The TeenTech Transport Award is sponsored by :
What will the future of aviation look like? What inspiration could come from nature? Is there a more connected way to get from home to your destination? What will the vehicles of the future look like? What kind of transport will take us to Mars in 2050?
How could you improve safety at airports, train stations, level crossings.
You may want to design a clever feature for cars, buses or planes which you think would transform your experience of travel : make it more interesting, safer or comfortable.
What might a modern band want to have in their tour bus?
What might the driving school of the future look like?
Transport is a fascinating area to consider. What do you think it could look like in the future?
Think about tackling some of the problems people with a disability may experience. For instance Hayley uses a wheelchair and public transport to get to work. However sometimes the bus ramps don’t work or the space for wheelchairs is full of pushchairs. Could you design an app which would make Hayley’s life easier? Find out more about her story here:
The transport category is sponsored by Airbus and they are very happy to pass on links to research material or, if your school is near one of their sites, they will offer advice on your project! Don’t worry if you aren’t close by, you could set up a WebEx or Skype call from your classroom.
You can reach out to other companies too for inspiration, ideas and support. And many Universities and Colleges will be happy to help too!
You might like to look at:
Roads of the future : http://www.onelectriccars.com/tag/piezoelectric-energy-roads/
There are also some interesting and very detailed resources which have been supplied by Network Rail:
By 2019 we want to reduce the risk at level crossings by at least a further 25 per cent; reduce train accident risk by 50 per cent; and eliminate all fatalities and major injuries among our workforce and the contractors who work for us. Every year accidents on the railway are caused by people taking risks. Whether they’re taking a short-cut home, spraying graffiti on railway property or not taking the usual care after a few drinks, people ignore the rules of the railways every day and put their lives at risk, as well as risking the safe running of the railway. Are there better ways of alerting communities and the public to these dangers?
How could we limit or prevent slips, trips and falls through technology? This could be trackside, in stations, or even in the wider community.
There are more than 6,100 level crossings in Britain. Every day they save thousands of lives by protecting us from one of the busiest rail networks in the world. Can you think of powerful ways to prevent accidents or to improve community awareness?
Trips, Slips and Falls
There are many hazards we face, but slips, trips and falls sit at the top of the list – accounting for as many as 44% of all serious reportable accidents. Although they seem like minor risks they can often lead to some pretty agonising and disabling injuries. Most of these injuries are often caused simply by working in an untidy work place or rushing around station concourses. In stations such as King’s Cross we have identified areas of and used technology to try to limit further accidents. At the bottom of our escalators we have put a lifesize model who reminds passengers not to use the escalators if they have luggage. This unique form of technology makes people stop and listen and is limiting the amount of accidents on the escalators at King’s Cross.
Workforce safety through Sentinel Cards
A majority of our workforce work trackside to maintain and improve our railway infrastructure. They work next to live electrified rails, using sometimes complex equipment, often with trains wizzing past. We have a series of measure in place to ensure our workforce is safe, but sometimes these are not followed or do not work and accidents can happen. With 67,000 people qualified to work trackside on Britain’s railways, keeping track of everyone and keeping them safe has never been so important.
We have introduced a system of smart cards to offer a step-change in safety allowing records to be instantly updated and closer monitoring of staff hours on duty. Previous Sentinel cards carried all competencies and other details printed on their faces, and had to be sent away for reprinting when circumstances changed. The new smart cards use an RFID chip (radio frequency identification) which can be read by card readers hooked up to a PC, and more importantly they have a QR (quick response) code on the face which can be read by smart phone. The data read by the phone is then sent to the Sentinel data base, which responds with the details of the person whose data is held on the card. The new cards also mean data can be updated instantly.
Links for further information
In Britain around 22,500 trains run every day. The last decade has seen unprecedented growth – today the railway carries 50 per cent more passengers than 10 years ago. By 2020 another 400 million rail journeys will be made. The amount of freight carried on the network has also increased significantly in recent years. Most of the network is in use around the clock with freight trains running throughout the night when most passenger services have stopped.
More people are now choosing to use the railway than at any time since the Victorian era. Our success in attracting more and more passengers means that in many parts of the country demand continues to outstrip supply – too many trains trying to use the same piece of track. And that congestion in turn makes it more and more difficult to meet our punctuality and efficiency targets, while both properly maintaining the existing track and delivering the substantial improvements needed for the future. And yet the public’s desire is clear: they want more and better services. We aim to have 170,000 more seats for commuters by 2019.
