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Moving forward with the Data Risk Strategy

Coen van Gulijk, professor of railway safety and risk at the Institute of Railway Research (IRR), discusses the Data Risk Strategy and how the RSSB and the University of Huddersfield contributed to it.

The Data Risk Strategy Group (DRSG) has produced its strategy to modernise safety delivery on the GB railways. Its credo is to develop the risk intelligence that a world-class railway needs, efficiently provided to the right people, in the right format, and at the right time. Modern big data systems offer solutions for that kind of risk intelligence. Intelligent data-risk systems offer advantages over traditional methods in the sense that they can use the same database for national and local solutions, they can use live data, and they can drive timely interventions. 

Topics for the DRSG strategy include modernising SMIS into the Safety Management Intelligence System as the ‘one stop shop’ for shared risk management information; local and predictive risk profiles based on data; efficient delivery of health and safety processes; and a common risk framework mapped to compliance frameworks. 

Driving safety innovation 

The DRSG is an industry workgroup hosted by RSSB that has the task to develop and oversee the delivery of the industry-wide strategy for the collection, analysis and reporting of safety-related data, and the development and use of risk tools and models. 

As a platform, the DRSG has been an important body to represent industry interests for the development of the Safety Management Intelligence System and helped guide its implementation. The DRSG oversees the Big Data Risk Analysis (BDRA) programme, a research programme that investigates the possibilities that modern data systems offer for safety. The programme is performed within the partnership between RSSB and the IRR of the University of Huddersfield. 

Word cloud - Figure 1 copy edit

Safety innovation delivery 

A very visible step is the industry-facing Safety Management Intelligence System. It is not just SMIS in a web-based system; it provides a data layer that acts as a foundation on which safety solutions can be built. The comprehensive data layer can be used for several safety systems at the same time but, equally, data for specific purposes can be added or used alongside. Text analysis of Close Calls is one of those specific purposes. 

Since starting the BDRA research programme, natural language processing techniques have been investigated to help extracting safety lessons from plain English text. This is particularly useful for analysing Close Calls, of which there are approximately 150,000 per year. Several text analysis techniques were investigated that could lead to intelligent solutions for the railways, but here we shall focus on the first technique that was investigated: word clouds. 

The advantage of word clouds is that they support learning from a set of Close Calls without actually reading them in detail. Figure 1 represents a cluster that was found with a test sample for worker slip-trip-falls. With some interpretation, it shows that this cluster of words is mostly focused around missing or broken lids on pits, troughs and drainage. This means that many Close Calls identify missing or broken lids as one of the culprits for slips, trips and falls. The method is, of course, not limited to Close Calls, any safety-related text document can be analysed. As a bonus, the work was reported in international scientific journals in early 2016, which accentuates that the GB railways are indeed world-class. 


It is techniques like the word cloud that force us to contemplate safety management systems of the future. The partnership between RSSB and the IRR investigates, evaluates and develops futuristic safety solutions. The DRSG guides the research to serve industry purposes and was put in the unique position to combine profound insights from research and industry needs to formulate the Data Risk Strategy. The strategy and the way in which it is delivered ensure that the GB railways enter the era of data-driven risk intelligence sensibly to sustain a world-class railway.

For More Information

‘The Data Risk Strategy’ can be accessed at:




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