The proliferation of rail freight in recent years is not to be underestimated. The Rail Delivery Group estimates that rail freight contributes £2.45bn to the economy each year. Logistics is one of the largest sectors worldwide, worth $8.43 trillion in 2021 as a vital mode of transport for moving commodities on behalf of practically every part of the UK economy daily.
To showcase the increasing importance of freight and the intrinsic role that technology will inevitably play in its evolution, 3Squared have published a whitepaper with input from industry leaders, such as Maggie Simpson OBE, Director General at the Rail Freight Group (RFG) and Nick Graham, Head of External Networks at Eddie Stobart amongst others, to highlight this further.
The publication of the whitepaper follows on from an exclusive PathPlanner launch event 3Squared held earlier this week at the Port of Southampton. Utilising 7 years of historical data and a powerful machine learning algorithm, PathPlanner has been created with the potential opportunities freight possess in mind. Seeking out unused paths across the network, the system aims to unlock capacity and generate new opportunities for the freight sector to transport more goods sustainably, building on the untapped opportunities the whitepaper unveils. PathPlanner was developed after 3Squared was names as winner in Department for Transport and Innovate UK’s ‘First of a Kind’ (FOAK) Competition for innovation in freight.
“Speaking to industry experts has really helped to cement our learnings when developing our revolutionary PathPlanner tool. The whitepaper underscores the importance of responsive planning techniques for enhancing service and customer confidence in the freight network. We are truly excited about PathPlanner’s potential impact on the freight industry, and the wide-ranging benefits it can bring to the sector.” Jason Durk, Principal Consultant
Rail software and solutions specialist 3Squared have secured funding from the Department for Transport (DfT) and Innovate UK’s ‘First of a Kind’ (FOAK) competition, to further develop its PathPlanner tool to improve freight operations and unlock network capacity, across the UK rail network.
The FOAK competition aims to support and enable new projects to help create a greener, more efficient railway for all. This year’s competition focused on new concepts that will transform rail travel for passengers and decarbonise the network.
PathPlanner is an innovative software solution designed to help freight operators run additional trains. It does this by utilising over 7 years’ worth of historical train records to help planners quickly identify available paths which can be bid to Network Rail through the Very Short-Term Planning (VSTP) process – therefore allowing them to take advantage of much needed spare, and potentially wasted, capacity.
Jason Durk, Principal Consultant at 3Squared, commented: “It is fantastic that 3Squared have secured prestigious FOAK funding to further develop and enhance PathPlanner, a system that we hope will transform the rail freight industry – especially at a time when the sector is undergoing significant growth and it has never been more important to focus on reducing carbon emissions.
“At 3Squared, we have been working hard to create solutions that support the drive towards modal shift, moving freight from road to rail and supporting the industry’s aim to be both greener and more responsive. Through innovative application of technology, we look forward to making this a reality with PathPlanner, bolstered by wider industry support.”
For more information on the FOAK competition, please click here.
Our very own Head of IT and Technical Innovation, Martin Gleadow features on the latest RSSB podcast alongside Director General of the Rail Freight Group, Maggie Simpson discussing all things rail freight and more.
They will be conversing on the importance of rail freight, the capacity challenges that the industry is currently experiencing and how our solution, PathPlanner, can resolve these issues. Listen to their thoughts over on the podcast here.
There is no denying that rail freight is an essential component to the more efficient and sustainable transport of goods and materials across the country. The pandemic and problems with road freight has only highlighted this further.
Our PathPlanner tool can overcome capacity challenges and the obstacles stalling Very Short-Term Planning, enabling freight services to run more flexibly and efficiently.
Find out more about PathPlanner and how it can solve your capacity challenges here.
It is evident that the current and ever evolving pandemic has presented the rail industry with a number of exceptional challenges. However, due to the unforeseen circumstances, opportunities have also been created; one of which is the industry’s ability to take a considered look at how to create much needed improvements for the UK’s freight sector.
The restrictions on normal ways of working across the industry have paved the way to introduce and maximise on digital solutions that benefit the freight sector and the wider rail industry alike. By working collaboratively with freight operators and industry groups, we have delivered solutions designed for use throughout the pandemic and beyond.
Working with Rail Operations Group and Freightliner, we have developed our new Path Planner solution that allows freight operators to carry out very short-term planning digitally and more effectively. The software identifies and capitalises on the white space available on a route; this is pertinent to operators now, as the industry debates how to better share network access between freight and passenger, and when we emerge from reduced timetables, as it enables the network to be used to maximum efficiency and reduce the risk of paths going unused.
This integrated software solution provides planners with a historical record of train movements, quickly identifying schedules that are frequently cancelled or part-used. Armed with this data, operators can then bid for paths through the Very Short-Term Planning (VSTP) system, allowing them to take advantage of much needed spare, and potentially wasted capacity.
The ground-breaking Path Planner will host a real-time capacity exchange, offering operators the chance to relinquish scheduled paths on a one-by-one basis on any given day. The efficiency of the software not only removes the need for the previous manual and inefficient processes but allows operators to maximise their opportunities to move vehicles and make the most of the infrastructure available every day.
