Meeting Reports

Tuesday 22nd January 2019
Railway Freight Group
Maggie Simpson - Executive Director, RFG

This is the first time that the branch has enjoyed a presentation from the Rail Freight Group (RFG) and we were not disappointed. Maggie gave a very brief outline of what would be included followed by a potted history of her own involvement. She has always worked in the rail industry starting with safety and risk assessment, working for Rail Track, followed by working for the government on franchising and contract management before moving to the Strategic Rail Authority and freight. She was asked to help out at the RFG for a few weeks in 2005 and has remained there ever since, where she is now Director General.

The RFG is a representative body for rail freight in the UK including operators, logistics companies, ports, equipment suppliers, property developers and support services, as well as retailers, construction companies and other customers. It is a trade association funded by its members. The aim is to increase the volume of goods moved by rail in the UK and work includes influencing policy to support growth, promotion and communication of the benefits of rail freight, member events, and networking.

At privatisation, the rail freight business was sold so there were no franchises. Today there are 5 main operators providing a range of services and they compete for business. One (smaller) company is government owned - initially for the movement of sensitive nuclear materials although there is a limited portfolio of other freight. Maggie showed a slide with some of their customers including ports, supermarkets, construction businesses, aggregates, steel, Royal Mail and many others. Then the question was raised – What is rail freight delivering? The answer – approximately £1.7 billion in economic benefits, carbon emission savings, lorry reduction savings amongst others. Historically the largest part of the rail freight business was coal, initially from the pits to the power stations, then when UK pits were largely closed down, moving imported coal from ports to power stations. This business too declined with the imposition of carbon taxation and for the 12 months to April 2018, coal movements comprised only about 8% of the total. A pie chart showing current movements is dominated by intermodal and construction traffic, a very different market from coal with coal tending to be northern, and intermodal and construction tending towards southern movements so the market has had to adjust to the changes. A line graph showing overall decline, if the line for coal is taken out, actually shows growth over the last decade. This highlights the work being done to increase rail freight business and how careful one has to be when reading graphs and statistics to find the business reality.

Intermodal growth is driven by port and retail customers and an area that the RFG is working towards is on-going improvements in the rail network in and out of ports and other large freight terminals as poor provision constrains growth. As an example, improvements already made have helped to increase rail freight movements in and out of Felixstowe from 10 a day each way up to 33 each way now. Other examples were given and there is still more to do.

A lot of work and investment is on-going with a view to future growth, and progress over the last few years is encouraging. Rail freight companies will be bidding for contracts for moving construction materials for the building of HS2 and the industry is constantly seeking new opportunities. Such major construction projects have the potential to provide a lot of business in moving materials by rail. Another example of future potential is the Chinese project of linking China with Europe by rail right through to the UK dubbed “The New Silk Road”. Some links are already in place with others being proposed and slotted in to start filling the gaps. Rail would be cheaper than air and quicker than sea so there is a sound logic to the idea. Maggie went on to explain other parts of the market where things work well, niche areas – eg moving small size but high value cargo on passenger trains, other problems that can be quite difficult to resolve but provide excellent opportunities, and looking for solutions where there is a clear need but no easy way to provide the services required. One new approach becoming more popular is packing goods in standard roll-cages making it easier to load them into containers for transporting by rail or even onto passenger trains, effectively a modular system enabling the movement of smaller quantities of goods and making for easy unpacking at the final destination.

There are a number of challenges including the Williams Review of the Structure of UK Rail and how freight will be included; Brexit; capacity on the network; emissions; and technical advances. Detail was provided in all these areas and the RFG will be involved to ensure that the rail freight industry is taken into account especially in the current political climate with the difficulty of the real mix of models of how the railway works that exists in the UK. While there is a lot of concentration on increasing capacity on the network for passenger traffic, there is a need to take account of the requirements of rail freight too. The environmental case for rail would be helped by further electrification especially with the introduction of more clean air zones that affect the movement of freight using diesel powered locomotives, with research on-going on how to resolve the issues. With recent technological advances in road haulage with regards to improved fuel efficiency and emissions standards for lorry engines, and proposals for platooning lorries, rail freight operators have to constantly look at ways to improve what they do and promote the economic, environmental and other benefits of moving freight by rail.

