Luminate Traffic Management is go

Early demonstration of benefits as signaller training accelerates

Crossing trains: an HST on a Swansea to London Paddington run (left) passes No 800302 on a North Pole to Stoke Gifford working in the centre road at Swindon on 23 February 2018.
Ken Brunt

On Sunday 10 June, Network Rail took a giant stride forward in the application of digital Traffic Management (TM) to the railway. Given that Digital Railway Group Managing Director David Waboso is a proponent of advancing in ‘baby steps’, that Sunday was a true leap into the unknown.

Despite being NR’s first TM system to enter service, Resonate’s Luminate, now controlling the Great Western main line (GWML) from Paddington to Oxford and Bristol, is the full-house ‘Integrated’ version. The two systems due to come into service in October at Cardiff and Upminster have the basic ‘Isolated’ specification which simply provides Operations Decision Support Tools (ODST). When this flavour of TM detects potential conflicting paths it recommends changes that can then be implemented manually.

In contrast, Integrated TM does what it says on the tin. When conflicts are detected, either the Controller or Signaller can implement the solution at the click of a mouse button. But as the trial is showing, conflict detection and resolution is only one of its capabilities.


While the Train Running Controllers (TRC) at Swindon and Signalling Shift Managers (SSM) at the Thames Valley Signalling Centre (TVSC) at Didcot had started training on Luminate as soon as the servers and software were installed, there is a big difference between working offline and trusting the system with a live railway. True, as Digital Railway Senior Programme Manager John Collins points out, the training programme dictated a ‘soft’ start. And 10 June was chosen because on Sundays only the main lines out of Paddington are in use and there is a lower signalling workload.

But on that Sunday no one really knew what to expect. Three TRCs and three SSMs had been trained and were rostered to work together.


On its first day Luminate made over 300 ‘interventions’. Many of these were minor – associations and platform docking – but the surprise was the confident way the TRC and SSM were using the new system. Digital Railway Programme TM Director Andy Jones recalls that he expected that the controllers and signallers might have to be encouraged to use Luminate. ‘In fact, we had to hold them back.’

Western Route Managing Director Mark Langman remembers that there was some out of course running and immediately the TRC and SSM were rescheduling the platforming at Reading. ‘That was an immediate win where previously we would have just waited for ARS to catch up’, he comments.


By the time of my visit to Swindon at the end of August Luminate had been running 24/7 for just over 11 weeks with only four outages for issues like functionally checks. Around 12,000 interventions had been recorded.

All but one of 11 TRCs had been trained, plus four out of six Infrastructure Controllers. At Didcot all six SSMs and eight out of 96 signallers had been trained. The good news is that signaller training has been compressed into a day, compared with three days for a TRC or SSM, making release easier. The focus of signaller training is on platform docker and the scenario management tool.


At the start of Network Rail’s TM programme in 2009, the new technology was sold on its ability to minimise the impact of major disruption. Since then I have come to the view that its real benefit lies in the continuous smoothing of minor conflicts in normal running.

When I put this to John Collins he concurred, as did Mark Langman. Luminate also brings consistency compared with human operators. ‘Give the TM an equation and it will solve it the same way every time’, according to Mr Collins. That said, there have been a number of incidents where Luminate has reduced delay and helped recover from perturbations.


Meanwhile, behind the screens Luminate is already making life easier for the operators and signallers. GWML is a very busy route in the throes of a total route modernisation, including electrification and the changeover to a new fleet of trains. This means a high level of stress for operating staff. In retrospect, the fact that Mark Langman was willing to add the introduction of Traffic Management to his to-do list emphasises his confidence in the Luminate system.

To accommodate the modernisation work, Western receives a steady flow of amendments to the timetable, known as Very Short Term Plans (VSTP). Luminate downloads these from the LINX (Linked Information Exchange) message hub. Developed by Alstom Signalling, LINX provides a central hub accessing existing NR systems such as TRUST.


VSTPs arrive in a basic form, lacking information needed by the IECC Scalable’s Automatic Route Setting (ARS) facility. Luminate flags up these omissions but then, as Resonate’s Head of Analysis Strategy Team Daniel Haycock puts it, ‘swallows up the VSTP and feeds it into Scalable having inserted the necessary information’. As a result, trains that normally would not have been in ARS are now covered.

This is important because a non-ARS train may be overlooked at a busy period and come to a halt, leading to a call from the driver to find out what is happening. Bringing VSTPs into ARS is a useful feature.


I had always assumed that the Train Graph would be the primary operating tool, but all the TRC’s workstations at Swindon were showing the Platform Docker view. This is not so surprising when you consider the Route’s current variations in Sectional Running Times with IC125, Class 800 on diesel and Class 800 on electric.

These differences will accumulate by the end of the line and Platform Docker flags up future platform occupancy conflicts at terminal stations. A related facility provided by Luminate is associations and Automatic Code Insertion (ACI). Out of course running means that a train planned to form an outgoing service may not be available, or that one unit in a set scheduled to couple up and depart in multiple may not have arrived. This is where Luminate’s ACI facility simplifies the signaller’s workload.

Platform Docker: this is Paddington.