Path Planner is one of the vital innovative solutions available to support the drive towards modal shift: moving freight from road to rail where possible and supporting the industry’s aim to be more responsive by applying technology to realise the potential for future freight recovery.
The capacity issues that freight operators face have long been evident on the UK’s rail network and continue to be a challenge. Since the pandemic’s impact on the normal running of the railway, companies like ours have been able to thrive through providing innovative digital solutions that have allowed the industry to operate as remotely and safely as possible, while presenting long-term benefits to all involved.
Compared with road transport, one freight train moves the equivalent of over 70 HGV lorries, while emitting only 25% of the carbon emissions. Using the UK rail network as effectively and efficiently as possible for freight will play a huge part in the challenge to decarbonise our transport system.
Already identified by the Department for Transport as one of the most efficient ways of moving goods over long distances (policy paper on decarbonising transport – March 2020), freight operators continue to reduce their carbon emissions year on year, demonstrating a clear commitment to a greener railway.
Partnership with GB Railfreight
3Squared has worked with GB Railfreight for more than six years. The successful partnership represents a shared commitment to make the UK rail freight sector more efficient, cost effective and sustainable. The collaborative working relationship is testament to both parties’ commitment to advancing the use of digital solutions, while exploring even more innovative ways to add value to GB Railfreight and the wider freight environment.
We agree with John Smith, Managing Director of GB Railfreight, who stated recently:
“Technological advances have played a huge role in the development of the rail freight sector over recent years, but these have tended to be incremental improvements rather than quantum leaps. Digital technology is playing an ever-increasing role in the efficient and safe operation of the railway, and … is playing an important role in making the most effective use of the UK’s congested railway, which increases the opportunities to increase freight traffic.”
We recently agreed a further 3-year contract with GB Railfreight, further cementing our successful partnership and joined up approach to developing digital solutions. Through our award-winning RailSmart suite of products, we have created a platform to work together towards a greener and more efficient railway.
Back to the future
Traditionally, freight operators moved goods such as parcels from station to station, but this practice was brought to an end in the 1990s. The freight sector has used the pandemic’s impact on the rail industry to investigate the viability of bringing this service back by trialling converted surplus passenger trains as fast freight services.
With the increase in online orders and the resulting pressure on delivery services, the trains will provide not only an accelerated mode of transporting the goods, but lessen the environmental impact the equivalent road transport would have produced.
The ability to once again move parcels by freight is a fantastic example of how a service from a bygone era can be revitalised if the circumstances allow for innovative thinking. Bringing this trial to fruition would not only have a positive impact on the UK transport industry’s carbon footprint, but be the perfect example of how technology can bring an old practice in line with today’s priorities.
Join us on Thursday 26th November for a free, interactive demonstration of 3Squared’s BulkSmart Software and participate in a live discussion.
During this session we will demonstrate our new BulkSmart application, showcasing the features and benefits it can bring to the supply chain, including yard management, order tracking and load tracking.
Technology is transforming transport, construction and the way we work. 3Squared is at the forefront of that change because we understand how to use change and innovation in technology to deliver value.
Our RailSmart ® suite of products for rail and rail construction is powering transformational change across the rail sector, by digitalising typically wieldy processes helping our clients become more efficient, improve safety, and reduce operational and administrative costs.
Register here to join us on Thursday 26th November from 1.30pm – 2.30pm.
A consortium led by Sheffield-based railway technology company 3Squared has won Government funding to develop an innovative solution to help rail freight plan short term paths more effectively.
At present, a sizeable proportion of freight train schedules, which are in the Working Time Table, are either unused or cancelled, however, the wider industry – beyond the operator itself – do not know whether or not the reserved slots are used until the day that the train is planned to run, which limits the availability of train planners being able to schedule unpredictable or last-minute movements.
Should a train operator require a last-minute move, it has to bid for a path using the rail industry’s VSTP (Very Short-Term Planning) system, which is currently a manual process and is time consuming, while these plans are often undertaken in time-pressured circumstances.
The consortium is made up of 3Squared and operators Rail Operations Group and Freightliner.
The Dynamic Freight Capacity Management (DFCM) solution will provide train planners with a historical record of train movements, allowing schedules which are frequently cancelled or part-used to be quickly identified and then bid for through the VSTP process with supporting evidence provided to Network Rail who can then check with the operator concerned as to whether the schedule will be used.
In addition, to this, it is planned that the platform will also host a real-time capacity exchange, where operators can relinquish Working TimeTable schedules for particular days and release them to the industry with participating operators being able to see this additional capacity in order spot-bid or a VSTP schedule.
As a result of the tool being able to identify unused paths, knock-on delays to scheduled services will be reduced, improving punctuality for both passenger and freight operators, while in being able to better plan stock movements, operators will be able to return trains into revenue-earning service following maintenance sooner.
James Fox, Co-Founder and Commercial Director at 3Squared, said: “The consortium’s solution will save freight operators time and resource in validating VSTPs based on historic data. This will enable more services to run at very short notice. Through better short-term planning, this also has the potential to reduce delays across the network, allowing both passenger and freight
trains to reach their destinations on time.”
Rail Operations Group and Freightliner are due to pilot the system later in the year and it is hoped that if the reliability of paths improves and the time taken to produce and submit an application decreases then it could be rolled out across the industry in the future.