To summarise: the rail freight section is changing significantly; there are many opportunities ahead; it needs the right answers to the Williams Review to perpetuate growth; and investment in the environment and other technology to improve efficiency and promote that growth.

Questions and answers included who bought the rail freight companies at privatisation and who owns them now? Closed railways – which ones would be most useful to have re-opened – when the network gets congested new sections seems to be the most common option without proper consideration for the utility of the remaining sections for rail freight. Further questions included current business for Royal Mail, freight through the Channel Tunnel, container sizing and re-gauging, freight terminals being built with ‘nominal’ rail access in order to get planning permission, Brexit, HS2, light rail being jointly used for freight, double-headed freight trains on the West Coast Main Line to keep up with passenger traffic. All questions were answered without hesitation, with expertise and knowledge.

The vote of thanks highlighted an ‘absolutely fantastic evening’ showing that freight is often treated as the poor cousin of passenger traffic and also showing that RFG has made a big difference in changing perspectives. The final recommendation of the evening was to have a good look at the RFG website – it makes for very interesting reading.

Tuesday 18th December 2018
The Samaritans - preceded by Branch AGM
Helen Ranasinghe - Project Officer, Network Rail

The business of the Branch AGM was completed and we were delighted to welcome new committee member Richard Whitehead.

The evening continued with a presentation about the joint work between Network Rail (NR) and the Samaritans to reduce suicides on the railways in the UK. Helen introduced local ‘listening volunteer’ David before explaining who the Samaritans are and what they do with a few statistics to help illustrate this – for example, suicide is the biggest killer of young men between the ages of 20 and 34. The Samaritans listening volunteers are ordinary people who give freely of their time having received appropriate training. They are not professionals though and do not provide counselling, they listen. It was worthwhile hearing directly from volunteer David and his perspective on the work that he does. There are other equally important volunteer roles within the organisation but the listening volunteers are the most well-known. The organisation is rightly proud that they have recently achieved a long term goal of providing their helpline free to callers.

The initial focus with NR has been outreach and the current campaign focuses on ‘Small Talk Saves Lives’ encouraging people to talk as this can go a long way to break a cycle of suicidal thought. There are many reasons why someone feels desperate and cannot see a way through their difficulties but the effects of such an attempt can go far wider. The Samaritans will provide someone to listen.

In 2014/2015 there were 286 rail suicides leading to nearly 400,000 delay minutes and costs to the industry of over £60million as well as the societal and emotional impact on witnesses and with the wider effects on staff, family, friends, other passengers. Prior to the partnership with NR, rail suicides showed an increasing trend and prevention might have been seen as too difficult, but by working together they have coordinated a national approach looking at who is at risk and what can be done by way of prevention. It may not be a surprise to learn that there is often an issue with mental health problems – some diagnosed, some undiagnosed, with socio-economic problems, relationship breakdown, deprivation and isolation as other major problems. Particularly when more than one issue is stacked up, people struggle to cope and cannot see a way out. An important part of the partnership involves training for staff in how to manage a suicidal contact with a focus on front line staff and mobile operations staff. This provides staff with skills and confidence to provide the right support and the one thing that stands out loud and clear is that feeling ‘listened to’ helps. This can be the first step in providing emotional first aid and possibly making the right kind of sensitive referral for on-going help and support. There is also trauma support training where this is needed.

The Samaritans campaign – they do not just hear, most importantly they listen and one focus of outreach is to encourage people to seek support, particularly those who are most at risk, with each campaign carefully thought through and tested before it is used. The campaign ‘Small Talk Saves Lives’ has been successful – both for those who have started a conversation and for those who have been helped. Anyone can start a conversation if they are worried about someone they see behaving in what might be a slightly unusual manner, that conversation can break the thought train and make all the difference. There are other physical things that have been done such as the platform end anti-trespass guards, opaque bridge screens, gates and fencing on platforms adjacent to fast lines, mirrors to reduce blind spots, help points, behavioural recognition CCTV programmes and they are always looking at other mitigation measures.

