System Integration in a Fragmented Rail Industry

author list icon

A methodology has been developed to help our clients successfully manage their complex railway programmes within the context of a fragmented rail industry.

The Structure of the UK Rail Industry

Privatisation of Great Britain’s (GB’s) heavy rail network in 1993 divided British Rail into three main parts: rail infrastructure management (Network Rail [NR], formerly Railtrack); train/freight operating companies (TOCs/FOCs); and rolling stock leasing companies (known as ROSCOs).  This provided compliance with the European Union directive1 that required member states to grant rail companies independence from the government and to separate the management of infrastructure from transport management.

In addition to the three main parties, the GB rail industry is governed by the Department for Transport (DfT)/Transport Scotland (TS) and regulated by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) (see Figure 1). DfT/TS are responsible for: determining the rail budget, setting the strategic direction, and specifying and awarding contracts to run the passenger rail franchises.  The ORR’s role is to regulate the industry and to hold the appropriate parties accountable for safety, economic issues, performance, track access, and project delivery.
Figure 1 – Great Britain Rail Industry Structure
Source: House of Commons Library, Quick guide to the railways, July 2012

The GB rail industry, therefore, is a complex and highly fragmented one. Adding to this complexity are the misaligned timescales for the strategic and financial planning of the infrastructure and the train operating companies (TOCs) franchise timescales, durations, and contracting approaches.

In May 2011, Sir Roy McNulty published his findings and recommendations for improved efficiency and value for money in the GB rail market. Known as ‘The McNulty Report2 it concluded that the cost of rail in GB was 40 percent more expensive than in other countries. The report identified a number of barriers to efficiency including the fragmentation of industry structures and interfaces, and the relationships and culture within the industry. The report also recognised that the industry partners needed to work more closely together to implement a ‘whole-system’ approach to planning of timetables, infrastructure, and rolling stock, so as to improve the efficiency of the rail system as a whole.

Between 2014 and 2019 an unprecedented £37.5 billion will be invested in the heavy rail network.3 A significant risk to delivering this mega-programme of capital investment successfully is the integration of the enhancements, new/cascaded rolling stock, timetable, operations, and maintenance, within a fragmented industry structure.

Applying System Engineering (SE) and Project Management (PM) Expertise to Establish an Industry-Level System Integration Approach

Figure 2 – Model of multi-organisational ‘industry-level’ system integration

One scheme included within the £37.5 billion investment is the Thameslink Programme (TLP) which will transform north-south travel through London and increase passenger services from 12 to 24 trains per hour. This will be achieved through infrastructure enhancements, new rolling stock, and advanced rail technology, including in-cab signalling, automatic train operation (ATO), traffic management, and driver advisory systems (DAS).

Network Rail (NR) identified an issue with the highly ambitious programme, recognising the need to improve integration between the four main industry parties: the DfT, the train manufacturer, NR, and the TOC. To manage the integration risk, NR and the DfT instigated a stream of activity, managed by a new model of ‘industry-level’ systems integration team (see Figure 2). The programme established a multi-discipline, multi-stakeholder systems integrator (SI) responsible for ensuring that the system design reliably delivers the transport benefits that its funders expect. The team, which included WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff as a key partner alongside the industry partners, was engaged to develop an integrated solution that would allow the effective management of the programme complexity as it was delivered. This approach was featured in the Parsons Brinckerhoff publication, ‘Exploring Innovation’ (April 2012).

Following the McNulty Report, and at the DfT’s requirement, other major rail programmes established similar models of system integration. In response to this market demand, we codified our experience into a scalable framework based on integrating operations, technology, schedule, and contracts to ensure the required system capability is being delivered (Figure 3).
Figure 3 – Principles of system integration management used to the develop SI:D3 framework

The WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff framework is known as System Integration: Define, Develop, Deliver (SI:D3).  SI:D3 employs best practice elements of System Engineering  (INCOSE System Engineering Handbook)4 and Project Management (PMI PMBOK) 5 SI:D3 is a compendium of processes, techniques, and proprietary software tools that we have created, and used to good effect, to help our clients better understand and manage their complex programmes (see Figure 4). SI:D3 has been applied on programmes as diverse as the Northern Hub, New Tube for London, and the Great Western Route Modernisation.
Figure 4 – SI:D3 model for system integration

A Complementary Suite of Software Tools

Supporting the SI:D3 process framework are a suite of bespoke tools that produce visual representations, or models, of the holistic railway system; these representations are referred to as ‘system architectures’. The process of system architecting typically involves examining a system from a number of different contextual viewpoints, breaking the system down to its fundamental structure and then building a model of these ‘building blocks’ and their interconnections.

