A trip to Japan

I was very fortunate recently to enjoy a trip to Japan.
It was a short trip as I was only in the country for three days with a red-eye in and a red-eye out.

Track Machines
Some guys from an Australian company had asked me if it was possible to arrange a visit to see some of MATISA’s machines that are being operated in Japan. They were visiting on a business trip and thought it would be good to see some of the machines up close.

I was able to make the arrangements with the help of colleagues from Japan and I think the guys enjoyed the visit and appreciated being able to see some of the machines.

The most notable thing about the machines was their condition. Both the machines we visited were immaculate. They were 8-10 years old but looked as if they were only a year or two old. A testament to the Japanese maintenance approach.

The big thing that I noticed in Japan was the difference in culture from the West. There is sense of thoroughness and order about everything, from the way they queue to the cleanliness of streets.

Immediately on my arrival in Tokyo, whilst waiting for a flight down to Osaka I noticed things were different. The guys driving the luggage tugs at the airport were checking the vehicles before they got in them at the start of the day.
Check the lights
Check the brakes
Check the water
Check the fuel
Check the first aid kit
Check the safety gear.
And then when they approached a road junction, they would point in the direction they are looking, this is their physical reminder of the need to check that the road is clear. They do this every time.
I saw this habit again later on the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) where the platform attendant pointed to every pantograph on the train as it passed him. This pointing has two functions it acts as an indicator to everyone else that you are checking and also a reminder to yourself that you have checked. I like it….
Now how do I integrate this into my own work?

RTAA Field Days

Once again I am involved in the Railway Technical Association Australia Field Days committee working to ensure the Field Days are a successful show case for our amazing industry.
The event will be held in Clyde, Sydney on the 25th and 26th Feb.
This year I have been helping by contacting exhibitors and getting them to attend, whilst also trying to get sponsorship for the event.
Please have a look at the website: http://www.rtaa.org.au/ and make sure you pop along if you are in Sydney.

Presentation at AusRAIL 2012 – Modular Switches and Crossings

AusRAIL is one of the main rail conferences held in Australia each year. In November 2012 I presented a paper discussing Network Rail’s Modular S&C Project. The conference was in Canberra, which worked out well as I had not been to Canberra at that time.
I also presented the paper at the RISSB National Turnouts Conference, also in November.

A copy of the paper can be found here Modular Switches and Crossings.

I hope you find the paper interesting and I would welcome any comments or feedback.

A little rant about ticket barriers, again!

Are ticket barrier really necessary?

Yesterday I was travelling back from London on the 15:30 train from St Pancras. A ticket barrier is now in operation at St Pancras and so I begrudgingly got my ticket out of my wallet, holding my coat, bag and a file in the other. Successfully through the barrier I found a seat, got out my laptop and settle down to prepare some notes from the meeting I had attended.

Seconds after we departed we were advised that a fully ticket inspection would now take place. Hang on a minute, I had just passed the challenge of getting my ticket in the machine whilst juggling the rest of my gear, now my ticket was to be inspected again. What is going on!

I decided to ask.

The Train Manager/Ticket Inspector came to our carriage and I raised my concern that my ticket had been checked by the barrier and now she was checking it again.

She explained that the machines are a bit useless for the following reasons:

  • They cannot check the validity of a Railcard,
  • They cannot check the validity of a Railcard,
  • They are a bit crap at letting the correct advance purchase tickets on to the correct train,
  • They cannot deal with self print tickets,
  • And the staff don’t have a lot of faith in them.
  • The introduction of the barriers at St Pancras has meant that staff have stopped checking all tickets at the end of the platform and now check them on board, actually occupying a member of staff that was previously free to look after customers rather than inconvenience them further. It was clear she was not very impressed with the installation of the barriers.

    I have stated in a previous blog that I hate ticket barriers they are an expensive, and if this is to be believed, an ineffective way of protecting revenue for the TOC. They offer virtually no benefit to the customer and are a hindrance to anyone carrying more than an umbrella.

    I do not however have the same hatred of the Oyster Card system on the underground. Perhaps this is because it seems to be simpler to operate with hands full of baggage and I don’t have to queue to by a ticket before hand. Or maybe it is just that checking tickets on a metro system is very difficult and so the barriers make more sense.

    Either way my dislike of ticket barriers grows.

    I wish the industry would look at the whole journey experience and stop putting barriers (literally) in the way to people using trains.

