Railway Rosters – hidden costs in Route Qualification Train Driver Training

Last Updated on August 22, 2023

Rostering train drivers in railway operations is a highly exacting process with costs and consequences when things need to change. There is high levels of inertia and scrutiny by unions in relation to Enterprise Bargaining Agreements, and high overtime and penalties if this change.

When managing railway training for route inductions with changed track conditions or with new lines opening after a Route Risk Analysis, the costs in rostering and re-rostering, using contingency drivers who are on standby for network issues, are a major contributor to administration costs, risk and effort.

The more certainly railway operators can have in relation to rostering, the less change there is, the more pressure that can be taken off of rostering, then costs and risks drop dramatically.

In this example, we highlight the risks for a rail operator preparing for an upgraded line opening in a passenger network in Australia.

The upgraded line is expected to open on April 1st, and thus training will be through February and March.

There are about 360 drivers in total, and all of these drivers need the training.

The line is on the northern most depot of the network, which requires more administration and travel for other drivers elsewhere to get to the route for training and induction.

However the construction programme is running significantly behind, already a year late, and at this stage in August, some 7 months before opening, the alliance has already demanded the trainers cut their training programme in half, down to 6-7 weeks, from 12-14 weeks.

The situation is ‘fluid’ and there is risk that the construction alliance will need more of the programmed training time to finish the job.

The length of the route upgrade including 3 stations, is 16km.

The operator has a principle that there is ‘no driver training in timetabled services’ – which means all driver training needs to be done offline.

Without proper training and understanding the visual cues, then drivers can’t quickly achieve optimum performance for braking, deceleration and acceleration. For example they may overshoot platforms, which is not ‘dangerous’, but it affects passenger service and timetabling.

What percentage of drivers need to be route qualified before running timetabled services?

In this case, there are 180 drivers north-south qualified, so minimum 60% of drivers need to be route qualified before ‘you can even think of running services”. But with only that number, there is a severe rostering constraint adding enormous risk to the operations, especially with drivers connecting on other routes and coordination of driver changes at stations and depots.

Route Induction without CGI Tools

The 360 drivers are each taken through the site across a 12-14 week period.

Each driver has the right to ‘3 return trips’, that’s up the line and down the line.

Due to rostering and administration, all the trips need to happen in one day, per driver.

The trips up and down all need to happen between 0500 and 2100 on that day.

Each day can be 6 training shifts.

The operator is using 3 trains, that are out of commission for the period of training.

There is only 2 people in the cab at the time, the Driver Coordinator (DC) or ‘tutor driver’ as the rail pilot, and the driver under instruction, or route trainee.

On the day the trainee arrives, it is the first time they will have seen the new track, the new signals, arrangements and the new and upgraded stations. It is all completely new.

Thus the ‘first run’ for each driver is very slow, at most half the track speed. 40 kph rather than 80 kph. Per driver. Which means 360 very slow first runs up and down the track, to give the driver the chance to familiarise themselves with the situation.

Also the trainee drivers like to “get out and walk around the new and upgraded stations”, to familiarise themselves. This adds time to the training programme.

One of the greatest risks is that the drivers do not feel confident after their one day of training, and their requirement to ‘pass off’ the route blows out to 5 or 6 up-down drives. This cannot be achieved in one day, so requires a second day.

However the train driver rostering is locked in 6 weeks in advance in all cases. This roster is very hard to change. So if the train driver does not pass off the route induction, then they may lodge a dispute.

Using CGI Route Qualification Training Support Tools…

“By the time they are in the field, it is too late”.

Rail operators can transform to CGI Simulations. These can be provided months in advance of the line opening. They can be provided as interactive digital twins, like a computer game, allowing all and sundry to walk and drive the entire length of track offline.

The levels of finish and detail in the CGI SIM can start as rudimentary BIM models, from the design-construction alliance providers, through to physics-based accurate simulations of rolling stock behaviour with gradient feedbacks – all built from the one platform.

This means that the train drivers have had endless opportunities to experience the site in a rich, meaningful and accurate manner in the AAA grade CGI SIM – not achievable in drawings, diagrams, BIM models (like Revit or Revisto).

So when the drivers arrive on site, they know every nook and cranny already.

in the case above, that means the first driver would not be so slow. It may also mean drivers only need 1 or 2 drive up-downs rather than 3. Certainly in operators using CGI SIMs for Route Inductions and Qualifications, 95% of drivers are doing no physical driving induction. This reduces the training burden and costs markedly, by $1m to $2m, and returns the weeks back to the construction schedule – worth at least $10k per day.

Using the CGI SIM also means, if the drivers do not feel competent in the above case, their 5th and 6th familiarisation drives could be instructed CGI classroom training as a familiarisation course.

The CGI SIM needs to be of very high accuracy and believability to give the experience and confidence to the drivers. Then rail operational readiness teams and training managers typically perform ‘instructed CGIs’ first, with 30 people per class, then give online access to the drivers.

With the CGI route training, operators can include train control and signallers also, to crate broader understanding of the sites, technical empathy and confidence in the operational teams.

Contact us to learn more.