The statistics include some good news on the railways as they show that the numbers are decreasing with 2,233 interventions in 2017/2018 mostly by the British Transport Police (BTP) with approximately 25% staff and around 10% from members of the public. The results show that with the right help suicide can be prevented and it is noteworthy that for every life lost, there are six saved.

Questions and answers included many subjects, for example - concern that train spotters with notebooks standing on the end of platforms are not considered as potential risks; comparisons with risks elsewhere – the highest incidence is in the home; how it is reported in the media to avoid escalation when people might relate to the situation; differences in risk in different areas of the railway network; why there are barriers at Wimbledon etc.

The vote of thanks was given by Alan Nichols (train driver and instructor – retired) who highlighted what a fantastic demonstration of what can be done and has been done. Helen herself saved a life at Ewell East and Alan has friends and colleagues who have suffered the experience of being close witness to an incident. An excellent presentation showing the good work being done to save lives.

Tuesday 27th November 2018
The Privatisation Disaster
Cliff Perry - Railwayman

“By three methods we may know wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; And Third, by experience, which is the bitterest.” (Confucius)

Cliff started with an apology about the title ‘Disaster’. The influence of privatisation on the UK railway system has resulted in more trains, more staff, more passengers and more safety! This is hardly a disaster and we should reflect on the safety achievements especially as the difficult question of safety is often cited when there are problems within the industry.

After the quote and the note about disaster, Cliff ran a brief quiz on railway safety with the correct answers highlighting improvements over the years and showing clearly how expectations of putting profit before safety with privatisation has not happened, and in practice safety has not been compromised. He went on to detail how this has been possible with a digital revolution helping to recognise problems before disaster strikes so that they can be fixed in good time, competence management, and much better management of interfaces within the industry. At this point he introduced some of his own background and history on the railways and his own experiences of privatisation as MD of Thameslink. After the proposed management buyout did not win the franchise, he lost what he described as the best job - through privatisation.

With more of his own background and experience he explained railway dimensions (product, places, politics, professionals) looking at the different aspects and how each is important for the whole to operate safely and efficiently. People are very important including those on the front line who show the culture and are the public face of the business. There have been some ups and downs but safety is improving towards a plateau. For the first time ever in the year 2016/2017 there were no fatalities on the railways in the UK which is something to be proud of. Graphs were used to compare railways within Europe and around the world (including the UK). In short those countries where every part of the system is integrated are doing less well on safety and the simpler the system, the better the safety statistics – although in the latter case, one disaster can move that railway much further down the charts as a safe system. One of the main reasons given is that private companies cannot afford not to be as safe as possible and this was explained clearly and succinctly in more detail. Running a railway is NOT risk-free so all risks need to be taken into consideration and ways found to mitigate those risks. This includes the use of technology both on trains and on the infrastructure as well as better training and building good experience for staff.

It has been a real benefit since privatisation that the railways are no longer subject to short term annual budgeting with the necessity of spending any money left towards the end of the year in a hurry or lose it from the budget in the following year. This is not the best way to plan ahead for the longer term or the best way to make the most of the limited finance available. Now it is possible to plan better for the future.

Cliff highlighted three top reasons for increased safety:

Digital Revolution, Competence Management, Interface Management,

and explained how improvements in each of these areas has related to great improvements in safety on the railways. The pillars of that improvement can be seen as good safety = good business with all parties trying to improve, small is beautiful (the railway has been separated into smaller more manageable areas), investment, and last but not least – business incentives.

The small amount of time left for questions and answers was equally interesting and informative, and included: timetabling problems; a case for breaking up Network Rail; poor performance on South Western Railway – the answer included several reasons for this; trades unions; the balance between training and experience; comparisons between European and Far Eastern railways.

A very interesting, fascinating and thought provoking talk.

