March 28, 2024

5 benefits of geotagging to enhance safety and efficiency of railway projects

Company News
March 28, 2024
Company News

Railway maintenance, renewals and enhancements occur in an inherently high-risk environment, encompassing multiple worksites, work teams and tracks, making them complex and challenging for everyone involved to know how to navigate the worksite safely.

In many instances, this has led to dangerous near-misses and accidents, resulting in disruption to the network and costly repercussions for organisations.

To help overcome these challenges, geotagging technology has been introduced to the railway industry to enhance worksite operations, line block and possession management by giving users more visibility and control over all assets and equipment. This is creating safer working environments for all of those onsite.

What is geotagging on the railway?

Geotagging is a technology which can provide information about the location of something. To take a deeper dive into this, take a look at our blog “What is Geotagging?

Geotagging technology can provide live location information of physical objects, and that’s where its use on the railway becomes beneficial. By assigning geotagging devices to assets and equipment onsite, users can get information about their real-time position at all times and get full visibility of the worksite on an online dashboard. Using geofencing, safe areas of work can be created onsite, triggering alerts when equipment leaves the safe boundaries of the worksite or possession.

The use of this technology for railway projects is helping to enhance safety and operational efficiency for Network Rail routes and its principal contractors working on the infrastructure. Let’s take a look at 5 key examples of how.

1. Geotagging helps ensure the correct placement of critical protection equipment

Unfortunately the incorrect placement of protection equipment does occur on the railway and can cause incidents which cost tens of thousands in repairs, add hours in delays, and most importantly, pose significant safety risks to those on site. In fact, according to an RAIB report, 33% of reported significant events (classed as potentially resulting in a fatality) in that year were caused by incorrect placement of protection equipment.

Geotagging can streamline possession management processes and improve compliance by helping to ensure protection equipment is placed in the correct location onsite. The technology allows users to monitor the planned versus live locations of critical protection equipment such as worksite marker boards (WSMB) and possession limit boards (PLB), reducing the reliance on paper-based plans and radio communications and helping to mitigate the risk of error.

With an online Dashboard, the boundaries of worksites and possessions can be mapped out, as well as the planned location of critical protection equipment for these safe working areas. Then when onsite, geotagging devices can be attached to the physical PLBs and WSMBs. When walking out with protection equipment, the devices would alert the moment the person placing it has reached the possession and worksite limits, allowing them to independently place this protection equipment in the correct planned locations.

Additionally, the position of detonators can be mapped out on the Dashboard. A device worn by the PICOP alerts when they exit the geofence boundaries, indicating the 20 m intervals at which the detonator needs to be placed.

On the Dashboard, a live view of this equipment will be visible to the ES and PICOP, so that they can compare planned versus live locations and ensure everything has been installed in the correct location.

2. Geotagging supports the management of multiple worksites within a possession

For larger railway projects such as renewals and enhancements, large possessions are required, which can often be very disruptive to railway operations. This is particularly true when it comes to possession overruns, which can cost tens of thousands or even millions in fines for Network Rail due to the knock-on effect this has on the industry’s timetabling. As such, it is of utmost importance for contractors delivering works for Network Rail to ensure that work is completed swiftly with possessions handed back on time.

To ensure the project is completed on time, multiple worksites are often planned within a possession to increase the volume of work that can be completed within the time scale. However, with this comes the safety risks associated with managing complex possessions, particularly where multiple vehicles are used and different engineering access is required for each worksite.

Geotagging can help support this by providing a means for monitoring all equipment onsite, helping to ensure the effective delivery of works. Geotagging devices can be assigned to specific areas of work and worksites within a possession.

Then, by attaching geotagging devices to machines such as OTP and OTM, not only can the ES and PICOP keep a constant eye on where everything is onsite on the Dashboard, but the machine controllers themselves will receive alerts when they exit the boundaries of their designated area of work or worksite within the possession.

3. Geotagging helps ensure no objects are left behind on the line

Unfortunately, there have been many incidents over the years involving objects left on the line, sometimes causing expensive damage and putting people’s safety at risk. Take the Challow trolley incident for example, where a hand trolley was struck by a train in Oxfordshire due to being left behind onsite, damaging both the train itself as well as the infrastructure.

The RAIB reports that there were weaknesses within the line clear verification process that led to this incident, including the fact that “it was reliant on human actions for its successful implementation, which the rail industry had recognised, but not yet implemented any measures to avoid or mitigate errors”.

As a result, the RAIB made several recommendations to Network Rail, including “to establish how the existing line clear verification process can be improved” and to “consider what technology could be used by its staff to support the process”.

A technology that is designed to support this process is geotagging. In fact, according to a recent RSSB report*, 60% of the risk due to engineering objects left on the line could be mitigated by the introduction of geotagging.

By providing a live location of equipment onsite, geotagging gives information to the ES about any equipment left behind onsite. Not only that, but the technology also provides alerts to the ES if they try to close down a site before all equipment has been removed. The live view indicates to them exactly where this equipment is so that everything can successfully be removed from the site.

4. Geotagging helps prevent points run throughs

Even with safeguards in place, points run through incidents occur frequently, resulting in incredibly expensive fines for the railway industry.

According to the recent RSSB report*:

  • The cost of a points run through in terms of repair to the infrastructure and delays is approximately £250,000 (although some estimates put this figure much higher)
  • There were on average 19-point run-throughs per year between 2016 and 2019 (estimated cost of £19m)

With the potential for subsequent reduced or cancelled services, disruption of engineering work and stand down of staff, the costs and time wastage per incident can be considerable.

To help reduce the risk of incorrectly set points being run through by vehicles within a possession, geotagging can be used to notify teams if a vehicle is approaching a set of points, ensuring action can be taken before any potential damage is incurred.

Worksites can be created at either end of the set of points, creating an “unsafe zone” between the two. By assigning geotagging devices to these worksites and subsequently attaching them to the physical vehicles, the Machine Controller is alerted if they approach the points, notifying them of their position so they can stop the vehicle and assess if the points are set correctly before proceeding.

5. Geotagging helps organisations to comply with safety guidelines and standards

Due to the high-risk nature of rail environments, adherence to rule books and standards while working on or near rail infrastructure is critical to reduce the risk of incidents that can put both workers and the public’s safety at risk.

Geotagging technology helps ensure compliance with site safety measures, including adherence to set working zone limits and safe site access and egress through the provision of geofenced safe zones. This can be evidenced by data obtained through device usage, which can then be shared with project stakeholders.

Proactive safety indicators:

  • Alerts for if OTP or OTM enter the worksite before it is safe to do so (i.e. before the line block is in place)
  • Speed of devices when attached to vehicles showing whether they are adhering to site speed limits and any times they exceed this limit. See the maximum speed per device along with the distribution of speed throughout its time onsite.

Data points that can be gathered to identify areas that safety can be improved:

  • Heat maps showing where vehicles have accessed and egressed from the worksite, helping to ensure OTP/OTM are on and off-tracking via RRAPs at the authorised safe access point.
  • Any times that devices attached to vehicles have exited their designated safe zone. This could be useful in showing any instances where booms or MEWP baskets have been outside the safe zone and been in a potentially unsafe position

Using these data points can help with the identification of trends and opportunities to further improve worksite safety and efficiency. For example, if data shows that there is a high percentage of devices that leave the safe zone boundary at a specific area of the worksite, investigations can be done to identify if there are any obstructions or other reasons behind this that could be compromising safety onsite.

Get started with geotagging on your worksite

Interested in enhancing your worksite visibility? Book a demo with our team of geotagging experts to see for yourself just how Tended’s solution can transform the safety and efficiency of your worksites.

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