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The South Eastern Control - Friars Bridge Court, 8th September 1993

© Gordon Mackley, S.E. Performance Manager:

The Locomotive and Carriage Institution's visit to the Network SouthEast, South Eastern Control at Friars Bridge Court was undertaken soon after it was opened in 1992 under British Rail's "O4Q" (Organisation for Quality) Project.  A few years later the Control was further reorganised, with a split into both Railtrack and Train Operating Unit (South Eastern) and later Train Operating Company (Connex South Eastern) staff and systems.   A further reorganisation a few years later would see Railtrack move to the floor above at Friars Bridge Court, the new "Zonal Operation Control" and Connex South Central staff move from Croydon Control to be combined with the Connex South Eastern Control  - the "Service Delivery Centre".  Yet a  further reorganisation will see South Central staff move out following the change of this franchise from Connex to Govia.  It would seem that Control reorganisations closely follow major changes in the railway itself!  So, this article shows the historical organisation and systems in an early 90's British Rail Control Office before the major upheavals which were going to greatly alter our industry.  Incidentally, many of the control systems described below were commissioned by the current Locomotive and Carriage Institutions Web Manager, then working for the British Rail's Telecoms Project Office at Croydon in the S&T Department.  I have added a few notes to Gordon's article in italics.  Tom Chaffin 2002.

The Role of Control:

The Control of a division such as the South Eastern is different to that of "metro" type railways.   The Controls of the latter type, such as Docklands Light Railway and the individual lines of the London Underground, are typified by total control of- routing of trains and electrical supply of an entire but compact railway.

The South Eastern Division is a large complex railway, which has evolved over many years, with interworking between many different lines of route. The minute by minute control of trains is still done, as in previous years, by signalmen in a number of signalboxes.  These vary from modern panel signalboxes covering large areas, such as London Bridge, to mechanical lever frames like the one at Canterbury West.  The control of the electrical supply has also been the result of evolution since the first electrification in 1925.   Electrical control is from centres at Lewisham, Paddock Wood and Canterbury.

The Divisional Control forms a strategic control.  It co-ordinates the efforts of the many groups involved in the operation of the railway "outside',, including the signalmen, station staff, and those at the many locations where the coaching stock is berthed.  It is also the link between the division and the controls of the civil emergency services of London, Kent and East Sussex.

Like all controls, that at Friars Bridge Court exists on a diet of information.  This is passed into the Control by electronic systems from places such as the more modern signalboxes; and by telephone and fax from other locations.  From that information an overview of the running of the division can be obtained and strategic decisions made in respect of any short notice alterations necessary to the service.

The objective of the Control is to restore train running to the booked plans as quickly as possible whilst at the same time providing the best service to the customers.  This is essentially a damage limitation exercise and as such the two parts are often very difficult to reconcile.  Hard decisions are a standard part of a controller's work.   Throughout this process, the Control is required to send information out, not only to those who have to act on and implement their decisions, but also to those who are responsible for passing on information to customers.

History:

Controls have existed in one form or another in Railway organisations for a very long time.  The South Eastern Control was based at Beckenham for many years, before being integrated into a Southern Regional Control at Waterloo in 1984.  Under the "Organising for Quality" initiative it has recently been reorganised and relocated to Friars Bridge Court.

Time Coverage:

The Control is manned 24 hours a day, 364 days a year (a break only on Christmas day).  The manager's desk and most positions are manned on a continuous basis by three shifts of controllers working in rotation.  Some positions with a lesser workload at those times are not staffed at nights or at weekends.  There are additional controllers to cover the "rest days" of the regular staff and to provide for leave etc.

Equipment:

The move from Waterloo to Friars Bridge Court gave the opportunity to introduce the latest equipment into the Control.

Each desk is equipped with a 386 PC with extended memory and VGA colour screen.  These are connected into an office Local Area Network.  The latest "Windows" software is used on this to give access to many B.R. mainframe systems, the divisional telex system and proprietary software packages, without need of closing down and opening up each application.  A lesser power PC gives access to the ITRE system, (Intermediate Train Running by Exception - the 'exception' was unique to the Southern Region and means on-time trains were ignored and not displayed) which compares actual train running times against the scheduled times in the London Bridge, Victoria and Dartford signal box areas.  This system will be replaced by a more modern system, TRUST, (Train Running System TOPS) which will give a similar comparison across the entire division from July 1993.  The hardware is able to operate both systems.

The telephone system is of the latest B.T. design.  It incorporates a full colour "touch screen" system, enabling many different numbers to be memorised and accessed instantly without recourse to directories.  Direct lines to major locations and database storage (such as a display of the current prices in the local chippy - I kid you not) facilities are also included.  A data log of the usage of all telephones including answering response times is maintained by the equipment and both sides of conversations at all desk positions are continuously recorded.

Fax machines are provided across the office and additionally some desks have their own specialised equipment, which is detailed under the heading for that activity.

The Control Manager (Desk 6):

The Control Managers are responsible for the minute by minute management of the office and also deal with the more serious incidents personally. They also compile a daily log of all items affecting safety and the timekeeping of the passenger railway.

On the desk is a computer mapping system which is on trial f or NSE.  This contains laser disks of Ordnance Survey maps on which can be overlaid information from databases held in the machine's hard disk memory.  Information which has been programmed in and which is still being added to, includes level crossings, electrical substations and individual signals.  These can then be pinpointed and the grid reference and access routes identified quickly and easily without recourse to several paper maps or books of reference.

The Area Controllers Desk (Desks 2, 4. & 14):

These three controllers are responsible for overseeing all train movements within the divisional boundaries.  In the event of any disruption to the scheduled running, they must ensure that the incident is being attended by the correct people and then take action to restore services as quickly as possible.  The action could range from authorising trains to call additionally in place of cancelled services through to dealing with the alterations necessary to deal with a major line blockage.