Tuesday 23rd October 2018
HS4 Air - Heathrow to Gatwick in 15 minutes
Alistair Lenczner - Director, EXPEDITION

The subtitle for the talk might have been “UK Infrastructure – can we be smarter in Planning for the Future?” To answer this question Alistair began by providing the context for the subject of UK infrastructure particularly in the London area using photographs and maps to show the exponential growth over time even before the advent of the railways; in the process showing the need to build a suitable infrastructure to connect all the important areas for trade. In spite of its innovations and inventions (eg railways), the UK has been slow to pick up on high speed railways, continuing to rely on steam in the 1960s when Japan was already building high speed routes. Using examples he showed how Europe continues to develop a high speed network while the UK lags behind with only HS1 in operation and plans for HS2 showing a disconnect between HS1 and HS2 which will not allow for good connectivity. There was some constructive criticism about how the UK might plan its infrastructure better in a more joined up way which could provide better value for money and more respect for the environment. At the moment different parts of infrastructure seem to operate separately which does not make for an efficient and effective coordinated approach. The point was made that it is now harder to integrate separate systems due to the numbers of companies and organisations involved.

After providing the context, Alistair went through the details of the current problems for London Heathrow (LHR) and London Gatwick (LGW) airports showing how they are losing business to continental Europe as a result of the disconnections. The HS4 Air proposals would make a vast improvement to connectivity without having to cross London and would have a number of other advantages eg linking HS1 and HS2 with LHR and LGW and providing for a modal switch from air to rail with the environmental benefits that would accrue. There would also be possibilities for faster freight and for linking UK ports into the rail network more efficiently.

The project would use existing infrastructure for much of the proposed routes requiring only upgrades rather than starting from scratch and, with the cost of tunnelling becoming comparatively less expensive, this could be used cost effectively to avoid damaging sensitive areas of countryside. Other benefits of the project could include dedicated utilities alongside HS4 to plug various gaps in the national grid while at the same time avoiding unsightly intrusions into the landscape, and could include potential for additional utilities to be accommodated. There is also provision to link into the M4 corridor and to provide opportunities for much needed new housing. Money and politics too are factors that have been taken into consideration in such an ambitious scheme. So it would be possible to make this a multi-purpose project and the schematics and maps showed clearly how it could all work together.

Outline proposals demonstrating the estimated costs (a favourable comparison with other schemes under consideration) and economic and wider benefits of the project have been submitted to the DfT as part of the DfT’s wider planning for the future. These are only outlines at present as a response from the DfT is awaited before developing a more detailed proposal.

Questions and answers included rail freight issues, border controls, funding/costs, mitigation costs, better connections with UK regional airports, UK productivity and many other associated aspects.

The vote of thanks was given by Andy Davies who highlighted that while this may only be the early stages, we would follow any progress closely.

Tuesday 9th October 2018
Swindon Works: The Collett Years
Reverend Canon Brian Arman - Society President

Our Society President, Brian Arman came to Woking for an afternoon meeting to give us a presentation on Swindon Works and the Collett Years. Brian has a vast knowledge of the Great Western Railway and the history of Swindon and his talk was well illustrated with pictures of the works and its locomotives. Collett was always a Great Western man, taking over as Chief Mechanical Engineer from J G Churchward, who had already set the parameters for GWR Locomotives. He was in charge during the inter-war period, often in difficult economic times and did not generate a high external profile, concentrating on the efficient running of the works and the quality of its products, which resulted in a consistently well run railway, not noted for its innovation, but much admired.

Brian took us through the locomotive development that took place in the Collett era, not dwelling too much on the well know stars, the Kings and Castles. The GWR had had a relatively easy time at the grouping in 1923 amalgamating with a number of minor lines, mainly in South Wales. Their varied locomotives were assessed and when appropriate fitted with Swindon boilers for more years’ service. Collett’s reign produced new designs and enhancement of previous types with some locomotives undergoing drastic rebuilding. The Churchward wheel arrangements were perpetuated with the 4-6-0 dominant and with many different types of locomotive to suit different duties. There were many pictures of the works in the Collett time showing the changes. The GWR concentrated on Intermediate rather than General overhauls minimising the time the engine was out of traffic and avoiding wasteful refurbishment of unworn components. Locomotives were craned round the shop in a production line, and standardisation of components, particularly boilers, contributed to quick and less expensive refurbishment. We saw innovative optical alignment of horn guides and welding of copper fireboxes and came away with the impression that perhaps Swindon was the best locomotive factory after all.