Both the Digital Railway and the Western Route implementation teams contain numerous ex-signallers who have played a vital role in the application of Luminate. As John Collins puts it, from an engineer’s perspective the technical solution may be perfect, but from an operational viewpoint it may not provide what is needed. Having an experienced signaller and operator in the Digital Railway project team provided this feedback.

Acceptance by staff was helped by the fact that Luminate also came with an upgrade to the TRC workstations. Bulky old 19-inch display screens were replaced with 24-inch high definition widescreen monitors. These provide greater clarity and more information on the Control Centre of the Future (CCF) displays.


Service introduction has been based on the philosophy that you don’t push new technology at people. As Western Route Control Manager Ian Willot explained, ‘You bring in the equipment, explain the benefits, provide the right training and let the staff get used to it, build up the benefits and use their feedback to develop the system’. Resonate’s Dan Haycock – the ‘father’ of Luminate – confirms that experience from daily operation is now informing the ongoing development of the system.

Typical of this feedback is the presentation of information on the screen. Luminate and Digital Rail had spent a lot of time thinking about what to show and how to display it. Typical feedback includes both how to display and provide more information on conflicts and drawing attention to lateness.

Paul Neve of Digital Railway had been ‘on the floor’ that morning talking to the controllers. He believes the immediate benefit of Luminate has been providing the wider picture. Now the need is to get into the minor details, the ‘nitty-gritty’. While wide scale regulation can be done fairly easily, feedback suggests that junction conflicts, for example, need further development.

Dan Haycock sees the wide range of feedback in terms of ‘themes’. One theme is improving the way Luminate draws attention to something the TRC needs to worry about. The dual challenge here is to get not just the right functionality, but to ensure that it translates into a benefit for the operator.

Overall Andy Jones is pleased that nothing ‘big’ has come out of the feedback. ‘If you’ve got something 80% right in technology you are good enough to go. If you wait for 100% you’ll never deliver anything.’


Dan Haycock adds that during development of the Swindon installation some features that Resonate would have liked to have incorporated had to be ‘parked’. He is reassured that during these first months nothing has come up that isn’t on the pending list.

As a result it will be a case of prioritising the introduction of additional features. Here the balance is between small and incremental changes that can be briefed to staff and major enhancements that require further training.


Currently, while Luminate can receive messages from TRUST via LINX it can’t reply. As a result, currently, TRC has to use the two systems in parallel. Launching without TRUST was part of the ‘soft start’.

A mini-project has begun looking at the assurance necessary before establishing the link. Assurance in this case means being sure that Luminate sending updated information to TRUST would not crash the system nationally! Or as John Collins explains: ‘we have to decide how far to cast the assurance net to make sure we are not fixing something at one end and destroying something at the other’. This will be a major challenge as more Integrated TM systems come online.


Central to the success to date has been the willingness of Route Managing Director Mark Langman to allow the trial on his railway at such a critical time. It would have been easy to say, ‘come back when you have spent another 12 months on development’, but Digital Rail wanted to get Luminate into service so the real railway ‘could give it a kicking’.

Two factors contributed to Mr Langman’s agreement to take on the Luminate trial. First, Resonate having managed the upgrading of an expanding TVSC to Scalable had showed that the company could deliver. The ‘payment-by-results’ contract also meant that Resonate had ‘skin in the game’. Second, he was assured by Digital Railway that if Luminate fell down, TVSC would be no worse off, operating as normal on ARS. That said, Mark Langman was initially cautious. As Route MD Wales from 2011 before coming to Western in 2015, he had ‘lived and breathed’ the Cardiff TM system, from the promises of the eager potential suppliers to the subsequent missed deadlines.

Even worse, when he first went to Resonate’s Derby offices, the Luminate demonstration did not go entirely to plan. Fortunately a subsequent visit with GWR MD Mark Hopwood, in March this year, showed how far the system had advanced, changing his view to ‘who would be mad enough not to go with this?’.

But in the end it came down to trust. John Collins pays tribute to Mark Langman for letting him and his five-strong team ‘camp out’ at Swindon. In return, Mr Langman compliments the ‘passion and commitment’ of the Digital Railway team.


With the soft launch a success, Mark Langman is already looking ahead. With the summer over, and the Bristol and Oxford resignalling schemes commissioned, training of the signallers at TVSC is accelerating. ‘When every signaller at every work station is using Luminate, that is when we will have the full capability see Luminate’s full potential’, he says.

In this new world, where will the demarcation line between signallers and controllers lie, I asked? In particular, how much responsibility will be devolved to the signallers? Who, for example, will have the authority to ‘press the button’ to allow Luminate to implement a change through ARS? Theoretically the TRC could download a new plan to ARS, altering the order of trains, without the signaller’s involvement. But the signaller is in charge of the train service.

As Mark Langman reminded me, this is not a safety risk, but it could be a performance risk, apart from the impact on relations between signaller and controller. While admitting that this is currently unknown territory, Mr Langman suspects that the pendulum will swing towards signallers doing what is necessary in real time without having to ask, because not only is the system prompting them on what to do, everyone can see what is happening.


