“I believe robotics have a very positive role to play. It will be particularly effective for maintenance-related tasks that are either dull, dirty, dangerous or frequent – where a lot of our current maintenance capacity or productivity is hindered.”
Robots completing tasks that previously could only be undertaken by human hand is already in full swing in some process-intensive industries. The car industry, for one, has for some time now relied on automated welders, sprayers and winches to put together vast numbers of cars to increasingly stringent timescales. The impact of increased levels of automation could also lead to a more efficient rail industry as well, one that the UK’s Rail Safety and Standards Board believes could lead to a thriving environment and more job opportunities, not fewer.
And advocate for increased automation in the rail industry joins SmartRail World for the latest 5 Minutes With…, Simon Jarrett, the engineering and assurance development manager from Chiltern Railways. Simon explains to Dave Songer that while it doesn’t yet play a big role he looks forward to that changing and the inevitable positive impact such a change would bring, particularly for dull, dirty, dangerous or frequent jobs.
Dave Songer (DS): Thanks for joining us. Can you tell me little about your role at Chiltern Railways?
Simon Jarrett (SJ): Certainly, it covers two areas: first of all making sure that we comply with the law and our trains are safe to operate. And secondly, looking at long-term innovation and tech developments to improve our fleet
DS: Can you tell me about your career before working for Chiltern?
SJ: I’ve been with Chiltern for 14 years and before that I spent three years with Angel Trains, the rolling stock leasing company. Prior to that I was with London Underground for two-and-a-half years working on the Northern Line – I helped introduce the current train fleet as part of the new train fleet train team.
DS: What’s been your greatest career challenge?
SJ: Back in 2005 we opened a new depot and the greatest challenge behind doing that was to set up, recruit and train the staff, making sure that the depot opened and was brought into operation without any negative impacts on the business. Getting all the new recruits to think in the same way and to work together is no small task.
DS: How big a part does robotic technology play in Chiltern’s day-to-day operations?
SJ: Right now, very little. However, it’s an area of great strategic interest for us. One of the things that is important to bear in mind is that currently there is only three years of our franchise left, so it’s unlikely that in that period we would make any major investment in robotics. But it certainly is part of our and Arriva’s long-term technological development.
DS: Presumably you think that robotics has a positive role to play in the future of asset management – which areas do you think it will be most effective in the future?
SJ: Yes, I believe robotics have a very positive role to play. It will be particularly effective for maintenance-related tasks that are either dull, dirty, dangerous or frequent – where a lot of our current maintenance capacity or productivity is hindered. There are certain tasks that we do very often which lend themselves very well to robotics: for us as a diesel train operator, fuelling is particularly relevant, as is work with fluids, emptying and filling toilets with fresh water and cleaning – both exterior and interior. Most of our trains get a litter pick once every two or three hours, so if that could be used robots to do that that would be great, but I feel that the accuracy which is required is a very complex task and so you can never replace humans for that.
Working on high-voltage equipment would be another key area. We obviously have set up a stringent system of work to protect the workforce, so there would be obvious benefits to introducing robots in that area. It’s important to stress that I think there will always be a human element required as some tasks are so infrequent that making a case for robots is unlikely to bear fruit.
DS: Will robotics also bring improved worker safety?
SJ: If you get a robot to fill the train or clean it you reduce the exposure to substances and chemicals that are potentially hazardous. Whereas if you get a robot to change a pantograph, for example, which passes thousands of volts three to four metres in the air, it would reduce the exposure to working at height as well as working on high voltage systems that have a hazardous aspect to them. So yes, it will improve worker safety as well.
DS: You spoke at SmartMetro in October. How did that go?
SJ: It’s the first time I’ve been and I got quite a few things out of the show. There were a few presentations that made me think “wow, I didn’t think about that” we should go away and look at that. Carlos Esquiroz, the CEO of Madrid Light Rail, particularly comes to mind because the things that he spoke about related to the recuperation of energy in railway operations made for a particularly useful presentation.
DS: What’s your favourite rail journey in the world, and why?
SJ: Well, other than Chiltern, I really liked the WestHighland line in Scotland. It was recently voted the second-best rail journey in the world, and I travelled on it a couple of years ago with the family in Scotland. We got one train to Glasgow and then on from there to Fort William and we saw some stunning scenery along the way.
DS: Thanks very much, Simon.