A consortium made up of Sheffield-based railway technology company 3Squared and operators Rail Operations Group and Freightliner has won Government funding to develop an innovative solution to help rail freight plan short term paths more effectively.
Currently, a sizeable proportion of freight train schedules, which are in the Working Time Table, are either unused or cancelled. However, the wider industry – beyond the operator itself – does not know whether or not the reserved slots are used until the day that the train is planned to run, which limits the availability of train planners being able to schedule unpredictable or last-minute movements.
Should a train operator require a last-minute move, it has to bid for a path using the rail industry’s VSTP (Very Short-Term Planning) system, which is currently a manual process and is time consuming, while these plans are often undertaken in time-pressured circumstances.
The consortium’s Dynamic Freight Capacity Management (DFCM) solution will provide train planners with a historical record of train movements, allowing schedules which are frequently cancelled or part-used to be quickly identified and then bid for through the VSTP process, with supporting evidence provided to Network Rail which can then check with the operator concerned as to whether the schedule will be used.
In addition to this, it is planned that the platform will also host a real-time capacity exchange, where operators can relinquish Working Time Table schedules for particular days and release them to the industry with participating operators being able to see this additional capacity in order spot-bid or a VSTP schedule.
As a result of the tool being able to identify unused paths, knock-on delays to scheduled services will be reduced, improving punctuality for both passenger and freight operators, while being able to better plan stock movements, operators will be able to return trains into revenue-earning service following maintenance sooner.
James Fox, co-founder and commercial director at 3Squared, said: “The consortium’s solution will save freight operators time and resource in validating VSTPs based on historic data. This will enable more services to run at very short notice. Through better short-term planning, this also has the potential to reduce delays across the network, allowing both passenger and freight trains to reach their destinations on time.”
Rail Operations Group and Freightliner are due to pilot the system later in the year and it is hoped that if the reliability of paths improves and the time taken to produce and submit an application decreases then it could be rolled out across the industry in the future.