The 24/7 railway – creating capacity by minimising the impact of maintenance 

13 December, 2011, University of Nottingham

Problem statement

Demand for the railway from passenger and freight transport is increasing and certain routes are already at capacity with today’s demand.  The need to maintain and renew the railway so that it remains safe and operates effectively means that some of the capacity of the railway is taken up with maintenance and engineering works rather than being available for running trains.

To satisfy this increase in demand will require far greater utilisation of the existing infrastructure; and the night-time and weekend periods currently used to maintain the railway and carry out engineering interventions will need to be severely reduced.  Coupled with this, the extra utilisation will in itself create a need for additional maintenance, exacerbating the issue.

This was the issue which caused Network Rail to ask RRUKA to run a workshop for them. After discussions with their Systems Director, Andy Doherty, it was decided to focus the event on five key challenges:

  • Access and utilisation of possessions
  • Maintaining traffic around maintenance possessions
  • Technologies for accurate measurement and prediction
  • The never failing part: component reliability and maintainability
  • Resistance to change


The participants

One of the key aims of the workshop was to get input from people outside those who normally contribute to railway thinking. We were pleased to find that the event attracted a very wide range of applicants and from those who applied, RRUKA was able to select a varied set of participants from 12 universities and seven industry companies. These included people from diverse backgrounds such as healthcare, defence, space technology and chemistry, many of whom had had little or no previous experience of the railway.


“Excellent – I would never have been aware of the range of problems involved with the railways and there was an interesting exchange of ideas”
“It was good to gain access to representatives of the rail industry. This was a ‘missing link’ for my work”

Manchester Metropolitan University

On the day

Facilitated by the Transport KTN, participants were able to get a first-hand account of the issues faced by the company and the current state of how these are met, by inspiring talks by the Network Rail specialists:

  • Jeremy Bullock: Maintenance Improvement Specialist;
  • Sam Brunker: Technology Introduction Manager;
  • Deanne Haseltine: Project Manager, ROSE
  • John Harris: Senior Technology Engineer (NDT)
  • Andy Doherty

This was followed by an interactive open forum where ideas for overcoming these were generated by participants and then discussed in breakout sessions, where the participants were able to spend the day discussing their ideas with the industry specialists.


After the event

RSSB offered £100k for feasibility studies that came out of ideas formulated by workshop participants. These were peer-reviewed and four projects were selected to be funded by the evaluation panel. These all proposed new approaches to the issues faced, including:

  • Optimisation of possession authorisation requirements through the use of lean systems design and communication technologies (led by Coventry University),
  • Effective use of data to improve decision making for maintenance (led by Queen Mary University of London),
  • Embedded sensor technologies for improved remote condition monitoring (led by Manchester Metropolitan University)
  • Maximising effective working times on possessions (led by University College London).


More information

All the abstracts for the feasibility studies and the presentations from the event can be found on SPARK

Photo: Network Rail


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