Rail Industry Training

NovaRail


Signal and telecommunications training    
 
In his report on the Clapham Railway Disaster, Anthony Hidden QC recommended that British Rail should carry out a major overhaul of its signal and telecommunications training.  Specifically, he recommended that “BR should give technical training as necessary to ensure that efficient and safe practices are carried out by all technical staff” and that “BR shall provide refresher courses … at intervals of not more than five years.”.  A joint team of Signal and Telecommunications training experts and external consultants specialising in innovative training solutions was put together on the challenging task of re-engineering the training process and delivering the required training system within two years and with a budget of £15 million.  This was the Training Development and Delivery Programme – known as TD2.  The two founders of Conation Technologies were key members of this team

The existing system delivered training to technicians when their managers felt that they needed it.  At times it felt as if the training was being driven, not by the needs of the individual or his/her job role, but by the coincidence of a training place and the individual being available at the same time.  There were apocryphal stories of people going on the second part of a two part course before they had attended the first part, and of training on equipment that was not to be found in their particular area.  While these were probably exaggerated, the system could well be described as a sheep dipping process.  To achieve the standards demanded by the Hidden Report it was necessary to move to more focused training to meet identified needs based on competence requirements.  Refresher training would be provided as and when competence gaps were identified, rather than waiting for a fixed time to elapse.

The effort was targeted on areas of S&T training that were considered to be high priority by S&T engineers in the field – equipment for which little or no effective training currently existed, where there were large numbers of technicians needing training, or where recurrent faults were causing repeated call-outs and delays.  Subject matter experts, specialists whose expertise was widely acknowledged, were identified to work with contractors with a proven track record of developing effective and efficient training materials using a range of media. 

The TD2 Programme developed about 2000 hours of training materials, the majority of which focused on specific equipment, although some dealt with the basic skills required of S&T maintenance and faulting technicians.  Many of the courses used a mixture of classroom based, instructor-led training with technology based training.  Nowadays, this would be called ‘blended’ learning.  Eight years on, we can see that British Rail Infrastructure Services were well ahead of the field, deploying  an integrated training system that would be the envy of many large organisations today.

The training was closely linked to the licensing scheme being developed by the IRSE, and a secondary project (about which more might be written in the future) investigated the use of hand-held PDAs to collect evidence for workplace assessment on the track.

The technology used to deliver the TD2 training, although advanced for the time, has now been superseded.  The computer software is no longer supported and spare parts are no longer available for the videodisc players.  Yet, the underlying training content is still valid, and could be updated and brought back into service

The signal and telecommunications training materials developed by the TD2 project in the 1990s could provide a significant starting point for that core content.  They need to be updated to reflect current best practice and so that they can be used with current technology.  But, the capabilities of personal computers have increased vastly over the part few years.  The TD2 materials no longer require specialised videodisk systems built into workstations in dedicated training centres: they can be re-purposed so that they will run on a typical desktop or laptop PC.  They could be accessed from the workplace, dedicated training centres and by individuals from home.

Conation Technologies is working to identify the current S&T training priorities and to assess the effort that would be required to meet some of today’s training needs by updating existing TD2  materials.