Signalling Connections to ROCs

Ken H

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A number of them do seem to be in rather bizarre locations. For example Manchester ROC being next to Ashburys station rather than Piccadilly, and West Mids SC being at Saltley rather than New Street or Rugby.
Why do they have to be anywhere near the railway? They are just a massive computer centre. They could be in Romania or India. Their location is irrelevant.

Can a ROC take on work for a short time for whatever reason from another ROC? Surely its just a matter of connecting the data feed to a workstation, or is it hard wired in some way?
I remember reading long ago (in Modern railways) when BR were building 'power boxes', that some interlockings had emergency panels. In case of comms failure a signaller could go to the interlocking and work from there while they fixed the comms to the power box. Is that still a thing?
 
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There’s no need for a ROC to be adjacent to a large station - and for many reasons it’s sensible not to.
Land price and availability will be better out of the centre, plus if you’re for example in the ROC dealing with an evacuation of a major station you don’t want to also have to evacuate yourself.

Oh, beaten to it!
 

Watershed

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Why do they have to be anywhere near the railway? They are just a massive computer centre. They could be in Romania or India. Their location is irrelevant.

Can a ROC take on work for a short time for whatever reason from another ROC? Surely its just a matter of connecting the data feed to a workstation, or is it hard wired in some way?
I remember reading long ago (in Modern railways) when BR were building 'power boxes', that some interlockings had emergency panels. In case of comms failure a signaller could go to the interlocking and work from there while they fixed the comms to the power box. Is that still a thing?
There are lots of signallers (and, commonly, Control staff) who have to get to and from there. Often at unsociable hours. Wouldn't it be convenient if they could use the railway to do so?!
 
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I remember reading long ago (in Modern railways) when BR were building 'power boxes', that some interlockings had emergency panels. In case of comms failure a signaller could go to the interlocking and work from there while they fixed the comms to the power box. Is that still a thing?
There’s definitely emergency panels still in existence from PSB era boxes. They tend to be placed in the interlocking rooms of major junctions with the idea for them to be worked by MOMs, or senior S&T staff, on the instructions of the signaller and who’s on the phone, back in the box itself. I have never personally seen one need to be used though.
 

Ken H

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There are lots of signallers (and, commonly, Control staff) who have to get to and from there. Often at unsociable hours. Wouldn't it be convenient if they could use the railway to do so?!
But do they have to be in a particular location. Does York ROC need to be in York. Could it be in Middlesborough, where wages and costs may well be lower? plenty of buses and trains there.
 

Watershed

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But do they have to be in a particular location. Does York ROC need to be in York. Could it be in Middlesborough, where wages and costs may well be lower? plenty of buses and trains there.
That'd be fine, but putting a ROC at a suburban station such as Ashburys (which only has good connections to southeast Manchester), or indeed a location without any nearby station such as Saltley, is just plain silly IMHO.
 

The Planner

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That'd be fine, but putting a ROC at a suburban station such as Ashburys (which only has good connections to southeast Manchester), or indeed a location without any nearby station such as Saltley, is just plain silly IMHO.
Duddeston is a 4 or 5 minute walk from Saltley, done it plenty of times.
 

snowball

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Is there anywhere a graph of the number of active signalboxes (including power boxes, control centres and ROCs) against date?
 

Starmill

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I only ask because it’s always difficult to pin down the intended number and locations of ROCs in the end state.
There’s now a permanent Tyneside ROC for instance.
I can absolutely never keep up personally!

I've also heard a lot of talk about whether under GBR there's even a need for the separation of multiple control functions between TOC and Network Rail staff.
 
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Trestrol

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Covid proved the folly of the ROC concept. This is one of the reasons why Tyneside IECC is now a ROC. Also the fact that York is full as the equipment room is not big enough.
 

The Planner

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Again, not much better than Ashburys and gives staff a much worse choice of first/last trains than New St or Rugby would.
Based on some of the cars at Saltley and Rugby ROC I am not convinced public transport comes into the thoughts of some! Duddeston has regular trains from 0600 to midnight, I wouldn't say Rugby was much better. You would never get anything of the size or facilities of Saltley in central Birmingham. Rugby still only has Stafford panel in it, the rest of it is office space and meeting rooms.
 

High Dyke

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Is there anywhere a graph of the number of active signalboxes (including power boxes, control centres and ROCs) against date?
There used to be a 30-year plan, put forward by Network Rail, showing relevant changes (including closures dates for locations). However, that was pretty much out of date before it even started. A point to emphasis this was Swinderby. That signal box never appeared on the plan whatsoever, but has now been given three or four (I've lost count) different dates - the latest being 2024, but a senior manager also commented "that's if we've got any money for the project."
 

swt_passenger

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There used to be a 30-year plan, put forward by Network Rail, showing relevant changes (including closures dates for locations). However, that was pretty much out of date before it even started. A point to emphasis this was Swinderby. That signal box never appeared on the plan whatsoever, but has now been given three or four (I've lost count) different dates - the latest being 2024, but a senior manager also commented "that's if we've got any money for the project."
I see threads going back to 2011 with out of date lists and dates, but one that stood out for my area is that they assumed Marchwood would end up being the last surviving conventional “box“ in Wessex route, estimated closure 2057. But just recently I saw something saying it will close next year. Is this a record 24 year change?
 
