London Midland unveils new research lab to develop rail technologies

London Midland has officially opened a £0.25m innovation centre at iCentrum on Birmingham’s Aston Science Park. The labs are bringing together 10 technology start-ups to work as partners to develop new rail innovations.

These 6 projects have already been moved forward:

TransReport: An app that allows rail users to report train faults in real-time and stay informed about progress in fixing the fault. The passenger sends a picture of the fault/ issue via the app. Sensors on board provide the rest of the information such as where the train the picture was taken and which service the passenger was using.

PopWork: An app driven network of architecturally designed pop-up pods offering on demand meeting and touchdown space. Users can locate, book and open the pods from their smartphone or computer.

Warwick Analytics: Big data analysis that helps improve customer support during times of disruption. What would previously have taken a data scientist months to compile, now takes minutes.

Braci: A technology that listens to the train and identifies faults – like a modern day digital wheeltapper. The same technology can also cut in to headphones so that important safety announcements are not missed by passengers connected to their smart devices.

KOMPAS: A new take on city exploration, uses smart algorithms and deep learning to understand the user as an individual. It then presents tailored suggestions, relevant reviews and a hassle-free way of getting people from A to B based on their personal interests.

Touchbyte: Anonymous customer footfall, analytics, recognition and validation software system that uses the latest face recognition algorithms. This has potential to improve assisted travel and to reduce anti-social behaviour as well as provide more accurate and frequent passenger counts.

ORR sets out safety principles for driver controlled operation
Working in consultation with rail industry and the trade unions, the rail regulator has drawn up the safety principles it expects train companies to follow when rolling out and managing driver controlled operation.

The six high level principles are:

  • Trains need to be compatible with the platforms that they use and the method of operation at these platforms
  • Station platforms need to be compatible with the trains using them and they must support the methods of operation
  • The nature of the operation with the train and platform need to be assessed. This includes consideration of passenger needs and behaviour
  • Staff should be trained and competent
  • The implementation should be planned
  • The system should be managed through its whole life, with improvements adopted.

ORR chief inspector of railways, Ian Prosser, said: “ORR’s principles are designed to give guidance to industry about how best to plan and implement driver controlled operation. The most important element is planning new arrangements well in advance, talking with staff and their representatives to address concerns and ensure they are informed about the progress of plans. These principles reinforce our view that suitable equipment, proper procedures and competent staff must be in place for the safe implementation of driver control operation.”

Rail freight industry collaborates to liberate railway capacity
Railway capacityA massive timetable shakeup is being implemented across the rail freight industry following a collaborative 2 year industry-wide review of rail freight operations.

Together, Network Rail and freight operators identified that half of the reserved paths, or slots, on the rail network for freight trains were not being used. These paths could create capacity for thousands of new passenger and freight services. Some 4,702 unused freight paths per week have now been relinquished and some have already been taken up by passenger operators, including Virgin Trains East Coast, Great Western and Scotrail.

Of the unused paths, 1,018 are being reserved for future strategic rail freight growth. Construction and intermodal freight traffic, for example, are growing and additional paths will be needed to support the economy across Britain.

Paul McMahon, Network Rail’s managing director for freight and national passenger operators said: “This has truly been a collaborative piece of work with the freight operators. Capacity has been freed up for the whole railway but essential capacity is reserved for freight operators. This is important given the need to support the growth of freight on the network to support the economy.”

The spare rail freight capacity has been put down to a number of factors including: more efficient freight operations, savvy timetabling and better freight industry productivity, as well as the decline in coal, iron and steel traffic.

RSSB energy advice could saving the industry £millions
Energy savings worth millions every year to the rail industry are highlighted in new guidance published today by the RSSB. The guidance aims to help companies cut their non-traction energy bills by retrofitting solutions to existing infrastructure and ways of working, as well as in planning new projects. The project also highlights opportunities for the industry to reduce its carbon footprint and improve sustainability. Although energy use for traction activities accounts for the lion’s share of industry requirements, nearly 20% is used for nontraction purposes including lighting stations, heating and cooling buildings, and IT. Among the successes highlighted in the guidance is how Network Rail made estimated annual savings of almost £1m for a one-off outlay of £389,000 to install an upgraded energy monitoring and invoicing system across the organisation.

The guidance focuses on potential savings from making organisations leaner, keener, and greener, and walks organisations through the entire process from the planning stage of monitoring and targeting opportunities to delivering more energy efficient solutions. Detailed sections outline how behaviour change, the remodelling of infrastructure, the adoption of energy-efficient technology and renewables and other innovations can cut energy usage, and explains what technology is relevant to each situation and the typical payback.

SNCF enters franchise bid
Stagecoach, Virgin Trains and the French high speed operator, SNCF, are to join forces to bid for the West Coast Partnership franchise. Due to run from 2019, the franchise will include the first few years of operation of HS2, so bidders are required to have high speed experience. The shareholding for the bid is Stagecoach 50%, SNCF 30% and Virgin 20%.

Virgin curries flavour
Virgin Trains is to host the final of the International Indian Chef of the Year Award, now in its 26th year. The award, which celebrates the cuisine of India, is open to chefs worldwide. The 2017 finals will take place on the east coast service between London King’s Cross and York later this year.

O2 partnership for Greater Anglia
Greater Anglia has become the preferred train partner of The O2, London’s premier music and entertainment venue. From 18 April, customers will be able to book O2 tickets from the Greater Anglia website along with reduced price train tickets. They can also book train tickets from the O2 website via the embedded Greater Anglia widget.

Dicing with death is on the increase
Figures from Network Rail and British Transport Police reveal that one person every hour trespasses on the railway. The data, which look at trends over the last ten years, show that trespass incidents are at an all-time high. Last year there was an 11% increase on the previous year. Young people are also the most likely to take a risk, with just under half of those killed under the age of 25.

The future of freight
The first UK to China export train departed on 10 April, on a 7,500 mile, three-week-long journey from DP Cargo’s World London Gateway rail terminal in South Essex to Yiwu in the Zhe Jiang province in eastern China. Products on board include soft drinks, vitamin and pharmaceutical products, baby products and whiskey. The service has been dubbed ‘the future’ of freight.

New tram extension opens in Bergen
Services have begun operating on the latest extension to the Bybanen light rail line in Bergen, Norway. This section of track, from Birkelandsskiftet to Kokstadflaten and the airport at Flesland completes the third phase of the light rail project, and puts another 9,000 homes and 13,000 jobs within 600 m of the line.

Atkins in takeover talks
London-listed WS Atkins, one of the two main engineers behind HS2, has received a possible £2.1bn takeover offer from Canadian SNCLavalin. The £20.80 a share offer comes only a few months after Atkins held initial discussions with CH2M, an American engineering rival, about a possible tie-up which came to nothing.

East Coast walk out suspended
The RMT has suspend 48 hour industrial action it had planned for the Virgin Trains East Coast route on 28 and 29 April, and will continue talks about further improving the on-board changes. Virgin had given assurances on each point raised by the union at the start of the dispute – including keeping the safety critical duties on-board.