Technology problems mar Sydney Trains’ incident response
Sydney Trains’ centralised Rail Operations Centre (ROC) is operating without key “decision-making technology” that was originally scoped for the facility but never deployed.
The first phase of the Sydney Trains Review, released this week [pdf], found that “major incidents and degraded operations” had exposed “shortcomings” at the centre, including in its IT setup.
The review was ordered by the NSW government after three events brought the rail network to its knees in March: the Digital Train Radio System (DTRS) outage on March 8, an overhead wire failure at Revesby on March 10, and a signalling outage on March 25.
The ROC went into service in 2018, and was designed to consolidate four operations centres into one. In 2014, Sydney Trains went to market for $11 million worth of IT to support it.
But the review found some systems meant for use during incidents were “descoped” from the project, with the impact of those decisions being felt by operations staff – and ultimately by commuters.
“Some critical technologies to support decision making and customer information flows were descoped and not delivered,” the review found.
“Decision-making technology during times of disruption has not been successful with a return to previous mainly manual processes and a reliance on individual phone calls.”
The review went further, stating that on a Sydney Trains-wide basis, “Key business systems and technologies designed to support more timely and effective train control operations have not been totally effective, impacting the performance of the ROC in managing disruptions to services and delivery of timely information to customers.”
As a result, operational systems get overwhelmed during major incidents, and the ROC doesn’t provide “timely and accurate service information to station staff, train crew and customers”.
The review recommended an overhaul of the ROC and its procedures, with a program of staff training and incident exercises.
The review also recommends Sydney Trains “provide a plan for longer term technology improvements to facilitate more effective distribution channels and real-time service information to customers and station staff during major incidents”.
Crewing and customer communications
A lack of technology was also blamed for exacerbating crewing problems that arose during a major incident.
As with the ROC, Sydney Trains’ Train Crew Allocation Centre becomes overwhelmed in a major incident.
“Crew are able to call the Train Crew Allocation Centre (TCAC) for directions. However, in degraded mode TCAC cannot manage the volume of calls”, the review said.
The review recommends Sydney Trains “expedite technological capacity to manage train crewing responses during periods of degraded operations,” noting that an app could be developed to communicate with crew.
Customer communications also needs better technology, the review found, saying “the effectiveness of these systems during the DTRS outage and other major incidents indicates the need for more effective real-time data”.
The review makes two recommendations to improve customer communications.
Sydney Trains should “provide a plan and required resourcing for the roll out of short term targeted customer communications initiatives to be delivered within six months; and it should plan “longer term technology improvements to facilitate more effective distribution channels and real-time service information to customers and station staff during major incidents.”