This week, Cath Reed and Sharon Hunt from SCRP’s Education Team enjoyed a ‘real time’ insight into what goes on at the Rail Operating Centre (ROC) at Three Bridges in West Sussex.  This centre is one of twelve across the country.  Chloe Hobden at Network Rail kindly took us on a tour to show us how these advanced signalling tools and technology is helping to reduce delays, improve performance, maintain safety and provide better information to passengers across the rail network.

Our first stop was to meet the signallers who oversee the ‘traffic light system’ of the railway from their vast array of monitors and screens showing their particular area of the network.  Chloe answered our many questions and we were able to observe first-hand as  signaller, Emily carefully monitored the railway crossing at Polegate for potential hazards or obstacles on the tracks and then sent the ‘crossing clear’ signal so the barriers could be lowered and the train could safely pass through.  Chloe explained how if a member of the public is at an unmanned crossing and are unsure as to whether a train could be imminent, they can pick up the phone which will go through direct to their signallers and they’ll advise if it is safe to cross. This is particularly important if a person or a vehicle could potentially take longer than three minutes to cross the railway line. We learned how signallers can perform a ‘line block’ to enable staff to get down onto the line safely for maintenance such as clearing foliage along the track.

We were shown around the many workstations on the signalling floor which controlled the rail network in areas such as Sutton and Streatham, Kent and Sussex, London Bridge and Charing Cross to name but a few. We were interested to learn about the numerous career paths than can be followed whist working at a ROC; how the signallers engage in 12 weeks of initial training.  We were excited to be shown the signalling simulators which are used for new staff to gain confidence and competence in such a safety critical environment.  We now have so much more we can add to our careers workshops in schools in the future!

The Control Room was our next port of call and this was a busy floor with staff from GTR, Network Rail and ARL amongst others.  We observed the Train Running Controllers, Delay Attribution Managers, Social Media officer as well as many other mission critical managers. We were shown the ‘seasonal desk’ which only opens through the autumn and winter.  They look out for areas of low adhesion and oversee areas of track that require treating or jet washing, for example.  We discussed the Flying Banana as we are always asked lots of questions by children about this maintenance train.  We learned that there are several across the network, all yellow and one can be seen from Paddock Wood Station!

Through talking with Chloe and the staff at the ROC, they clarified that emergency calls from the Help Points at our stations all definitely come through to the ROC’s control room. Interestingly, we learned that the ROC doesn’t deal with power – the electrical control room (ECRO) does but they work closely with each other, so in the event of an emergency this can be actioned immediately.  With so much technology housed in one location, all ensuring the safety and reliability of our rail network; it was reassuring to learn than in the event of a power cut, there are two back up power feeds into the ROC!

We had a thoroughly enjoyable and educational experience at the ROC and will now be able to share our knowledge with the children and young people we work with in schools and in the wider community. Our thanks to Chloe and all the staff at the ROC for such a warm welcome.