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Red signal faults could be reduced further thanks to Big Data software.

Posted on Jun 14, 2017

Red signal faults could be reduced further thanks to big data software. (Photo courtesy of RSSB).With the technological improvement on our tracks, trains passing red signals are at an all-time low. Without a major accident, it has been easier for the industry to maintain constant scrutiny and analysis of data and sustain a focus on where risk needs to be managed, such as at level crossings and the platform-train interface on stations. Improvements by the industry have meant that it’s been 17 years since Signals Passed at Danger (SPADs). But now, train accident risks could be lowered even further by using big data to reduce the chances of a train passing a red signal according to the rail industry body RSSB. Thanks to a new online tool, rail companies will be able to harness the power of big data to identify the signals which are most frequently approached at a red signal.

"The 'Red Aspect Approaches to Signals' (RAATS) tool uses 420 days of train movements provided by Network Rail through its open data initiative and applies complex algorithms to identify where red approaches are happening."

The technology has been developed by Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) and the University of Huddersfield. Working in partnership with the RSSB ( @RSSB_rail ), Dr Yunshi Zhao and Mr Julian Stow from the University’s Institute of Railway Research (IRR) used this data to develop an algorithm giving the number of occasions when a signal is displaying a red aspect. An initial survey of seen signalling areas showed that 3.3% of all approaches were to red signals.

To make the next step in risk reduction, rail is now keen to look deeper into the circumstances that cause a SPAD, such as how frequently a signal is approached showing a red aspect and the number of occasions when they have been red when a train is approaching.

The 'Red Aspect Approaches to Signals' (RAATS) tool uses 420 days of train movements provided by Network Rail through its open data initiative and applies complex algorithms to identify where red approaches are happening. Results can be broken down by train type, day of the week or time of day and analysis can be carried out on signal groups. Users can interrogate data within the tool or export it to Excel. The RAATS tool was released as a prototype in January, and work is underway to refine it including linking it to live data feeds, before formally launching it later in the year.

George Bearfield, RSSB's Director of System Safety and Health, said: “Train accident risk has reduced significantly over the last 20 years, but we don't rest on our laurels and instead seek to make another step change in safety management, and that means looking at underlying causes of incidents.  This tool can help us focus attention on signals where SPADs may be more likely. It's proven successful in trials and we hope it will be used to generate new safety and performance insights for rail companies.

£5 million worth of strategic research between RSSB and IRR has meant that the algorithm behind Raats will now be made freely available online for all train operators in Britain to enable further development of the tool.


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Topics: Signalling, TransportSecurity

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Emily O'Dowd
Emily O'Dowd
On graduating with a degree in English Literature at Royal Holloway University of London, Emily joined the editorial team. When she isn't writing articles for the website or interviewing experts in th...read more
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