Brian finished with some views of the staff and their families on the annual day out-a special train to the seaside. The Great Western Railway at Swindon produced some beautifully made locomotives but also looked after the welfare and contentment of their huge staff. Our President has other detailed talks on GWR History and we look forward to hearing them.

Thank you Brian for coming to Woking and sharing some of your knowledge of and enthusiasm for the Great Western Railway.


Tuesday 25th September 2018
South Western Railway
Andy Mellors - MD, South Western Railway

It is now just over a year into the franchise, so Andy outlined that he would cover what has happened and what is to come.

A career railwayman starting in the classroom in Derby in 1988, he was sponsored through university by British Railways (BR). Since graduation he has enjoyed a wide experience both in England and Scotland, starting work immediately after graduation at Wembley Depot. In 2004 he moved to First Group in Scotland before moving, still with First Group, to Great Western, leaving there to join South Western Railway (SWR) in 2017.

He explained the origin of the new SWR logo – based on a very stylised version of the SWR route map, before giving a brief overview of the 7 year franchise, what they started with, what has happened over the first year, what has gone well, what has gone less well and why, and investments and proposals for the future. Statistics included the size of the business with 85% of journeys either to or from London and 2/3 of those in the morning and evening peak hours, 4918 employees, 1700 services per day, serving 213 stations and currently managing 183 since the transfer of Clapham Junction and Guildford to Network Rail on 1 April 2018.

As with many other rail franchises, there is the challenge of providing additional capacity and Andy outlined what they have done so far. The main challenge now is to grow the business hence the planned £1.2 billion investment and the need to seriously consider a more homogeneous fleet for ease of maintenance and flexibility of use. This would include things like better facilities, level of predictability, and minimum standards including WCs on all trains as well as wifi and charging points. There are continuing plans for station investment specifically including Southampton Central and Wimbledon with better gate lines and better staffing, car park development and promotion of the SWR smartcard product.

Other major projects include supporting good relationships with the community and the on-going apprenticeship scheme, training 100 each year although this year the numbers are up to 125 – a scheme to be proud of providing opportunities for young people and training for skills needed in the industry. The company has looked at their structure and as a result has set up Regional Development Managers to work on more effective stakeholder engagement.

Andy touched briefly on what is required to make improvements to the Island Line on the Isle of Wight with its 8.5 miles of railway and with the 25 year lease on the infrastructure due to end in March 2019, so what next there? The 1938 rolling stock is not really suitable so an alternative is required to ensure that the service is more sustainable.

Progress after the first 12 months of the franchise covered a number of successes such as the new delay/repay system, completion of the roll-out of the Class 707 fleet, and the consultation over a new timetable which should provide incremental capacity benefits. The programme of refurbishment of the Class 158s, 159s, 444s and 450s is progressing, as well as the Class 442s which would provide additional capacity.

Not everything has gone well since Summer 2017 with performance on the network deteriorating and with difficulties at Waterloo proving something of a challenge. There have been some one-off significant events and, of course, industrial action. SWR were faced early on with a shortage of train drivers as recruitment had slowed towards the end of the previous franchise, but the first of the new drivers have now qualified and taken up their new jobs.

The Sir Michael Holden independent review of performance has shown up a number of problems and is available to read on the SWR website. In summary it shows that there is a loss of timetable resilience and a degradation in service recovery during and after disruption. Andy went in to some of the reasons for this giving examples and stating that this is not just a problem for SWR. There was a lot more detail on the subject and the Review is a useful source of information. One example given of how some improvements can lead to less flexibility and additional problems when there are perturbations to services, is the insufficiency of stabling facilities with the introduction of the Class 707 fleet so units are not necessarily conveniently located when they are required especially at short notice.

