Vehicle Movement Planning System
Author: Will Vogli
Publication Date: 14/03/2017
This document summarises the approach taken by Crossrail’s IT department to deliver a system that would meet the requirements of Crossrail’s Traffic Co-ordination Centre and how the challenges inherent in a complex, bespoke system were met.
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Introduction and Industry Context
Crossrail’s Traffic Co-ordination Centre (TCC) was established to assist Crossrail Ltd in meeting the following obligations:
- Environmental Minimum Requirements
- Commitments made during the passage of the Crossrail Act 2008
- Enable contractors to comply with requirements in contract Works Information
The TCC was set up to oversee all vehicle movements required for the Crossrail works located within the Central section of the project. To achieve this objective the TCC required a Vehicle Movement Planning System (VMPS) that would deliver the obligations described above.
The first phase of the project was an options analysis exercise to determine if there were any “off the shelf” solutions that would meet all or most of the user requirements. Various systems were demonstrated by suppliers but at the time none covered the full scope of requirements or gave the flexibility that was required. Therefore the decision was made to build the system in-house using an existing team of software developers.
The system had to be capable of supporting a 24/7 operation and would need to be deployed to numerous worksites around London. The user interface had to be rich in content and provide all the common features that users expect of a modern desktop application. However, it had to be browser based to allow centralised deployment and support.
At the time, HTML5 was slowly making its way into web browsers and would have been an ideal choice for this type of application. However, HTML5 was not established enough and presented too many browser incompatibility issues. Crossrail IT opted to use Microsoft’s Silverlight application framework as this gave the ability to develop the rich UI features the application required and Silverlight would remain in support by Microsoft for the duration of the Crossrail project and beyond.
Microsoft SQL Server was utilised for the backend database as it was already established as part of Crossrail’s IT software infrastructure.
One of the most significant challenges was how to give worksite gate staff access to the information they required, to allow them to see and record details of each vehicle arrival/departure and for them to be able to perform a vehicle safety inspection. This required a portable device that could function with intermittent internet access. To this end, Crossrail engaged with PODFather Ltd. who had the necessary expertise and an established ‘proof of delivery’ system (POD) that closely fitted the requirements and could be customised to integrate seamlessly with Crossrail’s VMPS system. Along with customised PDA software, PODFather were able to supply rugged PDA devices that were suitable for a worksite environment.
The key features of the VMPS system allowed:
- Contractors to plan their vehicle movements to worksites and lorry holding areas (LHAs). The system incorporated a calendar with clear indicators of when plans were due for submission.
- Contractors to see other contractors’ movements that were also planned to arrive at their worksite. This encouraged communication between contractors and helped prevent overloading of the available parking facilities.
- System administrators to record details of worksites and LHAs and capture attributes including opening hours, vehicle capacity and access points (entry/departure gates). In addition contracts could be assigned to specific worksites which ensured a contractor could only plan a vehicle to an authorised worksite. This was flexible to allow the worksite configuration to change as the actual worksites changed over time.
- The TCC to review submitted plans with site validation errors and other constraints clearly highlighted, allowing for fast plan reviews.
- Side by side plan comparisons to be performed which gave visibility to different versions of a plan over time.
- Integrated email notification to inform system users of events such as plan objections and non-compliant safety inspections.
- KPIs and other metrics to be reported on via a suite of application integrated reports. Daily worksite gate sheet reports were available as a back-up in the event of a PDA hardware failure at the worksite. This enabled manual data capture which could be keyed in to the system ensuring no loss of vehicle arrival data.
- Identification of lorry drivers required to attend Crossrail’s innovative lorry driver training programme.
- Traffic bulletins about planned and unplanned traffic disruption in and around London.
- Comprehensive reporting system to allow system administrators to constantly monitor and manage the data
In addition to the core VMPS system, an IOS based mobile app was developed in–house to allow Crossrail nominated staff to perform ad hoc vehicle safety inspections at worksites. The collected data was integrated into the system to allow comparisons between contractor and Crossrail inspections.
- Rather than purchasing PDA devices, it would have been more flexible and possibly more cost effective if Crossrail had leased the devices. This would have made it easier to upgrade the hardware to newer and faster devices. Crossrail used the original, purchased devices for the duration of the project.
- Making more use of bar code technology earlier on in the project would have helped speed up data entry on the PDA devices. This would involve collaboration from both contractors and haulage subcontractors at the outset to ensure fleet vehicles displayed a bar code where vehicle type and registration and other pertinent information could be scanned rather than keyed.
Recommendations for Future Projects
By recording a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) activity against a planned vehicle movement, it would be possible to identify which phase of a construction project and the type of activity generated the most traffic and help identify the type of vehicles utilised in a particular phase. This type of information would be very valuable to those developing future projects.
Making this data publicly available in future projects’ learning legacies would benefit the industry as a whole.
Crossrail Application Development Team Lead
Will Vogli has worked in the IT industry for over 26 years covering a wide range of technical disciplines. He joined Crossrail in 2009. Using his experience in business analysis, system design, application development and support he has lead an in-house team of software developers to deliver numerous, bespoke business systems to support various departments within the Crossrail project.