In the latest instalment of our ‘Meet the team’ feature, we sat down with Jason Durk, Principal Consultant at 3Squared, to hear more about his role at 3Squared, his fascinating experience within the rail industry and the exciting opportunities for the freight sector:
Can you give us an insight into your role at 3Squared?
I spend a lot of my time trying to understand the complexities which lead to the issues that occur on the railway and pick at them until I uncover what sits behind them. That provides me with the insight I need to help try and fix it.
With that in mind, if I were to sum my role up in one sentence, I would say it is to help deliver solutions to problems.
What drew you to the role and working for 3Squared?
3Squared has a very good reputation in rail and, being a relatively small company, is flexible and dynamic enough to move quickly to the challenging demands of the rail industry and the changing needs of its customers.
3Squared also has an advanced suite of software solutions, RailSmart, which have been designed to solve real problems and help railway staff fulfil their duties, which can be difficult in a heavily regulated industry.
The people are also great and it’s a very relaxed company to work for.
What excites you about working in the rail industry?
I have worked in the industry for almost three decades, starting at South West Trains in 1994 and have worked in many roles. I’ve also trained as a Guard, an On-Board Supervisor, and a Dispatcher.
I spent 13 years at the Rail Delivery Group (formerly the Association of Train Operating Companies) which afforded me the opportunity to understand the complexities of the railway, specifically around planning and operations, the interfaces between them and how they provide daily challenges in running a railway: every day is different and provides different challenges.
I have witnessed a lot of change in the last 28 years. I have seen the railway embrace technology and adopt smarter ways of working, I have seen the railway family pull together in times of adversity and I have seen colleagues go out of their way to help customers – and I mean “really” go out of their way. Once a colleague of mine took an old lady’s cat halfway across the country by train because she was too frail to take it herself; that’s true dedication and proper customer service!
The railway is many things to many people, but to me it is a diverse and dynamic beast that motivates its custodians to deliver the best possible service against a backdrop of change. That’s what excites me.
What are you looking forward to working on in the coming year?
The pandemic has altered the way we go about our everyday lives. Whilst teams are returning to the office, there are still more people working from home more frequently, which means they travel less. Whilst that’s positive for passengers as crowding is reduced, the railway is less commercially viable.
On the flipside, more people are buying more goods online which means more items need transporting. And this means there is the potential to run more freight trains and promote modal shift – i.e., get more containers onto trains. This benefits the UK by removing heavy goods vehicles off our already congested road network, reducing the carbon impact of transporting container freight by road, and increasing the profitability of the railway.
3Squared has developed a tool called PathPlanner that helps operators find freight paths in the timetable so that they can run additional trains. However, because of the complexities around freight timetabling, a high percentage of freight paths that exist in the timetable are not used, and this presents a bloated network. Therefore, finding space to add a new path is difficult, and work is required to overcome this. We will be working on in the next 12 months.
Can you tell us a bit more about your plans for PathPlanner?
3Squared will be enhancing PathPlanner over the next year, which will see us develop Machine Learning algorithms that will predict the paths that will not be used and highlight them. This will enable them to be removed from the timetable and unlock available capacity.
In 2021, Network Rail delivered a £17m upgrade project to strengthen the line at Southampton to take longer freight trains. Solent Stevedores, who operate out of Southampton Western Docks, are currently upgrading the track, dockside, to take in longer and more trains; and that work concludes in Spring 2023.
The project will see us working collaboratively with both Network Rail and Solent Stevedores (with crucial input from Logistics UK, Stobart, DP World and GB Rail freight) to help them realise the benefits of their investment by finding available paths to run more frequent and longer trains to and from Southampton.
Having worked in the passenger arena for so long, I find rail freight’s potential for growth extremely exciting, and am looking forward to working on this project to help our partners on this project deliver tangible benefits.
How integral is innovation to the rail industry?
Innovation has already played a key part in driving change in the rail industry and remains a key part in unlocking the efficiencies that a modern rail system requires.
There has been much talk recently of modernising the railway and bringing out-of-date working practices into the 21st century. When talking about innovation, we tend to think in terms of digital transformation and the associated benefits.
However, delivering innovation on the railway is as much about innovating around our people and processes and providing solutions that work in a very different environment, than when the railway first arrived.
What tips would you give to somebody looking to forge a career in the rail industry?
Just one – do not take “we have always done it like that” as an answer.
Thanks for sharing your interesting insights and journey, Jason! If you would be interested in learning more about how you could join the 3Squared team, visit our careers page here.