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New optimisation model enables rapid response to disruptions

25 March 2022
ProRail’s incident fighters are always busy, even when they are not actually dealing with incidents on the railways. They carry out all kinds of preventive tasks, such as inspections of freight yards and surveillance to prevent illegal track walking. But, if an incident does arise, they must obviously respond as quickly as possible. Mathematician Dylan Huizing has thought up a solution for planning these preventive tasks such that incident fighters are evenly located over the network at all times, thus ensuring a rapid incident response time.

Drawing up schedules that distribute the tasks to be carried out evenly and minimise the incident response time is very difficult. Not just for people, but for computers too. And, if an incident occurs, this naturally has a big impact on your schedule for the rest of the day. In collaboration with ProRail, Huizing has developed software to assist in designing a schedule that does just this: you enter the people you employ and the preventive tasks you want carried out, and the computer advises on who can do what when. Huizing: “Finding the truly optimum schedule with the fastest possible response time can take hours or even days, so I have based the software on an approximation method. In around 30 seconds, the software finds a solution which, on average, yields a response time which is only about 4% slower than the fastest possible response time.”

“It is fantastic to see that ProRail has had an application developed based on my research and that it is going to be rolled out throughout the whole of the Netherlands. A plan can be calculated at the incident fighting unit’s sites and employees who are implementing tasks elsewhere will be able to see it on their smart devices and give feedback. It will be a little while yet before we can say what the advantages will be in concrete terms but a simulation study suggests that this application will enable ProRail Incidentenbestrijding (ProRail Incident Fighting) to both reduce the incidence response time by 14% and increase the number of preventive tasks implemented by 31%. Ultimately, this means that there will be less disruption for passengers and freight trains and that we will be able to keep the rail network healthier for longer. The great thing about mathematics is, of course, that other organisations that deal with incidents in addition to side tasks, such as maintenance companies and the police, could also benefit from this research, it is not just limited to ProRail.”

For Huizing’s work for ProRail, see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aiJxDZ5YrDg

Huizing’s will defend his doctoral thesis on 12 April 2022