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Chris Pike

Sector Director for UK Rail

Optimising data use and adopting performance-based methods could improve rail asset management decision making, which would in turn improve the operational performance of the railway.

A new approach to rail asset management is currently being trialled on a 19km stretch of railway which feeds into London’s Paddington station on Network Rail’s Western route.

Network Rail is collaborating with consultant Arcadis to test a performance-based approach to asset management and maintenance.

This tactic has the potential to make the most of available infrastructure investment and maintenance funding by optimising operational performance.

The outcome can be achieved through the use of targeted data analytics to determine when each asset needs maintenance. It is in stark contrast to the existing prescribed mandatory maintenance interventions.

NCE recently teamed up with Arcadis to hold a round table discussion about the way data is currently used to manage UK rail assets and the benefits performance-based methods could offer.

Technological evolution

As the government is wrestling with its Budget deficit, planning spending is a challenge for the UK transport sector, according to the Arcadis UK rail sector director Chris Pike.

National Highways asset management director Lila Tachtsi agrees and adds that asset management teams across the transport sector are also facing a “massive challenge from the digital side of things because technology moves so quickly”.

“If you look at the pace of development of technology in the rail sector, it has been incredibly fast over the last 20 years,” says East West Railway Company head of asset management and maintenance Joao Rocha.

Constant technological evolution makes investment decisions by infrastructure managers difficult.

“We [High Speed 2 (HS2) Ltd] have an operational railway that is seven to eight years away. It is challenging to predict what we might be capable of doing at that point,” says HS2 Ltd asset manager for civil engineering infrastructure Mark Evans.

Arcadis head of structures asset management Sara Subtil adds that the way asset owners currently seek funding, “having to bid now for the budget we are going to get to in five years”, is not allowing the sector to be as flexible to deploy the newest technologies.

Data-driven decisions

Over the years asset owners have been trying to keep up with the pace of technological evolution, investing heavily in tools for data collection.

Despite this investment, the industry experts who took part in the round table believe that there are still issues with data-driven decision making.

Even though the technology that could enable infrastructure asset owners to use data to help them make decisions is available, the quality of data is not good enough, says Andy Watts Consulting Partnership director Andy Watts.

One problem with data-driven decision making identified by Rocha is the combination of legacy systems, such as the Ellipse asset management system, and data acquisition mechanisms, for example Light Detection and Ranging remote sensing systems. He explains that the legacy systems are unable to fully process the level of detail on assets captured by the new data acquisition technologies as well as certain data formats like video footage.

“This leads to incomplete asset information, which then makes it necessary for people to use their judgment, experience and knowledge to make a decision,” he adds

Pike has also identified problems with the current methods of data collection that impact analysis.

“In terms of asset failure, one of the things we found challenging was being able to pin down its root cause,” he says. He explains that having the right data would allow for an in-depth analysis of the cause of failure. That insight could be used to stop similar events in the future.

New approach

Improved and more targeted data collection will allow for the adoption of a performance-based approach in rail asset management and maintenance, which could positively influence decision making.

Network Rail special projects manager for western route Paul Gardiner says that this approach provides greater clarity to asset management teams about where the maintenance budget should be spent.

“It gives you the insight to spend it where performance gives you the bang for the buck. It is about making sure that you’ve gone and done the [maintenance] work on the assets that are critical to the delivery of the service,” he says.

The ability to prioritise work on critical assets should mean that fewer failures will disrupt services.

Arcadis global service director asset management Peter Dourlein says adopting a performance-based approach would require cultural change within an organisation. He adds that culture change could take time. He explains that in the Netherlands it took the rail asset owner more than a decade from the first performance-based contract to the roll out of the approach to its entire organisation.

Adopting a performance-based approach could also require changes to the way the whole sector operates.

Rocha says that the fact that the rolling stock and infrastructure are separate in terms of asset management could be an issue.

“If you don’t integrate them, you are going to have a problem because there is a mismatch of information,” he says.

Network Rail head of asset management and planning Milind Joshi adds that everyone has a role to play to make rail asset management and maintenance more efficient, “but it has to start from the asset manager”.

Joshi adds: “It is about reducing the number of systems we have and investing in the right system, which will drive the data [collection and analysis]. Giving decision support tools to the people on the ground will enhance their work in terms of productivity and that will drive that much required change.”

Pike says that the rail sector should have a strategy with a long term vision for improving operational performance, but stresses that it should take “manageable incremental steps”.

This was originally published in New Civil Engineer and can be read here - Rail debate | How performance-based asset management can improve maintenance efficiency | New Civil Engineer

This report is based on a round table discussion held in March. The discussion was held in association with Arcadis. Contributors were: Peter Dourlein global service director asset management, Arcadis Mark Evans asset manager for civil engineering infrastructure, HS2 Ltd Paul Gardiner special projects manager, Network Rail Milind Joshi head of asset management and planning, Network Rail Chris Pike UK rail sector director, Arcadis Hannah Rock rail director, Civil Engineering Contractors Association Claire Smith editor, NCE Sara Subtil head of structures asset management, Arcadis Lila Tachtsi asset management director, National Highways Andy Watts director, Andy Watts Consulting Partnership

Chris Pike

Sector Director for UK Rail