Meet Paul Long – Learnings from the Cambrian

Paul Long – Head of Traction and Rolling Stock

While a new face to Freightliner, Paul is no stranger to ETCS (European Train Control System) implementation; the technology which will be fitted to Freightliner locomotives to provide train protection and supervision via in-cab signalling.

Upon finding out that Paul was a member of the team which delivered ETCS to the Cambrian line, I jumped at the opportunity to speak with him about his experience and ask for some tips on how we, at Freightliner, can deliver it better.

CC: Welcome to Freightliner Paul. Just to get a bit of background, how did you get involved with the roll out of ERTMS on the Cambrian line?

PL: I was on the Network Rail graduate programme at the time. Unlike most graduate programmes, you had to apply for roles in the company. Where I was living, in Nottingham, it was very competitive. My boss recommended that I go for this job in London working on the ERTMS roll out. So, whilst I was a drawn to the role, I also kind of fell into it because I needed a job.

CC: So random luck it seems. What did your role look like?

PL: When I joined, the ETCS provider was still being picked, and it was a long commercial negotiation. As part of it, they decided not to fit too many freight locos. My first role within the project was to take locomotives from a scrap heap and get them to running status. So, in the first year to 18 months I was rebuilding locos. Later my role expanded to fitting those locomotives with ETCS equipment. As I had built the locos from scrap, when the systems were designed, I knew more than anybody about how to fit them.

CC: That is great that you can say you have built a loco from scrap. What was the biggest challenge during fitment then?

PL: Integration. We had 360 separate drawings which focused on fitting the kit and connecting it. What people miss is that the ERTMS kit requires a lot of cabling. Things seem simple in the design phase, however, during fitment the roof comes off and floors come up. The actual fitment took far longer than anyone anticipated, and in the end; the locos had faults from being stood for so long. Arguments then arose between the engineers and the supplier whether issues were caused by the loco or the new kit. For example, if there was an issue to do with brakes, it was assumed that ETCS must be causing it.

CC: How did you overcome that?

PL: There was a group of us maintainers and fitters who were employed by Network Rail.  As Network Rail’s representative, I was in the position of not caring about the source of issues, and I could keep everyone focused on fixing it. Then there were some maintainers who really wanted to be involved and some who didn’t. The ones who didn’t want to be involved failed the loco immediately, and the ones who were engaged wanted to solve the issue. Because of the amount of cable we had, it was inevitable that cable faults took place during fitment. As a result, normal fault finding had to take place.

CC: Do you see Freightliner experiencing this issue?

PL: Freightliner wouldn’t have that issue as you have maintenance specialists and engineers on site, so no matter what, you have confident people who will know the traction and be happy to take on faults.

CC: What did you personally find was the major benefit from ETCS fitment?

PL:  From a safety point of view, you are moving the maintenance from people walking around on the railway infrastructure to it being completed in vehicle maintenance facilities. In effect, it is a unified approach the railway is taking to move work to a safer environment.

CC: That aligns well with Freightliner’s zero injuries goal. Do you think there will be any major differences regarding the reception of ETCS now versus with the Cambrian?

PL: It has been normalised to interface with computers and tablets in the workplace. When we introduced it on the Cambrian, signallers retired because it went from a box to a screen. Arriva had drivers retire, but now our staff already use tablets in the workplace, so the transition to using technology won’t have such a significant impact. Additionally, people are more trusting of it now. Initially, with JRU recorders, people would ask me if it got confused by data being input into it, so there was a level of technological naivety. If it was a computer, it must be doing rocket science. People were also overwhelmed with having to input their data. GSMR radios have now been installed for some time. People are used to using menu screens and scrolling through options on an electronic system.

CC: Those are really good points and important for us to reflect on this when thinking about how we feel about this change. Is there anything else you believe is worth adding?

PL: Getting the training right for maintainers is important. We spent a lot of time designing training where it wasn’t necessarily required. On the Cambrian, we spent too much time training people on the fundamentals of ETCS and how the system was operated by the driver. It was too much and too early with not enough real-world experience to cement the learnings. We learned later that training which told people how and where the interfaces were with the existing systems was more useful. I also recognise that my previous team would have benefitted from more frontline support and mentoring. To be signed off by a competency assessor you need to do the real job, so we ended up with plenty of people trained who had not passed assessment.

CC: I agree. Luckily, we do have an amazing group of engineers on the ERTMS team already addressing the points you have raised. As well, we are privileged to have your support for the successful delivery of this project. 

If you would like to ask Paul or a member of the ERTMS team any questions, please email us at: