Rail Industry Focus


Network Rail’s planning and delivering safe work programme – national roll-out slips to mid-2016

Source: RTM Oct/Nov 2015

Justin Page, programme director at Network Rail, discusses the lessons learned from the Planning and Delivering Safe Work programme go-live in the East Midlands and what this means for the overall project.

The national roll-out of the Planning and Delivering Safe Work (PDSW) programme has slipped back until mid-2016, due to implementation challenges during the go-live in the East Midlands and since.

Back in our April/May issue, RTM was given an exclusive preview of the programme while sitting in on a training course at York Engineers’ Triangle, which is also home to Network Rail’s largest rail operating centre (ROC).

At the time we were told that the national roll-out would be complete by the end of the calendar year. However, after catching up with Justin Page, programme director at Network Rail, we were told: “We have had a number of issues and challenges. We slowed the programme down a little because of the emerging learning from East Midlands and being able to embed that into future roll-outs.

“We have also had a bit of a slowdown in the production of technology, which is a key deliverable for go-live. The next route planned for go-live is Scotland in February 2016 – which is a significant chunk of the organisation.

“The current plan is for full roll-out by mid-2016, but I would say that this comes with a word of caution. The learning is still emerging.”

Learning experience

Five months after go-live in East Midlands, Page told us that the region was always going to be a “learning experience in the live environment”. Lessons would be learnt, to be embedded in future roll-outs.

The programme’s Implementation Guide, a working document, has highlighted a number of such lessons.

It says briefing material should be published in plenty of time, for example. The March 2015 publication date for the East Midlands PDSW go-live on 15 May was not enough time for briefings with all affected staff.

Additionally, as PDSW affects many organisations in and around Network Rail’s infrastructure, it is recommended that Change Network Maps should be generated to communicate changes with external companies and bodies. But East Midlands did not have a documented Change Network Map, and even post go-live, some organisations have been found to still be unaware of the change.

“There has been a huge amount of effort required on behalf of my colleagues in East Midlands,” said Page. “To an extent, we underestimated the enormity of the task ahead and just what this would mean – not only in terms of using the new tools – but the behavioural change.”

The change is particularly large on the ‘planning’ side of PDSW. “Historically,” Page told us, “we have very much focused on doing the job and the time and effort in the planning part of the job was relatively small. Now it is an increasingly significant part of the process and an area that many are not used to working in. Therefore, it is a challenge. It is a challenge in terms of time and effort resource, but is a challenge in terms of their thinking.”

Network Rail

Digitising the work packs and control process

As part of the PDSW programme, new electronic permitting (ePermit) technology, Proscient, is replacing safe system of work packs, and a new Control of Work Process is to be used to plan, risk assess, deliver and hand back all work carried out on Network Rail infrastructure.

Talking about the technology, Page told us that since go-live there has been a software upgrade to deliver better functionality. From November, version 2.2.4 will be introduced, which will be the platform that everyone uses during roll-out.

“The new technology has been a challenge for people, it is clearly a new piece of software but it fundamentally operates differently to the old way of working,” RTM was told. “No longer can you log on as a planner and produce a safe system of work pack. You need to go through the various stages in the production of the ePermit, which the software forces you to do. In doing that, you need to engage more people, including the Safe Work Leader and the authorising authority, which is typically the line manager.

“The software forces you to work differently in terms of process and behaviourally. And that is where most of the challenges come from.”

Charging for non-attendance

The PDSW training roll-out is one of the largest Network Rail has ever undertaken. But a recent Network Rail update on progress reveals that in August, due to the “unacceptable” number of “no-show” delegates on courses, it was forced to introduce a charging mechanism for those failing to give eight working days’ notice. This was seen to be the best way to deal with the high numbers of non-attendances and no-shows, and applies to both internal and external candidates.

The document says that Network Rail anticipated wasted costs of about £260,000 from the supply chain no-shows, and £149,000 from Network Rail’s own no-shows. Since the outset of the programme, in excess of 24,000 training places have been provided against a requested demand of 19,500.

Page said: “The training has been provided free of charge, but we have had early issues with non-attendance. We have offered as much encouragement and incentive as we can for people to attend their planned places, but the 20% gap – the 24,000 [places offered] versus the 19,500 [demand] – is the size of that problem. They are effectively lost training places.

“We did introduce a charge for no-shows. But, in the end, the ultimate penalty is that once these places are gone they are gone.”

Ongoing training

When RTM spoke to Page in early October, he told us that Network Rail had trained 70% of the staff needed to meet demand levels “and we envisage that the remainder will be trained by December”.

He added that at its core PDSW is a “very simple programme” – but it is also very wide-reaching, and not only affects the nearly 20,000 people being trained but “touches most people in the operational environment at some point”.

“It is that wave of change that has proved to be our biggest challenge. It is a great programme but it is not without its issues,” said Page. “Much of this programme is about changing ways of working, processes and behaviours and it is hugely challenging. But I believe at the end of implementation the benefits will be there, realised and clear.”

The three key changes at the heart of PDSW

  • A new electronic permitting (ePermit) technology or permit to work tool, which will replace safe system of work packs;
  • A single, national Control of Work process;
  • A single accountable person, via the new competence of Safe Work Leader (SWL), responsible for safe delivery of work within a worksite, and in overall charge of both task and safety issues. This avoids the possibility for confusion or mixed accountabilities.


A Rail Safety Specialist   06/11/2015 at 13:32

It is so disappointing that RTM only chose to quote uncritically of those. Forcing the system tthrough and not those who have to try to make the half baked system work - or the trade union concerns

RTM   06/11/2015 at 14:09

We know there are problems, some of which we did address in the interview with NR. We'd always be keen to hear other views - you can email editorial AT railtechnologymagazine dot com

Mike   07/11/2015 at 16:51

Bureacracy and red tape such as SWL /PDSW program is killing our industry costing it a fortune Give the operation of the industry back to the local P Way engineers office and take away the barriers SIMPLIFY SIMLIFY keep it Simple

Chris   17/11/2015 at 09:34

If the only people working on the network were NR Maintainence Mike's idea might work, however its not the case and alot of the issues we have are due to the interface between the numerous contractors and NR. Proscient allows all those planning work to see what work is already planned in the same location and promotes co-ordination between each group to come to a sensible solution. having used the system as a PDSW planner, AA and SWL1 i like it and am looking forward to it going live in more areas.

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