Research and Innovation Quarterly Update - May 2020

Welcome to the May 2020 Research and Innovation Quarterly Update.

I hope you and your loved ones are keeping well. I know that many of you continue to be extremely busy handling the Covid-19 crisis: whether that’s operating train services under uniquely challenging conditions or looking after family and vulnerable members of your community.

For cross-industry research, your in-kind support—information and data, time from practitioners in industry, and in some cases also access to equipment—is essential. Progress on some of our projects has slowed down, because we couldn’t—and didn’t want to—add pressure to industry in these challenging times. However, many projects and activities have continued with little or no impact, so I want to thank you for your continued support.

Over the past couple of months, we have run webinars to report findings from the latest adhesion research. These attracted more than 100 participants each, and delegates told us they were interesting and valuable. Go to to watch recordings of these sessions. We plan to continue with online showcases and events that keep you up to date and make the best use of whatever time you have available. So, keep an eye on to see what’s coming up.

It’s already clear that in the aftermath of this crisis the transport industry, and rail within it, will face new challenges. But one near-certainty about the future is that climate change will continue to be high on the agenda. In late March, the Department for Transport published Decarbonising Transport: Setting the Challenge. This document takes, for the first time, a holistic view of greenhouse gas emissions across the entire transport sector and sets out a bold new approach to tackling them.

Rail is playing its part to become more sustainable, and efforts must intensify.

This quarterly update includes stories on how companies are using the Rail Carbon Tool to calculate and reduce the emissions generated by rail projects, and a feasibility study for powering trains with local, renewable sources of electricity. The research and development programme also played a key role in informing the recently published rail industry Air Quality Strategic Framework. This includes recommendations on how to improve air quality, and forms the basis for an ongoing commitment to make rail the cleanest form of transport in the UK. You can read the strategy at

Luisa Moisio
R &D Programme Director


Key to icons indicating which strategic goals for the railway each project addresses


  • Research and innovation in action

    Rail Carbon Tool - improvements and updates

    The tool, which has already cut carbon on  hundreds of projects, is being upgraded.

    The Rail Carbon Tool (RCT) has become the primary mechanism to record the embodied carbon impacts of rail projects and contracts. By recording and measuring early, rail can demonstrate how it is driving down embodied carbon, in line with government targets.

    The RCT was established five years ago to meet the needs of the rail industry in assessing the embodied carbon impacts of infrastructure design. The tool currently has over 1,300 users working on 367 projects. Network Rail mandated the use of the tool, from December 2019, on infrastructure projects over £1m.

    Improvements and updates 

    We are currently making four enhancements to the tool:

    • Updating the carbon factors library with the latest Inventory of Carbon and Energy (ICE) database values.
    • Working towards calculating whole-life carbon values for infrastructure projects by including construction emissions, material replacement rates and emissions from infrastructure maintenance.
    • Integrating Building Information Modelling (BIM) outputs within the RCT, making the tool more useful for informing infrastructure design.
    • Increasing the number of railway-specific templates available to help users make quicker calculations, earlier in project lifecycles.


    RSSB is facilitating an ambitious programme of training to increase effective use of the tool, now and in the future.

    Case studies: where the RCT has made a difference

    Camden Town Station Capacity Upgrade—Transport for London

    • 27 per cent reduction in whole-life carbon, compared to the original concept.
    • 29 per cent increase in perceived project value.

    East West Rail, Phase 2 (A to F)—East West Rail Alliance

    • Early design stage carbon assessment identified track, sleepers, and fencing as key carbon hotspots.
    • Proposed design changes reduced emissions by 24,000 tonnes CO2e (7.5 per cent of the baseline assessment).

    Plumstead Maintenance Facility— Crossrail

    • Recommended changes to material specifications in construction have the potential to reduce total embodied carbon by 30 per cent.
    • The study was pioneering within the rail industry, carrying out the assessment in line with the principles of the PAS:2080 2016 BSI Standard for Carbon Management in Infrastructure.

    Reading Station Area Redevelopment, Elevated Railway and Feeder Line— Network Rail

    • 42.4 per cent reduction in embodied carbon through a value-engineering exercise.
    • £9.5m cost saving by applying sustainability principles in design.
    • Excellent example of how cost and carbon reduction are intrinsically linked in infrastructure projects.

