In this article, Matt Pocock, Arriva Rail London’s performance director, explains how the company’s collaborative alliance with Network Rail and Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) enabled the improvement of train regulation policies on the London Overground’s East London Line (ELL)

In operating the London Overground concession, Rail for London has set challenging performance targets for Arriva Rail London, specifying a tighter contract performance regime which now measures trains at destination within 2 minutes 59 seconds (T-3) rather than4 minutes 59 seconds (T-5). In order to meet these whilst also improving services for passengers, the company recognised the importance of engaging with its industry partners to improve punctuality around the entire network. In particular, one area of the network where Arriva Rail London recognised that punctuality could be improved was on the ELL.

The ELL runs on an extremely complex part of the network and historically, operators and industry partners had been too nervous to push for changes to train regulation policy on this part of the line due to concerns around unintended consequences. However, these legacy regulation policies had become so complicated due to amendments that had been made on an ad hoc basis over time, that it had created sub-optimal outcomes for ELL punctuality. The regulation policies had evolved into such a complex operating environment for signallers that it was clear that a step change was necessary in order to positively impact ELL performance.

The Arriva Rail London performance team recognised that existing train regulation policy was no longer working effectively and that a new cross-industry approach was needed to drive change and improvement. So, to support Arriva Rail London’s vision of ‘every train in its path’ we took proactive steps to develop a collaborative alliance with Network Rail and GTR to review how we could best work together to improve train regulation policy at specific locations on the ELL.

Together we agreed to trial a revised train regulation policy where both operators run train services, to see if changes could improve train performance and simplify regulation decisions for signallers at three key locations:

  • Three Bridges Rail Operating Centre (London Bridge 3B workstation)
  • Three Bridges Area Signalling Centre (Panel 1A and 1C)
  • Victoria Area Signalling Centre (Crystal Palace platforms 3 to 6)

The trial not only had the potential to improve punctuality and performance but also, by simplifying the process for signallers, it could positively impact railway safety by reducing the likelihood of human error.

Notably, early engagement with signallers and their union representatives was a key priority in the project planning phase to ensure that all teams involved in the train regulation trial were onside and bought into the project.

The ‘Right Time Right Pathway’ regulation trial
Although there were specific exceptions for some service groups during the trial, the modified train regulation policy was developed around the ‘right time right pathway’ principle and current regulation policies were withdrawn during the trial.

In summary, the key principles of the trial were:

  • If a train is booked to time (right time) then it should be kept in its booked pathway and not regulated outside its booked pathway for any late running train;
  • If there is more than one late running train, they will be regulated in their timetabled order;
  • For a late running train to proceed to its destination, the signaller will endeavour to run any late running trains in the next available pathway, taking into account any other right time train;
  • If no suitable pathway can be found, signallers to seek clarification from the Train Running Controller.

By simplifying the regulation policies in this way, the aim was to help the signallers, see the ‘right time right path’ principle adopted and ultimately deliver improved services for passengers.

Getting the trial underway
Although the project was initially conceived to specifically improve performance on the ELL, as the project and the relationships between the three organisations took shape, it became clear that by working together in the best interests of the entire railway network, this was a highly effective approach to regulation that could potentially be replicated at a national level.

As such, to help build alliances between the organisations, Arriva Rail London arranged for Adam Sadler, information controller and Jay Thompson, control shift manager to be seconded to Network Rail to provide valuable train operator insights and experience into the train running controller role. In these roles, they acted on behalf of Network Rail and in the interests of the whole industry.

The trial took place for four weeks from 6 February 2017 and from the outset the project team agreed on a set of success criteria that included a 50 per cent reduction of TOC on TOC PPM failures and 50 per cent reduction in OB (regulation) attributed incidents in the trial areas as well as no significant issues being raised at a post implementation review.

A process was also agreed for extending the trial based on these successful outcomes and to protect the interests of all three organisations, measures were similarly put in place for terminating the trial early should it become necessary based on performance or if any regulations were breached.

Daily communications with feedback and updates kept the trial focused and was instrumental in keeping everyone involved and engaged in the trial. Daily and weekly monitoring and conference calls were led by the seconded Arriva Rail London staff at Network Rail who went above and beyond to keep the project leads updated and ensure that a comprehensive report was produced on a weekly basis and shared across all three organisations.

Delivering an impressive set of results
The T-3 punctuality figures show a significant uplift in train punctuality on the ELL rising from 80.9 per cent in Period 11 (pre-trial) to 90.7 per cent in Period 1 (post-trial with the new regulation policy in place) representing a 9.5 per cent improvement.

The new ‘Right Time Right Pathway’ regulation policy has been successful in delivering a sustained period of continuous improvement as demonstrated by the uplift in Arriva Rail London’s T-3 and GTR’s Right Time and T-5 results.

Arriva Rail London has also recorded its best ever weekday T-3 punctuality result for the ELL achieving 93.45 per cent on 26 May, improving on the previous best score of 92.76 per cent, achieved on 15 March shortly after the trial ended and the permanent change was implemented. Further evidence of the positive improvement in punctuality and performance that can be achieved when right time services are able to continue in their booked path.

In addition, Arriva Rail London has seen improved customer satisfaction on the ELL with the latest mystery shopper results demonstrating the correlation between customer perception of punctuality and value for money for their ticket.

The trial has also created valuable cross-industry experience and learning which can be shared both inside and across organisations and applied to different areas of their respective businesses. For example, plans are underway for Arriva Rail London to transfer learning to other parts of the network with a similar trial in the planning stages for the West Anglia routes. While for GTR, learning from the trial will bring benefit to the preparation of upcoming timetable changes on Thameslink and on time presentation of trains through the core network. GTR is also looking to implement the learning elsewhere on its network.

Delivering long term benefits for the railway industry
Following the success of the trial, Arriva Rail London, Network Rail and GTR agreed to convert the trial to a permanent change. In achieving this, the project demonstrates a successful process for implementing change based on a project management approach, early collaborative cross-industry consultation, a whole railway focus and excellent stakeholder communications.

Alongside the immediate and ongoing positive improvements in performance, the ‘Right Time Right Pathway’ trial also delivers long-term benefits for the railway industry. As an industry-leading train regulation policy approach, it sets the pathway to a right time railway in Control Period 6 and sets a new standard for train regulation that can be replicated on other parts of the national rail network.

The project is also delivering safety benefits as it ensures that intervals are maintained, which provides capacity to plan and helps to manage overcrowding. It generates a safer working environment because the demands on signallers and controllers at some of the busiest signalling panels in the country are reduced. Indeed, Network Rail signallers have reported very positively on the improvements. At the same time, it delivers value for money for the industry as it enables more efficient and smarter controller and signaller decisions, which are in the best interests of customers.

The ‘Right Time Right Pathway’ regulation trial has certainly set new standards and introduced a new approach to train regulation policy that can be replicated across the national rail network. Putting ‘Right Time Right Path’ principles at the heart of train regulation policy has the potential to deliver not only safety and financial benefits to the industry but ultimately will mean we are able to deliver improved, more reliable services for all rail customers.

The project has also represented a cost-effective use of resources which has resulted in direct improvements for Arriva Rail London, Network Rail and GTR as well as the wider rail industry. Importantly, the ‘Right Time Right Path’ principle delivers value for money for the industry and for customers in the long-term because a right time railway delivers higher performance levels, and as train operating companies are incentivised by financial bonuses based on performance, there will, no doubt, be greater opportunities to re-invest those bonuses into making further performance and reliability improvements.