The Digital Railway: Will we click the button together?

Digitalisation will transform railway operations in the UK bringing increased capacity, improved safety, better customer service and improved reliability.

James Fox, commercial director of Sheffield-based technology consultancy 3Squared, says the country will reap the benefits of a digitally transformed railway but only if the industry adopts a collaborative approach.

Satisfying the seemingly insatiable demand for space on the tracks to move even more goods and people is of paramount importance if the railway is to continue to play its part in contributing to the economic growth and wellbeing of the country.

The industry’s solution to creating that capacity is the digital modernisation of the railway. Although it is not some magical panacea, digitalisation has the potential to provide answers and bring benefits, primarily in capacity but also safety, reliability, cost, customer convenience as well as environmental advantages.

Case for Digitalisation

The case for digitalisation has been well made – quality infrastructure underpins the nation’s prosperity – but it’s about much more than the development of digital signalling technology. It has to cover all aspects of a company’s activities and its people management from operations and engineering to its commercial departments and includes, among others, ticketing, cyber security, customer satisfaction and, of course, staff development.

We must remember that the digital railway comes not only with operational change but also with corporate challenges and personal trials for rail staff everywhere. Companies should consider and not underestimate the fact that change, even for the better, can be painful.

So, to equip the railway for the challenges a digital transformation will bring, the whole industry must move forward together, managers supporting their staff all the way. Today’s railway must be equipped to handle the transformation digitalisation will bring. For that to occur effectively, personnel at all levels must embrace technology as they step along the yellow brick road to a modern railway.

But as we begin our journey along that road, our first steps should be at walking pace until we feel confident enough to start running. To build up speed we must see the digitisation of the train companies’ key paperbased or legacy systems to create the space needed for people to work on the business change aspects of a digital railway. This won’t happen without a collaborative approach – and training and support are crucial, key to the requirements necessary to operate in a digital railway.

3Squared has met all challenges head on by working on the digitisation of staff competencies in collaboration with East Midlands Trains (EMT) and South West Trains (SWT) using its flagship product, the Queen’s Awards for Enterprise: Innovation winning Employee Development System (EDS).

It is a robust and intuitive competency management system to support the additional training needs required of a digital railway. EDS is part of a wider RailSmart suite of powerful business applications to meet the needs of today’s modern rail operators proven to improve safety, reduce costs, increase efficiency and enhance operational performance.

Complete Turnaround

And EDS is working. SWT has managed a complete turnaround. Before EDS the SWT guard team spent 80 per cent of their time in the office and 20 per cent with their team. With EDS they spend 20 per cent in the office and 80 per cent with their team.

EDS is an industry specific product that allows rail companies to continuously manage and improve employees’ competencies. It’s designed to lower business risk, reduce incidents and lessen the administration burden of compliance.

Why industry specific? Existing off-the-shelf electronic solutions were often complicated and didn’t fit the specific industry needs. This helped to ensure EDS was functional, relevant and user-friendly. It enables HR staff and driver managers to focus on staff development rather than administration and has brought significant cost savings and improved operational efficiency.

‘The reduction in incidents overall we have seen since bringing the system in is excellent. It’s a recognition of the hard work that all involved have done in reducing the admin of the competency management system, improving quality of assessments, challenging ourselves and our processes to deliver maximum value and ultimately supporting, developing and maintaining the competence of our highly valued staff.’

Justin Willett, head of operational standards, South West Trains

There can be little doubt EDS is a joint success story for the train companies and the developers. It works and gives value for money.

Trevor Parkin, operations specialist at EMT, said, ‘RailSmart EDS has completely evolved how East Midlands Trains undertakes assessments, verifies files, develops and supports our employees and assessors and shares learning resources.

‘For identifying and managing risk areas within our driver team and therefore reducing the potential for operating incidents, RailSmart brings huge benefits to our business.’ EDS was developed by 3Squared to support, even future-proof, the people aspect of today’s railway operators.

Looking forward, the aim is that EDS evolves to meet the needs of an even wider range of train operators. Over the past year RailSmart has been carrying out research with major passenger and freight companies to review and get feedback on their approach to competency management. So, as the dash for digitalisation becomes more intense and as its implementation gets ever closer 3Squared offers the industry the chance to equip its workforce with the knowledge and skills to hit the ground running when the time comes.

Why choose EDS?

EDS is a modern, fast and effective method of monitoring employee competency and compliance, which saves users time.

Train operators have called the software a ‘step change’ for their organisation allowing them to be more proactive. Paper-based methods could take over three hours to complete one assessment. With EDS, which can be accessed off site by anyone with a login, from any location, it’s now done in one hour.

Thanks to EDS’s better resource management time is not wasted by the incorrect allocation of resources to specific routes and tasks, leading to better people management.

Using EDS reduces the risk of non-compliance. All driver records are up to date and information is captured in real time. Users are notified in advance to warn of any assessments that are to become overdue reducing the risk of missing deadlines.

All information is stored in a single location and is quick and easy to find using a simple search facility.All users’ details and assessments can be located immediately – unlike the original paper-based system. This also helps comply with data protection legislation.

EDS offers greater visibility of competency data. Employees at different levels and in different departments can also view their information along with producing in-depth reporting including risk management.

Additional benefits include:

  • Improved staff morale and retention because staff have their training monitored constantly and reviewed regularly
  • Training gaps are identified and become part of an overall training programme.
  • RailSmart EDS integrates with key performance indicators, so staff feel greater ownership over their own responsibilities and training requirements.
  • Better after-sales support – 3Squared provides a dedicated helpline and support desk for all users of RailSmart EDS.

Moving forward 3Squared has established a ‘steering committee’ that offers all train operators the chance to shape the future of the product.

‘The transition to RailSmart EDS has facilitated a full move away from paperbased competency assessments. The cooperation and partnership we have had with 3Squared has enabled the end product to far exceed our initial expectations.’

East Midlands Trains

Results – 12 months since EDS implementation:

  • Driver incidents down by 21 percent. Guard incidents down by 9 percent
  • Wimbledon Park was the first driver depot to use the EDS and saw a 34.8 percent reduction in incidents.
  • Before EDS SWT guards team spent 80 per cent of their time in the office and just 20 per cent with their team. EDS has reversed this, now only 20 per cent of time is spent on office paperwork, freeing 80 per cent of time up to be spent overseeing training and staff development.
  • EDS was implemented across all but one depot. That depot was the only one to see a rise in incident rate.
  • SWT received a ‘Level 4’ score by ORR RMM for their safety management system. A best ever result.

To talk to 3Squared or arrange a demo call: 0333 123 3232 or email: [email protected]