    Find out more

    Find the Rail Carbon Tool at—access is free for registered users in the GB rail industry. To find out more or to discuss your training needs, contact Craig Hales, Lead Sustainable Development Specialist:

    "Knowing there would be someone waiting there to get me off the other side… was all fine, I felt at ease. ‘It created a different layer of assistance… seemed a bit more personalised and almost a gold standard.’

    Customer feedback from the innovation trial

    Manage customers' travel plans in real time

    Smart Travel Assistant delivers tailored routes to venues and events while offering operators valuable insight on people’s travel plans.

    TOC Ability aimed to enhance the accessibility and inclusivity of rail services for vulnerable and disabled rail users. It developed a digital platform allowing passengers to share their journey requirements with on-duty station staff. The innovation, funded through RSSB’s TOC’16 Innovation competition, has now evolved into the You. Smart. Thing. Travel Assistant, a commercially available product.

    You. Smart. Thing has worked with Transport for West Midlands, venues such as Wembley Stadium, and events like the Godiva Festival.

    The system provides tailored travel information and journey choices to maximise the visitor experience. Travel Assistant takes into account a customer’s individual needs as well as known transport events, such as planned maintenance. Plans are updated to reflect the latest information in advance of departure and en-route. Passengers can use it to request accessibility assistance from transport operators and venue staff.

    For organisations, the Travel Assistant product allows better management of people-flow and demand, as well as making it easier to offer a good customer experience.

    Event, venue and transport operators can embed the Travel Assistant into existing customer touchpoints, such as websites and booking flows. Travel operators also benefit from a valuable early insight to people’s plans, enabling demand management alongside real-time messaging.

    In particular, during Covid-19, the Travel Assistant can manage routes, travel modes and timing in its recommendations to customers, helping to maintain a capacity level that supports social distancing and government guidelines.

    Find out more

    To discover more about Travel Assistant, visit or email

    If you would like to know more about the accessibility aspects of this innovation project, visit to download a full report

    'You Smart Thing' image

  • Research and innovation ready to use

    A strategic approach to improving air quality 

    The Air Quality Strategic Framework brings together current initiatives and sets wider priorities.

    Air pollution is a major public health risk, ranking alongside cancer, heart disease and obesity. It poses the single greatest environmental risk to human health.

    The GB rail industry is committed to reducing overall nitrogen oxide and particulate emissions on the railway. It also wants to identify and reduce problematic concentrations in specific locations, where they may have a significant impact on health.

    The rail industry’s new Air Quality Strategic Framework brings together the current industry-lead initiatives to improve air quality and reduce emissions. We consulted widely across the industry to develop the strategic framework, and we are grateful for all the information, views and comments received.

    The framework provides recommendations on how to improve air quality, and forms the basis for an ongoing commitment to make rail the cleanest form of transport in the UK. To meet the identified priorities, RSSB is running the Clean Air Research (CLEAR) programme. This covers rail air quality mapping, fleet-wide assessment of rail emissions factors, and assessment of air quality at depots. The research projects will significantly improve the knowledge base by measuring, mapping and modelling rail emissions, and evaluating solutions to mitigate them.

    Next steps

    Read the Rail Industry Air Quality Strategic Framework on our website at

    To find out more about our research into air quality, contact James Wright, Air Quality Specialist:

    Air quality diagram

    'This work, if implemented by the industry, should provide additional opportunity to run 9’6” container traffic [moving freight traffic from roads to rail] using traditional gauges, where it is presently restricted due to the lack of an efficiently sized gauge.’

    Ian Glover
    Traction and Rolling Stock Projects Engineer, Freightliner


    Standards updated with new gauges

    The new freight and passenger gauges will allow more efficient use of existing infrastructure.

    A programme of four research projects has led directly to new railway vehicle gauges, which will be incorporated into GERT8073 Requirements for Standard Vehicle Gauges this September.

    The new freight gauges will allow operators to carry a wider range of containers on many routes. Better use will be made of existing infrastructure and wagons, without the need for costly gauge enhancement work. If the new gauges are implemented by the industry, a significant proportion of the 190,000 containers that currently travel by road each year may be available to the rail market.

    The updated locomotive gauge, based on modern analysis techniques, both accommodates the most common locomotives and offers additional space for new locomotive design. This will make the introduction of new vehicles easier and cheaper.

    A new 26 metre passenger vehicle gauge will reduce the costs of designing vehicles of this length. The 26m gauge completes optimisation for the most common passenger vehicle lengths: 20m, 23m and 26m.

    The work is supported by guidance for freight operators and infrastructure managers, to reduce the costs of route compatibility assessment.

