This year, Schweizer Electronic will be exhibiting at the Access Planning & Work Window Productivity Summit in London on 21st/22nd May 2013.

As train density increases on the major routes in Europe, strategies to provide track access without disruption to the timetable, and delivering more work in shorter possession windows is becoming more and more important.

‘Recently we’ve seen an increase in enquiries from infrastructure companies that either can’t get any track access for rail maintenance or struggle to complete works during short and intermittent possessions’ said Chris Foreman, UK Country Manager for Schweizer Electronic ‘as passenger and freight increases year on year, the timing of this summit couldn’t be better’.

Approved for use by Network Rail and other major European Rail Infrastructure companies, Schweizer Electronic’s products include Automatic Track Warning Systems (ATWS) and Lookout Operated Warning Systems (LOWS) which have been designed to provide safe access to running rail, facilitating productive rail maintenance and construction techniques.

The Schweizer Electronic Group is the leader in automated Track Warning Systems and Level Crossings serving Rail infrastructure companies across the world. As well as its headquarters in Switzerland, the Group also has offices in Germany, the Netherlands, the UK, Spain, Italy and Austria. All operating processes are governed and certified in accordance with ISO 9001 and CENELEC EN 50 126.

According to the Swiss Association of Public Transport, there is nowhere in the world where the rail network is so intensively used as Switzerland. At an average of 93 trains per day per kilometre of track there’s no doubt that this is probably the case.  However as train travel continues to increase in the UK, some might argue that some of our main routes are close to capacity and not far behind in terms of train density.

With high train density comes the challenge of maintaining the track and gaining safe access without disrupting trains. It might be no surprise then that ATWS is widely used in Switzerland. Automatic Track Warning Systems (ATWS) use train detection devices fixed to the track and deliver a warning to workers through a series of lights and sounders.  Providing track access to maintenance personnel, there can be as many as 100 ATWS systems in use at the same time on the Swiss rail network.

With a rail network 10 times the size of the Swiss, one might expect there to be similar numbers in use in the UK, however it’s likely that less than 5 ATWS systems are operating at the same time in this country. So why isn’t ATWS more widely used in the UK?

 ‘It’s a lot to do with a perception that ATWS is expensive and an inconsistent implementation of RiMini’ commented Chris Foreman, General Manager of Schweizer Electronic Ltd, ‘although ATWS is taught as part of Personal Track Safety (PTS), there’s not enough understanding of what it does and its cost benefits compared to traditional forms of track worker protection’.

The high cost of line blockages compared to using an ATWS

The cost savings of ATWS can be dramatic when you compare the true cost of using ATWS compared to blocking a line outside a white period. White periods are specific times during the week when no trains are scheduled, and track is available for maintenance work. It is widely reported that if Network Rail blocks a line for maintenance work during a scheduled train service it pays fines to the train operating companies for delays or cancellations. These potential costs however rarely seem to be taken into account when comparing the costs of using ATWS as an alternative.

Short and unreliable possessions reduce productivity

Carrying out maintenance work on the busiest lines under possession is likely to get more difficult as steps taken to implement a 7 day railway continue, particularly when you consider that an extended timetable means more trains with correspondingly more maintenance work, but shorter possession availability to achieve it.  ‘Some delivery units already experience short and unreliable line blockages which impacts on productivity’ said Chris Foreman ‘in addition some contractors have told us that although they pay their track workers for a full shift, they may only get a few hours of productive time on the track. What’s frustrating is that the contractor can see the benefits of using an ATWS system but hasn’t the motivation to use it when the network are happy to pay for the cost inefficiencies’.

A lookout is likely to make a mistake every 1000 actions

Perhaps more concerning than the wasted productivity opportunities, are instances where ATWS has not been fully evaluated as an option before reverting to lookouts. With more stringent legislation, you might expect delivery units to be more conscious of proving that appropriate steps have been taken to minimise risks. ‘ATWS providers still come across instances where ATWS could have provided a cost effective form of work protection, taking less than 25% of the total project time to install it ’, continued Chris Foreman ‘but for whatever reason an ATWS system was not even considered. An ATWS system rated at SIL3 (Safety Integrity Level 3) only theoretically fails once every 10,000 years, or practically never, whereas a lookout rated at SIL0 is likely to make a mistake every 1000 actions’.

With such compelling reasons to use it, how can ATWS providers help the rail industry increase the usage of ATWS and benefit from its safety and productivity improvements? ‘It’s probably just as simple as giving an ATWS provider a chance to quote’ claimed Chris Foreman ‘we believe that most delivery units that trial ATWS will not want to revert back to the traditional ways of warning track workers. At the moment, most use of ATWS in the UK is concentrated to localised areas of the rail network that tried it and now adopt it for much of their works. With CP5 and future rail maintenance budgets under continued pressure, ATWS could help make significant savings, while maintaining high levels of safety’.