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Network Rail Airwave

Railway incident response improved with secure radio

Image credit: Network Rail

Network Rail has completed the rollout of a secure digital radio system across south-east England for its incident response teams, to help them react faster to call-outs and improve links with control centres and emergency services.

Use of the Airwave system on the Wessex route follows its introduction last year in Kent and Sussex to complete coverage across the southern region.

Airwave is widely used by the emergency services and other public safety organisations throughout the UK. It is more reliable, secure and has better coverage than mobile phone networks. It provides a channel for control centres to communicate with all mobile responders across the route via handheld radios.

For day-to-day management of incidents – such as when there has been a bridge strike, flooding, a landslip or a points failure – those nearest to the incident can be quickly identified, which has vastly improved response times.

By using a radio channel to communicate rather than mobile telephone, shared awareness can be maintained which has both performance and safety advantages.

For large or major incidents – when the mobile phone network is often overwhelmed – the British Transport Police can assign a shared channel with other organisations, including Network Rail, so that the response is fully co-ordinated.

Gunnar Lindahl, head of network operations delivery for Network Rail Wessex, explained: “The new system enables us to respond to incidents more efficiently. We can dispatch a responder within seconds so they arrive at the scene quickly and bring in other teams as required. This means that if an event has stopped services, we’re able to get trains running again more rapidly than before.”

Airwave was introduced by the Joint Performance and Improvement Centre, an initiative between Network Rail and South Western Railway, to look at ways to improve train punctuality.

The handheld radios also improve safety for lone workers, who can press an emergency button if they are injured or under any kind of threat.

The units are supplied by Motorola.

The decision to start using Airwave came after an incident near Lewisham station in London in March 2018 where trains became stranded because of ice on conductor rails and distressed passengers exited onto live lines, leading to further and more widespread disruption. Investigation showed a need to improve the way such situations are managed.

Network Rail now plans to roll out the system on its Eastern and Western routes, as well as extending its use to maintenance responders.

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