With rail organisations having to respond to ever more complex events, having a workforce management system that can adapt is critical.
No matter how well-developed a plan is, it is only as good as how it is applied. When it comes to rail scheduling and planning, the most workshopped, tested or modelled plan will be judged against how it delivers on the day of operations.
“It’s relatively easy to develop an efficient master roster but where many of the available market solutions fall short is their ability to monitor and respond to emergent changes once that plan is being executed through the day of operations,” said Cameron Collie, senior business consultant for Dassault Systèmes.“In rail, there are numerous unplanned changes that can impact or change who you’ve got available on the day and so it can become largely irrelevant how good your original plan is if 20 minutes into the day of operations things change and your planning assumptions become invalid.”
Collie has worked with rail operators to apply the Dassault Systèmes DELMIA Quintiq application to overcome these challenges. The system, used by global rail organisations such as Eurostar, Swiss Federal Railways and Amtrak, provides rail operators in the freight and passenger sector with a dynamic and flexible workforce management platform that enables long-term planning and demand forecasting for planned events.
“The types of events that need to be taken into consideration by planners include leave planning, special events that may be occurring, such as grand finals or royal shows that cause variations in the demand and variations due to holiday periods, for example there might be reduced running over Easter or Christmas periods,” said Collie.
“In freight, we often see seasonal variations. Typically the movement of grain is very seasonal, and you need to have different plan options to address those. Then of course there’s the requirement to maintain the rail network that can cause outages and cause disruptions to the plan that you’re seeking to resource.”
To ensure that these planned and foreseen events are taken into consideration, Collie has worked with rail operators to forecast and model trends to account for seasonal variations. These models are supported by scenarios. When an event occurs, planners are able to manually or automatically undertake a comparative analysis of available scenarios to see what will deliver the best outcome. Employees can also self-manage shift swapping through a mobile app, reducing the demand for intervention and ensuring the plan stays on track.
But what happens when something unexpected occurs?
One of the most common unplanned events can be staff calling in sick. As an integrated workforce management system, the Dassault Systèmes DELMIA Quintiq software can see where shortages are occurring.
“During day of operations, we can see unplanned absences from people calling in sick, which can be fed into the Dassault Systèmes DELMIA solution either via a mobile app or a sign on clerk,” said Collie.
“What happens then is any activities that are allocated to that staff member are unallocated. Anything they had assigned moved into the unassigned activity bank and then the planner would then look to assign those activities to one or more other people and there’s a range of alternatives they can do that through.”
The tasks can be reassigned manually or by using optimisation filters to select the most appropriate staff member.
“You click on the filter that shows the available and suitable staff to complete that activity. Available means making sure that they’ve got nothing planned in that timeframe and suitable, particularly in the case of train drivers, is making sure that they’ve got all the relevant route knowledge, and traction knowledge to perform the task,” said Collie.
“Alternatively, we’ll see late variations in demand and the requirement to run new train services or cancel train services for whatever reason,” said Collie.
Caused by a multitude of reasons, the late running of services on the day itself can also lead to pressures on staff.
“The trains are trying to run to a schedule, and variations to that can upset the deployment and disposition of your staff and where their next duty may be.”
Drawing on information from the scheduling system or traffic management system, the Dassault Systèmes DELMIA Quintiq application then references this against staff profiles and filters for requirements such as limiting fatigue and tiredness, or even meal break requirements.
“The key capabilities required are the ability to receive real-time inputs from all available information sources and then for that to trigger automatic conflict and constraint protection,” said Collie. “We’re talking about if a driver is driving one train and that’s late, then he is going to be late to his next driving duty, which may be not on the same rollingstock set, so all of those things are automatically detected to assist the planner in identifying the things that need a level of intervention.”
To lessen the need for rapid decision making, and to remove the chance of human error, the software provides automated decision support enhanced by ongoing optimisation, explained Collie.
“We’re aiming to make that as simple as possible through scenario-based menu options, rather than driving the need for a planner to perform atomic transaction level changes.”
These changes then flow through the entirety of the operational plan, without the need for follow-up changes.
“As we get notifications of variations to the operational timetable, we will update the internal timetable version. We have a bespoke technical capability called Propagation, whereby once we receive notification of any variation, consequential changes ripple right through all the objects in the database, and each time an object changes in value, that in turn invokes any rules associated with that object variable,” said Collie.
“In that way, not only can we tell that the train is running late, but we can immediately determine that the allocated staff member is not going to be able to make his next train duty or it’s going to impede on his meal break or he’ll get to the statutory limits of his footplate or driving time, resulting in the requirement
for an emergency replacement driver.”
Responsiveness during day of operations can be as real time as the as the data can be supplied to the Dassault Systèmes DELMIA Quintiq application.
A MORE FLEXIBLE FUTURE
Driving the push towards greater optimisation and automation is Dassault Systèmes’s focus on the KPIs that rail organisations are accountable to. When it comes to footplate time – the amount of time a driver spends driving a train – optimisation within the planning software aims to balance workforce requirements against the operational demands.
“The optimiser can be running in the background at all times and as those real time events come into the system the optimiser can identify and act and resolve those where applicable,” said Collie.
Beyond increasing efficiency, at the core of the system is an understanding of what motivates rail organisations.
“If we consider the train drivers or the guards then the single biggest key business driver that we’re trying to achieve is to make sure that no train service is cancelled or delayed as a result of the unavailability of train crew. All of those technologies that we have available to us, propagation, automatic constraint, and conflict checking and optimisation are key to this.”
Coming out of the experience of 2020, where COVID-19 impacts threw workforce planning into new light, ensuring the resilience of rail organisations in future will come down to having the most efficient and effective way to manage any number of unplanned events and possible plan outcomes.
“In the first instance, you’ve got uncertainty in terms of whether you’re going to have increased absenteeism because people are coming down sick and how to deal with that, you have of course the social distancing requirements, so you can only have reduced numbers of staff on hand at any one time, so all the operational norms pretty much go out the window,” said Collie. “It’s highly variable and you need the ability to be flexible with that.”