RESONATE HITS DIGITAL RAILWAY SWEET-SPOT

It’s not every day this column gets an endorsement from a Nobel Laureate

In the February column’s preview of the year ahead, the section on Digital Railway Version 2.0 noted that Network Rail’s recently appointed Director – Digital Railway, David Waboso, would be expected to deliver early results. Under ‘Key Areas’ was the cryptic note ‘Great Western to become digital railway showcase’.

All was explained in the April column, which broke the news that Network Rail was planning to award a contract to Derby-based Resonate that would build on the company’s Integrated Electronic Control Centre (IECC) Scaleable upgrades at the Thames Valley Signalling Centre (TVSC) to provide ‘integrated’ Traffic Management (TM) covering the Great Western main line from Paddington to Bristol. And as reported in last month’s news pages, on 8 June Resonate and Network Rail signed the contract.

This is such a major development that David Waboso himself phoned on the day the contract was signed to let me know the deal was done and to set up a meeting for a detailed briefing. I like to think this is because ‘Informed Sources’ has been an advocate of IECC Scaleable and its potential for upgrades since I saw it in action at Marylebone and played with Resonate’s TM demonstration suite at Derby.

That said, I have also been a scathing critic of the Traffic Management procurement programme in particular, and Network Rail’s previous fumbling attempts at Digital Railway in general, so there’s a degree of balance. And, as so often in ‘Informed Sources’, this is the latest development in long-running coverage of a key technical issue.

TMS DAWN

Network Rail launched its requirement for a Traffic Management System with a Notice in the Official Journal of the European Union in 2009. By 2011 the 64 responses had been reduced to a shortlist of six companies.

Resonate, then known as DeltaRail, had reached the long-list of 12 potential suppliers, but was eliminated, in part because the company had no ‘reference system’ in service, effectively offering a version of IECC Classic with Automatic Route Setting. Informed sources suggest that the bid wasn’t put together that well either.

DeltaRail was the new name for AEA Technology Rail, the privatised British Rail Research that created the IECC. AEA Technology sold the business to private equity backers and DeltaRail took over responsibility for the IECC estate, including catching up with technical developments over the last decade to produce Scaleable.

WAVES

Having missed the TMS shortlist, DeltaRail didn’t do what was expected of small UK companies, go away and die quietly. Instead it made waves, serious waves. Waves so serious that when then Network Rail Chief Executive Sir David Higgins appeared before the Transport Select Committee in October 2013, l’affaire DeltaRail was raised.

Sir David revealed that as a result of DeltaRail’s protests he had asked for an independent internal review of the TMS tendering process. Then came one of those statements that make a long-term column like this so much fun.

His ‘only comment’ to the Committee was that the company in question ‘doesn’t have a traffic management system’. ‘They hope to have one in a year or two’s time but they don’t have one now. They don’t have one that anyone else uses and we would be asked to take a leap of faith that that may happen. I am not sure, but I have an open mind and I have asked for an independent review of that particular tendering process’.

Note the date, October 2013. Sir David was being a bit pessimistic on the timescale because on 25 February 2014, there I was at Derby, being taken through a full house TMS system running on IECC Scalable (‘Informed Sources’ April 2014).

Unsurprisingly, as reported in this column (May 2014), the review found that DeltaRail didn’t have a case. TMS procurement staggered on (this column passim ad nauseam) and, having made itself thoroughly unpopular with its prime customer, and been cast into the wilderness as a result, DeltaRail carried on upgrading IECCs and developing TM and became Resonate.

Scaleable pioneer area: the approaches to Didcot Parkway on 22 March 2017 with No 387133 on a crew training trip from Reading.
Chris Wilson
Troubled TMS history: Cardiff. Here loco No 66184 on a Margam to Llanwern steel coils trip transits the station on 19 April 2017.
Martin Turner

There are three levels of TM. The most basic is ‘Isolated’. In the event of service disruption, revised control strategies can be developed and then presented to the signaller on a separate Signal Advisory Display (SAD) screen for manual implementation.

‘Interfaced’ TM adds an interface with the existing control centre work stations. It can also provide inputs to Automatic Route Setting (ARS) systems.

‘Integrated’ TM has interfaces with both the Operations & Planning and signallers’ Control Centre work stations. It can set routes directly and can re-plan the timetable in real time.

NEW START

Which brings us to June last year when, with Digital Railway failing to deliver, David Waboso joined Network Rail from London Underground. One of his first moves was to set up the Early Contractor Involvement (ECI) group, and Resonate was back in the fold.