    Next steps

    For the latest standards, go to

    For more information on the four gauging projects, search for:

    • T1132 Development of Supplementary Freight Gauges
    • T1109 Freight Suspension Analysis
    • T1092 Development of a 26m Vehicle Standard Gauge
    • T995 Locomotive Gauge.

    Alternatively contact Paul Gray, Professional Lead, Engineering:

    Double variable rate sander retrofitting and in-service use

    Double variable rate sanders fitted to Class 323 trains deliver assured braking in low adhesion.

    In 2018, RSSB presented conclusive findings that the enhanced sander configuration known as double variable rate sanders (DVRS) halves stopping distances in low adhesion, compared with current fixed-rate sanders. West Midland Train drivers validated these findings in autumn 2019 with DVRS fitted to Class 323 trains, in both controlled conditions and in-service operations.

    DVRS not only reduces stopping distances, but also provides consistent braking over a range of different adhesion conditions. This advance is the biggest step change in low adhesion management for the last 20 years.

    On 26 March, RSSB ran a webinar that outlined the success story of this pilot; from design and system integration to installation outcomes, and finally the results. This included input from the drivers on what they thought of DVRS. Catch up with this webinar— and others in the adhesion series—at Download the full report at (search for IMP-T1107).

    Next steps

    The Rail Delivery Group is now working on a detailed fleet-by-fleet analysis of the business cases for retrofitting DVRS, and industry is considering options to share the costs between different parties—TOCs, ROSCOs and Network Rail. RSSB is committed to supporting these initiatives, to enable the widest possible industry take-up.

    For support with taking forward DVRS in your organisation, contact Aaron Barrett, Senior Research Analyst:

    Train running through platform image

    Longer-term benefits from mental health training

    Four ways to embed the benefits of training into your organisation.

    The right training equips managers with more confidence in managing staff absence due to poor mental health and risks associated with stress at work, delivering a return on investment of £9 to every £1 spent.

    Previous RSSB research showed that face-to-face and e-learning were equally effective in training line managers to support staff with mental health problems. We followed up the same group of line managers one year later to explore the best ways to embed initial learning into organisations.

    1. Connected line managers: line managers should not feel isolated when management challenges arise. Provide access to support and specialist advice from HR and occupational health.
    2. Accessible resources: have a centralised point for resources and information (including relevant company policies) that line managers can refer to. Regardless of the mode of delivery, provide materials that can be referenced after the training. Use tools that your organisation already has, such as stress risk assessments, to know what actions to put into practice. Embed processes in your organisation to assess and manage risks to mental wellbeing. Consider signing up to tools such as Mind’s Wellness Action Plan.
    3. Regular skills practice: think of methods beyond formal training to embed learning, such as peer learning through facilitated workshops or webinars. Try linking the learning outcomes for training to behaviours delegates can practice straight after the training. Focus on preventative skills, not just those to use when people are unwell. Role play can be useful in embedding behaviours that are needed less often, such as during disclosures of poor mental health or absence situations.
    4. Empowered line managers: ‘small talk’ should be seen as a valued part of the line manager role. Small exchanges and interpersonal relationships provide a setting that facilitates supportive management and employee openness. Line managers should be entrusted with making appropriate adjustments for individuals experiencing mental ill-health.

    Next steps

    Find out more about RSSB’s research into mental health training at

    Building on the research, RSSB has developed railspecific, face-to-face training packages. We are also collaborating with mental health charity Mind to offer e-learning packages with rail-specific content, at a reduced cost to industry. For further information, contact:

    MIND logo

  • Research and innovation in progress

    Green Valley Lines: generating power locally

    Could we feed electricity from local renewables directly into the rail network?

    In future, the electricity grid is likely to be increasingly distributed—small-scale generation, used locally. Riding Sunbeams, alongside Transport for Wales, Network Rail and other local partners, is exploring the feasibility of sending electricity from community owned, renewable sources directly to the rail network.

    The project was funded through the Intelligent Power Solutions to Decarbonise Rail competition launched by RSSB in October 2018. It focuses on a section of overhead line equipment in the Welsh valleys north of Cardiff, and will result in an outline proposal considering:

    • the technical aspects: generating and storing energy, feeding it to the overhead line as and when it is available, and coordinating with mains supply in a way that maximises the benefits
    • the costs of various options
    • which authorities would need to be involved, and how to coordinate them.