He touched briefly on the industrial relations issue stating that SWR are seeking a resolution but this was not detailed presumably for commercially sensitive reasons.

The evening finished with an interesting question and answer session including some more difficult questions about services, customer experience, the current industrial dispute and resulting disruption, and the Holden Report amongst others. One question about the franchise agreement led to the mention of a redacted copy on the Department for Transport (DfT) website. There were questions about specific SWR services and service proposals, special fares and even the colour of the new livery. Linking with the dispute were queries about risk assessments as the platform/train interface is potentially dangerous and examples were cited to support the requirement to always have a guard on the trains.

With further questions about performance, it was admitted that all within the rail industry should look at themselves although the point was made that SWR was not the only franchise facing similar problems.

The vote of thanks was given by Tom Kolisch who highlighted that there had been some frankness about some of the problems and that the information about potential solutions was illuminating.


Tuesday 22nd May 2018
Railway Emergency Planning and Incident Response, including Incident Care Teams (Rail Care) - set up to deal with customers in an emergency such as an accident or major incident
Richard Davies - South Western Railway

Richard began by introducing himself from his early days with the RAF, followed by a period in the Army Air Corps, through working for RailTrack, before eventually taking up his present role as Emergency Planning Manager for South West Trains in 2015. A role he has continued with since the franchise became South Western Railway.

He ran through a list of what is involved in the job with regards to planning for a range of potential hazards and threats and the coordination and working with others that is required so that when there is an incident preparation is as good as it can be. These plans are tested and reviewed with regular exercises to ensure that everyone knows what to do and working to Railway Industry Standard (RIS) with the same standards and process applied throughout the country. This is crucial in the event of a major incident where trained people have to be drafted in from other areas if there are insufficient personnel locally. They work to Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Principles (JESIP). JESIP is not a new idea and came into being largely as a result of the Fennell Report into the Kings Cross fire, and it is very much about working together and coordination between all the emergency services, railways and other agencies concerned with a set procedure so that everyone knows what their job is to avoid the duplication and lack of communication that could otherwise occur in an emergency.

Richard provided an excellent level of detail including explanations and examples of events that have run smoothly because of good planning and preparation eg the London 2012 Olympics and the recent Royal Wedding in Windsor, as well as major incidents; although he was, quite rightly, very careful when asked about some specific examples of train stranding during the severe weather conditions of Winter 2017/2018 as these are still under investigation. Lessons are always learned both from exercises and from major incidents and events so that improvements can be made. While railways is the area of Richard’s work, this is linked in with a much wider national Emergency Planning and Response role and he detailed both possible threats from a major crash on the railways to a devastating nationwide disease pandemic, where it is vitally important to keep the railways running with the logistical problems that would come from such an emergency. There is a clear need to be constantly aware of new problems coming up with much publicity on cyber threats in recent times, and there is also a need to constantly be on the alert for any new potential threats on the horizon.

The second half of the presentation was about the Rail Incident Care Teams (RICT) – their aims and objectives, what they are, what they do, why they do it, and the when where and how - giving the example of Grayrigg. The people involved are specially selected and trained volunteers who take care of the needs of survivors and families after a major railway incident. They do it because there is a duty of care to customers and the better they do this in the early stages, the better the level of healing for those who have suffered. There is also a level of societal expectation and it helps within the industry too, as well as having to comply with the Civil Contingencies Act of 2004. As Richard said, most importantly it is because it is the Right Thing To Do.

As part of this, he explained in greater detail what they do and equally importantly what they do not do. For example, the RICT can give short term practical and emotional support perhaps by providing overnight accommodation, replacing lost or damaged personal items that are required immediately – eg baby care items. This is done alongside and to complement other responders such as police, hospitals and Local Authority response teams, and they have access to funding for immediate provision. They do NOT provide a counselling or befriending service, are not deployed to suicide or trespass on the railways and are not involved in disaster victim identification as this is within the remit of other services; and they do not become involved in freight operations.

