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Transport & Logistics

How to develop a solid asset management strategy for rail turnouts

14 Feb 2024, by Amy Sarcevic

Specialist domain knowledge in rail asset maintenance and engineering has been increasingly difficult to come by in recent years. But, with skills in data science and technology on the rise, how can network managers refine their strategies and get more life from assets?

Lisa Allsopp, Technical Executive at WSP believes good asset management comes when business strategy, processes, and technologies are well-aligned. However, with rail turnouts, she believes this can be more challenging, given their multidisciplinary nature.

“Commonly expertise sits within silos and it is less common to have single specialists with a whole-of-system ownership, which often leads to a lack of alignment in asset strategies. What we ideally need is for the system to be managed as a whole,” she said.

Falling between the cracks

Because managing turnouts requires specialist knowledge in both the track and signalling domains, there are few mainstream education options that pertain to both fields. So, it is often a specialty that is learned in industry or ‘on the job’.

Although more opportunities are emerging in higher education to help grow rail maintenance and engineering capabilities, Ms Allsopp says it is still something people tend to fall into. And, with today’s workforce more transient, this often translates to skill gaps.

“It is quite different to how things were when I entered the industry in the early 1990s. Back then, there were maintenance managers and engineers with deep tech knowledge that had held roles within their organisations for decades, working through the ranks from Technician to Principal then Manager. They understood the asset well because they lived and breathed it.

“We aren’t seeing people sat in these technical positions for many years like we used to, and it seems harder retain skilled individuals, so we need other methods for growing and retaining corporate knowledge.”

Better understanding of route cause analysis

In light of these challenges, Ms Allsopp says it is critical that organisations develop tailored risk and condition-based asset strategies for managing rail assets, particularly turnouts.

“We need an approach that can be fine-tuned over time, and aligned to operating context and investment life-cycle processes. It should be founded on best practice and informed by reliable data to enhance and validate the end to end asset management process and decision making.”

She says it is also vital that workers are enabled, through relevant training, to fully understand the purpose and function of turnouts at a system and component level. This can help people identify and learn from root cause of failures – an essential aspect of asset management.

“Understanding the circular relationship with asset use, intervention and degradation is so important. Otherwise you’re at risk of incorrectly triaging, diagnosing, and treating the symptom and prescribing incorrect maintenance strategies.”

Technology can help if managed properly

To this end, Ms Allsopp believes technology plays a vital role, but that it is not a silver bullet.

“Technology solutions can greatly enhance the asset management decision making process, but only if it’s the right tool for the job. Data should be from a well-managed and validated source, and its ‘what and why’ should always be understood.

“If you don’t have a validated baseline knowledge of the asset – what you’ve got, where it is, its age and condition – the transition to new technologies can be arduous and time consuming,” she said.

Introducing any new technologies also requires a robust change management strategy, organisation alignment, aligned business processes and training.

“Building capabilities and trust in new technologies takes time through rigorous integration, verification and validation that is backed with domain knowledge and well-defined asset information and analytics platforms. It’s a journey of continuous improvement, not fit and forget.

“With so many new technologies breaking through at fast pace, we could end up with ‘all the gear, no idea’ situation if we aren’t careful. This could leave us inundated with data that we don’t know how to translate in a real-world context.”

Sustainable rail

Getting a handle on asset management is now about more than meeting organisational objectives. It is fast becoming a sustainability imperative, Ms Allsopp said.

“We all have sustainability obligations and net zero targets to meet globally, and asset managers are not exempt from that. In fact, they can play a pivotal role.

“Asset renewals are a big carbon eater, particularly when being replaced or maintained prematurely – more than they should, we need sustainable approaches to lifecycle management of turnouts and all rail assets”.

Moving forward

Sharing her views on how rail operators can optimise their asset management strategies and get more longevity from turnouts, Ms Allsopp will present at the Rail Turnouts Conference – 12 March 2024, hosted by Informa Connect.

This year’s event will be co-located with Heavy Haul Rail – 13-14 March at the Crown Perth.

Learn more and register your place here.

About Lisa Allsopp

Lisa Allsopp is an Accredited Engineering Executive and Chartered Professional Engineer, entering her 34th year in the rail industry.

Before embarking on senior leadership roles in asset and engineering management, Lisa’s experience extended from track engineering (including switch and crossing design), track renewals, maintenance and infrastructure projects.

She currently heads a national role providing strategic direction, technical leadership and project delivery across the Heavy Haul, Freight and Passenger Transport Portfolio.




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