With 15 months to go before Thameslink opens, Network Rail is seeking help on how to use TM
A strange press release arrived in my inbox at the end of September. It announced that Mott MacDonald has been appointed by Network Rail to support the implementation of the Hitachi Tranista traffic management system for the Thameslink network.
Motts will ‘advise on the necessary changes to operational roles, processes and decision making to support the introduction of the new technology, as well as operator workload prediction’. The consultancy will also ‘assess how to integrate the Tranista system within existing operational centres and its impact on staff and accommodation, including physical desk design’.
Why is this strange? Well, Siemens’ world-leading full house signalling system, with Automatic Train Operation overlaid on the European Train Control System (ETCS Level 2), is due to start firing 24 Siemens Class 700 Desiro City electric multiple-units through the Thameslink central core in December next year.
It has been obvious to many people, not least Modern Railways readers, that the real problem will not be signalling the trains through the tunnels, but getting them to arrive at London Bridge and St Pancras from multiple routes at the right time and in the right sequence. Traffic Management (TM) is supposed to provide the solution. In July 2015 Hitachi was awarded a £24 million contract to provide TM for the approaches to the central core.
A year later (July 2016), Atkins was brought in to support Hitachi Information Control Systems with the delivery of the Tranista TM for Thameslink. According to the Atkins press release, the consultants would conduct a series of assessments designed to check that the TM met Network Rail’s standards for compatibility with the UK rail network. It would also support Hitachi with the design and configuration of Thameslink’s computer nerve centre at Three Bridges.
Now this where it starts to get strange. Why, a year later, does Network Rail now call in Motts to advise on how to integrate the Tranista system within existing operational centres and its impact on staff and accommodation, including physical desk design?
Even if the Thameslink team has been so busy on signalling that it has only just woken up to the implications of implementing TM, they could always have a day trip to the South Wales Control Centre (SWCC) at Cardiff to see what Network Rail, Arriva Trains Wales and Thales have been doing to implement Isolated TM or, as they call, it Operations Decision Support Tools (ODST). And from what I see, the partners have done, and are doing, a professional job of working out how to use Thales’ ARAMIS TM and ODST in the real world of control and signalling.
Functions and responsibilities within the Centre have been clearly defined in terms of the displays and capabilities provided. What ODST is expected to provide and the associated benefits have also been specified.
Ergonomically, the control room floor layout has even assessed the sightlines needed between workstations. The ergonomics of the additional screens on existing work stations have been gone through, down to such details as providing space for paper-based tasks with two keyboards on the desk.
ARAMIS IN ACTION
As was clear from my afternoon spent playing with Thales’ demonstration suite a couple of years back, TM will enhance existing skills and experience – creating a sort of cyborg controller. In the event of disruption, the train graph will help the Train Running Controller (TRC) to visualise and project forward the impact of the disruption on the timetable.
Similarly with trains arriving from outside the SWCC control area, the impact of delayed trains can be visualised and accommodated to minimise disruption, also using the train graph. There is also the ability to visualise the consequences of Very Short Term Planning (VSTP) changes to the timetable.
At SWCC, the TRCs for the Valleys and Main Line each have a set of four ARAMIS-D (for Dispatch) screens on their desks in addition to their existing screens. The primary tool is the Train Graph.
This shows the scheduled train service for the day and is updated in real time. This allows emerging conflicts to be identified and solutions developed.
Signallers at the Cardiff Centre, plus 16 remote signal boxes, will have an ARAMIS-W read-only web-based display on their workstations. This can show the train graph and line graph, but the primary display will be the Station Board, the TM equivalent of the traditional simplifier.
When a TRC identifies the need for an intervention, the change is implemented in ARAMIS. The proposed change can be discussed with his Arriva Trains Wales opposite number at an adjacent workstation, also equipped with an ARAMIS-W screen.
When the change has been agreed, the new plan is sent to the signallers as a proposed Station Board, with the service changes highlighted. The changes can then be discussed, any reservations accommodated, and the changes then implemented manually by the signaller.
Note that I have switched between signaller single and signallers plural because some changes may affect just one of the Valley Lines boxes while others could have wider ranging impact. Also, on the signalling floor at the Centre, the Senior Signalling Manager has a full ARAMIS-D setup on the workstation. The intention is that this will help him support the signallers at times of high workload.