    East Midlands IMT comes to an end

    Today is the end of the East Midlands Integrated Management Team delivering track renewals for Network Rail.
    Back in April 2004 GrantRail took over the contract to deliver track renewals as part of Network Rail’s new IMT renewals strategy. GrantRail lost the contract to Jarvis back in September/October 2007.
    This IMT has now come to an end with Jarvis relocating some of the staff from Derby, whilst others have been made redundant. The relocations have been to Doncaster and Peterborough.
    It appears that Network Rail have endorsed this move as they are reorganising their people to reflect this new Jarvis structure.
    One cannot help but wonder if Derby and the East Midlands are once again going to become the forgotten back waters of the UK rail network, with energy focused on the East and West Coast lines. (Plus the Great Western Electrification.)
    The redundancies have added to the already significant numbers of railway staff out of work. However, with major projects about to start or ramping up in London, news of the Electrification of the Great Western Main Line and a few tram projects looking likely to get going soon, I am sure there will be an up turn in six to eight months.
    I also wonder how Network Rail will be able to meet the commitments they have made for Control Period 4.
    Control Period 4 Delivery Plan 2009
    Is High Output and Modular S&C really going to deliver the benefits and cost savings they are expecting, I am very sceptical.

    Clay Cross North installation by Derby IMT
    Clay Cross North installation by Derby IMT

    I can foresee that the demand for Platelayers, Technical and Management staff will rise dramatically when Network Rail realises it will have to use conventional methods to meet the renewal and improvement commitments it has signed up to.

    Bedford South Junction, crossover installed by Derby IMT
    Bedford South Junction, crossover installed by Derby IMT

    How many of our key staff will have left for Australia, China, India, US or the Middle East by then. Rail investment is booming internationally and our experienced staff will be highly sought after. Does any of this have a sense of deja vu for anyone???

    What should I discuss first when introducing people to Lean?

    I have just started doing a bit of an explanation of Lean with some colleagues and I am wondering what the first things to explain about Lean.
    I started with an little about the history of Lean then went on to explain a little about the two pillars of Lean.
    Respect for People and Continuous Improvement.
    I am wondering what I should address at the next session?
    Should I explain about customer value/expectations, or should I talk about waste? Or is there a more important topic to cover first?
    I am trying to keep my little talks down to 10-15min sections at the end of a weekly team meeting and think that introducing it in small sections, with some examples from our everyday office environment will help to raise awareness amongst the team if nothing else.
    Any feedback/ideas would be much appreciated.

    What can happen when the audience doesn’t get the message!

    This is something that a colleague passed to me a while back. It was following a Lean training day and we had tried to use the Sticklebrick Game to show some of the fundamental concepts of Lean.
    He had seen the training day as a team building event, well OK that was a factor but we had failed to get over the key message of understanding the needs of the customer, working at the pace of demand and organising your business to achieve this.
    I was quite disappointed that we had failed to get this across, but with my Lean goggles I could see that we needed to learn from this and make the game more applicable to their experiences. Every set back is an opportunity to change and improve.
    Click on the article to view it.

    When attendees miss the point!
    When attendees miss the point!

    How can the Rail Industry apply Lean techniques to improve performance?

    One of my keen interests is to understand how the Rail Industry can apply Lean techniques and ideas?

    Below I have listed out some of the obvious wastes that exist in the maintenance and renewal sectors of the industry:

    Spare materials on and about the track,
    Inflated costs due to the ‘specialist nature’ of the work and equipment,
    Extremely long design processes,
    Consistently late design approvals for what should be standard work.

    These are some of the obvious ones, however, looking from a Lean perspective there are many more and some very fundamental wastes which are more worrying.
    Issues such as:

    Constantly changing workforce, low skill base and low morale,
    Lack of standard work across the industry, everyone has their own way,
    Very uneven work loads leading to excessive labour pools,
    Systems based on empirical evidence rather than hard scientific evidence.

    I would like to start a debate about how the industry can adopt and implement the principles of Lean. How can an industry as diverse as ours look to ensure we respect our people and look to improve what we do?
    Do we understand what the future looks like? Can we move forward with confidence when there is a lack of certainty about what that future is?
    Please make comment by leaving a reply below. I hope that we can get some good ideas floating around and help improve the performance of the industry, even in just a small way.
    Steve J