27 October 2006

Time standing still

I write a regular travel column for a monthly magazine for business bosses which appears in print two months after I hand it in.

A couple of months ago, in anticipation of the switchover from summer to winter airline schedules which occurs at the end of October (with the clocks) I wrote a piece - that will appear early Nov - about rail and air timetables and how they've evolved and been digitised.

At the beginning of the article I made the point that it was the introduction of the railway that triggered the widespread development of clock technology and the mass-production of clocks. Until trains nobody, except navigators, needed to tell the time accurately.

I wish now that this little piece of news from Virgin Trains, which arrived today, had been more timely... because I could have used it


Virgin Trains has now announced that it is to include ALSTOM's depot staff in its Every Second Counts initiative, which was launched with Network Rail earlier this year. ALSTOM depot staff at the Midlands Traincare Centre will become the first ALSTOM staff to be issued with Radio Controlled watches, which receive electronic time signals and are accurate to within one second every three million years. The watches will be rolled out at other ALSTOM depots over the next year.

The watches were issued to Virgin Trains' drivers, train managers and station staff earlier this year in a project to ensure everyone was working to the same time.

The decision to issue staff with the watches was taken after a survey of station staff, drivers, train managers, onboard staff, suppliers and signalmen showed that there could be differences (fast and slow) in the timepieces being used.

"This meant that in some instances staff might not be in the right place at the right time", said Charles Belcher Managing Director Virgin West Coast, "and a mere ten second delay at the start of a journey could cause a domino effect delaying not just that one train even more but also creating knock-on delays to other trains along the 401-mile route from London to Glasgow. That ten second delay could have been caused by the train being late off a depot.

"We have used the 'Every Second Counts..' name for our staff awareness campaign because it is delays of mere seconds -as well as minutes - that can affect train performance. A one second delay may not seem significant but multiplied for every mile travelled it would total six minutes and 41 seconds for a train travelling from Glasgow to London. The likelihood is that the train would also lose its timetable slot somewhere on its journey and the delay could then easily become ten minutes or more late."


Times may change, but in some respects some things don't change with time... like the need for accurate clocks!

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