Suppliers offer boost to digital railway plans

Source: RTM Feb/Mar 17

David Clarke, technical director at the Railway Industry Association (RIA), explains why the success of the supply chain will be the success of the digital railway, and the success of the digital railway will be the success of the supply chain.

Digital Railway is an increasingly common phrase which covers a multitude of different things, but can be summed up as the use of digital technology to deliver capacity and performance benefits for rail customers. But deciding how best to apply the right technologies is a tremendous challenge. 

So in August 2016 the cross-industry Digital Railway Programme, supported by the Rail Supply Group, commissioned members of the global supply chain to explore whether, and how, they could drive a more cost-effective and outcome-focused approach for rail customers. This Early Contractor Involvement (ECI) approach has been strongly welcomed as an excellent way to collaboratively engage the expertise of the supply chain, and has already resulted in the development of new ideas and potential solutions. 

To undertake the project, cross-industry teams were formed, with member selection based on knowledge and experience, to support seven workstreams: 

  • Traffic Management
  • Cost Reduction
  • ERTMS Specification Review
  • ERTMS Capacity Proof
  • ERTMS Ready Specification
  • Working together
  • TransPennine Upgrade 

Each of these workstreams developed detailed reports for their specific topics, which were collated into a programme report, published in December 2016. 

The key findings demonstrate how the ECI approach has made a major contribution to building confidence in the business case and deliverability of the Digital Railway Programme. 

The report found that changing current practices, so that the supply chain is engaged to deliver performance outcomes for the railway, would drive supplier investment, productivity and lower ‘whole-life’ costs. Taken together, it was estimated that this could reduce the cost to deploy digital train control by over 30%. 

In another example, earlier engagement with suppliers during project deployment should minimise disruption to passenger services and identify risks early, reducing unnecessary costs and delays. The studies also found that the case for Traffic Management deployment is strong, with 10% performance improvements achievable at key junctions and high utilisation lines when deployed in conjunction with conventional infrastructure upgrades. Customer benefits include better passenger information, more accurate timetabling and smoother journeys with less impact on the environment. 

By empowering suppliers to develop the right solutions, the report not only identifies significant benefits for railway customers but also supports a stronger business case for the Digital Railway, to help facilitate its introduction. By participating in the ECI programme, the Digital Railway Programme and its suppliers have demonstrated a willingness to radically change for the better the cultures and behaviours of project delivery, and the report explicitly identifies the need to continue this behavioural change. Collectively, the supply chain has shown that working across industry boundaries, as well as investing and supporting the development of better processes, will result in a better railway for the customers of the future. 

David Tonkin, interim chief executive of RIA, a key player in the initiative, commented: “The Digital Railway Programme is a tremendous opportunity to demonstrate the capability of UK railways and we are delighted with the co-created approach to early supplier engagement. The supply chain is energised and mobilised by this commitment to a new approach for working together. This is a programme that will transform our railway operations and the experience for our travelling public. 

“The next evolution of the railways is deeply impressive but will require a different way of working. The Digital Railway team and the ECI work that they have done, in collaboration with the suppliers, clients, and other industry stakeholders, really is something that the whole industry needs to grasp in order to make the next stage of the railways a reality. The success of the supply chain will actually be the success of the digital railway, and the success of the digital railway will be the success of the supply chain.” 

Following publication of the ECI programme report, a major conference was held in London in January. Global suppliers who had contributed to the study, including Alstom, Amey, Atkins, Bombardier, Hitachi, Indra, Resonate, Siemens and Thales, presented their detailed findings to around 100 suppliers, colleagues from Network Rail and industry stakeholders. 

Stuart Calvert, the Digital Railway Programme lead for ECI, described the value of the conference: “The ECI work included a great deal of analysis, resulting in significant recommendations. This event gave the opportunity for important stakeholders in the programme to hear directly from suppliers and question their findings.” 

The clear conclusion was that making changes to the way projects are currently started, and having a more collaborative approach between suppliers, clients and other stakeholders, will have significant benefits for Britain’s rail industry. The benefits include substantial cost savings, increased innovation and greater investment in skills and training. 

The final part of the jigsaw is that a robust procurement strategy and forward-looking delivery plan, which fully involves both large and small companies, is imperative to building confidence within the supply chain and encouraging investment in skills and resources. Government has a role to play to provide long-term confidence for the supply chain and the announcement in the Autumn Statement of £450m for digital signalling has already helped in this. 

As stressed at the Conference by Michael Flynn, the Digital Railway Programme director, the need now is to ensure that the recommendations are applied as we start to take the next steps towards a digitised railway.

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