We work with passenger and freight train operators to determine how many trains can safely run and at what times. This is published as the working timetable. The timetable balances demand for trains serving small communities and non-stop fast trains as well as the requirements of businesses which rely on freight. It’s a complex process which takes into account many factors, many of which are there to keep passengers safe:
- The variation in speed limits on a length of track, for example at bends and over points.
- Only one train can occupy a given section of track at any time.
- Signalling infrastructure varies across the network, so the safe distance between trains may change along a route.
- There’s a minimum time gap between trains using a platform at a station.
- A mix of stopping, non-stopping and freight trains, which all travel at different speeds, affects the number of trains that can use any section of track.
- We have to allow time for improvement work and routine maintenance so we can increase capacity and maintain reliability.
- Similar to a busy motorway where a broken down car can cause long tailbacks, if we timetable trains too closely together we remove flexibility, making it harder to get trains back on time when there is an incident – see knock-on delays
So what could we do to provide more trains, seats and services, within our existing capacity of our network?
European Rail Traffic Management System
We have the most intensely used railway in Europe with critical parts now running at close to 100 per cent capacity. At peak times, much of the network is already running at full capacity with no room for more trains, so to better improve the service we have introduced improved signalling through the Traffic Management System. The European Rail Traffic Management System replaces traditional track-side signals with an in-cab computer which controls train speed and movement so they can run at optimum safe speed. This reduces journey times and increases capacity.
Freight demand growth
Over the next decade we expect freight demand to grow by at least 30 per cent, the equivalent of 240 additional freight trains a day, and as much as 140 per cent over the next 30 years. Rail freight is vital to Britain’s economic success. It contributes £870 million to the economy and plays a big part in reducing congestion and carbon emissions. To cater for this growth Network Rail, in partnership with the rest of the rail industry, will continue to work with business and government to move more freight off Britain’s roads, improving our quality of life and substantially reducing carbon emissions.
Freight trains are very different to passenger trains. They are much heavier, therefore they put a lot more pressure on the track, leading to increased amounts of track breaking. We are working with the Freight industry to better equip Freight trains with monitoring equipment to best understand how to quickly clear the line if a breakdown occurs.
Electrifying key routes on the railway will mean faster, greener, quieter and more reliable journeys for thousands of passengers. We are committed to investing in a programme of electrification that will help transform the railway and provide Britain with a sustainable world-class transport system.
Electrifying key railway routes will improve services for thousands of passengers and help support economic growth across many of our cities and towns. We are working closely with the Department for Transport, train operating companies and other key stakeholders to deliver electrification in the North West and on the Great Western Main Line. By 2017 we will have electrified from Paddington to Cardiff on the Great Western rail line. This will be done using our 23 High Output Plant System vehicles to electrify nearly 300 route miles of railway. Our pioneering high output equipment will be used which can electrify around 1.5km of railway per night, allowing us to keep the railway open during large parts of the construction work. To prepare for the work we need to upgrade bridges and tunnels, and carry out safety improvement work to parapets.
Links for further information
European Rail Traffic Management System – http://www.networkrail.co.uk/aspx/12275.aspx
Electrification – http://www.networkrail.co.uk/aspx/12273.aspx
In terms of performance, our aim by the end of CP5 is to deliver for passengers and freight the best ever level of punctuality with a target of 92.5 per cent of trains arriving on time. To achieve that will mean, among other things, increasing the reliability of our assets and reducing the number of failures, whether track, points or signals. That process of continuous improvement will require using Lean techniques of working, as well as the latest technology, to help us maintain the infrastructure. We are increasingly moving to a system of risk based maintenance that allows us to monitor our assets, judge how well they are performing and then decide when to carry out maintenance work or renewals based on real-time, accurate data and judgements about criticality. Programmes such as ORBIS allow us to move from an approach based on ‘find and fix’ to one of ‘predict and prevent’. By working with our industry colleagues we can also work out the best time to deliver upgrade works, with the least disruption and maximising best value.
Delays to journeys are frustrating, and the reasons given can be confusing. Below are the most common causes of delays occur and how we’re using approaches ranging from intelligent infrastructure to litter clearance to make sure your train arrives safely and on time. Around 60% of passenger train delays are attributed to us. As well as infrastructure faults, this includes delays caused by vandalism, cable theft, weather, trespass etc which account for approximately 20% of all delays. Infrastructure delays can be caused by points failure, broken or buckled rails, signal power failure or track circuit failure, overhead line problems, planning, and overrunning engineering works. Other external factors can include vandalism and trespass, cable theft, animals on the line, line-side fire, fatalities, bridge strike and other weather related issues such as snow and ice, fog, leaves, high winds, flooding and lighting strikes.
