Sentinel 2

Source: Rail Technology Magazine April/May 2013

Darren Gamage, technology services director at Mitie Total Security Management, spoke to RTM about the contract with Network Rail for the new Sentinel scheme to promote identification and management of track workers and ensure their safety.

Improvements in safety on the railway over the last few years have gone far, but trackside workers still represent one of the big ‘danger’ areas for the industry. Managing who can access the track is an important part of maintaining and improving rail safety, and could significantly reduce incidents.

Since 1999, the Sentinel scheme has let Network Rail and contractors monitor who is on site, where, and with what skills, to minimise the risk of untrained personnel carrying out safetycritical work on the railway.

But the system has had to move with the times and is now being upgraded, with ‘Sentinel 2’ being delivered this year by Mitie in partnership with Reference Point. The upgrade will see the database of information connected via smartcard technology, which can be accessed and updated on a real-time basis. The current scheme uses paper cards, re-issued each time a worker changes their competencies.

Card for life

Gamage described one of the key benefi ts as allowing “a longer, card for life solution”. Lasting up to fi ve years, the cards will automatically improve visibility of when individuals’ competencies are up for renewal. This could vastly boost employers’ ability to track and manage these competencies, as he explained: “There won’t necessarily be that gap anymore of saying ‘When is my PTS up for renewal?’ We’ll have much more visibility around it. That will help Network Rail’s sponsors.”

The scheme will also speed up site registration times, allowing competencies to be checked “in a much more efficient manner”.

The traditional process sees workers dial into an IVR, where a proportion of individuals on site are checked. The new Sentinel scheme will provide 100% authentication of the right ID cards and skills, reducing the risk of error and workers without the right competencies being allowed onto the track.

Gamage said: “Any changes to the database that are made will also be able to be viewed, potentially in real-time. As soon as a change is made and their competency is updated, or removed, people with access to the database will be able to view that immediately, which is a significant improvement around health and safety and also in terms of competency management.”

A revolution in protection

The new scheme will also provide improved protection for lone workers, which he described as “something quite revolutionary for the rail industry”.

“At the moment what’s in place is pretty ad hoc. This will provide an industry-wide lone worker protection capability, which individuals can opt into and out of when working alone across rail infrastructure. Should an incident occur, at the end of the phone line they can be identifi ed and we can get help to those individuals much more quickly.”

On fatigue management – a key consideration for trackside workers – Gamage explained that the scheme will be able to identify start dates of workers on specifi c projects, to avoid people working for multiple contractors at the same time.

He added that there were no issues around managing the data online, and said: “It’s a secure database and it’s very tightly controlled in terms of who has access to it. The people who are actually accessing the database will only have the ability to view the data; a standard yes/no capability.

“They will be able to identify that individual, check that it’s the individual sat in front of them and check their competencies.”

A smarter solution

As well as boosting safety, a smartcard solution will deliver process and back offi ce cost savings, and cut the cost of unauthorised access. Gamage said: “It will bring signifi cant improvements to processes. Because it’s a live database, you’re not having cards issued and re-issued all the time, the sponsors will be able to view and manage data on their employees in a much more effective manner.

“In the past they haven’t necessarily been managing it themselves, they’ve been utilising a third party to do that on their behalf.”

Tanya Morris, director of Reference Point, added that the system will deliver “a simpler and smarter way” to provide a safer environment whilst cutting costs for the industry.

Director of safety & sustainable development at Network Rail, Gareth Llewellyn, said: “Technology has moved on apace since we introduced Sentinel originally in 1999 and the opportunity to take advantage of smartcard and smartphone technology will take Sentinel to the next level and also provide us with benefi ts that we haven’t seen before.”

Platform for future innovation

Having a more accurate picture of the available workforce and their competencies could have implications for training and recruitment – an issue which is of utmost importance for the sustainability of the industry and organisations like NSARE (see pages 30-32).

“There will be much improved capabilities to identify skills,” Gamage noted.

“Potentially it could be utilised, particularly by the sponsors, to identify people with a particular skill set for programmes and projects.”

With the basic infrastructure in place, Gamage said, there is a potential for others to make use of it, for example train operators. “It could provide a standardised competency scheme across the whole railway network.” The Sentinel upgrade is being rolled out from May/June this year, and is expected to be fully in place by September.

Tell us what you think – have your say below, or email us directly at [email protected]


Steve Brenson.   14/06/2013 at 14:37

It's a shame that this system can't be rolled out across LUL, DLR and the tramlinks. Especialy when one key advantage would be to see when an operative last worked.

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