Keeping Rail Relevant

Posted: 7 May 2024 | | No comments yet

Under its new owner, the Core Valley Lines is fusing an historic rail network with cutting edge technologies. Rennie Chadwick explores what transport owners globally can learn from its approach.

March 2020 marked not just a Covid lockdown, but a milestone in British rail history.

The Core Valley Lines (CVL) network – the ageing network which once served a thriving Welsh coal industry – was transferred from Network Rail to Transport for Wales.

The lines that run between Cardiff and Merthyr Tydfil, Aberdare, Treherbert, Rhymney and Coryton – will become part of the ambitious South Wales Metro. This is an integrated network of bus, rail, cycling and walking routes designed to promote sustainable travel across South Wales.

With the new ownership has come a new asset management style – one which fuses the historic railway with cutting edge technologies and prioritises a data-driven culture. The objective? To drive the outcomes every transport owner operator wants: Reliable, well-run, and safe assets and a great passenger experience.

Driving this new approach is a major new, cloud-based enterprise asset management system (EAMS), which uses IBM’s Maximo platform. My colleagues Tony Turner, Andy Burrell, Jon Taylor, Matt Giambrone, and Sakshi Joshi, helped to deliver this as part of a team with Amey Consulting and Congizant (the main contractor). We developed a comprehensive asset model for all elements of the infrastructure (structures, track, civils, geo works, telecoms, signalling and power) and developed  technology which recorded the data from mobile inspections and produced complex calculations of factors such as the bridge condition indices and slope stability indices.

“It’s a new era of transport management for Transport for Wales,” William Pike, Rheolwr Data Asedau/Asset Data Manager, Trafnidiaeth Cymru / Transport for Wales Infrastructure Hub tells us. “This will make our rail operations much more sustainable by improving data capture and efficiency, helping us to deliver against complex calculated KPIs, and reducing total costs.”

The foundation of the EAMS is data. Its importance is explained by Philip Rawlings, Head of Rail Asset Management, in the Core Valley Lines Strategic Asset Management Plan. “Data is an important asset itself, and is key to understanding our physical assets and how we use them, both in the short and longer term,” he writes.

The strategy is designed to ensure that the CVL assets – which include track, signalling, bridges, earthworks and drainage – are managed in an effective, safe and value-for-money way. It prioritises “a predict and prevent” regime over reactive asset management and is designed to help the CVL’s operators really ‘know’ the assets and, with that knowledge, make better decisions about what actions are needed and when.

Keeping rail relevant

It is a lesson which has not passed by Network Rail, the CVL’s former owner. While major new rail programmes such as East West Rail  and the Transpennine Route Upgrade continue apace, these, it knows, will not be enough to keep pace with rising demand from both customer and freight traffic.

As it writes in its Digital Railway Strategy, without a way of accommodating increasing demand  not just rail passengers, but sustainable travel as a whole will be hit: “The capacity shortage, crowding and performance impact will become chronic and delay per incident will increase … the railway will potentially become an irrelevance in GB as users lose confidence and turn permanently to alternatives, such as roads.”

A key part of the answer to this challenge, the strategy says, is digital – “making use of what modern technology can offer so that we can run more trains, faster, more safely, and on time.” It’s about, it explains, unlocking capacity from the infrastructure we already have.

Digital: Driving forward rail

Around the globe the understanding of the power and place of digital in the transport asset world to help operators meet the challenges they all face is deepening. IBM reports, for example, that 4.7 billion metro passengers  rely on its Maximo Transportation solution as the tool which keeps their chosen transport system running and reliable.

But if rail is to stay relevant that pace needs to quicken and a digital, data-led approach to managing transport systems needs to become the norm.

This is important not just for passengers, the train operators, and for our economies, but for our environment. 2022 research for example, found that switching just one leisure journey a week to train from car could result in a  28.4% reduction on total journey carbon emissions,

So what should owner operators be doing?  Key areas to consider and questions to ask are these:

1. How do I make it easy for people in my business to find all the data they need to support their decision making?

2. What insights do I need in order to deliver a reliable, good quality service? What datasets do I need to integrate to get these insights?

3. Can I be confident my data can be trusted?

Owner operators and their teams must consider not only the technologies they need to implement, but also the changes in organisation, behaviour and processes required to derive the full value from investments in digitalising their business. 

Building the case for a ‘big bang’ digital transformation programme is difficult and risky. Instead, think about initial projects you might want to introduce as ‘experiments’ to provide you with evidence of the impacts that you can achieve.

Grappling with these sorts of questions, probing the possibilities and understanding what your organisation stands to gain from a digital approach is key. Then, like Transport for Wales, we can usher in that “new era” of transport management – in a way that is achievable, affordable and has data at its heart.


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Dr Rennie Chadwick is a senior leader with more than 35 years professional experience, 20 of which have been at senior management and Board level. He brings extensive expertise in the areas of business strategy, change management, data and digital strategy, BIM, information management, design management, asset management and sustainability. Rennie Chadwick

His key area of expertise lies in transforming and improving business and organisational performance and processes through the practical application of innovative practices and technologies, data & digital strategies and strategic change management. 

Rennie leads Cohesive’s advisory team and the company’s work in the transport sector, supporting its clients by encouraging, exploring and driving the development and implementation of new ideas and leading-edge technologies that solve industry challenges.