So how can we use technology to make the network more reliable, and attempt to solve or reduce some of the causes of delays?
Leaves on the line
Britain’s 30,000 hectares of railway land are home to millions of trees, bushes and other plants. In 2013 leaves caused 4.5 million hours of delays to passengers. A mature tree has between 10,000 and 50,000 leaves and each autumn thousands of tonnes of leaves fall onto railway lines across the country. When compressed by passing trains, the leaves create a thin, Teflon-like layer on the rails, so train drivers have to brake earlier when approaching stations and signals to avoid overshooting and accelerate more gently to avoid wheel spin. Leaf mulch can also insulate trains from the rails with the result that our signalling system, which uses electric currents in the track to locate trains, becomes less accurate. To maintain safety, longer gaps must be left between trains, leading to delays.
To combat this we have a fleet of rail-head treatment trains which clean the rails using water jets and then apply a sand-based gel to help trains gain adhesion. Each autumn, track teams work around the clock at key locations using descaling machines to clean the railhead. On particularly contaminated rails we use a citrus-based cleaner to loosen leaf mulch.
ORBIS (Offering Rail Better Information Services)
The ORBIS programme, a £325m project to improve Network Rail’s approaches to the acquisition, storage and usage of asset information. It will enable to move from an infrastructure maintenance approach based on ‘find and fix’ to one of ‘predict and prevent’. We are increasingly moving to a system of risk-based maintenance that allows us to monitor our assets, judge how well they are performing and then decide when to carry out maintenance work or renewals based on real-time, accurate data and judgements about criticality. So far 8000+ ruggedised iPhones have been issued to frontline staff with purpose built apps such as “GPS Finder” being used to more easily locate track defects within 5 metres, whereas previous it was up to 1 mile.
Overrunning engineering work
Engineering works are larger scale improvements to our infrastructure, such as track and bridge replacement, while maintenance work refers to day-to-day upkeep of tracks, signals, power supplies and other infrastructure. We are required by law to close a line to traffic before we do engineering work. We also have an obligation to minimise disruption to services, so we generally do work at night, at weekends and over public holidays.
Occasionally work over-runs. The causes range from bad weather to machinery failure or unexpected complications discovered while the work is in progress. Trains cannot run until any work is completed. Engineering works are carefully planned, often up to two years in advance. When a problem occurs, we do everything we can to assess the situation and complete the work quickly. We’re continually looking at ways to improve the planning and implementation of engineering work. We’re also investigating ways to recover a situation and improve the ways we communicate with passengers when things do go wrong. Currently we are using more advanced mapping software which allows a run through of the planned work to be completed with multiple scenarios to be run. These could be any issues which might impact, and would show the critical points throughout the work which might be further resources. This allows better planning, and decision making for any delays that might occur.
Links for further information
Technology enabled future/Digital Railway
Only a few years ago, most track faults were detected by maintenance crews walking along miles of track doing visual inspections. Now the convergence of engineering and information technology is transforming the way we maintain the railway. If the major challenges facing the railway are those of capacity, reliability and efficiency then technology has a major part in helping us meet those challenges now and in the future. Technology can help us increase capacity on the existing network in a more direct way by offering the prospect of allowing trains to run faster and closer together without compromising safety.
It represents the biggest change in the way we operate trains since the time of Stephenson and Brunel. The way trains are controlled today by signals operated from signal boxes along the line would have been recognisable to them, but ETCS removes the need for lineside signals and introduces instead a control mechanism in the driver’s cab which relays all the information that is needed from one of twelve regional operating centres around Britain. The end result for passengers and freight services will be to allow more trains to safely use the track. It will also have substantial benefits in terms of both reliability and the drive to reduce costs.
So what apps would benefit the rail industry? What apps would benefit rail passengers? How could we use technology to create your perfect rail journey, or benefit your local area?
The Measurement Train is a specialised train which helped to improve the reliability of our assets through innovations such as the Plain Line Pattern Recognition train which uses high definition, laser technology and thermal cameras to find faults on the track so our staff can spend time fixing them, rather than having to find them in the first place. That means a more reliable track, and, therefore, a less disrupted service, as well as reducing the safety risk posed by our workforce being trackside.
