How we are running the railway during Coronavirus

Published on: Thursday, 23 April 2020
Last updated: Thursday, 23 April 2020

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Following the coronavirus outbreak, we are currently running a reduced service to ensure key workers can travel to and from work. However, that service is still just as important to those who need to travel as it is in more normal times. A crucial role in ensuring trains run on time and managing any problems that do occur is played by our control centre.

shenfield control room

Our control centre really is at the heart of railway operations. Based at the Rail Operations Centre (ROC) in Romford, the team is responsible for overseeing all train movements, controlling the rail network, responding to all the myriad events that can affect services, working to ensure all services run on time and recovering the service as quickly as possible if things go wrong.

It’s a - round-the-clock challenge at the best of times, but current circumstances have added their own extra complications. At short notice, due to the lockdown, the decision was made to activate the contingency plan to move some of the control team to the emergency control location in offices at Shenfield station.

IT equipment was activated and the distances between desks was maximised, to assist staff in social distancing while working. Each controller needs several monitors to be able to do their job, and due to their close collaboration with others and need for very quick, coordinated decisions it is not practical for them to work from home.

Control is formed of three teams – one manages the service on the Great Eastern Main Line south of Ipswich, another the GEML north of Ipswich and regional routes and the third manages the West Anglia route.

The Great Eastern teams have remained in the ROC at Romford, along with some colleagues from Network Rail. The West team – a total of 21 people who work different shifts – has been moved to offices at Shenfield station. Although they are split from the main control centre, they are in constant telephone contact to ensure the safe and reliable running of the railway.

The social media team, which is usually based in the ROC, are working from home. They are still able to access internal systems which give them live information, so they can update customers in real time.

There is a total of around 50 controllers who carry out shift work within the operations and information control. Generally, three shift periods of around eight hours each cover a 24-hour period and there are usually 14 controllers on at any one time who cover the operations and information control for the entire Greater Anglia network. There are also six fleet controllers working on any given shift.

Within the East and West teams, there are several roles, most of which work around the clock on a rota system.

Firstly, there are 15 train service managers (TSMs) spilt, across the north, south east and west areas, and a team of four assistant train service managers. Currently the west team is in Shenfield.

An over the shoulder look of a Greater Anglia staff member in the Shenfield control room

The TSMs’ role is overseeing train service delivery, ensuring all the planned trains run and any actions taken to both ensure all scheduled services operate, run punctually and managing any alterations that are needed for whatever reason – be that short notice train maintenance requirements, engineering work issues, unexpected train or track faults or external factors such as trespass, fatalities or adverse weather conditions.

On a very busy network, with some of the most congested sections of two track railway in the UK, between Colchester and Shenfield on the GEML and at the southern end of the West Anglia route, south of Broxbourne, this is a major challenge, requiring considerable skill, flexibility and detailed knowledge to quickly assess options and actions in the event of challenging and rapidly changing circumstances.

In addition to this, there are 15 duty train crew managers based at Romford ROC and Norwich railway station. Their role is to ensure all the right people are in the right places to operate the trains, despite the many factors that can complicate that task (including external factors, such as illness, disruption, adverse weather, etc. They provide a 24/7 contact point and support for all Greater Anglia train crew (including the drivers, conductors and catering teams) and their managers and, like all teams in control, they have been working throughout the pandemic.

Another set of key roles covers information provision. The duty information manager oversees customer information controllers as well as undertaking a host of other responsibilities and tasks, to ensure information on train running and any alterations to services is communicated promptly and accurately to colleagues across the company and to customers.

During disruption, they liaise with on-call managers from across different departments of Greater Anglia, order emergency rail replacement buses if they are needed, send out all internal messages to staff and update the Greater Anglia website for customers.

​The Customer Information Controllers in control are a team of 16, who deal with all passenger information provision across the Greater Anglia network. They are divided into three desks; the Liverpool Street and East desks, both of which are currently based at the ROC and the West/rural desk which is based at Shenfield.

The Liverpool Street desk control information for Greater Anglia, TfL Rail and London Overground, and liaise with station staff for trains from Southend, Southminster and in from Shenfield. The East desk covers stations between Shenfield and Norwich, and all stations and all connecting branches in between along the Great Eastern Main Line (GEML). The West/rural desk covers stations between Tottenham Hale and Cambridge, as well as rural services in and out of Norwich.

These teams can post special notices during major disruption, such as alternative travel advice, make recorded PA announcements for stations, as required, cancel and reinstate trains and update passenger information screens at stations, including platform alterations and comments.

Jay Thompson, Greater Anglia’s Train Service Delivery Director, said: "We are very grateful to all our colleagues in control and across our network for their work during the pandemic. Their commitment and dedication has enabled us to run a very reliable service for key workers and everyone else who has needed to make essential journeys over the last few weeks.

We would also like to thank customers who have sent messages of support for our front-line colleagues. We are very proud to be transporting key workers including NHS staff, police and carers. Our staff across the network are doing a great job and we would like to thank all of them."

General Greater Anglia coronavirus update

We are taking every step possible to make sure our employees can continue to work safely and our customers can travel safely.

Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak Greater Anglia has stepped up cleaning of trains and stations, especially high contact areas such as grab rails, door buttons and handles and ticket gates and topping up soap, water and toilet roll in toilets more frequently.

The company is following all Government hygiene guidelines and encouraging customers to wash their hands and cover their mouths and noses when sneezing or coughing. NHS posters are displayed on trains and at stations.

A reduced timetable began on Monday 23 March. The service is similar to a Sunday service, but with additional services at the start and the end of the day to enable passengers to get to and from work.

Temporary changes to some ticket office arrangements (including reduced opening hours and, in the case of some quieter stations, temporary closure of ticket offices) have also been introduced. Customers can still purchase tickets online or from ticket vending machines.

In line with the rest of the industry, the company has put processes in place for customers who are now unable to make their planned journeys, to claim refunds online.

More information about revised timetables, revised temporary ticket office arrangements, refunds and other coronavirus-related actions is available on the Greater Anglia website.