What is needed to apply Lean to the rail industry?

During my time with VolkerRail they were one of the first companies to look at how LEAN can be applied to the rail industry.
This meant starting from scratch, there is no one to copy.
Below I have tried to help you understand what type of issues come to light when looking through ‘LEAN Goggles’ at the track renewals process.

Excavation of spent ballast

When excavating the old ballast we start at one end (usually) and work through to the other. We may use one or two machines to do a rough dig, then use one machine with a dozer to trim to the finished level.
This causes waste, waste in the Lean sense rather than the more conventional sense, i.e. those activities in the process not adding value. For the example described above the following wastes exist:

Reworks as a result of a defect – using the dozer and another machine to complete the dig means we are effectively doing the dig twice.
Unnecessary motion – each time the machine working with the dozer lifts a bucket of spoil to the train it is unnecessary if the first dig had been done properly.
Inventory – the area of the dig between the first rough dig and the trim can be considered to be inventory, this area is not having any value added to it.
Defects – associated with the above point we don’t know if the rough dig is right until the dozer gets to it, perhaps the area has been over dug and is now too deep?
Inventory again – the area behind the dozer does not get any ballast dropped on it until the dozer has gone all the way through.
Transport – the dozer now needs to travel all the way back to the beginning, this is waste as is the fact the first area to be dozed has been waiting to be worked on again.

You are probably reading this thinking, ‘Yeah but the train needs to move.’, or ‘We cannot afford to have two dozers’, or ‘It would be too slow to do the whole dig in one go.’ Well yes, that is how it is now, but how could it be in the future?
Could there be a machine that can complete the dig in one pass? Could we have new trains that can take away old ballast and bring in new ballast at the same time?
This is what is meant by the term ‘LEAN Goggles’ when one learns to use these one sees things in a completely new way. It can be quite frightening.

LEAN in action

One example of attempting to improve how the track renewal process works can be seen in the experiments using a Road Planer to excavate spent ballast.

Very good cut following excavation with planer
Very good cut following excavation with planer

The trial was used to understand if the machine could improve the speed and quality of the excavation phase of a track renewal project. Excavation had, for a long time, been a process which took a large proportion of the renewal possession, and the quality was variable at best.
The planer produced a very good quality cut but with only one machine the work rate was not perceived to be great, especially considering that several passes were required to achieve the correct excavation depth and width.
Planer loading to wagons
Planer loading to wagons

So why has this idea not been taken further? Perhaps there exists a reluctance to change, perhaps without constant pushing people do what they have always done. But perhaps there is no real data to prove which technique is best. We need to have real data to compare outputs and quality.

We also need to have the vision to enhance the existing equipment to make it do what we want to do more precisely. The next steps for the planer were quite obvious, work them in multiple, or use a wider drum and some changes to the chute to stop it betting clogged in very poor ballast conditions.
Link the laser levelling equipment to the hydraulics, so the idea is not dead, just waiting to be taken forward again.

This solution does not provide a solution to all the wastes listed above, but perhaps it forms part of the new solution, however that may look.

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???