    The project is also looking at the geography of the Green Valley Lines to identify sites, both on and off rail-owned land, that may be suitable for generation of renewable electricity. The work is highlighting areas for further research, specifically what technical, regulatory and legislative questions will need to be addressed if such schemes are rolled out on a national basis.

    Get involved

    The feasibility project is reaching the end of the study period. Riding Sunbeams has applied for funding to develop a demonstrator project.

    To discuss the project and its emerging findings, contact Andrew Kluth, Lead Carbon Specialist:

    Mobile connectivity on the railway

    Can we quantify the operational, safety and security benefits of a connected rail corridor?

    Digital connectivity along GB rail corridors remains poor, leading to missed opportunities. Part of the challenge is a lack of ownership, and misalignment of incentives and interests between mobile networks, Network Rail, rail operators, and suppliers.

    Previous studies have looked at the benefits to passenger communications and connectivity alone, and their findings have struggled to justify investments in mobile connectivity. This research takes a broader look at how connectivity could encourage adoption of industry 4.0 solutions. These could, in turn, lead to improved reliability, asset use, safety, performance, and ultimately passenger satisfaction. For example:

    • a move to digital signalling could save from £3.1 to £38 billion per year, depending on the level of digital signalling installed
    • remote condition monitoring of fixed assets and trains could transform maintenance management and reduce costs by up to 15 per cent
    • the Connected Driver Advisory System (C-DAS) can advise drivers on the most efficient driving style to meet the timetable.

    However, these benefits cannot be realised without substantial investment. Our research will identify scenarios that support the business case for improving connectivity. We will also develop a framework for assessing the costs and benefits of these scenarios, and how they apply to the various stakeholders within GB rail. The framework will allow tangible and intangible operational, security, and safety benefits of connectivity to be assessed, based on a set of representative economic and financial metrics.

    This work will enable the rail industry to make informed decisions and coordinate investments in improved connectivity on the rail corridor.

    Get involved

    To find out more about this research and to discuss ways to get involved, contact Giorgio Sernicola, Senior Research Analyst:

    Using data to improve network reliability and punctuality

    Three more projects have been awarded funding as part of the 2019 Data Sandbox+ competition.

    Using deep analytics to predict reactionary delays and dwell time variation in the new accessible railway.

    Led by Transreport, in collaboration with the Rail Delivery Group and Govia Thameslink Railway.

    To understand factors that affect dwell time and network performance, this project will use historic and current data sets from multiple modes of transport to explore deep, and potentially hidden, correlations.

    Transreport’s Passenger Assist system is a novel platform that allows disabled passengers to make assistance requests. This project will use data from the system to identify scenarios where targeted assistance could reduce or mitigate the risk of increased dwell, and potential knock-on disruption. The work could provide operators with new ways to predict and mitigate delays, while ensuring a better service for disabled passengers, who tend to be the worst affected during disruption.

    Rapid Evaluation and Planning Analysis Infrastructure for Railways (REPAIR).

    Led by Frazer Nash in collaboration with the University of Hull.

    REPAIR will use artificial intelligence and deep reinforced learning techniques, recently developed for use in the defence industry, to build a set of tools to improve train planning, assess the impact of perturbations to the network, and provide mitigation strategies.

    The tools will aim to enable the knock-on impact of delays to be assessed automatically and rapidly (within seconds), and to provide optimal mitigation. During an incident, these tools will support human decision-making to return the timetable to normal.

    A real-time functional digital twin for the Thameslink route.

    Led by OpenSpace in collaboration with the University of Birmingham, Network Rail, the Rail Delivery Group and Govia Thameslink Railway.

    A digital twin is a virtual representation of a physical system, in this case railway stations. The project will use the data and simulation tools from the OpenSpace platform to understand how people move through stations and the wider railway network. The feasibility study will identify the relationships between delays to passenger flow and numbers of people at key nodes, such as ‘bottleneck’ stations.

    By observing and predicting customer movement through the Thameslink network, the tool will provide the basis for customer-centric decisions. The output will provide a deeper understanding of the ‘typical’ baseline performance of the network. And it will act as an early warning system when this deviates from expectations. It will give capacity planners tools, insights, and recommendations to improve timetable planning and disruption recovery.

    Get involved

    Find out more about the teams and projects at

    If you are interested in helping to steer the direction of the work by joining the Industry Advisory Group for one of these projects, contact Giulia Lorenzini, Senior Partnership and Grants Manager:

  • Get involved

    'The new user-friendly tool will bring about a huge leap forward for more people, businesses and projects to understand and talk about the social good that rail delivers'.

