Change on the railway can be difficult.  The railway often struggles to match the external demand for, and pace of, change.  This can be for many reasons, after all it is a complex system, but at times can be wrongly characterised as an unwillingness to change and evolve.

In recognition of the need to change and evolve some of our operational responses, the National Task Forces' Better Operations Programme Board (BOPB) has set up the Operational Rules and Principles Group (OPG) as its working group. OPG has been remitted to specifically consider how some of the existing rules and standards could be improved, and in some cases simplified for end-users.

Our work with OPG has identified several opportunities to change the current operating rules to improve performance, without having a detrimental effect on safety, for example:

  • greater use of GSM-R features, such as, safety broadcast messages,
  • planning, management and operating rules associated with temporary speed restrictions at passive level crossings
  • allowing signallers to authorise a driver to pass two consecutive stop signals using a single authority.

These are just a few examples of current suggestions that are being explored.  If you have identified other opportunities that could improve system safety or performance then please get in touch with Gary Portsmouth, Professional Head of Rail Operations here at RSSB via our enquiries desk.

The cross-industry research programme, which is managed by RSSB, provides a great opportunity for rail to come together to seek the new knowledge and solutions that are needed to change rules, standards and procedures to deliver tangible benefits our customers. An example of this is around new ways to keep trains moving during signalling. The traditional industry procedure to do so was unnecessarily restrictive and research helped develop and assess alternative rules which are now known as Emergency Special Working (ESW). These have been published as national rules, which came into effect on 1 December 2018. Since then they have been used several times and by a range of operators including ScotRail and Northern, with excellent results. Importantly, the time taken to get trains moving again was shorter when compared to the deployment of alternatives such as Temporary Block Working. There were also some secondary benefits such as the ability to use available staff to work on rectifying the infrastructure failure, as opposed to being deployed to get trains moving.

Whilst cross industry research is essential to find new evidence-base ways to do things, benefits can only be realised if the industry is willing to embrace the findings and commit to translating them into practice.  Therefore, it is essential for us to consider how each piece of research will be implemented from the outset and work collaboratively to ensure change is implemented safely and effectively, and the benefits of this realised. In this way the BOPB and OPG are also going to be undertaking 'assurance reviews'.  The aim is to understand if the consequential benefits of changes to rules and standards have been realised and if not, what needs to be done to help better embed changes. 

However, before we can implement change, we need to generate sound ways forward.  This is where you, no matter what role you fulfil, can influence system improvements that will benefit your colleagues and moreover our passengers or freight customers.  If you are frustrated by the current operating model (systems, processes, procedures or rules) and you think this could be done differently and better, then please contact Justin Willett - Professional Lead for Operations and Performance Research and Development – to discuss.