‘We haven’t just redecorated the GWML, we’ve changed the white goods as well’. TVSC Signaller

Andy Jones’ working hypothesis has been that signallers will work within a 15-minute forward window, with the TRC responsible outside that. But, as I was constantly reminded, this is a trial that will determine how the new model railway works.


Asked whether there have been any quantifiable benefits to date, Mark Langman hesitates. With all the changes underway, including the transfer of Temple Meads and Oxford to TVSC, finding a signal amidst this noise in terms of attributing minutes saved, or Public Performance Measure (PPM) failures avoided, to Luminate is not easy.

During the soft start there has been no urgency to start measuring the benefits, on which ultimately the return on Resonate’s investment in the Western installation would depend. ‘What we don’t want is for you to publish statistics and then have people say “is that all?”’, I was told.

Whether Luminate has a future will become clear when everyone is fully trained. Western Route has already created a Performance Analyst’s post in Operations for this coming phase.


Another original TM function was called timetable plan/ replan. This was generally applied to recovery from a major perturbation, but already applies to what I think of as ‘smoothing’.

From his operator’s viewpoint Mark Langman contrasts the ability of Luminate to ‘see’ all trains with a human operator focusing on one at a time. To illustrate plan/replan, he quotes the simple case of a Bristol train 10 minutes late off Paddington.

Without TM, the TRC would have to consult the timetable to see where the delayed train could cross at Reading or Didcot. A phone call to the signaller would pass on the revised running. Then it would be a case of the TRC checking further down the line at Swindon or Wootton Bassett, followed by another phone call. ‘By the time you’ve done that it’s taken 10 minutes, where Luminate can do the same task in milliseconds and pass the changes onto ARS to implement’ says Mr Langman.

Suburban services on the relief lines: No 387145 on a Didcot Parkway to Paddington working passes No 387165 on a Reading-bound duty in Sonning cutting on 3 April 2018.
Chris Wilson


‘I don’t think we know all of the opportunities Luminate creates.’ Mark Langman, NR Western Route Managing Director


John Collins adds that because with Luminate the TRC can run alternative scenarios offline, in terms of overall performance, the best strategy in this case might be to leave the train 10 minutes late, because recovering the delay could impact other services.

Western Route has already been using Luminate to model operating strategies in response to short-term changes. For example, Western has been providing short-term access to Crossrail Ltd for interface testing.

This requires giving up line and SSMs have been using Luminate to model and test the best way to maintain normal services around this limitation. Previously, notes Mark Langman, such modelling would have involved paying a consultancy ‘thousands of pounds and taken months’. Now SSMs are doing it as a matter of routine.


Everyone I spoke to, from Resonate, Digital Railway and Western Route, was determined not to get ahead of themselves. I was reminded several times that if the trial doesn’t deliver worthwhile benefits, the option remains to put it down to experience and close down Luminate.

While all those involved were happy to discuss what might come next, with integrated stock and crew management both the holy grail and the summit assault on Everest, such aspirations were immediately qualified by ‘but let’s see how the trial works out first’. However, I did detect one brief chink in this determinedly down-beat approach when talk turned to the potential for Connected Driver Advisory Systems (C-DAS) and Heathrow Junction. Digital Railway’s DAS Board is currently considering how to build on the earlier Airport Junction trial, which was John Collins’ baby.

Up to now, GWR has been mentioned only in passing. ‘We’ve got a supportive TOC’, says Andy Jones, pointing to FirstGroup championing the Airport Junction trial with its IC125s. Assuming Luminate is retained, First is keen to take C-DAS forward. It helps, adds Mark Langman, that both he and Great Western Managing Director Mark Hopwood have operating backgrounds ‘so we can see the benefits’.

Wearing his operator’s hat, Mark Langman sees a ‘real opportunity’ at Airport Junction in 2019 when the withdrawal of InterCity 125 will leave a GWR fleet – Classes 800, 387 and 345 – with much more homogenous performance characteristics. With DfT reported to be looking for a C-DAS trial, and C-DAS dependent on having a TM system, I suspect it is a case of ‘watch this space’.


Automatic Code Insertion (ACI) was an integral feature of the original IECC. When a train arrives at a terminal station ACI checks its next working against the Train Service Database (TSDB) and inserts the outgoing headcode that will be used by ARS.

This requires the TSDB to include the relevant ‘associations’, that is, identifying the outgoing working of each incoming train. Establishing associations manually would be a time-consuming process, especially at a terminus like Waterloo.

Thus Resonate developed Waterloo ACI or WACI. WACI works on a one-in/one-out basis. If a train arrives in platform 4 at 14.00 and the next service from platform 4 leaves at 14.15, then WACI assumes it’s the same train, provides the association and inserts the headcode accordingly.

IECC Scalable incorporates an enhanced version of WACI that can handle splitting and joining and other useful facilities. For example, if Train A comes in, it becomes Train C for the outward working. But WACI knows that before the outward working can leave, Train B has to come in and couple with Train A to form Train C.

Another feature is that an inward and outward pair will have been associated with a particular platform when the TSDB for the day was downloaded. If the incoming train is re-platformed, Luminate’s enhanced WACI maintains the association.