Research and Innovation Quarterly Update February 2020

Welcome to the February 2020 Research and Innovation Quarterly Update.

Our railway is busier than ever, and more trains bring greater punctuality challenges. We have seen a ten-year decline in performance. Turning that around will require a strong and concerted effort from the industry. We need to get substantially better at keeping one of the key promises to our customers: getting them where they need to be, on time.

Part of the solution lies in improvements and upgrades: double variable rate sanders make it possible to drive autumn trains to a standard timetable, a potential that has now been demonstrated on in-service trains.

Digital technology also has a key role to play. We are increasingly able to analyse and simulate the network using real data. Determining the best configurations for the platformtrain interface in a virtual environment is now a step closer, thanks to the RateSetter tool, which is starting its validation on Merseyrail routes. RateSetter will help to find solutions for door configuration, train carriage internal layout, and assets on platforms that make boarding and alighting faster and safer.

Our 2017 Data Sandbox competition funded five feasibility studies on how machine learning, graph theory and data analytics can be used to support performance improvements. Data Sandbox+, co-funded by RSSB and Network Rail, is taking some of these studies further along the innovation journey, as well as initiating some new ones. For example, the Rail Performance Model, which has now been used successfully in an operational environment, was funded by Data Sandbox and is being made market-ready with the help of Sandbox+.

When disruption does happen, quick recovery is vital but complex. New RSSB resources are helping operators to refine and test their contingency plans.

Weather-related events disrupt thousands of services and cost the industry tens of millions of pounds each year. Our new research programme, RESILIENT, is taking an overall look at seasonal performance. With input from across the industry, we will carry out research that makes it easier to predict, prepare for and mitigate the impact of adverse weather on passenger services. Please get in touch to share your experiences and ideas, or to discuss how your organisation might contribute to these important projects.

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


  • Research and innovation in action

    Smart gateline improves passenger flow at busy station

    Intelligent ticket gateline automatically manages throughput, increases efficiency and prevents overcrowding

    The new gateline was installed at Transport for London’s Blackhorse Road Station, where it demonstrated that intelligent gatelines can increase efficiency (in terms of passenger throughput) by up to 30 per cent for a typical station with significant rush hour peaks.

    Overhead 3D sensors measure passenger flow across lines on either side of the gateline, and the throughput and waiting times are calculated. The gateline’s algorithms return a recommendation for the most efficient configuration of entry and exit gates.

    The system can be set up to automatically enact the change, or to allow staff to review and accept the recommendation on a virtual station control unit (vSCU). The vSCU runs on staff tablets, giving them full supervision and control of the gateline from anywhere on the station.

    This innovation:

    • could unlock up to 30 per cent more efficiency from existing gatelines
    • increases passenger satisfaction when passing through gatelines
    • enables staff to control gatelines remotely.

    The new gateline was developed and tested by Cubic Transportation Systems, together with project partners University of Portsmouth, Transport for London and Arriva Rail London. It was funded as part of RSSB’s TOC ’16 Innovation Competition.

    Find out more

    To find out more about the project, contact Julian Viller, Project Manager, Cubic:

    "At West Midland Trains we have found [the A-MAT performance model] to be a helpful way to measure and set a plan to improve accessibility at an organisational level. We find the value really comes from providing descriptions of where, as an operator, we need to aim to be, as well as encouraging collaborative working across the industry and with interest groups."

    John Harris
    Integrated Transport Accessibility & Development Manager, West Midlands Trains

    Better access to the railway

    A new tool is helping train and station operators to assess and improve accessibility

    The Accessibility Maturity Assessment Tool (A-MAT) was designed to help organisations embed the Department for Transport’s Inclusive Transport Strategy: Achieving Equal Access for Disabled People.

    The tool gives the user a way to assess the current maturity of their organisation’s activities across 12 objectives, as well as ORR requirements. It describes what evidence is needed to achieve each maturity level, and sets out a pathway for improvement.

    The tool is already in use. Network Rail and West Midlands Trains are committed to applying A-MAT within their organisations in 2020, with strong interest also from Transport for Wales.

    RSSB is working closely with the Department for Transport to develop the Inclusive Transport Leaders Scheme (ITLS), due to launch in Spring 2020. The scheme will formally recognise the best transport operators for their actions to improve disabled passengers’ experiences of the transport system. Rail organisations implementing the A-MAT will be able to use it as evidence for accreditation within the ITLS.

    Find out more

    Download A-MAT from

    RSSB is keen to support more organisations in applying A-MAT. We aim for it to become a business-as-usual tool, widely used across the industry.

    We are also looking for steering group members for the next phase —developing the current Excel format into an online app.

    For more information, contact Anthony Perret, Head of Sustainable Development.

