ORBIS: Turning track data into intelligence

Source: RTM Dec/Jan 19

Track engineer Dan Collins explains how an app and an iPad are transforming track maintenance in Network Rail’s Western route.

Carrying 2,200 train services a day, an average of 208 freight trains and 92 million passenger journeys a year, Network Rail’s Western route is under increasing pressure to squeeze more out of its infrastructure network.

It’s a network that incorporates core stations at either end of the Great Western Main Line – London Paddington and Bristol Temple Meads – with increasing passenger footfall at a number of key stations including Reading, Oxford, Bristol, and Exeter. With 1,847 miles of track, 2,500 signals and more than 1,700 points, keeping assets maintained and renewed to support ever-increasing demand is a continual challenge.

Recognising this as a challenge across all eight of its routes, Network Rail needed to improve how it planned and carried out work. To do this, it launched the first digital transformation programme of its kind – the Offering Rail Better Information Services (ORBIS) programme.

This seven-year digital transformation programme – due for completion in March 2019 – has changed the way the business captures, collates, and exploits data on its vast infrastructure to improve the maintenance and decision-making process. The tools, apps, and digital mapping solutions delivered to date are shifting Network Rail from time-based maintenance and renewal regimes to ʻpredict and preventʼ regimes – in simple terms, to make sure engineers and planners have access to up-to-date asset data to carry out the right work, in the right place, at the right time.

My Work driving

One of the programme’s key early initiatives was to deliver 13,000 iPhones and iPads to Network Rail’s frontline teams. This acted as an enabler to allow a suite of intuitive apps, designed to improve the capture of asset data and fault analysis, to be developed and deployed for frontline teams. The Mobile Works Management project first rolled out the My Work app in 2014 – providing the teams with digital access to their workbank, work orders, supervisor track patrols, asset data, and condition history.

In Bristol, my track team and I have made the digital shift and are now seeing the benefits of using the My Work app.

Recognising data as an asset

We had to move to new ways of working to drive methods that would allow us to understand what our assets are doing, when they are going to fail, and when we need to intervene.

For too long we have been fixed on time-based schedules to maintain and renew assets. If we wanted to make the infrastructure more robust, safe and reliable, we had to move to condition-based, intelligence-led maintenance. And that meant ditching outdated paper-based ways of working and using iPads and the My Work app, with its digitised forms to capture data on our assets – whether that’s a switch, crossing, or signal asset. Data has to be at the heart of decision-making. 

By capturing this information digitally, we can send it immediately to our central data system Ellipse and use it to analyse and understand what the infrastructure is doing and, more importantly, exploit the data to form future workbanks.

We have filing cabinets of data in paper form for every track inspection going back years and years. It means all that data on switches and crossings, for instance, are on bits of paper. But that information is critical; it’s the data that tells me what sort of failures we are getting, the repeat rates, how effective our maintenance is, and the rates of wear and tear taking place.

We needed data we could access and work with; data we could carry out trend analysis with to form an intelligence-led workbank. Now, we’re starting to build that rich data stream.

Out with the old, in with the new

Instead of heading out on track with bundles of paper forms, my team pick up their iPads. Opening up the My Work app, they access their work orders and use digital scripts and forms to capture and close each job.

More than 13,000 iPads are now being used by frontline teams across all routes, and the statistics speak for themselves: since 2014, more than 12.8 million work orders have now been closed using the app, and 16.1 million engineering scripts completed.

Aviation inspiration

The aeronautical industry has data management systems that tell engineers how long a wing or fuselage component will last. They know exactly when and where they should intervene.

That’s precisely the level of knowledge and evidence the rail industry should work to if we want to meet the current challenge, let alone future growth.

The type of information the teams are now capturing can be used to make informed decisions. It makes sense on so many levels, including financial – for instance, evidence could show that it’s more economical to replace a switch than continually repair it.

We are only at the beginning of this change, but today I can see that every measurement, every fault analysis we carry out with My Work, is going into Ellipse – and, as a direct outcome, we can look at failure rates of assets and start planning work in an entirely different and more effective way. The focus now, which will ramp up in CP6, is all about maintenance effectiveness.

Right work, right place, right time

The My Work app has been enhanced three times since its first release. Release 1 introduced the digitisation of work orders; release 2 digitised section manager patrols and the ability to review and update workbanks on site, plus view the work history of an asset; release 3 digitised forms and scripts to carry out work for signalling, track, telecoms, and level crossings.

Exploiting the data

If I can see clear, aligned evidence that a particular switch wears out in five years, then I know in Year 4 that I need to replace a specific amount of switches. Now, when I’m looking at my business volumes, I can see where and how assets are degrading.

I can see what I need to replace in 2020 and can understand how degradation rates increase if we run more train services – but the difference is that I now have aligned, clear evidence to make that decision.

By capturing the data digitally and more efficiently, we are moving to a point where I know when an asset is starting to fail, I know when it will completely fail, and I can intervene at precisely the right point to keep services running at optimal efficiency.

As the owners of the network, we are now shifting to a risk-based maintenance strategy that, in the long run, will benefit the railway, train operating companies and, ultimately, the passengers.


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