Simplifying decisions when managing rail operations
By Michael Zink
Rail organisations have a vast number of assets to keep track of, making them complex systems to manage.
This complexity contributes to difficulty in decision-making for a number of personnel working in the rail industry, ranging from maintenance staff scheduling repairs and managing materials, through to high-level executives making decisions on company policies, fleet management and capital improvement planning, to name a few.
Accurate and accessible information makes it easier for everyone to quickly and effectively make decisions.
The difficulty for rail operators lies in attempting to collate different sets of data without the correct systems in place. The cost of choosing poorly can be significant for rail operators, with bad decisions impacting revenue, repair expenditure, safety outcomes and business reputation.
In broad terms, rail assets fall into three main categories: rolling stock, infrastructure and facilities.
In reality, each of these general categories will have a large number of assets and components within it.
For example, infrastructure includes track, wayside systems, ballast, bridges and tunnels, while facilities includes buildings, workshops and stations, plus potentially assets inside these buildings, such as elevators and escalators. The many and varied types of assets results in a voluminous but most likely fragmented set of asset information.
Traditionally, the management of the various rail assets has been handled by separate departments who have autonomously selected methods, processes and tools.
In a single rail organisation, you might find that the track maintenance managers use paper and pen during field inspections and manually enter information into their computers later.
At the same time, the facilities maintenance team use their own asset management system while the rolling stock department keeps a completely different set of records altogether. Copious amounts of data exists, but not necessarily in a shape or form that adds value to the organisation.
Multiple systems often mean the data is practically inaccessible, resulting in difficulty obtaining business intelligence. This makes fact-based decision-making a tedious, time-consuming process.
While the practicalities of running a transport network mean that various departments will continue to collect their own sets of data relating to their specific area of work, it makes sense for that data to be held in one place.
A centralised system prevents the expense of having multiple systems to maintain, reduces the number of license and support vendor agreements required, and minimises the amount of processes to train staff on.
One dream, one data system
As technology and software advance, it is becoming clearer that an enterprise approach to asset management is the most effective solution.
The master set of comprehensive and accurate asset data that comes from such an approach is a cornerstone to safe and efficient operations.
Effective data-driven asset management means that decision-makers have immediate access to business intelligence, ideally accessing only what is relevant to their role.
When rail professionals can trust that the insights are based on reliable and complete data, they can quickly and confidently move ahead with decision-making. This in turn helps them effectively manage cost, risk and performance.
The cost of inefficient asset management
The impact cost of improper asset management in the transport industry is astronomical, with the US Federal Transit Administration (FTA) reporting in 2016 an estimated US$85.9 billion price tag to return current transport assets to an acceptable state of good repair.
Furthermore, they stated the cause of this backlog was a combination of insufficient funding and inadequate asset management practices.
The FTA estimates an annual commitment of US$2.5 billion above current funding levels is required across the country to invest in asset management and repairs to prevent this backlog from growing.
The above figures don’t take into account the cost of potential future expenses caused by accidents or service cancellations due to asset failure.
Although in relative infancy compared to other industries, the use of intelligent and central data analytics for public transport in Europe, Asia and the Middle East is continuing to increase as a way to improve performance and reduce costs.
There is optimism across the transit sector that better asset management data tracking will continue to enhance operating efficiency.
Entire network visibility
A single system for managing diverse assets provides operators with holistic oversight of their network, allowing for richer reporting on how each asset is performing and ultimately resulting in better decisions being made about the management of the network.
Using one system means greater visibility of what is happening across the entire network. It also allows for standardisation, making management reporting more cohesive and powerful.
One transport authority that has already discovered this is the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) in the United States of America.
MARTA needed to improve reporting across all departments and assets, with better analytics considered a priority for improvements across the organisation.
Data that they required included workforce tracking, warranty tracking, project tracking and more – no easy feat when managing literally tens of thousands of assets!
MARTA replaced its legacy system with Trapeze’s EAM solution and now has improved reporting capability with automated reports and integrated management of all its assets in one database.
“Trapeze was chosen for its functionality and its versatility,” said Tim Elsberry, MARTA’s Assistant Director of Track & Structures.
“Trapeze had a rail transit solution that fits our various types of equipment right out of the box… superior linear capabilities coupled with the ability to manage fleet, rail, stationary, component equipment units in the same program.
“We have visibility and accountability from the time a defect is discovered until it is repaired, all in one system.”
A centralised system for asset management also offers significant benefits from an IT and administration point of view.
The IT department benefits from only having one software system to manage and understand.
Administratively, operators don’t need to have different experts in each separate software system or worse – a dedicated resource to manually transfer and re-enter data from one system to another. This in turn produces cost savings by reducing staff training hours and potentially staff numbers.
Having a transit-focussed enterprise asset management (EAM) system that works equally well across all maintenance departments means just one group of system administrators and one database that serves all divisions. From a workflow standpoint, users can leverage common workflows by using a shared toolset.
Case in point:
Seattle-based Sound Transit works with numerous partners who operate and maintain its assets. Each of these partners were using their own asset management systems. The inconsistent reports and fragmented information meant Sound Transit’s staff had to write data down and pass it to a clerk for data entry.
Sound Transit swapped over to Trapeze’s transport-specific EAM and was able to cut reporting time from 3 months to 1 – 3 days.
Making the dream a reality
The cost of inadequate asset management in the rail industry is clear: tens of billions of dollars in the US, with a likely similar impact across other regions.
The potential for the system to run smoothly is well within reach.
The next step is pulling together an asset management solution to improve efficiencies by easily measuring performance, highlighting issues and providing the required information in one place to allow for effective decision-making.
Taking an enterprise approach to asset management – finding a single system that will work well across all maintenance divisions – is the key to simplifying asset management for rail organisations. Leading agencies like MARTA and Sound Transit are already doing this.
If you are interested in doing the same, you need an EAM software that is tailor-made for rail and the intricacies of a transport network.
 Federal Register (US), Transit Asset Management: National Transit Database, 2016 https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2016/07/26/2016-16883/transit-asset-management-national-transit-database#footnote-2-p48890
 Science Direct, Railway Assets: A potential domain for big data analytics, 2015 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877050915018268
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