Rail Industry Focus


Complete control

Source: Rail Technology Magazine June/July 2014

Thales is the first big winner when it comes to traffic management, winning contracts worth nearly £30m to develop its technology at Cardiff and Romford. RTM spoke to the company’s programme lead David Taylor.

It has been nearly two years since Network Rail awarded the contracts to three companies to develop prototype traffic management systems – an “integral” part of the wider plans to consolidate the work done at hundreds of signal boxes into 12 all-singing, all-dancing rail operating centres (ROCs).

That plan has been well-documented in previous issues, but focuses on the need to allocate workload more evenly to improve productivity, from an average of 72 SEUs (signalling equivalent units) per workstation at £3,800 per SEU at end 2011/12 to 91 SEUs per workstation at £3,200 per SEU by the end of CP5.

Some signallers and commenters have suggested the strategy has a whiff of ‘eggs in one basket’, but Network Rail says the current wide variance in the methods and geography of railway control is a major problem, from VDU workstations with wide spans of control down to mechanical lever frame signal boxes. Consolidation also allows integration with electrical control and better joint working with TOCs.

Linked with those plans, a modern traffic management system automates some tasks and offers better real-time data to experienced operators for others, allowing – hopefully – prediction and resolution of real-time conflicts, just-in-time planning, and reconfigurable control areas to manage disruption.

Advance notice of problems

Following rigorous testing, Thales UK won contracts worth a combined £28.8m to deploy its version of the technology – ARAMIS – at two ROCs, Cardiff and Romford.

Thales’ programme lead David Taylor told us: “Fundamentally, it improves performance.

“Our solution does enable certain things to be done in an automated way, but it is more about helping the operator. Today’s systems often don’t see a potential problem until it is just about to occur.

“Operators, quite frankly, do an incredible job to mitigate the impact of those problems. But traffic management gives them ‘advance notice’ of issues and allows them to minimise the impact of those issues or completely eradicate them, before they become service-affecting and cause delays.

“The system identifies different types of conflicts, for example, and then the operator can either manually resolve those conflicts, they can take guidance from the system, or the system can be set to address them automatically.”

These benefits in tackling conflicts to prevent incidents having major repercussions are a key benefit of a traffic management system, but it can also improve day-to-day performance by, for example, improving flow through complex junctions.

“It enables the operators to focus more on ensuring the trains are arriving on time than today, when the manual elements mean they cannot focus so closely on that.

“There is quite a difference from today’s way of working with signallers and control room staff, to what we would regard as traffic managers or train service managers.”

Whatever you call them, they will have access to better-quality and real-time consolidated data compared to today, pulling in GPS radio tracking, train describer information, and so on. Disruption management and optimum pathing will be much easier, while the live data can also be passed straight to drivers via their DAS, to take account of potential conflicts.

Robin Gisby, Network Rail’s managing director of network operations, said: “As the number of people and businesses relying on rail continues to grow, it is vital we have the technology to make the best use of Britain’s rail infrastructure. The traffic management which will be deployed on the network uses tried and tested technology used on railways around the world to help deliver a leaner, more efficient and reliable network.”

Customisable architecture

Versions of Thales’s technology are in use in 11 countries, it says. It won’t be quite as simple as just dropping it onto the UK rail network and watching it go, but Taylor said its design allows it to be easily configurable to any country’s rail network.

It’s well-proven in busy mixed traffic environments such as Germany, he added.

There were three chosen prototype suppliers – Thales, Hitachi with its Tranista system and Signalling Solutions Ltd (SSL, the joint Alstom Transport Information Solutions UK and Balfour Beatty Rail business that has grown into a major player in recent years), which is using ICONIS. After two “very comprehensive” pre-qualification documents, supplier dialogue sessions and over 40 workshops, all three suppliers were set up in ‘model offices’.

Scenario testing

From summer 2013, 18 Network Rail and TOC evaluators spent a month in each model office, running different scenarios, using real data from the Leeds area (nearly 1,600 trains a day, 35 stations and 87 TIPLOCs).