Network Rail has spent a lot of time of the past few years looking into what mobile apps would benefit our workforce. We have a very mobile workforce who often travel long distances, and to very rural locations. But having applications available to use anywhere it ensure that instead of people having to record things using paper, they can instantly use an application.
A railway fit for the future
It’s the same the world over – adverse weather impacts the smooth running of railways. We’re no different in Britain. Ice, snow, heavy rainfall, floods, lightning, high winds, even heatwaves, can all damage the railway and disrupt journeys. The storms, gales and floods across much of Britain during the winter of 2013/14 demonstrated once again not only how our weather patterns are changing, but also the impact that has on the railway. Whether it has been the dramatic demolition of the seawall at Dawlish, coastal damage and land slips in Wales, rising groundwater in the Thames Valley, or falling trees in Scotland, there has hardly been a part of the network that has not been affected. And it isn’t just the physical infrastructure that is affected. It is also people’s daily lives as the railway service they depend on to get them to and from work has been severely disrupted.
When the Victorians built the embankments on which many of our tracks were built, they did not envisage the kind of weather we are now experiencing, and, therefore, we need to better understand the impact not just of this winter’s battering, but the increased frequency of extreme weather events over the past few years. We need to create a railway fit for the future, and part of this means our response to the impact of climate change on the network. So how could Network Rail best protect it’s network against these extreme types of weather? How can we continue to ensure that our network is as environmentally friendly as possible?
Lightning strikes damaged rail infrastructure an average of 192 times each year between 2010 and 2013, with each strike leading to 361 minutes of delays. Rails are made of steel which is an excellent electrical conductor; we make use of this by using the rails in “track circuits” to detect the location of trains. When lightning strikes a rail, the high voltage can damage this sensitive electronic signalling equipment. As our signalling system fails safe, when a component is damaged all signals in the area turn red and trains must stop.
We’re installing “surge arrest” equipment to prevent lightning strikes from damaging signalling equipment. We’re trialling a system which accurately identifies the location of lightning strikes almost immediately, enabling us to deploy staff to the site more quickly and reducing the impact on train services. Using historic data, we predict which areas are at the most risk of lightning strikes and ensure that stores are fully stocked with parts which are likely to be damaged. Until the damaged parts are replaced and tested, the signaller will keep trains moving by making direct contact with the driver of every train passing the affected area. High winds can blow debris and trees from the trackside and from neighbouring land onto the track. If a train hits any debris it can cause a derailment.
On warm days, rails in direct sunshine can be as much as 20 degrees centigrade above air temperature. As rails are made out of steel, they expand as they heat up and are subject to strong compression. This expansion has to be managed to reduce the risk of track buckling. If the track does buckle, the line must be closed and the track repaired before services can resume, causing considerable disruption. Usually, these repairs can’t be done until the temperature of the rails has dropped.
To combat this we paint at-risk rails white so they absorb less heat, reducing rail temperatures. Typically a painted rail will be five to ten degrees cooler than an unpainted rail. We are continually enhancing our measures for calculating rail temperatures, including installing probes that give us instant alerts when track temperatures rise
Snow and ice
Snow and ice can cause serious problems for the railway. Particularly at risk are areas where trains move more slowly, such as the approach to stations and points. Snow can get compacted by passing trains into solid ice which prevents points working, and ice can coat the electrified rail, preventing trains from drawing power. Snow can be blown into signalling cabinets and cause a short-circuit – the system is designed to fail safe, so any problem turns signals in the area to red and trains cannot pass through.
We have six Snow and Ice Treatment Trains fitted with snow ploughs, hot-air blowers, steam jets, brushes, scrapers and jets for heated anti-freeze and compressed air to quickly de-ice tracks. Train operators run empty trains through the night to help keep tracks clear, and passenger trains can be fitted with snow ploughs which can clear up to 6 feet of snow – if it’s deeper, we send in our fleet of dedicated snow ploughs. Major routes that are the most at risk have been fitted with fences that prevent snow blowing on to the tracks.