    "The Rail Performance Model currently represents our best opportunity to model the spread of reactionary delay in a way that balances modelling cost and accuracy."

    Simon Greenwood
    Performance Analysis Manager, Great Western Railway

    Game-changing performance modelling tool

    A new, interactive rail incident simulation and performance tool has been used successfully by Great Western Railway

    The rail network is reaching capacity and service reliability has worsened, with 16.7 million delay minutes in 2018/19. The new Rail Performance Model helps identify the causes of performance issues and test the effectiveness of potential solutions, without costly, large-scale trials.

    The tool was funded through RSSB’s Data Sandbox research competition. It was developed by a team led by Risk Solutions and including Steer, Tracsis, City University of London, Heriot-Watt University, and Southampton University.

    The tool helps performance teams to explore the root causes of delays by modelling the possible interactions between rail services on the network. It also allows them to visualise performance under different scenarios. For example, they can model speed restrictions or timetable changes, or how dwell time is affected by different door configurations, or the reliability of contingency plans.

    Great Western Railway (GWR) used the Rail Performance Model to quantify the performance impacts of its December 2019 timetable changes between Paddington and Bristol. The tool allowed GWR to compare the on-time performance of train services before and after the change. It also identified services and stations where the timetable might be more challenging to deliver, allowing the operator to focus resources. 

    Currently RSSB and Network Rail, through the Data Sandbox+ competition, are funding an expansion of the project. The further work will map a larger network covered by operators GWR, Greater Anglia and Scotrail, and develop a web based demonstrator of the Rail Performance Model.

    Find out more

    For information about this and the other projects funded through the Data Sandbox+ initiative, visit, or contact Giulia Lorenzini, Senior Grants and Partnerships Manager.

    "The benefit of having a rail simulation tool is that you can test scenarios to understand the potential outcomes prior to implementing what can sometimes turn out to be a risky, high-cost solution that may or may not help you tackle performance."

    Marc Ware
    Performance Manager, Greater Anglia

  • Research and innovation ready to use

    LABRADOR train braking model ready for operational use

    The model represents the complex braking behaviour of passenger trains.

    Many of the individual elements within a train that affect its braking are well defined, but their behaviour as a complex system is less well understood. The LABRADOR model includes the interactions of system components to represent the overall braking behaviour of the train, in normal and low-adhesion conditions.

    The model can be used by train braking experts with access to MATLAB software. They will be able to investigate how trains brake in low-adhesion and normal wheel-rail conditions, and to plan strategies to improve performance. It could contribute to substantial performance and economic benefits, through changes to train architecture, driver behaviours and automatic train operation (ATO) algorithms.

    LABRADOR has now been validated using data from on-track braking tests carried out as part of our adhesion testing programme. The model also has an improved user interface, faster processing time and better accessibility.

    Next steps

    Read the research reports at

    Access to LABRADOR is available through the University of Huddersfield, under a licence agreement. The team will continue to develop the tool: they are currently investigating hardware-in-loop applications to improve the modelling of wheel slide protection, and better modelling of contaminants on the rail head.

    For further information, contact Julian Stow, Assistant Director – Principal Enterprise Fellow, Institute of Railway Research, University of Huddersfield.

    A toolkit for quicker recovery from disruption

    Evidence-based guidance on contingency planning is in trials with three train operators

    On Britain’s railways in 2018/19, there were 1,200 incidents of serious disruption. The disruption led to a total of:

    • 140,000 Public Performance Measure failures
    • 63,000 cancelled and significantly late services.

    Only 40 per cent of passengers were satisfied with how train companies handled delays.

    Contingency plans used by operators aim to speed up the return to normal service. They set out pre-determined strategies to restore the planned timetable, maintain safety and manage the customer experience. One of the tasks most critical to restoring services to timetable is locating and redeploying staff.

    However, contingency plans vary across the industry, and there was no methodology available to test their robustness, or to assess possible improvements.

    Our research reviewed current practice and recommended improvements. We used the findings to develop a toolkit for industry, covering contingency planning and resource deployment for disruption. The toolkit is currently being tested by West Midlands Trains, ScotRail and Govia Thameslink Railway.

    Next steps

    We welcome industry interest and support to bring the toolkit into full operational use.

    For more information, contact Andy Castledine, Professional Lead, Operations and Performance.

  • Research and innovation in progress

    Optimising the platform-train interface using simulations

    A new modelling tool will help to create smarter layouts that minimise congestion and bottlenecks

    The design of train carriage space and station layouts has a major impact on passenger flows. Seamless boarding and alighting reduce variations in dwell time, increase service reliability, and give a better customer experience.

