Simon Burns at the York railway development site

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Feb/March 2013

Adam Hewitt reports from the building site in York that will soon host the busiest of Network Rail’s 14 planned Rail Operating Centres and its new Workforce Development Centre, and hears from railway minister Simon Burns MP and route managing director Phil Verster.

The new railway buildings for York got ministerial blessing when Simon Burns MP paid a visit. The rail minister also cut the ribbon to offi cially open the new turntable that has replaced the old engineer’s triangle, which occupied land that will now be used for the new Rail Operating Centre (ROC).

Burns said: “This Government is committed to modernising the railways and this regeneration scheme provides another example of us making good on our promises through our partnership with Network Rail.”

Route managing director Phil Verster told RTM that Network Rail’s plans to centralise operational control in 14 ROCs are “signifi cantly driven by taking costs out of the railway” through enhanced automation.

He said: “To give you an indication, around 178 signal boxes will be re-controlled into the ROC. Can you imagine how many human-intensive operations that is, that will now be automated through an intelligent bank of computerised control systems. It’s a signifi cant headcount reduction.”

Network Rail has stressed that the long-term nature of the plans for the LNE route means that “compulsory redundancies are not anticipated” in achieving the headcount reduction.

Asked about the pressures to take costs out of the railway, Burns told RTM: “There is a balance in the running of a railway, like many other businesses. What you have to do is make sure they are run in the most cost-effective, cost-effi cient way, taking out waste, so that the money that you are saving can be invested in improving further the service, whether the infrastructure or service delivery, so passengers can get the benefit.”

The ROC will employ about 477 staff with a maximum of 93 on shift at a time, while the WDC will employ 30 and train 150-200 delegates a day.

Across the country, the long-term ROC plans are expected to cut the signalling workforce by two-thirds from its 2011 size, to about 2,000, over the coming years.

Verster said the benefi ts are not limited to effi ciencies however, noting that automation allows greater access to rural lines at all hours, opening up access and alternative train paths.

York will be the busiest of the ROCs, due to its geography, since so much of the Northern network is that side of the Pennines.

He added: “These operating and training facilities will allow us to deliver a modern, effi cient railway while at the same time maintaining York’s position as an important rail city.

“The centres will retain jobs in the city and, over time, see all of our rail operations for the London North Eastern route consolidated in one place.

“The operating centre is the largest of just 14 proposed centres across Britain and will bring the expertise and technology we need to operate the route into a single location.

“Meanwhile the investment in modern training facilities will make sure our employees remain among the best in the world. As well as bringing future employment benefi ts, which are vital for economic growth and prosperity in York, we hope that the location of these new facilities on the edge of the York Central development site could act as a catalyst for further investment in the area.”

The new turntable began life in service at Cleethorpes before being relocated to Ferme Park in the 1970s.

It has been brought to York to provide turning facilities for charter services, rail plant and the National Rail Museum.

The minister and media saw it in action during our visit on January 16 turning West Coast Railways’ Loco No.5972 ‘Olton Hall’ (aka ‘Hogwarts Castle’).

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