Improving Processes and Policies in the UK Railway Industry


Summary of the impact: Our work impacts both current practices and strategic planning within the Railway Industry. In terms of current practices, our research has led to the adoption of formal verification techniques at Invensys Rail, a multi-national technology leader, as well as operational and structural changes (personnel and thinking) in the company. In terms of strategic planning, our research addresses the challenge of the adoption of the European Train Management System (ETMS) – a proposed replacement for track-side signalling – which is aimed at reducing maintenance costs, enhancing performance and improving safety. Our research produces data in support of change, and involves us in various working groups and initiatives developing national policy for the development of the UK railway. The UK Rail Industry has set itself a target of increasing capacity by a factor of two within 30 years for both passengers and freight, and it is towards this long-term goal that we frame our research activity. By releasing UK railways from the strictures of track-side signalling, ETMS represents the step-change transformation necessary for meeting this target.

Underpinning research

The underpinning research began with an initial period of consultation in 2007 between Professor Faron Moller at Swansea University, and the Senior VP (Engineering) at Invensys Rail. Based on the success of this consultation, Invensys Rail agreed to financially support two MRes students at Swansea University to develop theoretical and practical tools to aid in the design of railway interlocking systems. Our published research here was applied to case studies based on actual underground stations and terminals.

Building on the success of this effort, the collaboration expanded into laying out the railway problem domain in the context of employing formal technologies and identifying ways in which the company could develop an industrial research programme. This led to a re-organisation in the company, including the appointment of a Director of Research, and to Invensys Rail offering full or partial funding for: three MRes students; three PhD students; and seven summer research students working in Swansea on problems of interest and relevance to the company. These projects include SAT-based verification and model-checking of interlocking; combining radio block processors and interlockings; developing domain-specific languages for interlocking; and novel approaches to overcoming railway capacity.

Details of the impact

The Swansea Railway Verification Group, supported by eight academics, is a direct result of the research underpinning the impact. Its various projects are motivated by interactions with Invensys Rail, a company with a powerful heritage in the railway industry stretching back 140 years. Since 1935 its head office has been in Chippenham, and it employs over 4,000 people worldwide within the Invensys group of companies which together have over 20,000 employees.

According to Invensys Rail, “the Swansea Railway Verification Group can be said to have had an impact on changing attitudes and practices at head office level within Invensys Rail.” With the initial consultation with Professor Moller, the company embarked on developing a research-focussed ethos, and welcomed Professor Moller's input on this vision. The creation of the Swansea Railway Verification Group, with its many projects supported by Invensys Rail, attests to this vision. According to the company “it is a direct consequence of the engagement with the Swansea Railway Verification Group that the new position of Director of Research was created in the company.” Furthermore, “the research carried out in Swansea – in particular the verification tools developed – has directly led to the adoption of formal verification tools and techniques within the interlocking design stage."

With a growing track record in rail signalling research, the Swansea Railway Verification Group was awarded a Grant entitled SafeCap worth £450,000 from the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB). Its success has led to the Group being invited to contribute to the development of an Academic Research Strategy Document impacting on strategic decisions in policy making at national level.