Research award to understand knock-on delay in rail services

RSSB research award

Risk Solutions and City University of London have been awarded a 12-month research contract by RSSB to explore knock-on train delays, partnering with Great Western Railway.

The objective of the project is to understand the causes and consequences of knock-on delays, and explore ways to tackle them to improve rail services for passengers.

The railway industry collects information about the initial incidents that cause delay (primary delay) to help improve the performance of rail services and keep passengers informed. Primary delay has remained stable over recent years (300-350k minutes per year). However, the delay caused by an initial incident often cascades through the rail network, causing reactionary delay, which has steadily grown over recent years (from 600k to 800k mins). This delay is proving difficult to understand and control.

Exploring knock-on delay

Our project demonstrates the value of using an agent-based model, combined with powerful interactive visualisation techniques, to reveal insights about the common factors that cause and contribute to reactionary delay. The objective is to develop and test a tool that can be used to find the most effective interventions and contingency plans to control and recover from delay, and improve network performance.

Our partner GWR wants to understand how random and multiple everyday incidents on the railways affect delays. They want to use this knowledge to help determine the most effective interventions - or contingency plans - to reduce delays, reduce the number of cancelled services, and to improve their service for rail customers.

Wider usefulness to the rail industry

Once the modelling and visualisation tools have been shown to be valuable by our rail partners, we anticipate that their functionality can be extended to model additional routes, operators, and produce other useful performance metrics; e.g. passenger delay, in preparation for new performance measures that are being introduced. The tools and techniques could be developed to model a range of different strategies for controlling reactionary delay, so that rail partners can test strategies in many scenarios and invest in changes that are likely to result in the best performance improvement for rail passengers.