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Living close to a station could be dangerous if you’re impatient

Do you live close to a railway station with a level crossing adjacent to it, or at some 600-700 meters from it? Then I’ve got some really bad news for you. Statistically, the probability of you getting yourself killed on the level crossing, especially if you are inclined to take risks and impatient as well, are three to four times higher than normal. This appears to be emerging from ongoing studies of fatal accidents on level crossings by Dutch Infrastructure manager ProRail and the Dutch Railway inspectorate, IVW-Rail.


Some years ago ProRail was set a target by the Dutch government to halve the number of fatalities per annum from 48/year to 24 /year by 2010. An ongoing programme in which level crossings of the Automatic Flashing Lights type were replaced by (mini) Automatic Half barriers and similar conversions, including improving the conspicuousness of the level crossing equipment in its surroundings, have led to that goal already being achieved. So the question now is, can we keep it there? It is not easy to analyse statistics of rare event, as these accidents fortunately are, but it appears some trends are emerging, ProRails level crossing expert-signal engineer Jeroen Nederlof told the Dutch Section of the Institution of Railway Signal Engineers on November 21st.


There is a significant increase in risk on level crossings adjacent to stations or stops and also at some 600-700 metres from the station. It is believed that this may be linked to the variance in closure times caused by the fact that station dwell times obviously vary and the system by which level crossing activation is held of when a stooping train is at the platform is not always used, or set optimally. Combined with the results of a recent IVW study, which found that a significant number of accidents victims, actually live(d) not far from the level crossing itself and believed they could judge the risks adequately. Speculatively perhaps one can add to this the notion that accident actually occur more often when these patterns of expectations are broken by the fact that a second train arriving on the level crossing could be a delayed or diverted one.


So this might not be all good news then for ProRail, as more and more cities and villages are adding new stops to lines in new development areas, with a level crossing of course. As always, more research is needed to firm all this up, but there may be a strong case for replacing station crossings with tunnels etc. when timetable frequencies increase and or to preclude at-grade crossings for new stations and stops.

Metro Madrid COMMIT tele-maintenance centre

On November 17th the IRSE’s –International Technical Committee (ITC) was invited by Metro Madrid to visit their COMMIT remote diagnostics and tele-maintenance centre. (Centro de Operaciones de Mantenimiento y Monitorización de Instalaciones y Telecomunicociones” or  Operation Centre for Maintenance and Monitoring of Facilities and Telecommunications). It is an impressive centre with a most bewildering array of interfaces to all sorts of technical systems on the Metro Madrid network. The aim is to implement remote diagnosis and “tele-maintenance” in a centre aimed at first level incident analysis and response for Metro Madrid’s technical systems in a centralised “incident response room.


A second goal is to implement a knowledge management system based on analysis of failure data and statistical data on the occurrence of these incidents,


Clearly Metro Madrid invests heavily in these systems as it improves their ability to deal rapidly with incidents, especially those that can be dealt with through switching to a backup unit, or rebooting it where possible remotely. Another benefit of course is that with more precise data on the nature and location of a malfunctioning unit, component or even printed circuit board, chances of dealing with it effectively, a technician bringing the correct spare etc, rise dramatically.


A third less evident option as mentioned is the ability to gather information on just how well their network is meeting its service level agreements and in doing so gather the data needed for future tenders, improvement contracts etc. The promotional video we were shown, made by Accenture (!) actually is full of all the right management buzz words and catch phrases about such matters. It just goes to show that engineering is not the only force driving such developments.


If those expectations can be met remains to be seen, the system has not been in operation for very long yet and if the staggering amount of widely differing interfaces to remote monitoring and diagnostics is anything to go by, the data that can be gathered will be just as diverse. It will take some doing to make sense of it and present it in easily digestible management reports.  My old friend and professor Pieter Rookmaker, the ergonomist who helped us develop the ERTMS/ETCS DMI (driver machine interface) would have been appalled at what we saw I expect. And as it was, our hosts who admittedly were development engineers, not day to day users of the systems, also had some difficulty in locating the source and nature of some aggregated alarms. So whilst there is room for improvement, it is a very impressive effort and certainly worth the visit. Next years international IRSE convention in Madrid might just be a very good opportunity to go back and see the system for yourself. Provided you are an IRSE member of course.

There is a paper describing the system available called “Industrial Tele-Maintenance : “Extrapolation of the Experience in Railways to Industria

Environments” by Mr. Carlos Rodríguez Sánchez, Mr. Francisco Javier Gonzëiez Fernández and Miss Laura Carmen Simón Vena that you might try get your hands on.

PS: Would you believe that apparently all maintenance personnel is despatched from that centre except for signalling? There someone else first needs to assess the skills required to deal with an incident and whom to dispatch.

Towards the one page safety case

There is something in the air. A sense of dissatisfaction, of urgency even, about the rising cost associated with the safety case process. The general perception is that safety cases are too expensive, take to long to compile and assess and add little real value to the safety levels of our railways. A whole new industry seems to have emerged, where “Brains on sticks” work in consultancies and make huge sums from the paper mountains that are our safety cases.

And yet I maintain that it should be possible to produce a one page safety case (ok well  perhaps 10 pages max.) and assess it in two weeks. All it takes is to be clever about it and manage your safety assurance processes well.

Any project, any supplier that applies the systems- and safety assurance processes that are now the norm in our industry and documents the efforts the are making anyway adequately, should not need more than ten pages and two weeks to explain all that and convince their independent safety assessor.

In his blog I will try to develop that thought and expand on the do’s and don’ts.

Join me in that quest and feel free to comment and add your thoughts!

© Wim Coenraad 2019