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snowball

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There used to be a 30-year plan, put forward by Network Rail, showing relevant changes (including closures dates for locations). However, that was pretty much out of date before it even started. A point to emphasis this was Swinderby. That signal box never appeared on the plan whatsoever, but has now been given three or four (I've lost count) different dates - the latest being 2024, but a senior manager also commented "that's if we've got any money for the project."
I knew from reading previous threads that this sort of thing seems to happen, so when I asked if there was a graph anywhere, I was really wondering about a graph of what has happened in the past rather than future proposals.
 
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But do they have to be in a particular location. Does York ROC need to be in York. Could it be in Middlesborough, where wages and costs may well be lower? plenty of buses and trains there.
The reason I say ROCs are often in a poor location is not only the fact that they seem to be very difficult to commute to a lot of the time, and also that when they were being planned they should have been placed in or around places the best and brightest talent want to live and work in order to attract them. Network Rail didn’t do that, and quite frankly it’s suffered for it.
 

Sonik

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The reason I say ROCs are often in a poor location is not only the fact that they seem to be very difficult to commute to a lot of the time, and also that when they were being planned they should have been placed in or around places the best and brightest talent want to live and work in order to attract them. Network Rail didn’t do that, and quite frankly it’s suffered for it.
I don't think NR will be too worried, the key point about a ROC is it's not 'hard wired' to the infrastructure like a PSB. So a ROC can be relocated in future to anywhere that resilient coms are available, without too much difficulty or cost.

Consolidation of ROCs makes sense, because it reduces costs, and a larger staff team in one location will be better able to deal with contingencies than lots of smaller teams, who may become overloaded by an incident.

So in the fullness of time, it's entirely feasible that the whole UK network will be centrally controlled from just 3 or 4 ROCs, geographically dispersed for resilience. Like Air Traffic Control, or indeed the motorway network.

As you say the main issue is having the right skills available locally for staffing.
 
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IanXC

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I don't think NR will be too worried, the key point about a ROC is it's not 'hard wired' to the infrastructure like a PSB. So a ROC can be relocated in future to anywhere that resilient coms are available, without too much difficulty or cost.

Consolidation of ROCs makes sense, because it reduces costs, and a larger staff team in one location will be better able to deal with contingencies than lots of smaller teams, who may become overloaded by an incident.

So in the fullness of time, it's entirely feasible that the whole UK network will be centrally controlled from just 3 or 4 ROCs, geographically dispersed for resilience. Like Air Traffic Control, or indeed the motorway network.

As you say the main issue is having the right skills available locally for staffing.

I don't think your consolidation argument necessarily follows.

There are two streams to this decision, Control functions and Signalling functions, and in many ways, having each of them separately together gets you the benefits, but do they both need to be in the same place? Do Controllers ever speak face to face to Signallers?

As far as Signallers go, once you've got enough signallers to warrant a Meal Break Relief Signaller, and a Signalling Shift Manager, does it really matter whether thats the limit or the same is replicated a few metres away? Theres only so many workstations any particular signaller can sign, so I would suggest that broadly the spread of PSBs, with their signalling control extended to the logical surrounding areas, would probably have been optimum. Its also worth considering how many people who are suitable and willing to work as signallers live within a suitable commuting distance of a particular ROC.

I'd suggest that there is no particular reason or need for Control functions to be in the same place as Signalling functions, and once a signalling centre gets up to around 7 workstations there no benefit of having more than that in the same location.
 

PDG1949

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There’s Section C on the signal box site but that’s very inaccurate now.

Yes, I agree

Perhaps I should added the word 'official'

HOWEVER I have found an 'official' list of signal box opening times


The Network Rail Compendium of Signal Box Opening Times

It's much more up to date and informative and it's Network Rail so is definitely official !
 

Sonik

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I'd suggest that there is no particular reason or need for Control functions to be in the same place as Signalling functions, and once a signalling centre gets up to around 7 workstations there no benefit of having more than that in the same location.
I'd tend to disagree.

There have been a number of accidents and near misses where signaler workload has been cited as a factor, most often because an individual or small team became overwhelmed by an evolving situation in their area. e.g faults, weather, engineering works.

With a larger team in one location, and a number of signalers able to sign various overlapping areas, isn't it easier to share workload, if you can simply shout to others for help across the room? Its also easier to cover absence/holidays/sickness etc. with a larger team.

