All senses on alert during a trial test run
Frans van Grinsven is one of the two trial test run managers employed by Strukton Rail. His work primarily consists of checks and procedures. Everything for safety.
A renovated track section, a modified train, software changes for a locomotive, a new safety system: nothing is commissioned without certification. Does it comply with the applicable regulations? Does it do what it was designed to do? Is it safe? Only once these and all other boxes are checked off, is the certification complete and can it be commissioned.
The larger part of the certification process consists of paper work and laboratory testing. After that, the track section or the equipment must pass the test in ‘real life’. A test like this is known as a trial test run. What many colleagues do not know is that Strukton Rail is also authorised to perform these types of tests. It has been allowed to do this since 2000 when there was a shortage of certifying bodies capable of performing such tests. We were then asked if we wanted to participate in these tests. The Human Environment & Transport Inspectorate (ILT), which supervises trial test runs, certified us at the time. We only perform tests in the Netherlands, in part using our own locomotives. For example, we use our G1206 to test the ERTMS safety system.
My most important task as trial test run manager is to secure safety, from beginning to end. This starts during the preliminary preparation phase. This may be even more important than the run itself. Did we think of everything? Is everything correct, including from a legal perspective? Of course the test itself is also of major importance. We can perform the test on a section of track that has been taken offline: in other words there will be no other trains driving here. This is relatively safe because the track section is protected. But we also test between train operations. In that case we work with the timetables and drive in unoccupied slots. My colleague trial test run manager and I check whether it is possible to do this safely.
Who does what?
After we complete the preliminary preparations, it is time for the trial test run. If the test involves a train, I perform a check before we drive it even as little as a metre. Is the train in good condition? During a trial test run, there are several other people present in the cabin, in addition to the operator and myself. Usually there are four of us, and by exception five. It is my responsibility to ensure that everyone in the cabin has the appropriate safety equipment. In addition, I must instruct them about the work to be performed, for example, the distribution of tasks and the language of work.
"During the trial test run we drive at all speeds that are permitted on the relevant track section. This makes an extra pair of eyes indispensable, even more so when we are performing the tests in a section that is still in service"
As you can appreciate, even before the operator has put the train in motion, I will have done quite a bit of work to guarantee that the test proceeds safely. During the run I stand inside the cabin beside the operator, who sits at the controls. I monitor the situation to ensure that the safety of the personnel, equipment and the surroundings is not compromised. During the trial test run we drive at all speeds that are permitted on the relevant track section. This makes an extra pair of eyes indispensable, even more so when we are performing the tests in a section that is still in service. I always look outside and sideways to the train control system and the operator. Sometimes I have a gut feeling that there are people in the vicinity of the testing environment. In that case we of course immediately stop the train or the locomotive.
Going through red
The substance of the test is also my responsibility. I ensure that all tests are carried out in accordance with our agreements with the ILT. Naturally, I check that the operator adheres to the procedures and actions he is required to carry out. Sometimes an operator is required to go through a red signal on purpose. The agreement is that he acts as he would normally do. Brake on time and reduce speed, for example. In other words, he is not allowed to react differently to ensure the test succeeds. I also watch out for that. The operator communicates with the rail traffic controller. This is prescribed by law. I communicate all particulars that emerge during the test to the rail traffic controller and the test manager.
And of course there always are such particulars. For example, it is possible that certain ERTMS beacons used to communicate with the train are not located at the right place, or are lying upside down, so that we receive the wrong code in the train. We record this in a log that we use to keep track of events. We immediately report all safety risks to the ILT. Another option is that the specialists that are present during the test immediately remedy the problem. If this is not possible on the spot, the necessary adjustments are made after the fact, after which we retest the entire setup. Then the entire process is restarted from the very beginning.