Jorge Fdez-Argüelles, director, Hitachi Consulting explains how the information flow at Barcelona- based Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya has been digitised to create a more efficient railway

Digitisation is starting to impact all aspects of the rail industry. E-ticketing is now the norm, major networks are digitally GIS-mapping their land assets to ensure better management and soon advanced sensor technology will be used for rail-flaw detection to check causes of accidents.

With the pace of change speeding up, rail operators across the world are being forced to look at the potential for digital to improve their operations. Traditional ways of working simply cannot cope with the demands of business and customers who require access to information at ever increasing speed.

One such operator is Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya (FGC) who operates two medium-distance lines with 78 stations, 88 trains and 1,385 employees around Barcelona. FGC has a culture of continuous service improvement with a consistent track record of operational excellence and high efficiency.

In order to continue this record, the company wanted to design a more efficient information management system to link all of its stations. The answer was a full digitisation of the company’s operations, allowing information to flow quickly, securely and accurately.

Business challenge
As with many rail operators, FGC’s system was based on information being manually managed, with hard copies of key documents and reports being sent on a daily basis to each of the 78 stations. Once documents reached the local stations, employees had to fill in forms by hand and return back to the Railway Control Centre, where they were reviewed and registered on the system.

This manual process was time consuming for the operations teams at both the Railway Control Centre and the stations. With all data being collated by hand and captured in paper form, the data analysis and information dissemination was a slow and inefficient process. In addition to these paper-based systems, much of the communications between the headquarters in Barcelona and the local stations relied on the informal use of personal mobile phones, which made direct communications challenging.

On the ground, employees were starting to become disheartened with a system that clearly wasn’t fit for purpose. This experience is far from unique to FGC. In many organisations railway staff are seeing a clear disconnect between the digitally interconnected world around them and the disparate manual systems in their work.

Hitachi Consulting was brought in to design a digital solution that would improve the information flows, increase operational efficiency at the railway stations and reinvigorate employees.

According to FGC’s head of controlling and administration, the first stage of the process was to create a joint FGC and Hitachi Team to co-develop solutions with a results-oriented approach. This involved reviewing all the current processes and accessing any internally available technologies in order to identify all options available when designing the new digital solution.

Having worked closely with FGC employees to identify the best course of action, the solution that was agreed involved a combination of the current corporate intranet and Microsoft SharePoint. The design of the solution was specific to individual stations and the functional requirements of the various operations teams (station agents, train drivers, inspectors, supervisors, etc).

The solution
Key requirements:

  • Real-time access to station-critical data
  • Real-time incident reporting process
  • Real-time employee requests
  • Immediate access to any updated version of job instructions and employee manuals, and
  • Corporate e-mail as a standard corporate communication tool.

A Railway Portal Station was developed for each station to provide teams with relevant information on a daily basis. The portal was connected to digital devices and systems within the station for monitoring and data collection purposes. This made it easy for the employees to have direct access to critical data such as the accessibility and location of station components (ticketing machines, automatic stairs, fire extinguishers, etc), digital incidence status reports (now in real-time), cleansing service status (with the option to register and track incidences) and reports showing the follow-up of daily events.

Alongside this, an Operations Agents Portal was developed to ensure all job instructions and manuals were kept up-to-date. The Operations Agents Portal was designed to give train drivers and inspectors access to any information they may need during the course of their day.

Having access to information in a timely and efficient manner through these two portals made it easier for teams to manage data through a workflow process, access personal information and allow corporate personal email, all of which would remove the current paper-based systems.

In parallel, Hitachi Consulting incorporated the ability to access the system remotely through a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) strategy. Having access through their tablets or smartphones allowed staff the ability to use the solution everywhere and have continuous control over station equipment, services and passenger flow.

Results and estimated savings
At the end of the process FGC’s expectation had been exceeded. Not only did the solution improve communication between the 78 local railway stations and the network control centre, it allowed supervisors and corporate offices to share, in real-time, any critical information and data regarding the operations, the installations or the employees.

The total cost of the solution was minimised by adapting existing technologies within FGC to create the functionality required. FGC’s director recognised this approach, praising the team for using a “pragmatic approach that helped design a business solution based on our own systems and technologies”. Doing this freed up budget for additional technology, allowing all railway stations to be equipped with tablets or smartphones so that every operator and manager could access all the information required to manage the stations efficiently.

In addition to the increased operational efficiency and productivity improvements at the stations, there were quantifiable benefits in the form of over 3,000 man hours per annum saved in administration and over 550,000 pages of printed paper in circulation saved per annum. Once employees began to see these benefits they embraced the new system, quickly learning how to utilise it effectively for the benefit of FGC’s customers.

FGC’s experience can be replicated by other rail operators. The implementation of a digital system is fully scalable and has been proven to deliver tangible benefits. Rail operators must embrace these available technologies or risk being left behind the competition. The track ahead is leading towards digital, it is now the responsibility of decision makers to make it a reality.

Jorge Fdez-Argüelles is director, Hitachi Consulting

Jorge Fdez-Argüelles