But happy to acknowledge things in the real world may well be more complicated than I see it.
 
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plugwash

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Why do they have to be anywhere near the railway? They are just a massive computer centre. They could be in Romania or India. Their location is irrelevant.
Their connectivity to the railway is critical to the operation of said railway. Sure signalling equipment is designed to fail safe but a situation with no trains moving is still a bad situation.

Siting them next to the railway means that NR can maintain complete control over the network. If they were sited away from the railway then NR would start having to rely on third parties, the further they are from the railway the greater the extent to which NR would have to rely on third parties.
 

IanXC

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I'd tend to disagree.

There have been a number of accidents and near misses where signaler workload has been cited as a factor, most often because an individual or small team became overwhelmed by an evolving situation in their area. e.g faults, weather, engineering works.

With a larger team in one location, and a number of signalers able to sign various overlapping areas, isn't it easier to share workload, if you can simply shout to others for help across the room? Its also easier to cover absence/holidays/sickness etc. with a larger team.

But happy to acknowledge things in the real world may well be more complicated than I see it.

Well Controllers aren't going to be assisting by working Signallers workstations so having Signallers and Control in the same place won't assist the problem you describe.

As far as Signallers go, as far as I understand it very few workstations can be switched out, so even if help is needed there's only really the Shift Manager, possibly a Signaller whose workstations can be switched out and maybe the meal relief who can assist.

Signallers have to sign each workstation so there is a limit to how many they can sign, so the extent of their knowledge is likely to be similar to all of a PSB anyway. So even if there were any others in the ROC who could be freed up how much help is a signaller who doesn't sign the workstation where the problem is?
 

Falcon1200

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A number of them do seem to be in rather bizarre locations. For example Manchester ROC being next to Ashburys station rather than Piccadilly, and West Mids SC being at Saltley rather than New Street or Rugby.

And Glasgow ROC is in less than salubrious Springburn - My directions to people visiting by rail were 'leave the uncovered platform at Springburn and climb, if you can, the steep stairs (no wheelchair access whatsoever), cross the busy road, go through the pee-stinking underpass, past the burnt-out pub and the wasteland and you're nearly there'. One of our female staff making that journey encountered a flasher - in the afternoon ! It would be difficult to find a worse place to get to by train.

There are lots of signallers (and, commonly, Control staff) who have to get to and from there. Often at unsociable hours. Wouldn't it be convenient if they could use the railway to do so?!

Absolutely, and given rail's much-trumpeted environmental credentials forcing staff to drive to work, rather than use public transport (as I had to when my job was moved, or rather banished, to Springburn) is ridiculous.

There are two streams to this decision, Control functions and Signalling functions, and in many ways, having each of them separately together gets you the benefits, but do they both need to be in the same place? Do Controllers ever speak face to face to Signallers?

IMHO all communication between Signallers and Controllers should be recorded, ie by phone, so there is no need at all to be co-located.
 

Dunnideer

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With a larger team in one location, and a number of signalers able to sign various overlapping areas, isn't it easier to share workload, if you can simply shout to others for help across the room? Its also easier to cover absence/holidays/sickness etc. with a larger team.

But happy to acknowledge things in the real world may well be more complicated than I see it.
With VDU workstations it doesn’t really work like that, only one signaller can physically operate the workstation at a time because there’s only one mouse (or trackerball) and one keyboard. A second signaller could answer the phones and GSM-R for them but they would need to work very, very closely with the signaller actually operating the controls to make sure that the correct instructions and messages are passed on, so it doesn’t actually reduce the workload but increases the risk of a miscommunication significantly.

On a panel with physical buttons and switches you can split it up into smaller areas like you suggest so for example one signaller can concentrate one a single junction if needed, while another works the rest of the panel and they share the phones and GSM-R between them. You still need spare staff to be able to do that though and the company hates having signallers sitting spare.
 

Sonik

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With VDU workstations it doesn’t really work like that, only one signaller can physically operate the workstation at a time because there’s only one mouse (or trackerball) and one keyboard. A second signaller could answer the phones and GSM-R for them but they would need to work very, very closely with the signaller actually operating the controls to make sure that the correct instructions and messages are passed on, so it doesn’t actually reduce the workload but increases the risk of a miscommunication significantly.

On a panel with physical buttons and switches you can split it up into smaller areas like you suggest so for example one signaller can concentrate one a single junction if needed, while another works the rest of the panel and they share the phones and GSM-R between them. You still need spare staff to be able to do that though and the company hates having signallers sitting spare.
All fair points, the way things work today consolidation would be difficult/impractical.

I'm talking about a long time in the future, where digitization and increased automation fundamentally changes the role(s) performed by signalers.

Changes to working practices are inevitable, but I grant this is probably several decades away and nothing happens quickly on the railway!
 

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