SINCE the first bright red NTV high-speed trains commenced revenue operation between Milan, Florence, Rome and Naples on April 28 2012, the world's first open-access high-speed operator has regularly reported monthly punctuality figures in excess of 95% even as new services to Turin and Salerno have been added.
However, these results are not left to chance. NTV, like many train operators around the world which base their reputations on strong punctuality figures, is carefully managing its fleet of 25 Alstom AGV high-speed trains and 800 personnel right down to the minute details using a comprehensive operations management system.
Supplied by Quintiq, the Supply Chain Planning and Optimisation module used by NTV is effectively divided into two; one side oversees the operations of its trains, and the other personnel. Both elements complement each other and are based around the ultimate schedule and dictator of when things can happen: NTV's timetable.
Mr Giancarlo Broggio, a senior consultant at Quintiq, explains that if a train is leaving Rome to travel to Milan at 09.00, plans must be in place for this train to be both positioned and crewed sufficiently in order for it to leave on time.
"It will require one driver, two train managers, three onboard stewards, two platform dispatch staff at each station the train stops, as well staff to carry out turnaround activities," he says.
"The system actively supports the planner to define all of these allocations in advance and is designed to be updated in real-time to provide up-to-the minute forecasts of train schedules based on information provided by Italian Rail Network (RFI). During a day of operations it receives hundreds of messages and manages operations according to this updated schedule."
In instances where severe delays are impacting services, Broggio says the system calculates and allocates over-time to staff as required. Indeed the planning system manages everything from the employees' schedule to their actual worked hours which is sent to NTV's human resources module to calculate pay, and can also take into account when a particular employee might be working a late shift to avoid scheduling them for an early shift the next day.
"The system understands that a train manager might be on the train to Turin, but lives in Rome, so it can schedule their day so they are on connecting trains and ultimately end up where they started," Broggio says.
Each NTV staff member interacts with the Quintiq system using NTV's smartphone app. Through this platform staff relay any information about the journey and the trains, and update information about their agenda.
They also check in and out of an activity through the application which will tell the Quintiq system that a specific activity has been completed, and by whom.
In addition to train crew, Quintiq's system manages train movements and operations for NTV. The system stores logistical information and schedules cleaning and maintenance activities which take place at NTV's depot in Nola by forwarding information to the third parties responsible for these activities (see panel below).
The comprehensive nature of the system and Quintiq's methodology requires the customer to interact extensively with the software team during the development process. NTV began working with Quintiq on the solution in 2010, and Broggio says that this long-term process is essential to reducing the risk of providing the wrong solution and potentially wasting a lot of time.
He adds that Quintiq's aim when developing an operations management system is to create a feasible plan which makes the best use of resources. He says the big challenge when it came to the NTV solution, as well as any other that it has engaged in, is simply to ensure the system works. If it does not, the operator could suffer poor reliability, with the risk of reputational damage to both the train company and the supplier.
"Quintiq's work with NTV was a major challenge because we had to do everything all together," Broggio says. "As a startup, NTV has to build up their system from scratch, although because they are using only one type of rolling stock and solely a high-speed operator it made life a little easier for us."
Ms Mariagrazia Mecoli, a business consultant at Quintiq, says that now that the system is up and running the emphasis has shifted from resource planning to resource optimisation to enable the operator to identify the best possible scheduling solution, and to get more out of the system. An automatic algorithm is used which generates alternative schedules to cope with potential disruption.
"If a certain crew is on one train which is late, they may not be able to take the second train for which they are scheduled," Mecoli says. "When you are planning on the day you have to react to real-time issues and understand how these will impact the long-term plan. As a result the plan must have a degree of flexibility to minimise the impact of delays and give subsequent trains that are timetabled the best possible chance of running on time. By having this quick solution available, planners have a better idea of how these disruptions are going to impact the timetable and as a result can provide accurate and up-to-date information to passengers, minimising confusion and disruption."
Mecoli says that by offering the possibility to run alternative schedules, the system is helping NTV to identify the solution which works bests. Indeed, it is this flexibility which is crucial to allowing NTV to consistently record high punctuality figures, and will enable it to continue to do so as it adds services in the next few years.
Managing maintenance at NTV's Nola depot
NTV's 140,000m2, €90m maintenance depot at Nola, south of Naples, was constructed to the specifications set out by Alstom, the manufacturer and maintainer of the AGV high-speed trains under a 30-year contract which commenced in January 2012.
Alstom train life services (TLS) personnel work closely with NTV staff at the depot with four trains undergoing maintenance at any one time.
The trains arrive late afternoon with maintenance carried out during the nigh,t before trains are returned to service between 06.00 and 10.00. Work includes external and internal cleaning and toilet servicing by a third party firm as well as various tests. The centre is equipped with ultrasonic wheel inspection facilities and a bogie change station. It can also carry out repairs to damage resulting from accidents or vandalism.
Work at the depot is managed by Alstom's TrainTracer remote monitoring technology, which operates in conjunction with Quintiq's system, and monitors the position of the trains and every system on board.
Electric meters and electronic sensors positioned throughout the train deliver a flow of data that is transmitted via GPRS radio to a land-based server which updates every 10 seconds. If a malfunction is detected and action needs to be taken, a red alarm appears on the screen in the control room. At this point staff identify whether the problem is significant enough to call the train to discuss the actions required to correct the fault.
The immediacy of this system allows maintenance teams to analyse the problem and have a plan of action in place and spare parts ready before the train even enters the depot. It also means engineers can understand what is happening onboard on a remote basis with a view to preventing future breakdowns and problems.
Information fed to the Quintiq system enables it to adjust train movements with the aim of minimising disruption.
When a train is out of service, a reserve train in Florence, selected because of its location in the middle of the network, is available for use. If the replacement train is called out it has to be replaced with another working train.
Mr Giuseppe Picco, Alstom's maintenance director at Nola, says scheduling information is one of the most important factors of a successful maintenance operation.
"We have large screens so that maintenance crews can see exactly what stage any train has reached," he says. "Here it is possible to see where delays are, so trains can be swapped if necessary. Meetings are held twice a day to decide on organisation and procedures, and we try to make everything highly visible."