These days, when we think of safety and security we generally think of catastrophic type incidents, like terrorism, criminal acts, accidents or devastating weather events. They certainly deserve attention given the long-lasting impact and damage they cause – no one is disputing this. But, it’s the mundane, often preventable daily incidents that end up costing rail organizations much more.
The reality is, it is much more likely that debris on the tracks or a maintenance issue will cause a costly delay that an accident or criminal act. Yet much of the discussion around disruptions in rail transportation is focused on the less likely, major incidents. Let’s talk about the impact of daily disruptions that cause delays, which result in both revenue and reputation loss, in addition to potential fines.
rail Maintenance issues
Maintenance issues can cause costly delays

The Cost of the Everyday Events

To put this subject into context, according to a UK National Audit Office report, in 2008, infrastructure failures accounted for 40,969 incidents and 3,040,686 minutes of delays. With a cost estimation of €101 per minute, per train, delays due to infrastructure failures cost the UK economy at least €300 million, that number has gone up since then.
That same report, also looked at rail fatalities, of which 78% are suicides. In an actual fatal scenario, a Gatwick Express driver reported striking an individual at 18:55 to the Network Rail Signaler. In turn, they notified the Operations Control Center (OCC), who stopped the area train service. From that point, a liaison from the railways interfaced with the Metropolitan Police who assumed initial control. That control was later handed over to the British Transport Police, which upon determining the incident was non-suspicious open some service but not all until 22:40. The total delay in minutes – from all stakeholders – was a considerable 5,758 or £600,000.
An Incident unfolding on the tracks in the UK:

Predictive Intelligence. Effective Situation Management.

The above two examples are very different. The first one, to a large extent, can be avoided. The second is completely unpredictable – other than the predictability of knowing it will unfortunately happen.
Rail organizations must first try to prevent incidents from happening at all. But, in the event of the uncontrollable, the response must be optimal to reduce the impact and cost.

Effective Situation Management

Things will happen. Not always as tragic as a suicide, events as mundane as debris covering track signals can cause costly delays. If it’s not a question ‘if’ something happens, but ‘when’, mitigating impact is the next priority. That requires effective situation management – getting the right information to the right people at the right time.
A first step is to create a common operating picture via integrating technology. By integrating all systems and sensors, and by collecting all available information, with the capability to correlate all of the data, a clear, precise picture of any given situation can be established. The next step is to effectively communicate the relevant information to the relevant stakeholders. While some may require a complete overview, others may only require certain specifics.
In addition, the response should be coordinated and executed according to standard operating procedures and in compliance with all regulations. An automated and escalating guided response should be made available immediately, so that no matter who is sitting at the control or operators station, the response will be the most effective possible.
Implementing the right process, enforced and automated, which relies on fully integrated information has been shown to:

  • Reduced asset failures by 70-75%
  • Decreased downtime by 35-45%
  • Save 8-12% in overall railway maintenance costs


Predictive Intelligence

Being proactive about maintenance today is the standard. Rail organizations that want to improve the status quo are now using predictive intelligence to get proactive about their proactivity. What does that mean? If that same technology can identify anomalies that are precursors to failures and the railway responds to them prior to any disruption significant reduction in time and cost of failures can be avoided.

The Bottom Line

As noted, it’s the daily, mundane and sometimes tragic events that account for the real cost of delays and disruptions. While the catastrophic and generally unusual events get all the attention. It’s time to rethink the approach to rail operations and place more of an emphasis and attention on the preventable, predictable and their inevitable response.