can then be looked at in a predict-and-prevent context.”

A risk-based approach to maintenance

Bossert’s colleague Davin Crowley-Sweet, head of data management, has previously suggested that CP3 had a time-based
inspection policy, CP4 moved to being condition-based, but CP5, which began on 1 April, will be risk-based. Data will allow the
company to prioritise what assets are looked after and when.

CP6, from 2019, will be an ‘integrated system approach’, seeing assets as layered, logical networks, not just objects near the track. 

Bossert said that summary was correct. “We are moving from a regime of time-based asset management to condition-based in some areas, and in others we’re getting much more advanced in how we’re applying information and asset knowledge and moving to a risk-based management approach.”

ORBIS and AI operations were fully funded for CP5 as per Network Rail’s original business plan. Bossert told us: “The fact that
the programme has now moved into the next CP as a fully-funded programme just demonstrates the level of executive support and buy-in that a move to an information-enabled future will bring.”

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email opinion@railtechnologymagazine.com 

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