In 2018, ProRail set up the ‘TWAS’ programme with an ambitious vision: achieving an optimal maintenance plan on the rail network that strikes the right balance between hindrance to passengers and freight, reliability of the track, and implementation costs.
At the moment, the planning is made by hand, which means that the focus is primarily on the hindrance to passengers. This process is very time-consuming and takes an average of 3 to 4 months of several employees at ProRail and transport operators. Due to time pressure, only one schedule can be delivered in which no trade-off can be made between different planning scenarios. Planners comply as strictly as possible to the agreements made with the entire sector, such as the maximum frequency and duration of maintenance work per train corridor. In addition, the quality of a planning cannot be substantiated with hard figures.
In order to find a good balance between transport disruption (for passengers and freight) and maintenance costs, ProRail wishes to integrate a tool with smart algorithms in its planning process. Success depends on the following factors:
- The tool must be able to support different planning scenarios;
- The tool must be able to deal with a large number of constraints, such as detour routes and mandatory planning periods;
- The tool must be able to deal with critical capabilities, such as specialist staff;
- The tool must be able to run in a live cloud-based production environment with direct integration into real-time data sources.
ProRail has partnered with Macomi to optimize planning with the Macomi platform. The platform uses a specialised optimization algorithm. This algorithm can evaluate more than 3 million schedules in a short period of time, in order to show an optimal planning to the end user. The user is able to set up a planning scenario himself, whereby the constraints can be adjusted as desired. This is a significant change in ProRail’s planning process and will have consequences for the entire rail sector. Various scenarios can be calculated quickly and discussed with transport operators and contractors. The effects of each scenario on costs and hindrance are quickly visible and easy to compare. This makes the tool useful for planners, but also for a wider group of users from the sector. Thanks to this algorithm, these users are able to fine-tune their appointments. The Macomi platform runs entirely within ProRail’s Azure cloud environment.
The optimisation software was put into use by ProRail in a production environment. The team of ProRail planners works with the tool on a daily basis and has already achieved great results. Eric Thieme (program manager TWAS) talks about his experience with Macomi and the tool:
“In an ever-changing rail world where scarcity dominates the game, optimisation algorithms can help to always make the best choices. It’s all about making those choices at the right time, not too early and not too late. Macomi has helped ProRail by using their expertise and know-how, but also their go-getter mentality, to build a state-of-the art algorithm that will help us make the railways affordable, available and reliable. The enthusiasm of the planners for the new possibilities when using this first tool is the best indicator for me that we are on the right track.”
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