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NR+

The UK’s first digital rail infrastructure platform for optimised freight planning

NR+, the UK’s first digital rail infrastructure platform, can be used by Network Rail, rail operating companies or current and potential rail users to quickly and accurately understand and analyse routing options on the complex UK rail network. This can lead to major efficiency gains, not only in the resource time used to find the best routes, but also in faster decision making that provides an advantage in the highly competitive freight transportation market.

Download: Leaflet | Slides 1 | Slides 2 | Slides 3 | Watch the Webinar

The
Challenge

The UK rail network is one of the world’s oldest and most complicated rail networks. It is used heavily for both passengers and freight, with the battle for space on the network likely to increase as decarbonisation pressure increases. The process of finding appropriate and compliant routes for freight in the network has to date been extremely cumbersome, with a low level of digitalisation and automation and a high dependency on the experience and skills of planners at Network Rail and freight operating companies. The data required for this process is contained in a number of documents and spreadsheets that are not well integrated and with varying levels of accuracy. This results in long lead-times to find and approve new routes, impacting negatively on the rail industry’s ability to compete effectively with the less environmentally friendly, but more dynamic, road freight industry.

The
Approach

The NR+ suite of products has been developed by the University of Hull’s Logistics Institute, supported in part with Department for Transport funding.   NR+ is a single, digitalised platform for all the data required for effective route planning and analysis on the UK rail network.  It combines a number of different information sources (such as Sectional Appendix, Load Books, BPlan, RT3973 library, and engineering access statements) into a single efficient graph database.  This creates a strong base for a number of applications to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of route finding and network capability analysis.

NR+ is also available for third parties, through standard and customised APIs, to use for analysis purposes or for their own applications.

logistics-nr-process-diagram

The Impact

We have received extremely positive support for NR+ from the broader rail industry, including Network Rail, all the major rail freight operators, Department for Transport and researchers, consultants and software providers active in the sector.  The NR+ platform, if adopted by the industry, will form a solid base for increased digitalisation and automation of route finding and analysis. This will lead to large gains in efficiency and accuracy, better understanding of the rail network constraints and opportunities, and increased agility in finding solutions to the challenges presented to the industry. Given that the UK rail network is one of the costliest and most strategic assets of the UK, the impact of increased efficiency and effectiveness in planning is huge. Making the data available to third parties will benefit the industry by reducing the cost and time of data gathering and maintenance.

Positive Feedback

“Great tool to share with colleagues to explain gauge clearance”
– Planner, Network Rail

“…extremely useful and time saving when compared to using load books”
– Planner, DB Cargo

“…there is a clear advantage in using the system in its current form…”
– Operational Planning Specialist, Network Rail

“What I have seen so far looks very promising and, once completed, has the potential to save a lot of time and simplify a number of internal processes”
– New business planning manager, GB Railfreight

“Visualisation is great. Adds lots of value. Easy to see the constraints and the maps”
– Rail Strategy Manager, Freightliner

"We have been working closely with and supporting the Logistics Institute in their development of NR+, a digital platform for freight specific network capability data. The work to date has been very encouraging and there is potential that the platform could provide a much improved user interface for our internal and external customers to analyse network capability data and drive efficiency and improved reliability in the system"
– Ed Wilson - Head of Strategic Capability, Freight and National Passenger Operators, Network Rail