These contextual viewpoints can include:

Temporal views: A major challenge to the railway is managing the changing configurations of the infrastructure, rolling stock, and operations, over time. WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff has developed a ‘migration plan’ (or roadmap for success) architecture view to aid the planning of major migration phases whilst ensuring the final operation delivers the required performance.

Geographic views: The railway network is a system in which technologies, operations, and maintenance can be widely geographically distributed. To develop an architecture view of the whole railway requires an approach that falls somewhere between classic model-based systems engineering (MBSE) and geographic information systems (GIS). We have implemented a data-driven approach where the geographic network is represented as a schematic map upon which various aspects of the system can be overlaid. For instance, we have been able to produce a ‘heatmap’ visualisation of performance along the Great Western route, based on Network Rail’s recorded data. This has provided important insight into where system delays were occurring and allowed mitigation measures to be established to achieve specified performance targets.

Physical views: Commonly rail projects are incremental upgrades of existing infrastructure. Therefore it is necessary to model the physical system architecture to understand technical and operational interfaces at the current ‘as is’ state, end state, and at any interim configuration milestones as defined on the migration plan. Simple ‘rich picture’ approaches to physical systems architecture (Figure 5) have been developed; these show the interfaces between various sub-systems of the railway. These are also data-driven, allowing coloured highlighting to show system changes at different configuration states. This has helped clients such as London Underground get a clear understanding of how changes will occur across their system as programmes progress and ensures that work package scopes are complete and consistent.

Figure 5 – Example of a physical system architecture view

SI:D3: The Blueprint of Our Industry-Level System Integration Approach

SI:D3 is a tailorable and repeatable set of processes supported by a complementary set of tools which has been proven on a number of major UK rail programmes. Increasingly the framework is being applied globally, for example, on the Melbourne Metro Project in Australia, and as a structure to peer review the systems integration approach on the Noord-Zuidlijn line project in Amsterdam.
Currently at version 3.0, SI:D3 is subject to continuous improvement reviews – where lessons learned from each application are assessed and fed back into future iterations. It also forms a framework for measuring and monitoring our individual and team’s capability against perceived market need.

Benefits of a ‘Whole-System’ Approach and Industry Recognition

The Thameslink Programme industry-level system integration approach was specifically recognised in the McNulty Report as having “delivered significant benefits…identified and designed-out non-value adding requirements, and mitigated many problems”.

On the North of England Programmes, WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff as part of the SI team was instrumental in identifying a number of efficiencies during the option selection stage, including: de-scoping of the signalling requirements which resulted in capital expenditure savings, demonstrating the whole lifecycle cost efficiencies of competing design options, and identification of ‘whole system’ journey time saving opportunities (not just line speed increases) across the route. This approach was recognised by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR)6 at the time who found “There is good evidence that Network Rail is…managing whole system outputs for the NWE programme, including the integration of infrastructure with anticipated train service requirements and other projects”.

WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff’s expertise in industry system integration and our SI:D3 framework is helping Network Rail and their industry partners to carry out the recommendations of the McNulty Report and implement a ‘whole-system’ approach to the planning and implementation of the national portfolio of rail enhancements. 

1 EU Directive 91/440/EEC, 29 July 1991
2 Department for Transport, Realising the Potential of GB Rail, May 2011
3This is exclusive of DfT procured rolling stock, HS2, Crossrail, London Underground and funds devolved to passenger transport executives for light rail transport schemes.
4 INCOSE, Systems Engineering Handbook: A Guide for System Life Cycle Processes and Activities, Version 4.0 2015
5 PMI, A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), 2000
6 North West Electrification – Efficiency and Deliverability Review for GRIP 4-8, March 2012

back to top