Operators weren’t aware of the precise scenario until the beginning of each day, and observers oversaw how they were able to use each traffic management system to improve performance, and compare that with a typical day without such a decision support system.

Taylor said: “That ‘model office’ process was very comprehensive and rigorous, and has done a great deal to build everyone’s confidence. It is something that we in Thales are now recommending to our colleagues in other countries when we provide traffic management. It builds confidence and de-risks the implementation.”

Network Rail has taken an approach that ensures the system it chooses can be rolled out “virtually anywhere” without the need for major upgrades, integrating it with the existing signalling infrastructure.

Wider benefits

Traffic management systems can also improve the possession management process. It ensures decisions are taken based on the real current timetable, as opposed to the planned timetable, Taylor said. “There are other associated technologies available, related to traffic management, that can also improve communications at times of possession and that is something we know Network Rail are considering."

Ultimately, an efficient and effective traffic management system would also provide and incorporate data that would help with rolling stock allocation and train crew rostering and deployment.


Thales was not the only winner announced in May. SSL won the smaller £3.4m contract for traffic management LINX development, delivery and support, with completion scheduled for December 2015. LINX, the Layered Information Network Exchange, provides the integration between the traffic management system, the background information systems (from timetable planning to the customer information via Project Darwin) and the physical aspects of signalling via the remote interlocking infrastructure.

The LINX development ensures there will be a standard way of interfacing between those systems and different traffic management systems – as although Thales has been chosen for Cardiff and Romford, Hitachi and SSL are still in the running for other contracts under the national roll-out of traffic management.

Although 63 companies expressed initial interest in providing Network Rail’s traffic management system, only those three are on the framework to provide it. The most controversial exclusion was DeltaRail (see the News section).

Different routes, different priorities

The roll-out of traffic management at the other ROCs will be subject to future competitions. Five of these ROCs are, like Cardiff, at existing locations – Derby (East Midlands), Didcot (Thames Valley), Edinburgh, Glasgow and Gillingham (North Kent) – while five, like Romford, are based at new buildings – Basingstoke, Manchester, Rugby, Three Bridges and York.

“Each route has slightly different priorities,” Taylor said “Clearly a lot can be learned from the first two that are implemented [at Cardiff and Romford], but I think it will be a decision taken on a route-by-route basis by Network Rail. We expect this to always be competitive.

“This really is about the focus on performance. “We all spend a lot of time on trains and we want the train to arrive on time and anything that can be done to improve that is worth doing. And of course it is not just about the passenger, it is about freight as well. Both the freight operating companies and the train operating companies have been really involved in this and that is good, because without their involvement going through the implementation, the system won’t deliver the potential that it can deliver.”

Victor Chavez, CEO of Thales UK, added: “Our selection for this first phase of the traffic management system programme is a huge step in our relationship with Network Rail, and we are hugely excited to bring our global traffic management system expertise to the UK. This is a great example of how we can leverage our significant domestic and global resources to help Network Rail achieve their goals and fulfil their future technology strategy requirements.”

Traffic management system user roles

•  Planners – for timetable planning functions

•  Dispatchers – for functions relating to wide area control or changes to the planned               service on the day

•  Signallers – for safety related functions such as manual route setting or route                        cancellation

•  Administrators – to manage the traffic management system

•  Supervisors or information roles – with visibility of rail service information

•  Maintainers or technicians – to repair or carry out maintenance of the traffic                          management system

The benefits

•  Optimal use of resources, including staff and rolling stock

•  Increased capacity usage without change to installed infrastructure base

•  Operational cost reduction

•  Improved incident management and recovery from perturbation

•  Improved understanding of asset and train service performance through detailed                                   reporting and analysis

•  Informed decision making reducing delays

•  Conflict free train service plans

•  Improved passenger information

•  Better coordination of national train services through wide area control approach

•  Improved delay reporting accuracy and management of payment mechanisms

•  Standardisation of information management and adjacent control interfaces

•  Improved training from visibility of historical train service and incident data

•  Reduced fuel costs with driver advisory information

(Source: IET railway signalling and control systems course, Emma Davey, Thales)

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