Storm Angus: lessons for the UK rail industry

In November 2016, large parts of the UK railway network were brought to a standstill as Storm Angus rolled in, bringing with it gale-force winds and flash flooding. But could the chaos have been better handled? Nick Hawkins, managing director EMEA at Everbridge explains how critical communications platforms and technology could be used to deploy resources and protect passengers.


"Critical communications platforms can be used to send emergency notifications to all passengers."

By having passengers sign-up to be contacted at the point of purchasing their ticket, operators are able to send out emergency alerts via the available communication channels and these notifications will continue to be sent until a response has been acknowledged. For rail operators, these responses are vital as they help provide a clear overview of an incident, the areas and people most affected, and how best to deploy resources to resolve it.

As such, effective two-way communication plays a vital part in reducing uncertainty during an incident and ensuring passenger safety is prioritised. For example, if a passenger finds themselves on a platform as it begins to flood, they can use the technology to instantly alert rail staff that can then deploy resources to get the passenger to safety.

A further benefit to travellers during incidents of extreme weather is that these communication systems are capable of notifying them of alternative routes of travel. So should a train from London Waterloo to Reading be cancelled due to flooding on the line, passengers are instantly made aware of the cancellation and notified of potential alternative valid routes of travel — often before they arrive at the station — which frees-up staff who would normally be handling service enquiries to help in the recovery effort.

Operators back in control

Aside from the benefits this type of technology offers rail passengers, it can also significantly improve the way the UK’s rail networks operate in an emergency. For instance, rail staff can use the platform’s geo-location data to have a precise understanding of where on-duty engineering staff are at all times. Should an emergency situation such as Storm Angus develop, rail officials would be able to use live weather data to predict which lines would be affected and the most effective place to deploy resources.

During the most extreme incidents, operators can send out a critical alert to relevant employees (or those in a specific geographic location if it is a localised emergency) to ask who is available to help. Using the same two-way communication process as before, operators will have a clear understanding of the available staffing resources within minutes.

Once an emergency engineering team has been deployed, it can use the technology to send progress updates to the management, which can, in turn, inform the passengers of expected delays to services and suggest alternative routes to travel.

Rail companies also have a duty of care to staff working in extreme conditions in order to keep services running. Again, advanced technology can be used to locate and liaise with employees, automating the time-intensive process of manual emergency cascades and recalling staff to duty.

Many modern comms providers, such as Everbridge, offer smartphone applications for staff to use during emergency situations, as an additional level of assurance. For instance, critical communication technologies provider, Everbridge , has a panic button built into its app which the user can press to alert management and signal that they are in urgent need of assistance.

In times of crisis, such as a derailed train, speed of response is key and the appropriate communications platform can mean the difference between life and death. Only by learning from the past and investing in proactive methods of improving the UK’s rail system operations can rail companies hope to change the future.