    With the University of Sheffield, we developed the RateSetter simulation tool, to test the operational impact of changes to train and platform designs.

    The tool uses baseline data on passenger flow taken from CCTV footage, such as walking speeds, behaviour with luggage, and proportions of single travellers vs groups and their different behaviours. The resulting predictions are visualised by the tool, which can be used to compare different design options.

    To validate the predictive power of the RateSetter model, we are now testing it using passenger flow rates on the current 1970s-built Merseyrail fleet and the operator’s new fleet, due to be introduced during 2020. The introduction of the new trains is an opportunity to make predictions that can then be validated against real-world data.

    Once the validation is complete, operators and manufacturers will have a powerful way to measure the costs of train and/or station design changes against operational and performance gains.

    Get involved

    If you would like to join the project’s steering group, contact Giulia Lorenzini, Senior Partnership and Grants Manager.

    "Passenger flow at the platform-train interface isn’t yet well represented in station capacity planning. Merseyrail’s new fleet introduction is the ideal test for our prediction of how a new fleet will perform, and how it will impact operational performance."

    David Fletcher
    Professor of Railway Engineering, University of Sheffield


    Journey time and reliability gains through differential speeds


    Research to provide industry with clear criteria for using differential speeds

    On many routes on the GB railway network, speed limits on a particular section of track have been set differently for trains with different performance characteristics, such as braking and axle load. These differential speeds deal with infrastructure constraints and characteristics, and recognise differences in rolling stock capabilities.

    Over time, there have been variations in how the rules for these differential speeds are applied. It is not always clear, when new rolling stock is introduced, how to apply the existing rules.

    Appropriate differential speeds make better use of existing assets, and benefit passengers through improvements to journey times and service reliability. But applying restrictive differential speeds due to lack of clarity and rules that are not fit for purpose doesn’t make the best use of rolling stock capabilities, and can lengthen journey times.

    This project aims to provide the GB rail industry with criteria for classifying rolling stock and infrastructure against the different speed categories. Specifically, the project will look at speed differential classifications for diesel multiple unit (DMU), electric multiple unit (EMU) and multiple unit (MU) trains.

    So far, we have reviewed and mapped the locations of the current MU, DMU and EMU speed sites, and engaged industry to share their experience of speed differentials in operational use. Our initial findings are that:

    • the application of MU, DMU and EMU has largely been based on local and regional needs
    • the key parameters influencing classification are braking performance, axle load and route availability number
    • there is likely to be continuing benefit in differentiating maximum speed limits for selfpowered vehicles and vehicles needing current collection.

    Building on the work carried out to date, we will next:

    • define the criteria of the speed differential classes
    • develop a benefits assessment model
    • test the outputs through case studies.

    The full findings will be available in the second half of 2020.

    Get involved

    Read the findings to date in the RSSB research catalogue (search for T1163), or get in touch for more information. We would particularly like to hear from project teams and individuals working with differential speeds, to identify case studies. Contact Paul Gray, Professional Lead, Engineering R&D.

    "There is currently no robust method for valuing data in the rail industry. This research is expected to provide a real advance in this area and eventually lead to the railway being able to build cross-industry business cases for sharing the data it needs to improve customer experience, performance efficiency and growth."

    Karl Butler-Garnham
    Research & Development Programme Manager, Safety, Technical & Engineering, Network Rail

    Putting a value on railway data


    Giving data a monetary value will help organisations make informed decisions about what to share

    Across the rail industry, there is widespread acceptance that data is valuable, and also that sharing it can yield insights for the industry as a whole.

    However, there is currently no robust way of estimating the value of data. Decisions about whether or not to release data, and under what circumstances, can be challenging.

    This project aims to build an industry-wide framework for valuing mainline railway data. We will look at current and potential approaches, and draw lessons from other industries that are more advanced at data valuation. The framework will be an important step towards more informed management of data and greater data sharing.

    Get involved

    To find out more about the project or to get involved, contact Liz Davies, Professional Lead, Data and Modelling.

    Mapping emissions across the railway

    An online, interactive tool to map emissions and rail’s effect on local air quality

    Current estimates of emissions from rail tend to focus on the bigger picture. They do not provide reliable information on how emissions vary locally. For example, emissions tend to be averaged along the length of a route, with local variations around stops not accounted for.

    As part of the RSSB’s CLEan Air Research programme (CLEAR), we are working to provide GB rail with online air quality mapping. The online tool will improve GB rail’s understanding of how particulate matter (PM) and nitrous oxide (NOx) emissions vary across the network.

    It will highlight emissions hotspots, where rail may play a significant part in poor local air quality. Access to the data will be a first step in understanding why hotspots exist, and what can be done to improve air quality at these locations.

