Network Rail owns and operates the UK’s rail infrastructure. It is responsible for running, maintaining and developing Britain’s rail tracks, signalling, tunnels, level crossings and 18 key stations.

It uses a workforce of almost 100,000 operatives, employed by over 1,500 companies to maintain the infrastructure across the country.

Network Rail’s Requirement

Network Rail is serious about safety. Working on or near track can be hazardous and the business does whatever it can to protect its workforce at all times. What makes it even more challenging is that Network Rail uses a vast and fragmented supply chain ranging from major civil engineering companies, as well as Network Rail’s own employees, down to very small, specialist businesses supplying one or two people.

As part of this, Network Rail had run a mandatory card scheme for over a decade which confirmed the training and qualifications of people working trackside. The initial objective was to standardise the quality of training and ensure that all operatives were trained appropriately, as competent people are not only more effective but also statistically safer in the workplace, both for themselves and their colleagues.

However the card scheme was getting old and a host of limitations and issues were recognised.

The cards were frequently out of date, not reflecting the individual’s true qualifications:

  • As the card was only a printed one, the genuine credentials for a person could only be verified by making a phone call. Because of the time this took, this would typically be done for 2% of the workforce, meaning that 98% of individuals were not regularly checked. Furthermore, it was still not possible to be sure that the record being confirmed by phone was for the individual presenting the card
  • There was a risk of forged cards being used, giving unauthorised individuals track access
  • Unless checked by phone, there was no way to prevent suspended individuals from accessing the infrastructure
  • Lack of consistency, as checks were not made electronically and were random
  • Cost. Each time an individual attained a new qualification or medical a new card had to be produced, which typically cost the industry in the region of £50-100 per person per annum.

After such a long period, Network Rail wanted to go back to the market to see what industry best practice and technology could offer to put Sentinel at the forefront in terms of worker effectiveness, workplace safety and system efficiency.

Approach to the Solution

Network Rail put the project up for tender in December 2011. More than 50 companies submitted proposals and the tender for new Sentinel was won by a joint venture between Reference Point Limited (the UK’s premier supplier of leading edge “smart” technology around surfacing key worker information wherever and whenever it is required) and MITIE (one of the UK’s largest strategic outsourcing companies, responsible for managing and supporting the new service around the clock).

Reference Point used its proven software and technology solution SkillGuard as the starting point and then delivered a host of customised elements for Network Rail so that the new system met its large range of requirements in full. The system was rolled out across the workforce through a major implementation campaign from June-September 2013.

Newtork rail Solution

What new Sentinel offers Network Rail and the Supply Chain

The new Sentinel card is a smartcard. This means that a single card with a life of up to 5 years is used to authenticate the individual - regardless of how often changes are made to employment details, competence or medical records. This smartcard stores worker information in a secure and encrypted chip and can be updated very easily – either in an office environment, a rail depot or out on track. This ensures that the card is up-to-date at all times, confirming the individual’s authority to work for Network Rail.

As the new service is smart, it is no longer possible for individuals to access site using a cancelled card or if they are suspended.

There are a number of electronic ways to check the card, removing the need to make phone calls for verification. Also, not only are these checks made in real-time but also confirmation of these are held for audit and reporting purposes.

Electronic options include dedicated Sentinel smartphone apps for Android and iPhone mobile, downloadable in seconds.

The speed of the approach has also meant that the company has been able to move towards 100% authentication of the workforce, whilst cutting down the time spent on individual site registration.

There is an integrated Lone Worker Protection system, fully supported by MITIE from its 24/7 service centre. The service covers individuals whenever they feel they need it – simply by activating their app or contacting the service directly.

The new Sentinel system has also heralded many other areas of streamlining and time-saving and has been acclaimed by contractors, training and medical providers for ease of use. The system has won a number of awards already from the rail, construction and technology industries.

Since initial implementation in 2013, a new phase of development has just been completed which covers full site access control (including location management, time in/out and aspects of management of fatigue).

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