3Squared working on Dynamic Train Planning for UK

Rail technology specialists 3Squared led a consortium earlier this year to a win development funding for a solution to help the rail freight sector plan short term paths more effectively. Dubbed Path Planner, it’s on target for deployment next year, and when active it will help the industry take advantage of short-notice consignments and late availability paths.

The Path Planner solution for Dynamic Freight Capacity Management, is in late-stage development by Sheffield-based technologists 3Squared, and their consortium partners Rail Operations Group and Freightliner. When implemented, Path Planner should provide train planners with a historical record of train movements, allowing schedules which are frequently cancelled or part-used to be quickly identified. Armed with that insight, operators can then bid for paths through the rail industry’s Very Short-Term Planning (VSTP) system.

Labour intensive process

Historically VSTP processing is a time-consuming manual operation, often undertaken in time-pressured circumstances. The consortium led by 3Squared intends to provide an integrated software solution, which will make it much more possible to take advantage of spare capacity and late-availability train paths. At present, according to 3Squared, a proportion of freight train schedules go unused. However, the wider industry – beyond the specific operator – does not know if the reserved slots are used until the day that the train is planned to run, which limits train planners ability to schedule unpredictable or last-minute movements.

Rail utilisation

The competition, administered on behalf of the UK government by the Rail Safety and Standards Board, was tendered to find a more up-to-date solution for the VSTP process, and provide supporting evidence to the infrastructure management agency Network Rail, who can then check with the operators concerned as to whether their schedule will be used. The platform, called Path Planner, will also host a real-time capacity exchange. In essence, it’s a means for operators to relinquish scheduled paths on a one-by-one basis on any given day and release them to the industry with participating operators being able to see this additional capacity in order spot-bid for a VSTP schedule.

Making light work of better freight path availability for all. 3Squared have also announced the recent renewal of a long-term software contract with GB Railfreight (3Squared)

As a result of the tool being able to identify unused paths, 3Squared says knock-on delays to scheduled services will be reduced, improving punctuality for both passenger and freight operators, while in being able to better plan stock movements, operators will be able to return trains into revenue-earning service following maintenance sooner.

Launch in 2021

Leading the development team, James Fox, co-founder and commercial director at 3Squared, says the consortium’s solution will save freight operators time and resource in validating VSTPs based on historic data. “This will enable more services to run at very short notice. Through better short-term planning, this also has the potential to reduce delays across the network, allowing both passenger and freight trains to reach their destinations on time.”

Rail Operations Group and Freightliner are the operators piloting the system. Pandemic delays in testing schedule aside, if the reliability of paths improves and the time taken to produce and submit an application decreases, then the Path Planner dynamic freight capacity management solution could be rolled out across the industry in the near future. The entire project falls under the Rail Safety and Standards Board’s Enabling Better Performance Research Challenge (PERFORM). The RSSB has set a target of 2021 for implementation.

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

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