Like a well-oiled machine...
The Strukton Control Centre in Maarssen opened its doors at the end of 2016. It lies at the heart of detecting and resolving railway breakdowns. Marijke de Jong and Hendry Roelvink tell us more.
Although they have been working together for years and are often in contact, they have never seen each other prior to this interview. This is because Marijke works as a Breakdown Coordinator at the Strukton Control Centre (SCC) and Hendry works in the field as Chief Technician Signalling. ‘How nice to be able to put a face to the voice,’ says Marijke. The interview was conducted using Teams, so as yet there is still no live contact, but if it were up to Marijke, that would change. ‘Once it’s possible again I would like to go along with you sometime, so I have a better understanding of everything you do.’ Hendry thinks that’s a good idea.
Who, what and where
He joined Strukton in 1984 and still remembers the time when they were using pagers. ‘You would receive a message with a number: 1 through to 5. A 1 meant it was urgent and you had to go find a telephone and call back as quickly as possible. A 5 was less urgent. You might have to call back quite a few times over the course of a day.’
Marijke has been working for Strukton for the past three years and only knows how things work today. The SCC system, which is directly connected to ProRail’s system, receives a notification of breakdown. A malfunction of the tram lines, industry tracks or technical tunnel systems are also immediately displayed in the SCC. ‘When this happens then I, or one of my colleagues, call the technician on duty in the PDM (Performance-Directed Maintenance) area where the malfunction occurred. In addition, we forward the message to the system installed on their smartphones. This way they know where the breakdown is located, everything that’s already known about it and the required travelling time.’
The SCC system, which is directly connected to ProRail’s system, receives a notification of breakdown. A malfunction of the tram lines, industry tracks or technical tunnel systems are also immediately displayed in the SCC.
Next, the field technician contacts the Rail Traffic Controller. ‘The tracks are then taken out of service in consultation with him/her,’ says Hendry. ‘We install a short-circuit lance on the tracks. This is a tool that creates a short circuit, which makes it appear as if a segment of track, a section, is occupied by a train. The signals then turn to red making it impossible for any trains to enter our working area. This way we are able to work safely.’
The SCC also supports field workers in carrying out these activities. Hendry: ‘You need to follow a variety of agreements, protocols and instructions when you take a section of track out of service. The SCC provides us with forms for this purpose. This is very convenient, because you simply need to follow the instructions; for example, if I install the short-circuit lance there and there, I know that I will be working safely.’
Once on site, Hendry starts working. Generally this does not mean starting from the very beginning and searching for the problem. Often a great deal is already known, for example about previous malfunctions at that location, about the work colleagues have already done there and – if a switch is involved – whether POSS has recorded any deviations. POSS is Strukton’s monitoring system for equipment such as switches and activates an alarm when a switch doesn’t operate as it should. Marijke: ‘For example, POSS detects when changing the position of a switch takes longer than normal. Furthermore, POSS also detects where the problem is located, for example in a switch setter, a tongue or the points.’ Hendry: ‘We are provided with all of this information in advance, so we can search for the problem with a more specific focus. This makes it possible to more quickly resolve a malfunction and that saves time and money.’
The way in which things are organised now has improved mutual communication. The lines are shorter and contacts are far more direct. As a result it is now possible to resolve breakdowns much faster.
Inconvenience and Fines
POSS also prevents malfunctions, because the system issues a warning when a switch does not work as well as it should, but still operates. Hendry: ‘We are then informed of this by Marijke or one of her colleagues and we can then take a look at this during the night.’
This is just one of the techniques SCC uses to prevent breakdowns. Sensors installed on gates along the tracks are another example. Marijke: ‘When a gate is left open, we receive an alarm. While this is not a direct malfunction, trains are unable to drive in areas where people have passed through the gate and are walking along the tracks. This creates unnecessary inconvenience for passengers. When this is a culpable act, Strukton is fined.’
Hendry is in a position to effectively compare collaboration with SCC with how the ‘inside staff’ and ‘field staff’ worked together in the past. ‘The way in which things are organised now has improved mutual communication. The lines are shorter and contacts are far more direct. As a result it is now possible to resolve breakdowns much faster. I receive a call, after which I receive all available information on my phone, and while I am underway to the area of malfunction, I can retrieve and search for everything I need. Once my colleague and I are on site we already know everything there is to know. That’s a major benefit.’ Although sometimes Hendry ignores all of this information. ‘When a colleague surveys twenty points in a track section and he makes an error, then the following steps are also out of line. If I then were to make use of his data, I would make the same errors. So sometimes I decide to do everything all over again from the very beginning. But I only make such a decision on the basis of everything I know, thanks to the SCC, for example when a section often malfunctions. Without that knowledge I would have to start from scratch every time, for every malfunction.’