The New Year Countdown: behind the scenes at Network Rail’s nerve centre

Our Christmas and New Year bank holiday works were full steam ahead when these photos were taken in the Network Rail National Operations Centre (NOC).

It was 2am on 1 January 2018, a few hours before the big ‘hand back’ of many bank holiday engineering ‘possessions’ (work projects that require line closure), when the line is ready for trains to run again.

NOC controllers Lucinda and Graham are shown here monitoring the possessions. They have a unique overall picture of how all the work interconnects, and know how a delay on one site will impact another. They can suggest and coordinate alternative plans when problems occur.

What is the National Operations Centre?

The team tracks the progress of the projects with the help of hi-tech traffic management systems and possession monitoring boards (click the arrows on the image for more), which display a detailed snapshot of the national picture across the network.

In the ‘war room’, Lucinda gathers with Phil from the supply chain operations team, who oversees the Network Rail engineering trains, and Kevin from the Media team. The NOC (this time, Lucinda) chairs the four-hourly conference call.

On these calls, each route control manager dials in and updates on the status of all the projects taking place on their patch – highlighting critical ‘red’ projects or those running behind schedule – projects that if not finished on time, will impact passenger services the following day.

Contingency measures will kick in if needed. Finish times are updated with every conference call, and recovery time is built in to possessions.

I've worked over several bank holidays but this is the first time I've worked over New Year and chaired the four-hourly national engineering conferences. The idea behind the conferences is that we can highlight and tackle issues with the major engineering work as soon as they arise. This is particularly important with engineering work that goes on for a longer period of time, where it can be difficult to track progress and see if the teams out on site are meeting their milestones. We can then liaise with other areas of Network Rail to help ensure work stays on track and resolve problems. If, after all this, engineering work is likely to go on longer than anticipated, the conferences mean operators are appraised at the earliest possibility so they can formulate a plan for their passengers and keep disruption to a minimum. It's great to have supply chain operations with us (here, Phil) as they can give us up-to-date information on whether equipment has arrived on site on time, if there are any issues with the way equipment is functioning and what steps they are taking to mitigate any issues.

Dan, pictured below, is also from the Media team. The Communications team’s presence in the NOC in the run up to the main hand back means they can stay on top of the most up-to-date information.

Network Rail’s nerve centre