Rail projects across Britain could be potentially transformed as Network Rail begin working with technology start-up nPlan to use Machine Learning technology across its portfolio.
Through using data from past projects to generate accurate cost and time predictions, the partnership will delivery efficiencies in the way projects are planned and carried out, and advance service reliability for passengers by reducing the risk of projects overrunning.
In a world-first for work on this scale, Network Rail tested nPlan’s risk analysis and assurance solution on two of its biggest rail projects, on the Great Western Main Line and Salisbury to Exeter Signalling project, representing over £3bn of capital expenditure. This exercise showed that by leveraging past data, cost savings of up to £30m could have been achieved on the Great Western Main Line project alone.
This was mainly achieved by flagging unknown risks to the project team, those that are invisible to the human eye due to the size and complexity of the project data, allowing them to ease those risks before they occur at significantly lower cost than if they are missed or ignored.
The technology operates on learning from patterns in historical project performance. In short, the algorithm learns by comparing what was planning against what actually happened on a project at an individual activity level. This facilities transparency and a shared, improved view of risk between project partners.
Following the success of this trial, nPlan and Network Rail will now embark on the next phase of deployment, rolling out of the software on 40 projects before scaling up on all Network Rail projects by mid-2021.
Using data from over 100,000 programmes, Network Rail will increase prediction accuracy, reduce delays, allow for better budgeting and unlock early risk detection, leading to greater certainty in the outcome of these projects.
Alastair Forbes, Network Rail’s Programme Director for Affordability said: “By championing innovation and using forward-thinking technologies, we can deliver efficiencies in the way we plan and carry out rail upgrade and maintenance projects. It also has the benefit of reducing the risk of project overruns, which means in turn we can improve reliability for passengers.”
Dev Amratia, CEO and co-founder of nPlan, said: “Network Rail is amongst the largest infrastructure operators in Europe, and adopting technology to forecast and assure projects can lead to better outcomes for all of Britain’s rail industry, from contractors to passengers. I look forward to significantly delayed construction projects, and the disruption that causes for passengers, becoming a thing of the past, with our railways becoming safer and more resilient.”