Rail Industry Focus

01.09.12

Lessons from across the water

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Aug/Sept 2012

RTM speaks to Derek Jackson, performance engineer at Refocus, ATOC’s fleet reliability focus group, about lessons for the railways from unexpected sources.

The Association of Train Operating Companies’ (ATOC) fleet reliability focus group takes inspiration from some surprising places to improve maintenance, operational efficiency and service delivery.

The group routinely shares best practice within the rail industry by visiting other train operating companies; yet once or twice a year, Refocus also aims to gain experience and lessons from outside industries.

Welsh Water

This year, Refocus went to see how utility supply company Welsh Water is creating efficiency savings through an operations improvement programme implemented by consultancy EMS.

Lean manufacturing methodologies were combined with reliability-centred practices to reduce costs and increase the efficiency of operation. Members of Refocus toured Welsh Water’s treatment site in the Brecon Beacons to see first-hand how different stages of the water treatment process were carried out, and how these management principles could be applied to rail.

Derek Jackson, performance engineer at ATOC’s fleet reliability focus group, explained why it was important to look outside rail for best practice. He told RTM it is ultimately all about seeing “what other industries are doing and what transferable knowledge there is”.

He added: “We went to look at reliability centre maintenance: this isn’t something that’s new to the rail industry, but it was about how that has transferred into the water industry.”

Breaking it down

“The rail industry hasn’t been terribly successful in implementing reliability-centred maintenance,” Jackson admitted. “We do a lot of remote condition monitoring and we can do that quite well, but this is all about understanding the tasks to help with the maintenance, to make it quite easy, to break it into smaller tasks – that’s not something that we’ve been brilliant at to be honest.”

He added that levels of comparison could be drawn between the water and rail industries, and the way in which they have tackled their cultural issues to implement a change was something that could be transferred into work by TOCs.

One of the things Jackson highlighted as “easily transferable” was the use of visual job sheets to break larger, more complicated tasks into manageable day-to-day jobs.

This knowledge will be captured in ATOC’s 20-point plan – a document which details how to run a successful TOC from first principles to new technology. He praised the way “tasks are broken down into smaller chunks to get a lot more daily tasks”.

This involved reducing the complexity of intense maintenance tasks that previously may have only been carried out once every three months, into small daily chunks.

Inspirational

Jackson commented: “That was excellent to see, it did inspire some ideas on how we could implement them in the railway industry.”

But he cautioned: “You’re not trying to de-skill people, you’re trying to transfer their valueadding ability to other areas in their business. It’s not about de-skilling, its just trying to add value to do the more important tasks.”

The 20-point plan will be the main point of contact for TOCs wishing to benefit from this experience, which is accessible through ATOC’s engineering portal.

It was important to ensure as many people as possible could access this learning, he said: “The 20-point plan is available for everyone from apprentices to engineering directors; everybody has access to it.”

Jackson concluded by saying the focus should always be on the customer, improving the service through better maintenance and reliability, and these were the key lessons ATOC would take away to the rest of the rail industry.

“You can always look at yourself quite a lot and there are TOCs that do things a lot better than other ones. But by the same token, if you don’t look at other industries, there’s an opportunity to miss quite a lot. The service industry has got quite a lot of similarities to us.”

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

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