3rd September 2019 · The Art of Timetabling’

Presenter: Andy Smith

For our first meeting of the new season we welcomed Andy Smith who is a consultant with WSP, a Rail Planning Company whose experts are helping adapt rail systems across the globe for population growth, increasing urbanisation, climate change, and technological advances. His presentation was entitled “’The Art of Timetabling’ – is it an Art or a Science?”, which is probably a great mystery to many.

He has nearly 20 years’ experience of planning and producing in timetabling at Doncaster, sorting out the coal trains between England and Scotland, then Wessex Trains at Exeter, NR at Birmingham, then XC where he implemented the timetables for the Reading, Derby and Bromsgrove changes, then moved to WSP for HS2 design and development.

He went on to explain about train planning, how it has evolved, the principles of timing trains with scheduling all types of trains.

To time a train you need locations for timings, the running time between these, either start to stop, start to pass, pass to pass or pass to stop, allowing for signalling headway and any junction margins. Also allowing for 4, 3 or 2 aspect signalling or Absolute Block.

Operators bid 40 weeks before their timetables’ due date and NR offers it back at 26 weeks and printing can begin with them being in the public domain 12 weeks before.

The constraints and problems are that the public want a reliable journey from A – B and the operator has to meet contractual obligations, in particular franchise agreement with DfT. They also want to maximise revenue while minimising costs, also trying to meet customer needs and making sure they give a robust performance.

Meanwhile NR have to meet targets set by ORR and DfT, whilst maintaining infrastructure and making best use of capacity by maximising income from Track Access. Andy thinks it is 80% Science and 20% Art.

A vigorous Q & A session followed by the attendance of 31, and a most interesting evening.

Rob Davidson, Branch Secretary