Coen van Gulijk from the Institute of Railway Research at the University of Huddersfield, analyses technology in safety management systems
Information Technologies are taking the railways by storm. At any railway exhibition you will be told that data is the way forward, and with good reason. IoT (Internet of Things) solutions facilitate efficient fleet monitoring; data networks track the degradation switches; and data analytics facilitate efficient maintenance.
Yet, the data-revolution is not quite reaching its full potential for modernizing day-to-day safety management. Since safety excellence is one of the hallmarks of this country’s railways, the UK is best positioned to push the boundaries for the future of safety.
Safety management systems
Operating a railway safety management system requires a variety of procedures, methods and risk models that deal with different risks in different ways. Over the years, the Britain’s railways successfully developed elaborate management structures to deal with this wide variety. But, in light of the digital revolution, the traditional approach to safety management is becoming increasingly unwieldy.
A prime example is risk modelling. A plethora of risk models exist for signalling, level crossings, platform-train interface and derailment but sometimes the only thing they have in common is that they serve railway safety.
The RSSB project T1123 ‘Developing a framework for an integrated safety risk platform’ shows that the integration of dedicated risk models (SRM, ALCRM & SORAT) is not catered for on a technical level. The models were historically developed at a time when their creation was opportune, but they were developed in relative isolation. They don’t use the same data-sources, time-intervals and focus on different aggregate levels (i.e. local versus national level).
Each model comes with its own specialized definitions, suppliers, experts and, when used in large organizations, may be maintained by different departments. It is increasingly harder to improve railway safety with a disjoint set of models. Safety management systems cannot improve further without the support of integrated IT systems.
Another problem is that the complexity of safety management systems has an effect on people that work on the railways. Railway staff, in any part of the organization, benefit from a consistent and clear representation of the dangers they manage or work with. Confusing staff with disjointed systems and conflicting safety concerns makes safety participation difficult. Incomprehensible systems may even inhibit a healthy safety culture.
These are just two of the drivers that create a growing demand for an integrated system for safety management and for frontline workers. The degree of maturity of railway safety is outgrowing disjointed single-system IT solutions and new solutions need to be sought. Comprehensive IT infrastructures offer a solution.
Digital safety delivery
The UK and other countries in Europe are embarking on projects to design integrated data systems to support railway safety.
In 2015, the European Railway Agency launched COR (Common Occurrence Reporting), a programme which aimed to create a framework for amassing data from incidents in the EU. That project demonstrated that it is hard to agree on a shared view and on definitions.
In France, the Directorate Générale Sécurité has been working on a dedicated safety re-engineering programme since 2016. The programme is called ‘Plateau Simplification’ and it collects and collates data from routes to monitor risks and the performance of safety measures.
In the UK, RSSB deployed the Safety Management Intelligence System in 2017 that expands traditional incident reporting to incorporate work-flows for risk classifications, risk investigations and flexible analytics solutions that can be tailored for local use. In a separate work stream, RSSB and the University of Huddersfield combined forces to investigate the future potential of digital technologies for safety.
In 2018, Bane NOR, NTNU and the Institute for Energy and Technology in Norway have started project SafeT that aims at developing a framework that supports the development of an IT-supported implementation of EN 50126 and the Common Safety Methods for Risk Assessment (CSM RA).
These initiatives demonstrate that digital re-engineering of railway safety management systems is trending, but the efforts are relatively disparate and each of these projects has their fair share of worry. A key shortcoming is a shortage in experts, knowledge and a dedicated supply chain for Safety Enterprise Architecture.
Fostering the future of safety
Enterprise Architecture entails the strategic development of a management system that combines IT and management efficiently. The target system is where railway staff, safe work processes and physical safety systems come together to align safety objectives, business requirements and their complex interfaces through a structured IT system.
Crossrail, ERMTS and automated train inspection depots show that the joint development of hardware, organizations and an IT backbone can be effective but to date operational safety management systems are only at the very start of their development.
With knowledge developing in several countries, the timing is perfect for the railway sector to come together to develop digital safety delivery on a national and international level. This could be done in several ways.
First, by providing industry-wide guidelines for supplier-independent technical solutions based on projects that various railway partners undertake.
Second, by supporting international platforms for systematic industry harmonization either in existing international organizations or created in new ones.
Third, by demanding IT expertise from existing suppliers of safety products. Fourth, by training a new breed of safety experts that are well versed in Enterprise Architecture and IT techniques. And fifth, by sharing experience in dedicated events.
The digital revolution drives the inevitable re-engineering of safety management systems. Projects in France, the UK, Norway and the ERA demonstrate that interactive online safety decision support systems have huge potential to improve Railway Safety Management Systems, but they also show that re-engineering safety management systems is cumbersome and requires a dedicated supply chain.
The railways are at the frontline of the development of integrated safety systems and are best positioned to usher in a new era of safety delivery on the railways. The railways are taking up a leadership role for the development of products, standards and the development of a supply chain. In that way rail stands to benefit hugely from years of excellent safety performance and fostering the future of safety.
Coen van Gulijk is a Professor at the Institute of Railway Research at the University of Huddersfield