Is it possible to improve efficiency outcomes in a rail environment while strengthening risk controls?

Overview

When 4Tel began the process of developing a track worksite protection application, there were three questions that we were asking ourselves:

  • Is it possible to provide large scale efficiencies to allow Track Workers to start work sooner?
  • Can you use technology to improve risk control effectiveness for track work activities? and
  • Can you make the technology cost effective and use equipment that Track Workers already have?

The answer to each of these questions is Yes.

Over the last 5 years, 4Tel has been able to deliver significant operational benefits by improving the process of obtaining approval to conduct track work activities. This work has also improved risk control effectiveness by targeting two of the most significant risks associated with track work, being location assurance and the heavy reliance on verbal communication to relay safety critical communications.

Application

4Tel has been working with Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) and John Holland Rail (JHR) to develop cost effective technology systems which remove delays in obtaining approval for track workers to gain access to the rail network, while assisting to address critical risk controls. Collectively these rail operators manage more than 11,000 km of track across Australia including metropolitan multi track environments, priority freight networks and regional passenger lines.

4Tel Track Worker Safety Suite

4Tel has more than 20 years' experience working across some of the most complex rail networks in Australia. During this time, and through our experience working with rail operators we have come to understand that while rail networks might have similar processes and terminologies, their processes and risk profiles can differ significantly.

In response, 4Tel has developed the 4Tel Permit to Work (PTW) application suite as a generic Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) product until configured as a specific solution. While 4Tel has developed the base OEM technology, each of the networks has customised the operational functionality to meet the specific risks, operating principles and rules of their networks. 

Adaptable Platform Modules

Work Permit Approval 

Module

Local Possession Authority

Module

Absolute Signal and Route

Control Blocking Module

Track Vehicle 

Module

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Efficiency Outcomes - Process Savings

4PTW provides efficiencies across the entire process of permitting Track Workers access to the network. Depending upon the authority type and the operational rules of the network, the efficiencies that can be realised through the use of 4PTW can vary. To demonstrate the efficiency gains the below table represents where these efficiencies have been realised within the process implemented for Work in Corridor and Lookout Working.

Process Stage

Contact

Traditional

  • Track Worker required to call Network Control
  • Wait on hold until Network Controller is available to answer call
  • Network Controller determines urgency of call compared with other network priorities
  • Track Worker explains access request
  • Network Controller confirms if access request is possible

4PTW

  • No requirement for Track Worker to call network control for low risk activities
  • Track Worker initiates request for access to the network using 4PTW

 

Create

Traditional

  • Network Controller accesses control system to create the authority
  • Enters the information previously provided by the Track Worker
  • System checks completed to validate authority approval

4PTW

  • Creation of request completed by Track Worker in previous stage

 

Check

Traditional

  • Network Controller reads out information to be compiled on a paper form
  • Track Worker compiles information and then reads back to confirm understanding
  • Process susceptible to human error and transcription errors
  • No method of validating that engineering blocks applied by train control system are in the correct location

4PTW

  • Information displayed for Track Worker in simple format on mobile device
  • Interface between train control system and 4PTW removes human error risks in transcription
  • Provides map showing location of train control system blocking facilities

Complete

Traditional

  • Track Worker calls Network Control to fulfill authority
  • Wait on hold until Network Controller is available to answer call
  • Network Controller asks questions to determine if appropriate to remove blocking facilities
  • Track Worker provides security code to Network Controller
  • Network Controller enters code into train control system
  • Train control system removes engineering controls

4PTW

  • Track Worker fulfills authority on 4PTW application.
  • 4PTW prompts questions for Track Worker to consider if appropriate to fulfill
  • 4PTW communicates security code to train control system
  • Train control system removes engineering controls

 

Indicative Time Savings for Regional Network

5 minutes per authority

Indicative Time Savings for Metropolitan Network

9 minutes per authority

4PTW Results

 

Since the first customer implementation of 4PTW there has been:

5,500
km of track

covered by 4PTW

85,000

Work on Track Approvals

issued by 4PTW

3,000

Protection Officers using 4PTW

across NSW

Case Study Results - Customer

One specific Network owner who uses the 4PTW application has shared across industry forums that they have seen:

98% of all Work on Track Authorities now issued via 4PTW application

62,000 less phone calls in first 6 months of operation

2,066 less hours for Track Workers waiting to access network

Based on a labour rate of $100/hr for both a Network Controller and Track Workers, these efficiencies could equate to more than $413,000 in labour cost savings through unproductive time. Based on an 8-hour day these savings equate to almost 260 man-days. These results are based on only the first 6 months of operation, and across less than half of the customers total network. It is reasonable to assume that these results would increase exponentially as the network expansion continues.

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Safety Methodology

The 4PTW application has an important role in addressing common worksite risks with an engineering control, but as an efficiency tool, it is not required to make safety critical decisions, as that responsibility remains with the train control system. For example, the exclusion of rail traffic from the work on track authority remains a function of the train control system, along with all other engineering checks like the validation of the code required to fulfill the authority. All changes to work on track authority status are checked and approved by the train control system before the update is published to 4PTW for display.

Workforce Efficiency

4PTW is able to execute notifications and functions for low risk activities that previously required multiple phone calls between Track Workers and Network Controllers. By replacing these phone calls with secure data messaging, users have been able to realise significant workforce efficiencies.

By using an App to transact with the central server, Track Workers do not need to seek Train Controller authority for low risk activities. This significantly reduces non productive time for track work staff waiting for Network Controller attention. Conversely, a busy Network Controller no longer needs to transact all track work matters and is relieved of most routine matters previously requiring interaction. Both Track and Controller staff report strong satisfaction with 4PTW. For these reasons alone, 4PTW is a very powerful tool for improving track worker efficiency.

Track Work Risk Improvement

4PTW has been developed to address numerous risks associated with performing track work in complex and multi-faceted rail networks. The principle risk controls have been developed around providing a means of location assurance and removing the need to use verbal communications to  communicate safety critical information.

These benefits can be realised through the use of existing technology available in most iOS and Android phones, and can be increased based on the level of control system integration.

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Industry Recognition

4Tel’s technology has been recognised across various recent industry forums including:

  • Permanent Way Institute (PWI) 2020: ETW-V Innovation Award – John Holland
  • Rail Industry Safety Standards Board November 20202: Track Worker Safety Presentation – ARTC
  • AusRail 2020: Using Digital Track Authorities on ARTC NSW Multi-Track RVD Network