This article first appeared in the Railway-News Magazine Issue 1 2022.
The pandemic has radically changed the way we live and as we near the two-year anniversary of the first UK lockdown, it is a natural time to take stock and reflect on how life has changed, and the role that the rail industry will play now and in the future.
In no greater way can these significant changes be seen than in the way we currently use the UK rail network in 2022. With more of us working remotely or using a hybrid working model, the network is adapting to changes in the way that we live, work and travel on a near daily basis.
So where does that leave the role of the UK network? With a reduction in passenger numbers, how can operators seize the opportunities presented by the pandemic and adapt to the way we live, work and travel today?
The need for fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) to be delivered efficiently and quickly has never been more essential elsewhere across the country to achieve a better work-life balance. However, when countered with the need for greener, sustainable means of receiving our goods, there can only be one answer – freight.
Freight transport is undoubtedly the greenest and most environmentally friendly means of transporting goods across the country. According to the Rail Delivery Group’s “Levelling Up Britain” report, each tonne of freight transported by rail produces over three quarters (76%) less carbon emissions compared to road, and rail freight cuts Britain’s carbon footprint by preventing 7 million HGV journeys per year. It is a rapidly evolving market, with the value of a rail freight path now estimated to cost £1.5 million each year.
Whilst it is positive to see the increased opportunities for the freight market, there are complexities around how paths can be opened to accommodate this growth and how to effectively balance the needs of both freight and passenger operators.
Here at 3Squared, we passionately believe that technology has the power to solve the key challenges and complex issues that the industry faces. With that in mind, and to prepare for the future growth of freight, we have developed PathPlanner, a tool which aims to resolve these problems and more.
PathPlanner aims to assist freight and passenger train operators to better manage their very short-term planning (VSTP). As it stands, VSTP currently operates under control conditions – i.e., additional trains that are needed are entered manually into operational systems by control staff.
PathPlanner has been designed with freight operators in mind, as it finds grey space in the timetable to add previously validated schedules at short notice, therefore maximising freight movement, productivity, and asset optimisation, whilst improving fuel efficiencies and reducing idling. From a passenger operations point of view, the system can help manage VSTP during periods of disruption, cancelling and adding schedules seamlessly, in turn increasing productivity and asset optimisation.
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