RICTs have proven their worth as feedback from survivors and families has shown that the support provided, both practical and empathetic – a combination of ‘head and heart’, is greatly appreciated.

There was a fairly short question and answer session as Richard had to catch a train home but this was equally interesting not least in what he was unable to discuss in detail because it was still under investigation. Answers provided clarification about the decision making process and why things are done in particular ways and how this does not always work out as expected. This is where the review process comes in and new things are learned to make improvements for future incidents. Other questions included the changes involved in moving to a digital railway and a ‘what if’ scenario if the signalling systems should be hacked, so what is being done to protect critical infrastructure. Again this required a cautious response as there is a great deal of classified work going on in this field, apart from an example of hackers being invited to try and hack in to a stand alone system set up especially for the purpose of testing. The hackers succeeded spectacularly so this is a type of threat to be taken very seriously.

The vote of thanks was given by Tom Kolisch who picked up on an earlier mention of the near-future issue of driverless cars. He highlighted the improvements in incident response over the last 25 to 30 years that really helps to run an efficient railway, dealing with any problems that come up in a much better way than in the past.

Tuesday 24th April 2018
Railway Information Systems - Past, Present and Future
Graham Cooke - Software Team Leader, Nick Kyte - Business Development Manager, both of KETECH

After a brief introduction, Nick and Graham provided an overview of the evening’s presentation on customer information systems (CIS). The company vision is to be the ‘partner of choice for better informed journeys’ and the main aim is to provide real time and meaningful information to improve the customer experience by providing the right information from start to finish of a journey.

There was information on statistics and the companies that they either work with already or are in negotiations with. What they provide is an accurate and real time information system with an audio visual feed from Darwin and with centralised control capabilities and automated announcements. The Darwin system came out of a need within the railway industry to have a standard system based on a central store of data that takes in information from everything that is linked in to the centre - from signalling systems to on-board train recording information and many other sources on the railway network. Such a centre helps to ensure consistency of information and is a core source used by KeTech Systems. Some of the technological innovations were described and its designed compatibility with the increasing use of mobile and tablet technology to access travelling information.

The system is adaptable and works for industry partners and train crew, as well as passengers, giving the same standard of information whether on board the train or on the platform. It is set up to provide the most appropriate details for passengers by using KeTech’s own information processing algorithms to extract the right information at the right time from the raw data from all the sources that are available including Darwin. The company consults with customers (generally but not exclusively Train Operating Companies or TOCs) and provides a bespoke design according to what is specified, manufactures the necessary electronics with the appropriate software and can provide on-going servicing. KeTech uses an aggregation of rich data sources, its own algorithms to process and analyse that data and uses connected sensors to augment that process. There was some discussion too about possible negotiations to include data from the new Railway Operating Centres and it is hoped that this will eventually be included.

Examples were given on what they can do and the sort of filters that can be used to make sure that the right information is displayed at the right time and that passengers are not overwhelmed with too much unnecessary detail. For example if you have just boarded a train, it might be helpful to know where the luggage storage areas are, or you may wish to know the expected journey time to all the stations where the train will be stopping. On the other hand, if you are approaching your destination, you may wish to know which platform you will be arriving at and which one your connecting service is expected to leave from. Accuracy of platform data is dependent on the correct raw data being provided although the KeTech CIS can be updated in seconds if there are any late changes. The system is linked with train crew and while it is often set up to work automatically, there are facilities for manual control too - for example a late advert advising a special offer on sandwiches in the buffet that would otherwise be thrown away at the end of the journey if they remained unsold. Where the system is already in use, passenger satisfaction with journey and train information provided has shown a steady and measurable improvement. Seat availability and late booking including un-reserving of reserved seats that have not been used came up for discussion and the system is capable of having this facility included too.