Anti-icing fluid and heating strips are also used on live conductor rails to prevent ice building up and preventing trains from drawing power; the addition of heating strips has reduced ice-related incidents by up to 80%. We’ve attached heaters and NASA grade insulation to points to prevent ice forming and added protective covers to 4,000 points and 2,500 points motors to keep snow out and prevent damage by ice falling from trains. Our remote temperature monitoring and a helicopter fitted with thermal imaging cameras identify points heaters that are not working effectively. In areas badly affected by “frost heave” where water in the ballast freezes, expands and moves the track, we have re-laid it using a shallower bed of ballast to reduce the movement.
Many sections of our railway were built in cuttings and tunnels which are lower than the surrounding area, or in low-lying flat areas with limited drainage, making them prone to flooding. Flood water can wash away the ballast which supports the sleepers making the line unsafe until it is re-laid. The development of land near the railway can increase the risk of flooding – if the drainage system is inadequate, rain which previously soaked into the ground may run off tarmac and concrete and straight onto the tracks. When the water level rises above the rails, trains have to reduce their speed to prevent damage to the train. If the track has a live conductor rail, flooding can cause a short circuit.
We deploy flood defence systems including modular ridged barriers with a membrane that seals to prevent water getting on the railway, and inflatable barriers which are filled with flood water. We are also building pumping stations in locations which are prone to flooding so we can quickly pump flood water away. When we renew lines that are at risk of flooding, we raise the tracks and signalling equipment.
High winds can blow debris and trees from the trackside and from neighbouring land onto the track. If a train hits any debris it can cause a derailment. Overhead power lines sway in high winds and can tangle around a train’s pantograph (which connects it to the overhead lines), pulling the lines down. When this occurs trains are unable to run and services may be re-routed. Teams inspect the track on foot, removing dead and diseased trees and any vegetation from our land that is at risk of coming in to contact with the overhead power lines. We are reducing the distance between supports for overhead power lines at locations prone to high winds. When wind gusts of 60-69 mph are forecasted, trains slow down to allow drivers time to stop if they see an obstruction on the track
Fog reduces visibility so train drivers have to slow down to make sure they can see track-side signals in time to stop and keep passengers safe. This may cause the train to be delayed.
We’re investing in the European Rail Traffic Management System which brings signalling inside the train cab, reducing drivers’ reliance on track-side signalling and reducing the need to slow down when visibility is poor. All trains are fitted with an automatic warning system which rings a bell when it’s approaching a green signal and sounds a horn when the signal is yellow or red
Links for further information
Customer – focused organisation
We and our partners across the industry all have a vital long-term role to play to help Britain build a thriving, sustainable, low carbon economy. Working together with train operators and supply chain partners on managing assets, timetables and investment is only one aspect of how we are trying to work much more closely with the rest of the industry for the benefit of passengers and our freight customers. We’re all part of an evolving, collaborative industry, constantly looking to innovate and deliver value for money for passengers, freight users and taxpayers.
Part of this is how we best communicate and respond to our customers needs. We are looking at what ways we can best share information to passengers on impacts their journey. People now expect to receive up-to-date information as they go about their daily life, and the railway is no exception. Passengers expect to be told in advance about any delays so they can plan their journeys, and if they are disrupted they want information about the cause and likely duration, not just of the original problem, but its knock-on effects on the rest of the network. We are working closely with our train operator partners to see how we can improve information both before and during journeys. We plan to improve the consistency of information across stations. We’re integrating the different systems we use into one which will feed into screens at stations, apps on smartphones and websites, and on-train information. With over 20 million people living within 500 metres of the railway boundary, this audience is critical to Network Rail’s reputation. So along with communicating with our passengers, we have to ensure we’re doing everything possible to maintain positive contact.
So how we can best communicate any delays that do occur better and faster to passengers? In what other ways can we provide a better journey and respond to our customers needs?
Over the past few years we have expanded our use of social media to better communicate with our travellers. We now use of our Twitter page as a main form of real time communication with our customers. Along with this we have Facebook and Twitter pages for every major station which can provide service updates, information on upcoming events and better support it’s travellers concerns and queries. This was best demonstrated in periods of adverse weather in the winter of 2013 – 2014. Our Twitter page provided instant information on the closure of any routes, progress updates on when these would be available to run a service, and also provided personal interaction with customers.
Our stations – Better facilities
Network Rail currently manages and owns 17 of the country’s biggest and busiest stations. We currently have more people travelling through our London stations each year than Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted combined. Stations are now turning into “Destination Stations” being a destination in their own right. We currently have a wide variety of shops in all our UK stations, what different services could we offer? Or how could we promote the wonderful variety of shops we have?
