Sydney Trains – Track Possession Mobile Applications Suite

1.  Summary of project, product, framework

Sydney Trains’ Asset Management Division has developed a suite of mobile iOS applications to improve Network Access planning, efficiency and safety.

The Possession Search app gives visibility of the possession program, including approved works projects and boundary diagrams. The GPS Gates Locator app lets staff view/navigate to boundary/access gates across the entire network. The Access Locator app uses complex algorithms to find trackwork possessions by location and network diagrams using GIS.

The development of the apps aligns with the organisation’s objectives of creating an environment that improves safety, creates additional capacity, improves asset performance and operational efficiencies across the business.

2.  Description of project or framework addressing the assessment criteria:                               

Overview of Mobile Applications developed

The three mobile iOS applications have been deployed to over 1700 individual staff members across the Transport cluster on over 2500 devices (iPhones and iPads).

1. Possession Search

Background and the Problem

Sydney Trains conducts more than 3000 track possessions per year across a complex interlinked rail network, with an estimated 900-plus meetings held for possession planning and delivery. As a result, the Track Possession Program document used to view data on available possessions (dates, configurations, week) was a complicated A3 document created in Excel (see figure 1 in General Comments). The sheet, which had to be printed out and carried by staff, had many constraints, including the addition of externally driven special events, causing ongoing revisions to the program. This resulted in planning issues and version control, with printed copies becoming obsolete and the need by staff to constantly print new versions. With approximately $6million of work each weekend, inefficiencies in planning resulted in lost opportunities and decreased value.

The solution: Possession Search app

Through brainstorming, workshops, stakeholder consultation and collaboration within multiple teams across Sydney Trains and TfNSW, the Asset Scheduling & Delivery Coordination (AS&DC) team developed the innovative iOS application that pulls Track Possession data from enterprise systems and efficiently places information in the hands of staff via their mobile devices, giving them instant access to up-to-date information, anytime, anywhere. The underlying data comes from enterprise systems (Primavera & TrakII).

Possession Search allows users to easily search for track possessions based on dates, configurations, weekend or week numbers, reducing any potential user error in the interpretation of the Track Possessions Program. People can view workgroups, which allows for better coordination, (with larger possessions having hundreds of workgroups). The app is an invaluable resource for all staff, improving track possession planning; a critical component of Sydney Trains’ Maintenance Works Planning resulting in increased utilisation of track possessions while reducing customer impacts. This has been showcased to other railway organisations, as no other organisation is currently able to interlink their entire track possession program with their entire maintenance and capital works programs, as well as integrate their outage diagrams into a single mobile platform.

2. GPS Boundary Gates Locator

Background and the Problem

With multiple track possessions occurring each week, Sydney Trains’ protection staff are required to enter various parts of the network (1436km of track) at night and/or in inclement weather to place/remove possession protection (safety/warning devices) prior to the start and finish of a possession. To enter the corridor, staff need to drive to boundary/access gates to locate the intended asset. There are more than 3000 gates in the network and most staff are only familiar with a small percentage of these. As a result staff could be walking within the corridor (danger zone) for distances longer than necessary due to unfamiliarity with location of gates. This increased safety risks and reduced productive time. Access gate data was available in GIS systems, however it was not possible to use it effectively on a mobile device.

GPS Boundary Gates Locator

A solution was required that would allow all staff to access. Using Google Maps infrastructure, the team integrated boundary/access gate locations based on track information and map coordinates from Sydney Trains’ GIS system.

This innovation provides a mechanism in assisting staff to effectively plan works. This includes providing estimates for the time required to travel to a boundary gate as well as the location.

Along with the ability to differentiate between vehicle and pedestrian gates, this allows for the effective scheduling of plant and equipment for delivery. Now field staff can use satellite imagery to gain access to the corridor, even if the sight has been visually blocked (eg. By trucks/vegetation). Previously no GPS solution showed the location of boundary gates for staff to search/navigate to. This has resulted in improved productivity and decreased staff time in the danger zone.

3. Access Locator

Background and the Problem

With over 3000 track possession per year, there is a lot of complexity in understanding the location of possessions. Often project teams would utilise larger possessions unnecessarily which resulted in reduced efficiency and clashes with worksites and resources. E.g. For a project team to work at Carramar they would need to understand network topology and look through hundreds of upcoming possessions (only boundaries provided) to find which ones they could potentially work in, with assistance/confirmation from a subject matter expert.

Access Locator

The Access Locator iOS App has the ability to search through track possessions by location. There is currently no other program that has this functionality. The application uses a complex nodal algorithm to search through thousands of possessions and calculate whether a particular location is within the boundaries of each possession, returning a list of only relevant possessions. E.g. For an input of Carramar, the app would return a list of suitable possessions that could be used by a project. This would have previously taken 15-60mins to complete.

As well as saving time, the application improves accuracy; offering potential access windows to projects by improving possession utilisation, reducing the number of possessions being required and reducing rework during planning. In addition, the App integrates into other reference materials such as the Train Operating Diagrams. It also links directly to Sydney Trains’ GIS through close collaboration within Sydney Trains. With upwards of 300 workgroups in larger possessions, this provides a powerful toolkit to project teams and possession planners on their mobile devices.