The question was asked about how the company makes its money. Answer – by understanding the data and how to extract the most useful parts using their own intellectual property algorithms and providing the right information at the right time on a truly real time basis. A key point was made about comparing like with like when looking at different information systems and ensuring that the same definition of ‘real time’ is used, using a common method of assessment, and recognition of the effect of any information on the customer experience. Integrating the CIS into the trains at the build stage would be the best way forward and potential industry partners include train builders as well as TOCs.

There are many more sophisticated uses for the KeTech CIS but the idea is to provide the most useful information at the most appropriate time. The only limits are the sources of information and the bespoke specifications that are requested by the customer. With experiences from the audience of some of the less useful and contradictory information on some of the local services, one thing that became very clear during the presentation is that not all customer information systems are equal. What we were shown of KeTech was impressive with a separate screen running during the presentation showing real time information from real services as illustration.

Questions and answers were dispersed throughout the presentation enabling members of the audience to have more in depth information about specific details as they were raised and further examples included information for those with mobility problems as well as audio feeds for visually impaired passengers – both can be included in a KeTech CIS bearing in mind the specific needs of different passenger groups.

The vote of thanks highlighted an interesting evening showing progress from the days of having a guard to provide information, through a dot matrix system to a KeTech CIS. An excellent presentation with some very interesting questions and answers, on a very different but relevant subject for modern day rail travel.

Tuesday 20th March 2018
Britain on Film - Railways
A Video Presentation from the Independent Cinema Office (in Association with the BFI National film & Television Archive

There have already been reports from other branches, both in the RO and on the branch pages of the RCTS website, on this selection of eight films from the Independent Cinema Office (ICO) covering the period 1898 to 1970, so there is no need to repeat all the details here particularly with the excellent notes that the ICO provide as accompaniment.

It was very interesting to note the changes over time for example with regards to fashions, building style, and the substantial changes in parts of the countryside and the railway environment. Much on the railways that was up to date and luxurious in its time is now long gone. In spite of the changes, some places are still eminently recognisable today even in the first film around Conwy from 1898 so there is continuity too. This can be seen elsewhere with familiar train shed roofing on display in the background and other iconic buildings although, of course, the Euston Arch is no longer in place as the majestic entranceway to that station.

The improvements in quality and technical standards of the filming itself are of interest with contrast between hand tinted black and white as in the very first film which must have required a great deal of work to do, straight black and white, and later full colour; and the progress shown by having fully coordinated commentary with the later films. Filming has come a long way since 1898 but even the earliest films provide an incredible social and historical record.

Each film has its own unique story to tell like the first screen kiss in the second short film entitled ‘Kiss in the Tunnel’. Other films highlight some of the famous named train services like The Royal Scot, The Flying Scotsman, The Cornish Riviera Express all conjuring up the promise of excitement, luxury, and getting away from it all. We travel to the USA where problems are compared with those faced by the railways in the UK and the intervention of politics into how the railways are owned and run, before moving on to the next film. Here we join Sir Nigel Gresley’s beautiful streamlined A4 60017 Silver Fox for the journey between London and Edinburgh with commentary in rhyme. Not to be ignored is the speeded up film of the ‘modern’ diesel hauled Blue Pullman Train averaging 960 mph from Paddington to Birmingham, which highlights the theme of luxury travel and luxury dining. The contrasts in the short film ‘Snow’ show the passengers almost completely oblivious to the efforts made by railway personnel to keep the services running through very heavy weather. How many rail commuters today wonder about how the railways are kept running unless things go wrong? Also clearly shown is that the level of service and luxury with regards to dining while travelling by train has changed dramatically between then and now and not necessarily for the better in most cases. Then we come to the final film on the last BR steam hauled passenger train running from Liverpool to Carlisle return.

Nostalgia? Yes, in part and not just for the ‘soul’ of some of the great steam locomotives of the past. However, times move on and there were downsides to steam trains not least the constant battle with dirt and grime. But this was not simply films of railway journeys, it showed progress and social change with continuity linking past, to present, and future.

A fascinating insight into the past and a contrast with railways today. An interesting evening’s entertainment confirmed by the good attendance.

last updated: 04/02/19