March 31, 2020

Innovating the Railways – Delivering Sustainability

Photo by Vidar Nordli Mathisen on Unsplash

The birth of the railways, and the start of Innovation.

In the late 1700’s, and early 1800’s, with engineers working hard to create new means of steam-driven propulsion, very little was known about the effects or the potential impact that the “modern railways” they were creating would have on the UK, or even the world, as a whole. Nowadays, in the UK alone, the Railways cover a distance of over 10,000 miles, and carries 1.7 billion passengers (excluding Urban Railways) and 110 million tonnes of freight annually, providing invaluable infrastructure for the prosperity of the nation.

Even today the railways continue to evolve. Service operators, equipment manufacturers, academia and a vast supply chain continue to push innovation in order to exceed customer expectations, and achieve sustainability for all stakeholders. As for the latest development, with the ‘Green light’ announcement for the High-Speed-2 (HS2) project, this growth in innovation is set to rise sharply in order to realise aspirations of digitalisation, prolonged sustainability, and a defined leap forward in reducing transit times across the country.

The importance of HS2 in evolving UK rail transport.

One of the principle aims of the government’s HS2 project is to “form the backbone of our rail network”, bringing new technology to improve connections between major cities, provide an efficient service that passengers can rely on, and release a capacity for rail freight helping save carbon by getting lorries off the UK’s roads. So it is clear that in order for the project to be successful, it must deliver advanced technology in order to improve stakeholders’ experience, require smart design in order to minimise energy use, and be built on a robust through-life support model in order to achieve full sustainability, realising the return on the massive initial investment.

Throughout academia and industry, projects are being delivered in support, networks are being built, and contracts being negotiated and placed in order to try and meet the start of operating services (for phase 1) in 2026.

When is the right time to consider the through-life support structure?

As often remarked, the right time to set about ensuring long-term support is right at the very beginning. Whilst the design is being formalised, it is critical that the standard library of parts available to the designers and engineers is current and available. When the Bill of materials is undergoing a production readiness review, it is important that the parts required are going to be available for the planned production phase. And when production is commencing, there is enough material available to support both the build and the initial provisioning requirements. In order to affect all this, and ensure initial success of the project, a detailed obsolescence management strategy and plan can provide a level of re-assurance and confidence in the product. By analysing and understanding the risks at the early stages of a project, they can be managed, and mitigated against in a realistic timeframe. By being pro-active in this way, you can reduce costs, and minimise the impact on delivery, ensuring top-level quality.

This is even more critical, when considering the overall project requirements of HS2.

At this point, it is important to note, that in order to achieve the required goal of providing the backbone of our rail network, it is not just new rolling stock and equipment support that is required. This project requires significant investment in construction of new infrastructure, new signalling to ensure the trains can operate smoothly, data centres to manage all the information regarding performance, utilisation and operation, and new equipment and monitoring to enhance and optimise the performance of the whole system. Given the magnitude of this task, getting it right first time, and managing the project risk throughout is of paramount importance. Any problems with material availability and risk of delivery failure can result in lead-times being stretched, and costs increasing across the whole HS2 supply chain.

Effective through-life support modelling, incorporating obsolescence as part of the critical path, can help ensure that the risks are suitably managed and the cost and delivery impact reduced accordingly.

Delivering a complete, fully integrated network, across all services.

But this is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Once all phases of HS2 are complete, and the full high-speed project is in operation, there is then the original networks to consider. Despite having a cutting edge network to connect cities, and reduce transport times, this cannot be as effective if the original, pre-existing network still utilises technology. Without the legacy networks to support the inner-city (urban) areas, outlying town and village communities, or commercial lines to bring the transport to the central hubs, the full speed and user experience will never be achieved.

It is therefore similarly paramount that this legacy equipment is also modernised. It is no good having high-speed reliable signalling on HS2 if the local route is going to slow things down with pre-world war 2 equipment. This will also need careful consideration, and through-life support planning.

The role of obsolescence, and part data management in modernising the UK’s railways.

So this brings me back onto the title of this piece – Innovating the Railways – delivering sustainability. The thought behind this article, was the role of innovation in delivering enhanced sustainability, thereby reducing through-life support costs and generating greater return on investment for the public. As described throughout, I believe that a key part of delivering this improvement in railways is going to be through full lifecycle planning, a key element of which needs to be a full obsolescence management strategy and execution plan.

CMCA(UK) has capabilities and resources to support and increase value within your supply-chain

CMCA(UK) Ltd is a leading provider of innovative supply chain solutions. Partnering with our customers to deliver holistic supply chain packages that draw on all of the advantages of parts data management (and cataloguing), obsolescence management and through-life support.

Through trusted delivery by our Codification, Procurement and Technical Services teams, with focus on quality, cost and delivery, we aim to increase value within your supply chain, enhance material availability and manage and mitigate risk, leading to increased sustainability.

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