    We expect the tool to benefit the rail industry by:

    • making the research findings available in a visual and interactive format
    • comparing rail emissions against other local emissions sources
    • tracking improvements from initiatives such as new electrification schemes or new rolling stock
    • providing the basis for forecasting emissions in the future.

    Get involved

    To find out more about the project or to get involved, contact James Wright, Air Quality Specialist.

    "I’m delighted with this initiative. It marks a milestone in improving understanding of the industry challenges we face in winter and summer and will open up huge opportunities in improving performance"

    John Edgley
    Chief Track and S&C Engineer, Network Rail

  • Get involved

    RESILIENT: Towards weather-agnostic railway operations

    Get involved in research contributing to safe, reliable operation in a wider range of weather conditions

    Seasonal variations in environmental conditions continue to affect industry performance. Wind, floods, snow, cold and heat affect staff and fixed and mobile infrastructure, resulting in poorer service to customers.

    RSSB and the industry are already carrying out many projects that aim to build seasonal resilience. We will be working closely with Network Rail, operators and other interested industry parties to avoid duplication, shape the programme and prioritise projects.

    The programme will be made up of three workstreams:

    • Predict: enhanced forecasting
    • Prepare: improved planning
    • Prevent: optimised mitigation

    We would love to hear what you have already done, are doing, and plan to do to improve seasonal resilience. We are also interested in the specific challenges you face, your success stories, and ideas for novel or improved solutions.

    The first tranche of RESILIENT projects, scheduled to begin at the start of the next financial year, will look at:

    • how customer messaging and weather forecasts influence travel demand
    • reducing the risk of slips, trips and falls from water ingress at stations and on trains
    • evaluating the correlation between shoe gear contact force and the effectiveness of de-icing and anti-icing
    • anti-icing and de-icing mitigations for pantograph and overhead line equipment.

    Get involved

    Please get in touch if you can contribute to these projects. We are also looking to work with other modes of transport to improve joined-up planning for extreme weather.

    Contact Andi Flint, Head of Development.

    "Sand has been around for 25 years for the braking of trains – this a smart version of that, and as we have seen on the tests, the drivers think it is excellent."

    Mark Steward
    Operations Director, West Midlands Trains

    An end to seasonal driving?

    Come to an event to hear how double variable rate sanders lived up to their promise during trials

    Double variable rate sanders (DVRS) give drivers an assured 6%g deceleration for their trains in very low-adhesion conditions, but they had yet to be used in-service on the GB network.

    In autumn 2019, drivers, operators, suppliers and RSSB worked together to test DVRS on Class 323 trains under controlled low adhesion conditions.

    After the successful test runs, West Midland Trains drivers carried out a limited number of in-service trials of DVRS during the late autumn period, adopting harder and later (non-autumn) braking.

    The test runs and trials showed that with DVRS, it is possible to drive safely in autumn without adopting a seasonal braking strategy. West Midlands Trains is now looking at implementing the braking strategy more widely, removing the need for an autumn timetable on the Cross- City line.

    This spring, we are holding events looking at the DVRS findings, including an opportunity to hear first-hand from the drivers who used the equipment. We have also invited international colleagues to tell us about two new solutions – a railhead laser cleaning train and a tribometer (friction measuring) train – that are being trialled in the Netherlands and US.

    You’ll also learn about other adhesion research carried out by RSSB and Network Rail in 2019, some with findings that will be ready for use this autumn.

    Get involved

    The events will run in Birmingham and York. Please register online:

    To find out more about the project, contact Aaron Barrett, Senior Research Analyst.

    "Horizon scanning, in its broadest sense, is an attempt to systematically imagine the future in order to better plan a response… It is a crucial activity for any organisation tasked with long-term decision-making."

    House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, 2013-14

    Make the most of RSSB’s horizon scanning research

    Horizon scanning is the systematic gathering of evidence on future opportunities and threats

    RSSB’s horizon scanning team identifies drivers of change affecting GB rail. We explore potential threats, opportunities, likely future developments, unexpected issues, and trends. We also cover key technology-related issues, particularly emerging technologies, the opportunities these may provide to rail, and how they are being taken up.

    The findings inform our crossindustry research programme and help rail decision-makers to plan for the future.

    Read horizon scanning articles at, including the current series on digital twins (digital replicas of physical objects) and the forthcoming one on blockchain (digital encryption technology).

    The team is developing a workshop format to help organisations and teams explore the ideas and issues identified in our horizon scanning work. The workshop aims to promote strategic thinking among staff and contribute to organisational learning.

    Get involved

    To find out more, contact GuyYeomans, Principal, Horizon Scanning.

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 & 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
Cookies help us improve your website experience.
By using our website, you agree to our use of cookies.