‘Every section of the track should have its own Facebook page’

Digitalisation is fundamental for asset management in the rail sector, as it makes it possible to share information about track sections, ‘the assets’, with everyone. “Really, every track section should have its own Facebook page”, says Asset Management Adviser Jan Swier. On Thursday 29 November he will give a presentation about monitoring and information at the Intelligent Rail Summit 2018 in Malmö, Sweden.

“What it means is that you are able to bring all available information about the assets together at one single point. When you have managed that, you can do a good analysis and optimisation, which makes it possible to predict what sort of maintenance will be needed, and when. This is what it all boils down to.”


Jan Swier retired this year but worked for over 44 years in various functions at the Dutch railway operator NS and infrastructure manager ProRail. In the last 14 years, he was an Asset Management Adviser at ProRail. Before that, he fulfilled the same role at NS Rail Infrastructure Management. In 1989, together with a colleague from NS, Swier was part of a team from McKinsey & Company that did a study into the organisational structure of the infrastructure process at NS.

In the nineties, the rail infrastructure was split off from Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS). Parts of the Dutch railway network were opened up to multiple operators. And all operational tasks related to infrastructure were outsourced, which meant 2800 employees transferred to rail contractors Strukton, Volker and BAM. Later on, a fourth party emerged: Asset Rail.

Asset management

That splitting off led to the establishment of ProRail in 2005, which brought together the old management and maintenance organisation. “Through this new division, ProRail suddenly got a central role. To properly map out the costs, performances and risks of track sections for all parties, a single asset management system had to be set up,” explains Swier.

“With asset management, it is not only about improving how existing sections of the track are looked after, but also the optimisation of the costs and performances across the whole lifecycle.” According to Swier, asset management is a complex change process that affects the whole sector. “It makes high demands on the leadership.”

As a result of outsourcing track maintenance, all information about sections of the track had to be transferred to one central system managed by ProRail. This system had to be accessible to all rail parties. Therefore, in 2015, ProRail began the SpoorData programme, in which all information about sections of the track is set down. The goal of this programme is that all parties in the rail sector carry out their daily work on the basis of the same, up-to-date and reliable information about railway infrastructure.

Division of roles

According to Swier, rail infrastructure managers can learn from the aerospace industry. However, there is an important difference in the division of roles, he explains. In the aerospace industry, aircraft manufacturers play a central role. They organise the asset management system and the risk analysis documentation for the aircraft maintenance. Furthermore, the manufacturers get all information about accidents that take place with their aircraft. They are informed about any safety risk that emerges, and then on the basis of this information look at how they can optimise their aircraft.”

“In railway infrastructure, the division of roles is different. The roles are the same, as is the sort of work, but as soon as the designers and manufacturers have done their work, they disappear out of the picture. The continuous factor for asset management in the rail sector is the infrastructure manager, i.e. the maintenance organisation. The infrastructure manager must take care of the systems and processes to be able to optimise performances, risks and costs over the whole lifecycle.” In that regard, ProRail can definitely learn a lot from the aerospace industry, asserts Swier.

Intelligent Rail Summit 2018

On 29 November, Jan Swier will give a presentation at the Intelligent Rail Summit 2018 in Malmö. The programme for this international rail conference comprises asset management, infrastructure monitoring and Wayside Train Monitoring Systems (WTMS). On 27 November, participants can also visit the Trafikverket Academy, from the Swedish rail infrastructure manager. The Intelligent Rail Summit 2018 takes place 27-29 November.

Author: Marieke van Gompel

Marieke van Gompel is editor-in-chief of RailTech.com, RailFreight.com and SpoorPro.nl, online magazines for railway professionals.

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