RSSB seeks innovative solutions to performance challenges

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Ten new projects, funded by rail research body RSSB, will help industry explore using data to improve performance and manage short term planning more efficiently.

The challenges of good performance continue to demand innovative solutions. As the UK begins to navigate the ‘new normal’—as Covid-19 lockdown measures are eased—and passenger numbers start to return, performance will be a significant factor in attracting people back to rail. We face some challenging times ahead as the public begins to rely, once again, on rail as a main mode of transport.

As the UK economy restarts passenger numbers are expected to increase gradually. RSSB is leading the way in helping operators ensure that they can run trains on-time, while providing the safest and most reliable service to customers.

RSSB has made over £4m available to fund ten innovative data-focussed projects to help industry improve performance in the long term. 

Getting underway shortly are three projects funded as a result of the second round of the Data Sandbox+ competition (four projects are already underway as part of the first round). These three projects will be led by:

  • Transreport in collaboration with Glasgow University
  • Open Space in collaboration with the University of Birmingham
  • Frazer-Nash Consultancy in collaboration with the University of Hull. 

Data analytics and machine learning techniques will be used to propose new ways for predicting and mitigating delays that can propagate quickly on the network.  

To mark the announcement Chris Heaton-Harris, Rail Minister met with Mark Phillips, RSSB CEO, and the project leads of two Data Sandbox+ projects from round one, led by Zipabout and RiskSolutions. The Minister and Mark Phillips engaged in conversations about the wider Data Sandbox+ initiative and observed demonstrations from the two projects. Mark Phillips emphasised the importance for rail to realise its data potential and the need for greater data and information sharing amongst industry.

A separate competition, Dynamic Train Planning, is funding three innovative demonstration projects. These projects will seek improvements to the systems and processes that allow robust and validated schedules to be introduced and/or changed at short notice. 

The improvements should provide the foundation for more flexible and dynamic timetables, where available capacity can be adjusted to meet the changes in demand. The winning projects will be led by 3Squared, Bellvedi/Tracsis and Worldline. 

Welcoming the research, Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris says:

While the current guidance means people should not be using our railways wherever possible, work must continue to build a more reliable and punctual service for the future. Harnessing data and new technology is crucial to modernise and improve our transport network, and we are determined to drive innovation through competitions like this. These projects will help the industry tackle bottlenecks, delays and improve accessibility, and I look forward to seeing the crucial role they can play in improving journeys for passengers.’

Luisa Moisio, R&D Programme Director, RSSB

The railway has never experienced the challenges of today: large parts of the network operating close to capacity and some at full capacity; demanding timetable promises to meet; restricted maintenance schedules; limited resources and lots of public pressure to deliver. RSSB is proud to be supporting the industry by funding several research and innovation projects to progress new ideas to improve network performance and train planning. Industry needs to move closer to a future in which agile and robust train planning is used to make optimal use of the capacity and deliver the best service to our customers.’ 

For more information about the projects and/or the competitions please contact

For more information on this story, talk to the RSSB press office by calling 020 3142 5653, or 07711 001 907 or email

Further Information:

Data Sandbox+ second round winning projects:

  • “Utilising deep analytics to predict reactionary delays and dwell time variation in the new accessible railway” led by Transreport in collaboration with RDG and GTR.
  • “A Real-Time Functional Digital Twin for the Thameslink Route”, led by OpenSpace in collaboration with the University of Birmingham, Network Rail, RDG and GTR.
  • “Rapid Evaluation and Planning Analysis Infrastructure for Railways (REPAIR)” led by Frazer-Nash Consultancy in collaboration with the University of Hull.

Dynamic Train Planning competition winners:

  • Dynamic Freight Capacity Management (DFCM), led by 3Squared: this project will analyse schedule utilisation within the freight sector and looks to identify unused paths and highlight them to operators needing to run a VSTP service. 
  • Assisted VSTP, led by Bellvedi / Tracsis in collaboration with Southeastern and Network Rail Southern Region & Western Route: the team will focus on enabling electronic transfer of VSTP requests via a national validation layer to allow VSTP requesters to efficiently create and pass proposed schedules to the Network Rail control teams.
  • Pathfinder, led by Worldline: this solution will use detailed knowledge of the current operational requirements, and machine learning from relevant historical events, to generate and validate new and amended VSTP train schedules.  The revised schedules have the potential to become part of the operational timetable and be distributed to any interested systems.