Area One controls the lines from Charing Cross and Cannon Street to Elmstead Woods, Hayes and Strood.  Area Two controls the lines from Victoria and City Thameslink through to Longfield, Sevenoaks via Swanley, Paddock Wood and Hastings via Tonbridge.  Area Three controls the remainder of the division.  On Desk 14, that of Area One, may be seen a VDU showing train movements within the London Bridge and Dartford signal box areas.  It is hoped to replace this system by another, which is both more modern and which gives greater geographical coverage, as soon as practicable (This new system was "SIVS" - Station Information VDU System - now in 2002, SIVS is itself now being phased out and replaced a much more powerful PC based system).   On Desk 4, that of Area 2, a similar VDU of the Victoria signal box area is provided.

The Customer Information Controller (Desk 7):

The role of this post is to translate what is happening on the division into customer friendly information and then to disseminate this, to give the best possible passenger information at all levels.

An Archimedes PC gives access direct to the BBC Travel Unit computer. T his provides information for the updating of "Ceefax", to BBC TV and Radio stations, and to a number of internal BR displays.  It automatically generates fax messages to independent Radio stations and a number of other B.R. locations.

The live railway travel news broadcasts on Radio Kent (half hourly in the mornings and afternoons and hourly throughout the day) are done by the Customer Information Controllers direct from this desk.  ("On-air" broadcast lights featured both inside and at the entrances doors to the Control so as to remind people in Control to, well, cut down the general swearing whilst radio broadcasts were in progress!)

A Mercury group paging system enables information to be sent to all conductors on trains across the division and to managers and staff at strategic locations.  This is currently done using a multipaging program on a separate PC but this will shortly be incorporated into the Archimedes PC, using new software which has been developed.  This will enable the same messages to be simultaneously sent to the travel unit outlets and to pagers.   This is to be used for a public marketed customer information system to be called "Railflash".  Telex and Fax systems are also accessible from this desk.

A semi-automatic station VDU information system capable of using late running information input centrally by the Customer Information Controllers, on a similar basis to the BBC Archimedes, has been partially developed, but is currently in abeyance, because of problems with funding.

The Rolling Stock Group (Desks 10,11 and 12):

As the title suggests, these staff look after the Division's rolling stock.  They ensure that trains are worked to depot for both scheduled maintenance and for any repairs that may be necessary at short notice (replacement of broken windows etc.).  They also arrange for units to be berthed correctly to ensure that as closely as possible, there are sufficient units of the correct type at each location for the starting services.  To reduce the cost of running empty trains, most of the arrangements for working trains into depots involve changing over trains from one service to another. T his is planned by the Stock Controller.

In addition the Maintenance Controller is the link. with the Fleet Manager's staff outside.  They arrange for fitters to attend as necessary.  They also liaise with outside depots to ensure that the maintenance programmes are completed and units released back to work.

Currently work is done using manual systems for the EPB stock and a B.R. computer system called GEMINI for the Kent Coast stock.  By giving better information and control over the units, GEMINI allows a more economical and effective form of maintenance to be carried out on the Division's fleet.

Duty Freight Manager (Desk 15):

This post is located within the SE Control but is funded and managed by the Freight businesses.  It is there to co-ordinate their resources to ensure that the best service is given to the various freight customers.  The area covered is all of the Area Freight Manager South (the former Southern Region).  They make great use of the B.R. computer system known as TOPS, which monitors locomotives, wagons and freight train movements across the whole of B.R.

Resource Controller (Desk 9):

These staff have a dual role.  They co-ordinate the efforts of the various Train Crew Supervisors to ensure the best utilisation of train crew and thus minimise passenger train cancellations.   They also oversee the running of trains for engineering works on the Division.

The General Controller (Desk 3):

This position is manned between 0700 and 2300 Mondays to Fridays only.  The General Controller's function is, when services are running well, to monitor the peak services and identify regular causes of minor delay, to ensure remedial action can be taken.

During periods of disruption, particularly during the peaks, the main purpose is to assist the area controllers, especially in respect of inward phone call answering.

Thameslink Controller (Desk 8):

Although under the control of the Thameslink Division, these controllers are located within the South Eastern office.   Their function is to control the Thameslink Class 319 units and to co-ordinate the Thameslink services between the various "route owners" north and south of the River Thames. They also disseminate information concerning the running of Thameslink trains.

They have similar equipment to the South Eastern, but they already operate TRUST, referred to earlier.  A map display on the latter system gives details of the location and running of Thameslink trains north of the River (colour coded to indicate trains on time or late).  After the extension of TRUST to the South Eastern, this map display will be able to be expanded southwards to cover the S.E. division also.

Faultstar:

The desks adjacent to the windows in the corner of the office are occupied between 0630 and 1800 by "Faultstar".  These staff allocate and co-ordinate the staff who carry out repair work to -station and depot buildings etc. They encompass electrical, plumbing and general building work.

The Future:

Sufficient capacity has been allowed within the office for likely future requirements.  The equipment is designed for a long life and the computer hardware will support many more applications, as and when they become available.  The South Eastern Control will therefore be well equipped to deal with the challenge of the operation of International passenger and freight trains from 1993 onwards.

© Gordon Mackley

July 1992 (Updated April 1993).

If you have enjoyed this article, you may also be interested in the following articles by the same author:

Performance

An account of the Performance - Impact Monitoring System introduced by Network SouthEast.


A lecture on adjustments made to the Network SouthEast, South Eastern Division timetable to improve train performance in the peaks

66 Minute Hour