So, well thought out. But there is one big difference compared with the Thales demonstration suite. There, the Southern TRC and the Network Rail Ashford signaller who showed me how they used ARAMIS were at adjacent workstations. At SWCC, Control and signalling are on separate floors.
This potentially introduces a degree of latency. The TRC is alerted to an issue, works out a revised schedule and sends the revised station board to the signaller with changes highlighted. The signaller may then say that it won’t work because of some local operational issue of which the TRC is unaware, requiring a further re-plan.
Service experience will soon show whether this is a problem in a fast-changing situation. I could see an issue with signaller workload, with the need for checking and manual input.
Three Bridges will be much busier, of course. Even so, a day at SWCC would certainly benefit Thameslink, but only partially. At Three Bridges, in addition to ODST at West Hampstead and King’s Cross, Tranista is due to provide Interfaced TM for the workstations controlling the Thameslink routes into and through the central core from the south. As its name implies, interfaced. TM has an interface with the existing control centre workstations. In theory it could provide inputs to Automatic Route Setting (ARS) via the Timetable Processor.
Thus it seems likely that Motts’ main task will be sorting out Tranista’s interface with the Siemens Controlguide Westcad workstations at Three Bridges and analysing workload sharing between operators. Motts has been acting as Thameslink’s technical quick reaction force for some years now, taking on a range of tasks for the Central Engineering team. Even so, it seems a bit late in the day to be getting to grips with the application of TM.
What this brief run-through of where the TM programme started eight years ago has got to shows is that, with the ODST at the SWCC, TM has produced an electronic version of traditional Control Office working with better predictive capabilities. It should certainly make running the railway easier and improve regulation and recovery from disruption, but at £35 million for a de-scoped scheme – the original contract was for Integrated TM between Patchway and Cardiff East by December 2015 with ODST elsewhere a year later – is very expensive.
When you consider that it is currently all we have to show for the grandiose TM programme that began in 2009 and has cost over £130 million to date, my devoted readers at the National Audit Office might like to take note.
Romford will be a Phase 3 scheme based on re-control of Thameside signalling and TOC Control from Upminster IECC to Romford ROC. Facilities will include real-time plan/re-plan and conflict management, integration of crew and rolling stock in decision making, Automatic Route Setting and customer information driven by changes to the plan in real-time, electronic simplifiers for fringe area working and ‘shadow running’ with local TOC/NR operators. Current plans are that it will be commissioned during a blockade over Christmas 2015. ‘Informed Sources’, May 2014
Having previously come round to the concept of Isolated as a way into TM, I’m now not so sure.
As an aid to fringe boxes to a main line with Integrated TM, ODST is an obvious benefit. But as the primary Traffic Management tool it is a bit like using a Ferrari for the school run. Anyone who has sat beside a signaller in a modern control centre will know that they are busy people, particularly handling communications. This was why ARS was an essential feature of the Integrated Electronic Control Centre (IECC).
If you are paying for the ARAMIS, Tranista or Resonate Luminate hardware and software, you might as well get the maximum benefit available and integrate as much as possible. Which is where Resonate seems to be taking a pragmatic approach to its Great Western main line (GWML) Integrated TM trial.
I was a bit puzzled as to why some of the facilities I saw in action on Resonate’s privately-funded TM demonstration suite in Derby in February 2014 did not feature in the initial GWML specification. Train crew and rolling stock rostering was the obvious omission.
But in the course of writing this article it became clear that Resonate is focusing on the essentials. These are train graphing and plan/re-plan, revised schedules implemented automatically through ARS, possession management and automated platform docking. The immediate aim is clearly to provide more tools for signallers at Thames Valley Signalling Centre who are already familiar with Resonate’s Scalable workstations and facilities. This is a genuine ‘integration’ rather than a ‘bolt on’ as at SWCC, Three Bridges and Romford Rail Operating Centre (ROC).
One of the perks of this job is that I get to write the introduction to our annual directory and reference book The Modern Railway. The headline to this piece follows the standard format ‘201x – year of (single word)’. For 2018 the word is ‘Delivery’ and I’m looking forward to visiting some control centres during the year to see how the various TM schemes are delivering at first hand.
So far, the various demonstration suites I visited have worked the other way round. The manufacturers have provided the hardware and software that they think met NR’s ludicrously inflated specification. But when experienced controllers and signallers have been invited to play with it they have used the facilities to improve the way they run today’s railway, which may not be the way the high intensity railway of tomorrow will be operated. Modern Railways, November 2015