Instead of telling suppliers what was wanted, they were asked what they could do for Network Rail. ‘I asked people for their ideas and initiatives, including bringing in finance’, David Waboso recalls. ‘I told them the door is wide open.’

As part of this process Network Rail outlined the costs of delays and where the ‘big money was’. In Mr Waboso’s words, Resonate ‘joined the dots up and said “we have this product and if you let us have a trial on IECC Scaleable we think we could do quite a lot, quite early”’.

With the workstations at TVSC already upgraded to Scaleable, it was a no-brainer to add the TM capabilities I had seen demonstrated back in 2014. But the killer move was to get with the financial zeitgeist.

STRAPPED

With Network Rail strapped for investment, Chief Executive Mark Carne had been suggesting that contractors could, for example, resignal a route at their own cost and get paid based on the savings from improved capacity, reduced disruption and so on.

Reader – I thought it was a bonkers idea. But at Derby it resonated. In simple terms, Resonate decided here was an opportunity to put its money where its mouth is. It would upgrade TVSC to TM at its own cost and get paid by results.

A value is put on delay minutes for Schedule 8 compensation payments to train operators for disruption. If the TM upgrade cuts reactionary delay minutes, Network Rail and Resonate will share Schedule 8 payment savings. Great Western Route’s payments under Schedule 8 have been, typically, around £18-20 million a year.

Network Rail forecasts delay reductions from TM of up to 15%. This equates to some £3 million to be shared. The £27 million ‘value’ of the contract quoted in the OJEU Notice was an estimate of the savings over the maximum five-year contract term.

RADICAL

So this is just as much a test of a radical new approach to finance as it is of the Resonate technology. Clearly some form of independent adjudication on the identification and allocation of the savings achieved by TM will be required. This is not going to be simple, but David Waboso is ‘delighted and really really really pleased that we’ve got a different way of bringing private capital into the railway’.

While Resonate is funding the hardware and software, Network Rail will be paying for the residual public sector obligations needed to make it succeed. These include training of staff, a project team to support the supplier, provisions of drawings and access plus the various interfaces with the rail network.

INSTALLATION

Resonate will provide its new Luminate TM platform with the dedicated servers based at Swindon Control and communicating over Network Rail’s Wide Area Network. More on the technology of Luminate another time. However, it is an open system that could interface with other proprietary signalling control centre workstations.

Features to be provided are train graphing, plan/re-plan with the ability to implement the revised timetable automatically through the IECC Automatic Route Setting, possession management and automated platform docking. Other facilities, such as integrated train and crew rostering and Connected Driver Advisory System (C-DAS) can be added later, but David Waboso is a firm believer in advancing in ‘baby steps’.

Commissioning is scheduled for June 2018, after which the trial will run for 12 months. This timing has created an interesting situation.

Under Thales’ original contracts, Integrated TM was to be provided for the new Romford Rail Operating Centre by December 2016. Alongside this, the Cardiff Signalling Centre area would have Integrated TM for the Cardiff Area, plus Isolated TM for the South Wales main line.

Cardiff has had to be descoped to be affordable after the cost of the two contracts more than doubled to £70 million. Isolated TM is now being provided across the network controlled from Cardiff and is due for commissioning in November.

At Romford ROC, Integrated TM was to be provided for the Essex Thameside (London-Southend) route following the transfer of control from Upminster IECC. The current policy is to provide Isolated TM at Upminster, as an interim stage, pending commissioning of the Integrated TM at Romford, scheduled for some time in 2018 dependent on access.

RACE

So, rather like APT versus HSDT in the 1970s, there is a race on to be first with Integrated TM on Network Rail. David Waboso approves: ‘It’s great to have competition in the market place’. Despite Thales having a three-year, £80 million headstart, it could be a close thing.

(Hang on, a minute, what’s happened to the promised Nobel Laureate? – Ed)

Well, I reckon Bob Dylan had been following this column’s TMS saga when he wrote: ‘As the present now Will later be past The order is Rapidly fadin’ And the first one now Will later be last For the times they are a-changin’ (I wish I hadn’t asked! – Ed)

FLYING THE FLAG

‘I’m delighted to be working with Resonate on this project to improve performance on the Great Western Railway. The last remaining British signalling company, they have a stellar track record and will undoubtedly be a great partner to implement this trial by early summer 2018.’ David Waboso, Network Rail Director – Digital Railway