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On The Right Tracks

by Brian Sims

Arguably, no other city is as recognised by its transport system as London, with the capital’s famous red buses, black taxis and tube trains known the world over. Here, Ben Farrar assesses key and equipment management on the London Underground network in order to demonstrate how a considered ‘small detail’ can impact the smooth running of Transport for London for the benefit of staff and passengers.

Transport for London (TfL) is the integrated transport authority responsible for delivering Mayor of London Sadiq Khan’s strategy and commitments on transport. The organisation runs the day-to-day operation of the capital’s public transport network and manages London’s main roads. The services it operates include London Underground, London Buses, the Docklands Light Railway, London Overground, TfL Rail, London Trams, London River Services, London Dial-a-Ride, Victoria Coach Station, Santander Cycles and the Emirates Air Line in Docklands.

TfL is funded from fares income (the largest single source of its income) as well as advertising revenues, property rental and income from the Congestion Charge. In addition, there’s grant funding from the Department for Transport and the Greater London Authority as well as Crossrail funding (which, in 2017-2018, is largely being funded through the Community Infrastructure Levy and developers’ contributions). Borrowing and cash movements complete the funding picture.

Every day, more than 31 million journeys are made across the TfL network. It’s a staggering figure, isn’t it? Each day also entails TfL working to make journeys easier through the use of technology and data. The organisation provides modern ways for customers to pay for its services through Oyster and contactless payment cards and provides information in numerous different formats to help people move easily around the city.

As an integral element of the TfL network, London Underground has now been operational for 150 years and conveys over 1.265 billion passengers each year. Every one of those passengers is reliant upon the efficient running of the service to travel across the capital.

Speaking on behalf of London Underground’s signals maintenance managers and their associated teams, Phil McCusker (signals maintenance manager – North Signals for London Underground) stated: “It’s our duty to make sure we have the right systems in place such that seamless journeys can take place. Everything must be done to create a safe and secure environment at all times.”

Of course, that last point is particularly true in today’s turbulent times when the threat level posed by terrorism is currently set at ‘Severe’ by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre and when high profile locations such as London Underground stations can be the target of terrorist activity. The readers of Risk UK only need to look back on the recent incident at Parsons Green Station and, of course, the 7 July 2005 London bombings to highlight that fact.

Seamless experience

As stated, alongside extending the network is an ambition on the part of TfL to make journeys easier through the efficient and effective use of technology and data.

As journey processes become quicker, there’ll be a natural and growing expectation from passengers to see an increasingly seamless journey experience being created for them by TfL’s management. No-one likes delays at any stage, especially so given the recently-installed running of the Night Tube in the UK’s equivalent of the ‘city that never sleeps.’ The Night Tube runs on Fridays and Saturdays on the Victoria, Jubilee and most of the Central, Northern and Piccadilly lines.

While for passengers these ‘seamless journeys’ mean that TfL must provide modern ways in which to pay and offer as much salient information ahead of journeys as possible, behind the scenes it’s all about establishing ways in which to improve the overall efficiencies of everyday operations, taking all detail into account. This includes what may seemingly be perceived as the smaller details, such as the vital task of key and equipment management, for example.

The consequences of poor key management are potentially devastating. It only takes one key to be missing, one ‘weak link’ to a building access event, an item of equipment or a vehicle and its operator to cause major delays and disruption. Unnecessary delays in such a time-sensitive process will become more poignant and the consequences far more significant for TfL (and notably so at peak travel times).

Traditionally for TfL, any attempt to manage keys had relied upon a basic key box and recording book whereby brief details of keys or equipment taken and returned were entered by hand and confirmed by an often illegible signature. Not surprisingly, such an arrangement was proving inefficient and unreliable and made tracing keys and equipment an almost impossible task.

While the legacy system relied heavily on the diligence of employees, when under pressure, or in a rush to arrive at a job, keys were being taken by staff, but not always logged as such, or otherwise were not always returned on time.

If equipment or a vehicle was needed by another member of staff, valuable time and resource was spent in searching for the relevant keys. Managers would also be concerned that untrained staff could operate expensive tools such as electrical drills stored on site.

Intelligent management

To rectify this situation, tighten up on keeping track of what’s going on and who has equipment or keys at any given time, as part of TfL’s efficiency drive an increasing number of departments are now choosing intelligent management tools. “It saves the team valuable time and resources in our key access processes,” explained Phil McCusker.

By automating the process, TfL can also increase compliance with Health and Safety standards as the element of human error is minimised. The system decreases downtime and improves work efficiencies, all enabling different departments at TfL to manage the everyday items crucial to the many processes that keep the organisation running and ensure continued operational excellence.

TfL has encountered further advantages in the move towards more intelligent security and access control systems. For one, key allocation is now far quicker and easier, with staff no longer needing to manually sign out keys. The intelligent set-up allows 24/7 access to response vehicles with no need for dedicated staff issuing keys. “We can see live transactions via the software reporting function,” added McCusker. “This is via the cabinet’s data display or instantly available on computer or mobile devices.”

Critically for the smooth running of TfL, keys are also very rarely misplaced because if an employee takes a key, it must be returned within a set amount of time. If it’s not returned, the employee is then alerted to that fact, as is their manager, in turn encouraging a more responsible approach towards the use of vehicles and equipment by members of staff.

“It’s all about traceability and accountability,” observed McCusker. “Members of staff know that, when they take a key, the system logs this episode on their employee record so, if they misplace it, we’ll know. The system encourages staff to return keys on time and also to leave vehicles and tools in good condition. If a vehicle or a piece of equipment is damaged, we can look back at who last had access and speak to them about how the damage occurred. All of this helps us to successfully manage the departments.”

Keeping on track

Traka was selected as the key and equipment management supplier of choice for TfL, for whom a new approach around key and equipment management has proven to make such a positive difference. The company worked closely with TfL’s signal maintenance team, tailoring the system to exact requirements.

Importantly, the intelligent key and asset management specialist also ensured compliance with the very latest Health and Safety standards, whereby the systems operate so that unauthorised personnel simply cannot access keys to any equipment that they’re not meant to be using.

“The positivity of the Traka team in helping us to install the right solution to suit our own individual requirements has been a welcome bonus and the main reason we’re now looking to expand our use of such solutions across TfL’s network,” concluded McCusker.

Ben Farrar is Market Development Manager at Traka UK


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