So how would you make your local station better? You could think about the different purposes and functionality of a station, travel to and from the station, purchasing a ticket, getting through the barriers, waiting to travel, the arrival, the design, functionality, safety and security, retail opportunities, foot flow, facilities. How do we need to update stations for future use? Is it easy to navigate through a station, could we better sign post how to get where you want to go? Do you think stations are teen friendly?
King’s Cross Station Redevelopment
We’ve renovated and expanded a beautiful Victorian structure to create a transport hub that is ready to accommodate the unprecedented numbers taking to the railways. The bright, spacious new concourse is the largest single-span structure in Europe. It opened in March 2012 in time to welcome the world for the Olympics. The project was completed with the revealing of the original station facade and the opening of the 75,000 sq ft King’s Cross Square in front of the station.
A key part of this redevelopment was transforming the area. The station redevelopment has been the catalyst for one of the largest regeneration schemes in Europe, attracting £2.2bn of private investment. 67 acres of brown-field land is being developed into offices, retail and 2,000 homes.Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design has moved into renovated railway buildings to the north, construction is underway on Camden Council’s new offices and work will start soon on Google’s UK HQ.
Solar panels have also been added to the renovated train shed roofs. They cover 2,500m² and were placed at the apex of the lanterns to minimise visual impact. They generate up to 10% of the station’s energy requirements. A rainwater recycling scheme provides up to a third of the water used by the Eastern Range offices.
We want disabled customers to be able to travel freely and safely on the rail network. To deliver this we are committed to ensuring that disabled customers, staff and stakeholders are part of an increasingly inclusive and accessible railway network. Disabled people come with a very wide range of access needs from clear signage to inclusive staff behaviour – much impairment is not visible. Disability is not just about wheelchair users or people who have an impairment you can see.
The kinds of barriers people may experience are:
- Physical (obstacles for visually-impaired people or poor layout for those with learning difficulties),
- Information (such as timetables) and attitudinal (assumptions such as people with visual impairments can’t see at all or that because an impairment is not visible it does not exist),
We want to encourage Inclusive Design, which aims to remove attitudinal and environmental barriers that create undue effort, separation or special treatment. This needs to take into account what side the flush for the toilet is on, to how to make platforms safer . This will enable everyone – regardless of disability, or age to participate equally, confidently and independently with choice and dignity. When something is inclusive, everyone can use it equally, confidently and independently. Therefore we need to look at more inclusive ways to design our buildings, policies and procedures that enable disabled people’s inclusion.
Accessible Platforms at Thameslink
A current example of this inclusive design is the use of rising and dipped platforms to allow wheelchair users or buggys to be able to get off a train without the use of a ramp. Currently disabled travellers have to phone ahead to ensure someone at the station is ready for their arrival with a ramp. By having platforms which are risen to the level of the train it allows more freedom and access for all rail users.
Links for further information
The Disabled People’s Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC), advises the Secretary of State for Transport on the transport needs of disabled people.
Utilising and maintaining our Heritage
The railway was a agent of change bringing a great upheaval in Britain from the 19th onwards, bringing wealth and new opportunities to agriculture and industry, making it possible to do business across great distances, creating the conditions for cities to grow, allowing remote areas to become vital ports and industrial centres, and employing multitudes of people in steady, reliable employment. The railways were the largest agents of economic and social changes in those times. 150 years later, there has been significant change, and we are experiencing the Electronic Revolution. During those 150 years there has been much change, and some of the important and iconic items from the past have been allowed to disappear. We run our railway on the oldest rail network in the world, but this means we are constrained to provide better service, whilst protecting our railway heritage.
So how do we modernise the railway, whilst equally preserving and utilising our collective history?
Reusing Signal Boxes
The consolidation of more than 800 signal boxes into 14 state of the art rail operating centres begins the next chapter in the history of signalling on Britain’s railway. The introduction of a new rail traffic management technology in these centres will improve both capacity and performance on the railway network. This will also mean that a significant amount of signal boxes will be closed, or rendered unable. We have worked with local communities to best reuse our assets turning Signal Boxes into cafes, or community centres to ensure these historic structures are not lost and provide use to the community. This also provides a benefit to Network Rail by ensuring these structures are kept secure and provide a type of community surveillance.
