Rail service improvements and disruptions


Rail project benefits from a personnel approach

The UK’s rail network is one of the oldest in the world. In spite of its age, constant improvement and maintenance programmes ensure that it is more than capable of serving 21st century needs.

As part of this ongoing improvement programme, specialist consultant The Ultimate Solutions Partnership (TUSP) has recently helped leading contractor, Balfour Beatty Rail Infrastructure Services (BBRIS) to centralise, modernise and streamline its Renewals Management System.

The upkeep of the UK’s rail network is a never-ending job that takes place 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. As one the UK’s largest track renewals organisations, Balfour Beatty Rail Infrastructure Services provides renewals services to Network Rail for almost a third of the UK’s rail infrastructure – providing a complete renewals service from formation through to complete relaying of plain line and switches and crossings work – a service level it also offers to more than 30 other countries worldwide. The company recently embarked on a programme to enhance and centralise the existing project management system that encompasses its renewals service and called upon the services of TUSP to help implement this change.

TUSP’s first step was to pull together all the high-level business processes and to analyse what they did, how they interacted with each other and how and when the information was then delivered to those who needed it. Richard Smith, director at TUSP explains: “It became obvious to us that the actual process itself could be broken down into a number of discrete processes or phases. By apportioning the process in this way we immediately simplified it – making it far easier to incorporate the anticipated enhancements.”

The second step was to then understand what was involved in each of these phases and, more importantly identify the deliverables at each stage. “By identifying the deliverables we were able to create a phase cut off or ‘stage gate’. What the stage gates allow BBRIS to do is to define the end of one process and the beginning of another. Each stage gate required sign off from senior management, where they would either approve completion of the phase or sign off all elements that were satisfactorily complete, with defined objectives for those that were still to be completed. The beauty of the system is that it is not totally rigid – not all disciplines have to be completed – but the next stage can only begin with the necessary approvals and remedial instructions in place.”

For this part of the plan TUSP implemented a software package called Primavera P3E to map the timings for each activity within the process. “We also opted for Progress Reporter, another package from Primavera. What this does,” continues Smith, “is monitor the activity due dates, allowing the relevant engineer to manage those activities and also record when they have completed them, which then updates the data back into the P3E software above it.”

With each process mapped at the deliverable stage TUSP discussed a visualisation tool based on web technology, which would allow all interested parties to see the information that pertained to them, the depth of which could be controlled by privileges determined by password log-ins. Because the existing system involved a lot of paperwork, the existing hard copy formats were turned into web pages using the Microsoft.Net framework.

Once this had been completed TUSP had effectively developed an end-to-end integrated system that determined the process, provided the framework and offered all the necessary project support tools. The new system was also capable of producing method statements, planning procedures and ordering information, all driven by the project management infrastructure and the many lead times it has to manage. As well as centralising the data repository it became obvious to both TUSP and BBRIS that some of the planning work undertaken by certain personnel would be better suited to being undertaken at depot locations rather than at the HQ. As well as making sense from an operational point of view, the idea of having planners at the ‘coal face’ also made sense.

The new streamlined system has been christened Renewals Management System (RMS) and is still undergoing support from TUSP – this is mainly in the form of ongoing training and change management. As well as support, however, enhancements are also on the cards, with a potential migration to handheld technology in the future.

Commenting on the project and its subsequent implementation, Geoff Durand, Managing Director of BBRIS explains: “The previous systems we had in place were bespoke and needed much more support than this new approach. However, it was not all bad… the new system leverages many of the capabilities of the old systems, which were not really fulfilling their potential. With the new intranet-based approach all the capabilities are now available to all that need them.

“Although it is early days, we are expecting the new system to be a lot more reliable, indeed early signs are already reinforcing this belief. Our customer, Network Rail has also been expressing an interest in what we have done and with this new end-to-end process now in place, we can demonstrate what could potentially become a national programme.”

Smith concludes: “Putting new systems in place can often present a variety of challenges, not just from a technical standpoint, but also from a personnel perspective. One thing that TUSP is good at is marrying the two together. In this case not only did we deliver on the technical brief but we also addressed the equally important staff issues – where many people are now realising the benefits to be had – embracing the new approach over the older legacy system. Change does not have to be difficult; you just need to know how to manage it.”

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