Written by Simon Gardiner, MD Gioconda

Desktop signal sighting was last covered in The Rail Engineer in issue 77 (March 2011). Since then, specialist developer and supplier Gioconda has continued to develop its desktop signal sighting processes and the tools that support them.

Furthermore, a positive advance by the industry seems to be the acceptance of this technology within the signalling design process, to the point that projects are now generally planned on this approach from the outset.

This has been a major turning point, and is enabling Gioconda to concentrate on providing an efficient service rather than having to convince project teams and Signalling Sighting Committee (SSC) members that the tools are valid and cost effective.

The advantages of the desktop approach are reasonably clear:

  • Site access requirements are reduced;
  • Safety implications are minimal;
  • The desktop/classroom SSC meeting is more efficient and productive;
  • The sighting of each signal is easily repeated and options tabled;
  • In many cases it is less expensive that the manual method.

Recent review

An update to the Signal Sighting Standard was recently out for review and it appears that the desktop approach is to be fully supported under the revision.

However, it is not currently backed up by any specification for accuracy and content of models and this may lead to “cheap and cheerful” systems being presented for SSC assessment.

The revision further proposes that control is passed to the SSCs who have the right to veto the use of a model and complete the assessment trackside, although it makes no provision for training SSC members in the use and advantages of desktop signal sighting systems.

In addition to desktop signal sighting, Gioconda’s other core service is the provision of Driver Briefing Packs (DBPs) as required by train operators prior to signal commissioning. For projects to truly benefit financially they should ensure that any desktop signal sighting models produced can be re-used and developed for driver briefing.

Joined-up models

The maximum financial and time benefits of this process are only realised if a model which is created for signal sighting can be cost-effectively turned into a DBP. For example, last year an HD (High Definition) video-based signal sighting model was created for West Ham resignalling which included 26 signals and some signage.

The cost of this work was in the region of £24,000. Sometime later, a DBP was produced taking into account some minor alterations and extra signals.

The additional cost to the project for the DBP was only £7,000 plus the duplication of the DVDs & map books and the turn-around was only three weeks. If the desktop signal sighting models had not already been produced then the driver briefing package alone could well have cost £30,000, with no benefit to signal sighting.

Over the past few years, the company has been commissioned by many projects to provide driver briefing packs which involved building large and expensive 3D Virtual Reality (VR) models and is currently bidding to supply several large models for driver briefing-only projects.

In these situations, if projects had adopted desktop modelling at the earlier Grip 4 stage for signal sighting, there could have been substantial time and financial benefits.

Hopefully, with the continued acceptance of the desktop signal sighting process, there will be more re-use of models and thus the time and cost benefits will naturally be included.

This is definitely the case with Gioconda-based projects but project managers should be aware that choosing to use a desktop signal sighting system that is non transferrable or ‘locked in’ may not allow the re-use of this model and they will probably end up paying twice!

Other offshoots of HD/VR signal sighting include:

  • Enhanced 3D graphics for presentations/consultations;
  • Constructability & IDC proofing Grip 5-8;
  • Volumetric calculations for civils and earthworks;
  • Stage-works and 4D modelling;
  • Training Simulator modelling/model conversion.

Where required, the output of the above can be a small add-on to existing models created from core products.

Unnecessary duplication

Over the past few years, some unnecessary work regarding the re-use of models has been authorised, either because the project team has changed or because project managers are not aware of the available opportunities for cost saving. For example:

Last year, at least two separate projects have commissioned duplicate VR models for promotional purposes – not taking into consideration that they already had very accurate 3D models which had been used for signal sighting.

Project team changes nearly led to new models being commissioned for driver briefing even though signal sighting models had been produced.

Projects paid over the odds for DBPs by including these into Grip 5-8 design contracts to suppliers who had to commission new models when signal sighting models already existed from other suppliers.

Where possible, Gioconda is doing its best to keep a finger on the pulse and, through a framework contract with Network Rail, highlight where re-use is possible. Recent project successes include:

  • EGIP Electrification – signalling immunisation exercise completed with the G-RAST toolset culminating with 250 signals assessed by SSC in 4 days;
  • EGIP Infrastructure – Gioconda HD & VR signal sighting in progress for several areas. VR signal sighting models further enhanced for public consultations;
  • West Ham resignalling – HD signal sighting and models developed for driver briefing at minimal extra cost;
  • London Bridge TKO2 – 230+ signals sighted using Gioconda HD & VR Modelling;
  • Gatwick Station (new Platform 7) – signal sighting completed using Gioconda tools;
  • North west Electrification – in progress – Gioconda HD tools utilising Omnicom survey video;
  • ETN Modular signalling – driver briefing pack delivered based on signal sighting models;
  • DBPs delivered for Salisbury – Exeter, Water Orton phase 2 and Cotswold Redoubling;
  • Fareham Lifetime Extension – urgent driver briefing job over Christmas;
  • Wolverhampton – signal sighting updates;
  • Paisley Corridor – Grip 5 signal sighting & driver briefing delivered;
  • Wessex Train Lengthening – 100% signals sighted using G-RAST (3 signals checked on site with same results).

So desktop signal sighting is now very much part of a variety of major and minor projects. As work continues, more SSCs will be aware of the benefits, and train operators will have access to detailed and realistic driver training aids.