Links for further information
Network Rail is the second biggest landlord in the Britain after the Queen. We own the land by the side of the track, as well as woodland, archways, depots all across the UK. Therefore, we have a lot of interaction with the local communities. This interaction can range from positive schemes such as community gardens, and education projects to negative issues such as cable theft and crime. So how could we best support our local communities, whilst maintaining a reliable, safe service for our customers? How could the railway benefit your local town or community?
Trespassing and vandalism
Every year, people are killed and injured because they are trespassing, or vandalising the railway. Only certain parts of the railway are open to members of the public. Of course, you can go on the stations, platforms and safe crossing places – underpasses, public bridges, level crossings and public foot crossings. Vandalism is when someone deliberately damages railway property. Common types of vandalism on the railway include graffiti, litter, flytipping and breaking and damaging railway property (such as fences, bridges, signs and tracks). Much of the trespassing and vandalism is done by eight – 16 year old boys but children as young as five years old have been found playing on the tracks. The other big group of trespassers are adults who use the railway as a shortcut.
We work hard to tell young people about the dangers of trespass and vandalism. We have two websites specifically about railway crime – the Rail Life website for young people and the Trackoff website for teachers and parents. We also run and support a lot of community activities, including school visits, safety centres, diversionary activities and communications programmes. In areas with lots of trespassing and vandalism, we will replace existing fences with more secure fences to make it more difficult to access the railway.
Metal theft is a big problem for the railway as thieves target signalling cables, overhead power lines and even fences to sell for scrap. Cable theft costs us millions of pounds each year. The total cost to the economy, taking into account the impact of freight delays to power stations, supermarkets etc and on passengers who miss appointments or have their day ruined, is even higher. The theft of metal is a big problem for the railway as thieves target signalling cables, overhead power lines and even metal fences to sell for scrap. Britain’s rail network is designed to fail safe, which means that when a cable is cut trains are brought to a standstill. This protects passengers but can lead to lengthy, frustrating delays while the problem is found and fixed safely.
We have done a huge amount of work to tackle cable theft including; using CCTV to alert us that people are on the network and to support the police, installing new ways of securing cables, using forensic marking agents, and introducing cables which are harder to steal and easier to identify.
The railway can be a noisy place. It could be noise from the tamping machines we use when we’re carrying out essential maintenance and repairs or even the sound of the trains running on our network every day.
Trees and plants
Trees and plants can cause serious safety and performance problems for the railway. With over 20,000 miles of track and an estimated 2.5 million trees growing on the line-side we have to focus our resources on keeping the railway safe and running as smoothly as possible. Our climate, variety of trees and train frequency mean that Britain’s railway faces more serious challenges than the networks in most other countries. In 2013, vegetation management and incidents caused by vegetation cost the railway £100m and storms, rain and wind resulted in approximately 1,500 incidents in 2013/14 where trees caused disruption to the network.
Unmanaged trees and plants can cause serious safety problems for the railway by covering up signals or falling on to tracks and overhead power lines. Overgrown trees and plants can also get in the way of our workers finding safe refuge when trains are passing and hamper their ability to see trains approaching. Visibility at level and footpath crossings is a major part of our risk measurement and focus on public safety, so managing the vegetation around crossings is a key area for us. If a tree or large branch falls onto the tracks the line has to be closed until it has been cleared.
We target areas that pose the biggest safety and performance risk to the railway. This includes the area between the track, which is kept completely clear, and in high risk areas we may need to clear to the boundary line although in general we only clear to five metres from the track.
Litter and fly-tipping
We’re committed to cleaning litter and preventing fly-tipping on the railway. It’s a serious problem that not only looks bad, but also affects your safety on the railway. Litter can attract rats which can chew on signal cables, leading to signal failures, delays and even accidents. So how can we limit the amount of litter on our tracks?
Animals and pests
When animals get on to the railway it can lead to delays as it is not safe to run trains where there is a risk of collision with a large animal. Removing an animal can take some time if the location is remote or if it keeps moving – animals often go to great lengths to avoid being captured. As there are over 20,000 miles of track it would not be practical, or desirable, to fence the entire rail network. What else could we do?
We are also affected by pests with rats, mice and rabbits sometimes crossing over from our neighbours’ properties onto the railway, and they can chew through wires and cause disruption. Pigeons often nest under the bridges along the railway and can cause problems for people living and working nearby.
Habitats and protected species
When we clear vegetation, we check to see if nesting birds or protected species are present. We avoid work at times that will cause harm to, or disturb, nesting birds unless there is a significant and immediate threat to passenger or resident safety.
Links for further information