Academic input to improve performance of Britain’s East Midlands Railway
East Midlands Railway, which provides over 450 train services each day across England, has entered into a collaboration with the specialist engineers at the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre. The programme is intended to improve efficiency at the company’s sprawling Eastcroft depot. The simulation tools developed within the programme will help simulate different scenarios at the Nottingham’s Eastcroft depot, improving operational efficiency.
Building a better system for operations within the Eastcroft depot will be commercially and operationally beneficial for East Midlands Railway (EMR) and their customers. The project, made possible by the Network Rail Performance Improvement Fund, has seen AMRC engineers work closely with EMR operations staff to record the rules, processes and timings of train movements. They now have a representative model of Nottingham Eastcroft depot, with which to map out operational scenarios.
State-of-the-art process flow
Eastcroft provides the day-to-day maintenance of the EMR Regional fleet, the local trains division of the company, which connects towns and communities with major destinations including Liverpool, Manchester, Crewe, Stoke-on-Trent, Peterborough, Ely, Grantham and Norwich. The extensive operations draw on a mixed fleet of diesel multiple units, designated classes 156, 158 and 170. According to the partners, the tools create a virtual simulation of activities taking place on the shop floor at the depot and gives the user the power to identify capacity constraints, model scenarios and rapidly visualise the impact on performance.
The plan is that the simulation tools will help EMR to plan and stress test operational scenarios. This should be achievable in a fraction of the time it would take using conventional methods, such as time and motion study on the shop floor. “The AMRC is drawing on its manufacturing intelligence team’s significant expertise in modelling and optimising manufacturing production facilities”, explained Richard Gardiner, AMRC senior innovation fellow and sector lead for rail. “We are collaborating to assess the application of state-of-the-art process flow simulation tools to assist the efficiency and effectiveness of rail depot operations.”
Process modelling software
The Sheffield engineers have demonstrated how the model incorporates the depot and local Nottingham station roads (the railways accessing the depot). It produces a virtual representation of the varied motive power and rolling stock typically handled at the depot. “It provides a virtual representation of activities in a 24-hour period and assists the current ‘beat-rate’ exercise”, describes the academic paper. “This model will add a dimension of scenario planning that was previously difficult and time consuming to accomplish.”
“Since usability is a key feature of the project, a user-friendly interface is being developed that allows users to adjust variables and model scenarios without detailed process modelling software knowledge”, said Gardiner. “As a net result of all the features and components of the model, depot operations can be made more efficient with an improved unit availability and better service to the public.”
Embrace technology for a better railway
As well as the Regional service based on the depot in Nottingham, East Midlands Railway operates in two other divisions. EMR Intercity operates out of London St Pancras International, providing the backbone of services on the Midland Main Line, currently the subject of an enhancement programme under the direction of Network Rail. Services run to Leicester, Nottingham, Lincoln, Derby and Sheffield. EMR Connect is an all-electric service providing frequent commuter style services between London, Luton, Bedford, Wellingborough, Kettering and Corby.
“We are always looking at ways we can embrace technology to help us run our services more effectively and are delighted to be working with the AMRC on this project”, said Neil Bamford, fleet director at East Midlands Railway. “We hope this collaboration will result in a more detailed understanding of all the barriers that impact on running depot operations as efficiently as possible.”
The AMRC at the University of Sheffield is active across a wide canvass of UK industry, including transport. The centre has a number of railway projects under its belt, including work at St Pancras in London for high speed services to Kent and Europe.