    Lucie Anderton
    Sustainability Strategy Manager, Network Rail

    Common Social Impact Framework to move online

    A new interactive tool will measure, model and benchmark social value.

    Delivering value to wider society is fundamental to rail’s purpose, but hard to measure. Last year we developed the Common Social Impact Framework, a robust set of measures and metrics that can help any GB rail organisation or project to measure the social value created.

    The measures and qualitative approaches within the framework help the rail industry understand the wider implications of its activities. The framework allows better planning to meet client needs, for example during a tender process or project delivery. Ultimately, it helps the rail industry to maximise its contribution to society.

    The framework also helps users to communicate the social value of rail, for example to planning authorities and lobby groups. Importantly, it can help to overcome the negative perceptions that surround some rail projects.

    A visual, interactive tool

    The Common Social Impact Framework is currently available in Microsoft Excel. We are now developing it into an accessible, interactive online tool.

    The new tool will help users to perform benchmarking, modelling, and before-and-after comparisons. Interactive and graphical dashboards will enhance the visual presentation of the outputs and values, for sharing data and performance measures with stakeholders.

    Get involved

    The current Excel version of the tool is available on Search for T1127 and select the ‘tools and techniques’ report.

    We would like to hear from projects and organisations interested in taking part in user testing of the new online tool. To find out more, contact Craig Hales, Lead Sustainable Development Specialist:

    We engaged with the G-FORCE trial in the anticipation that it would fit with our implementation of Safety II for the business. Following the briefings, training and feedback it is apparent that it is a perfect fit … the training has been excellent with a style that really suited the delegates.’

    Stuart Webster-Spriggs
    Health, Safety, Quality and Environment Director, VolkerRail Group

    Helping front line staff to make better decisions

    The G-FORCE tool provides a structured decision-making process for abnormal situations.

    Most of the time, operational staff can draw on prescribed rules and procedures to keep the railway running. But what about circumstances that fall outside the rule book? Or occasions when applicable rules do not seem to deliver the best outcomes?

    Opportunities to stop small incidents escalating can be missed when front line staff lack the confidence to use their professional judgement, and react in the most risk-adverse and restrictive way. The knock-on effects can worsen whole-system safety risk, and cause delays and cancellations across the network.

    When and why G-FORCE should be used

    G-FORCE can help front line staff and managers decide on a course of action when:

    • there is no rule covering the situation
    • the procedure specifies asking for permission or advice, but the responsible person can’t be contacted
    • more than one rule applies, but they conflict with each other
    • following the applicable rule would either be impossible, or unsafe, or have overall negative consequences.

    Alongside training and wider cultural and organisational change, the G-FORCE approach can give staff confidence that decisions they make will be evaluated fairly, based on the process they used and the information available to them at the time. If you have a ‘just culture’ within your organisation or are working towards it, G-FORCE will further empower staff to make better operational decisions, and counteract decision-making paralysis.

    Get involved

    Trials of G-FORCE are underway with East Midlands Railway, Network Rail’s London and North Eastern route, VolkerRail, and North Yorkshire Moors Railway. We are now rolling out the tool to other organisations. To discuss taking part, contact:

    G-FORCE infographic

Suggest research

The research programme is driven by the rail industry’s needs. We receive and review hundreds of ideas each year. New research ideas are always welcome. Contact us through our customer self-service portal and we will be in touch to discuss your research needs and ideas.

Request a knowledge search

Do you want to know if research has been done, or knowledge already exists? Our Knowledge Services include horizon scanning activities, support the R&D programme, and include knowledge searches for RSSB members.

Email us for further information.


SPARK is a knowledge hub with over 20,000 records where you can discover who is doing what in rail-related research and innovation. In SPARK you can find the Research and Solutions Catalogues that provides information on research and innovation managed by RSSB on behalf of the GB railway industry.


Research and Innovation quarterly update - May 2020
Research & Innovation quarterly update - February 2020
Research & Innovation quarterly update - October 2019
Research & Innovation quarterly update - August 2019
Research & Innovation quarterly update - May 2019
Research & Innovation quarterly update - February 2019
Research & Innovation quarterly update - October 2018
Research & Innovation quarterly udpate - August 2018
Research & Innovation quarterly update - May 2018
Haven’t found what you’re looking for?
Get in touch with our R&D Programme Director for further information.
Luisa Moisio
Tel: 020 3142 5437
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