The Anonymous Widower

SBRI: FOAK 2022 Optimising Railway Possessions

This project was one of the winners in the First Of A Kind 2022 competition run by Innovate UK.

In this document, this is said about the project.

Project No: 10038228

Project title: SBRI: FOAK 2022 Optimising Railway Possessions
Project grant: £236,226

Public description: One of the biggest challenges facing the railway industry is the complex process of planning and
possession management. The logistics of diverting, blocking, or closing sections of track can have
implications across the network. As the rail timetable becomes more congested, with increased
services, there is more potential for disruption and less obvious times for possession. Delays on
main-lines could result in huge fines, consequently delivering works and handing back possession
on-time is vital.

In 2020/21, NR spent £1.6bn on enhancements, £1.9bn on maintenance, and £3.2bn on renewals
(Office of Rail and Road, 2021). This translates into thousands of engineering works, most of these
require possessions to allow safe, traffic-free worksites for maintenance activities (e.g. remedial
works, inspections, maintenance and planned renewals).

Possessions result in both planned and unplanned disruption. Unplanned disruption can occur for
many reasons; machine faults, access issues, staff planning, or wrong engineering train
arrangement – all demonstrating the complexity of planning possessions.

Getting staff and equipment to worksites on time and minimising travelling distances are critical
efficiency requirements. The barriers to this are mutual road and rail points, staff numbers and
equipment types. Furthermore, engineering trains typically start in sidings which may be in remote
locations due to available sidings being occupied during large possession works. Consequently,
this cause issues in both timetabling and plans that ensure that engineering trains reach worksites
at the correct time and in the correct formation.

With increasing traffic and reducing availability of possessions this problem is likely to be further
exacerbated. Network Rail have identified a requirement to develop solutions for planning
procedures such that possession efficiency is increased, resulting in the delivery of infrastructure
maintenance work with minimal disruption and cost.

Combining Frazer-Nash’s deep experience in optimisation of railway challenges and eviFile’s
possession management solution, we will innovate to develop a product that will support rapid
planning and replanning of possessions through the application of optimisation and ML algorithms
to identify potential optimal plans. Using wide-ranging railway possessions data we will research
and adapt algorithms that will consider (for example) multiple scenarios, locations and types of
work, and optimise and efficiently manage resources to ensure minimal impact to infrastructure
traffic and capacity.

This will deliver possessions more efficiently, help plan work-activities during possessions more
precisely, manage infrastructure access more efficiently, allow tasks to be planned more efficiently,
and predict the impact of possessions on overall network performance more accurately.

My Thoughts And Conclusion

One of the biggest construction sites near me was the A45 dualling of the 1970s. It was a nightmare as there was no system managing possessions and frequently there were temporary traffic lights and diversions.

Things have got better since then and roadworks on main roads don’t cause as much delay as they used to.

The same improvement that good project management has had on the roads, now needs to be applied to the railways.

November 19, 2022 - Posted by | Computing, Transport/Travel |


  1. […] 10038228 – SBRI: FOAK 2022 Optimising Railway Possessions […]

    Pingback by First Of A Kind 2022 Winners Announced « The Anonymous Widower | November 19, 2022 | Reply

  2. All very worthy and commendable but is it truly innovative.
    Isn’t this what engineers tend to do every day.

    Comment by fammorris | November 19, 2022 | Reply

    • I have written four major scheduling algorithms; three for project management systems and one to allocate offices to projects. They all rely heavily on permutations and combinations, as that was the way I programmed them.

      Briefly, thinking about possessions, these would appear to very complicated, but my core algorithm would still hack it. But does anybody else use my core algorithm?

      I don’t know, but then project managers keep asking me to write another system.

      Perhaps the problem with possessions, is that Network Rail don’t have a reliable enough asset database?

      Comment by AnonW | November 19, 2022 | Reply

      • Do Network Rail have a reliable enough asset database? Well at the point of privatisation back in 1996, British Rail’s legacy was worse than laughable; there simply was little idea about the Railway Estate. From personal experience of the Rolling Stock Library and RAVERS the BRB systems of identification and maintenance records for all rolling stock in Great Britain at the time the quality of information was in part abysmal. That took nearly 20 years to be rectified. Infrastructure data held now has improved remarkably and has the potential to serve the Railway Community far better but whether it’s adequate I don’t know. Judging by some of the innovations concerning the infrastructure that have been identified in the recent awards I’d suggest there is scope for continuing improvement.

        Comment by fammorris | November 20, 2022

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