Alignment to Asset Management Principles and Benefits
Annually TfNSW and Sydney Trains delivers over $3B in work within track possessions, at Sydney Trains our corporate objective is to support this. The Suite of Apps:

  • Reduce customer impacts (Sydney Trains AM Objective #1)
    Increase access to rail network through innovative means (Sydney Trains AM Objective #3)
    • Reduced need for additional track possessions by providing visibility and analysis of available possessions and planned projects resulting in increased possession utilisation
    • Reduced noise in the community
  • Reduce risks and improve safety (Sydney Trains AM Objective #13)
    Improve Maintenance efficiencies (Sydney Trains AM Objective #9)
    • Improve visibility of access to rail corridor for emergency responders
    • Minimising unnecessary time travelling within the corridor/danger zone and providing navigation to staff
  • Enable quicker and improved decision making (Sydney Trains AM Objective #9)
    Automation of existing maintenance tasks (Sydney Trains AM Objective #4)
    • Through accuracy and availability of information, providing relevant integrated information, and information not available before (e.g. possessions by location)
  • Single Source of Truth – Consolidation of Asset Information (Sydney Trains AM Objective #6)
    • Asset information and project planning data was stored in multiple systems which was cumbersome/impossible to access on demand on a mobile device, resulting in printouts, excel sheets etc. The apps provide visibility and integration across these platforms to more users while not impacting other existing systems
  • Improves project/program delivery
    Supporting culture of aligning individual contributions to asset-related outcomes (Sydney Trains AM Objective #12)
    • Transparency of the possession program and all planned works across possessions, enabling easier alignment and coordination across projects, asset-classes, programs and within the network
  • Improves value and reduces environmental impacts (Sydney Trains AM Objective #1)
    Use of new technology with higher resilience to defects (Sydney Trains AM Objective #14)
    • Better utilise possessions and resources across the program
    • Reduction in paper usage and impact on environment
    • Reduction in errors and rework due to issues, human interpretation or using old information
    • Reduction in access times into multiple systems, many not available on a mobile platform

Key Quantitative Benefits

The estimated benefits for the NSW Transport Cluster are:

  • Time Savings: 11,000-plus hours per year (through providing quicker access to data/information)
    • 5,600 hours/year – Possession Search
    • 4,000 hours/year – Access Locator
    • 1,600 hours/year – GPS Boundary Gates Locator
  • Paper Savings: 76,000 sheets of A4 equivalent paper per year (~9 trees/year)
    • 13,000 A3 sheets/year – Possession Search
    • 50,000 A4 sheets/year – Access Locator
  • Customer Impacts: ~300,000 less customer journeys impacted per year
    • Reduction in possessions required
    • Sydney Trains has ~1.3mil journeys each weekend across the network

3.  Opinion as to specific contribution made by the nominated individual/team/organisation

Through the day-to-day functions and roles of the different team members within Asset Scheduling & Delivery Coordination (AS&DC), it was identified that there was a need to have a reliable, easy to access and up-to-date source of information on the Trackwork Possession Program, as well as location access information for end users. This would eliminate the need for varying queries from project delivery teams from within Sydney Trains as well as externally such as from TfNSW and local councils. 

In their own time, team members took the initiative to develop prototype applications (after learning how to program for iOS) and with this gain the support of senior leaders and were able to get sponsorship to develop the apps further through to concept, user testing, production deployment and ongoing support. Through various initial workshops the AS&DC team came up with the final idea to provide mobile solutions through iPhone and iPad apps that would allow users to access the required information in a timely, efficient and user-friendly format. The team commenced with the scoping of the suite of apps by determining the purpose, function and audience of each app with stakeholder engagement sessions taking place with various parties including TfNSW, External parties, Project Interfaces and Sydney Trains’ various directorate delivery groups to determine the needs of each group and how it would be best addressed through the solution. With the final suite of apps the ‘Poss Search’ app was targeted towards general users who require possession information; the ‘Access Locator’ was targeted towards project team and planners, whereas the ‘GPS Access Gates Locator’ is targeted at site and field staff.

The next stage of the app development was the design and coding process which involved determining data flows, app architecture design, code development, testing and even graphic design of the user interface and icons. Different members of the team contributed by taking the lead on various aspects of the design and development of the app. It is worth noting that team members had no prior experience in app development or coding and had to learn on the go through researching various online and print sources, additionally the work on this suite of apps was in addition to team member’s existing business as usual work, with a lot of work/research being done in their own time.

Once the apps were installed on user devices, the AS&DC team provided guides on the installation and use of the apps as well as presenting workshops to various stakeholder groups to demonstrate the features and functions of the apps so that users would be aware of how to use them. The AS&DC team also has ongoing involvement for support of the apps now that the suite of apps have been deployed to users. This involves user management, data maintenance, troubleshooting queries as well as taking feedback from users on improvement suggestions and making future enhancements on the apps.

4.  General comments you may wish to add

The IOS suite of applications (see screenshots below) has transformed data access for 1700 staff across the Transport Cluster, giving them instant access to vital ‘single source of truth’ data they need to plan trackwork possessions, including dates, locations and GPS maps. The easy-to-use apps have reduced risks and customer and environmental impacts, improved safety, accuracy, enabled better transparency and saved staff thousands of hours a year.

The AS&DC team identified the need for an innovative solution for a complex data-driven process using the latest technology and techniques. They collaborated with stakeholders across the organisation and Transport Cluster to understand requirements, then worked on an innovative and unique solution that has had impactful benefits on staff, Sydney Trains its customers. These unique solutions use best practice asset management principles and Sydney Trains’ asset management objectives and have the potential to be used by other rail networks.

1.   Former Configuration Management (A3) document used by staff prior to development of apps.  

4.   Access Locator iOS Application Screenshots

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