The top 4 mistakes people make on blockades and how to solve them

December 15, 2021
The top 4 most commonly encountered problems on blockades including poor contingency planning and poor incident response and how to solve them. 

Blocked and major works are carried out each year to deliver vital renewals and repairs to railway infrastructure, but each year workers face delays and issues on site. This blog will tell you everything you need to know about the top 4 most commonly encountered problems on blockades and how to solve them.

What is a blockade?

The ORR defines a rail blockade as ‘the closure of a route for an extended period, typically more than a weekend usually to allow engineering works’. Where major works are needed to be carried out, works are pre planned 12 months ahead of schedule at times which aim to cause the least disruption to commuters.

An independent review conducted by Network Rail concluded that typically Christmas, Easter and bank holidays are the best times to conduct major rail blockades. The review found that during the Christmas period, approximately 2.5 million people commute by rail, compared to the usual 5 million people in regular operating periods. Despite this, blockades have been historically troublesome, resulting in possession overruns and unexpected delays to passengers.

However, the causes of these delays are easily overcome and mitigated if they are understood properly.

1 - Poor contingency planning

In the case of rail blockades, where any delays and possession overruns have the capability to cause major disruption to commuters, it is important to have effective contingency plans in place.

During a blockade, a contingency plan should be developed for each disruption scenario which could occur throughout the blockade. It is important to ensure that everyone working on the blockade is aware of these measures and what to do in the case of delays.

However, even if proper contingency plans are developed, if teams do not have an awareness of what is occurring on site, these measures cannot be put into place.

Therefore, to overcome this issue, it is important to ensure teams have access to a real time reporting solution. By ensuring that site data is visible to teams, issues can be identified and flagged immediately, so if any problems do arise on the track teams can make proactive, data driven decisions to mitigate these delays.

To find out about the advantages of a real time reporting solution, click here.

2 - Failure to procure accurate and timely information during disruptions

When disruptions do occur on blockades, it is important that issues are flagged immediately so proactive decisions can be made about how to handle and minimise delays. However many teams still use inefficient processes such as Whatsapp, Excel and emails to communicate issues on site.

These processes cause many problems, such as:

  • Data does not allow to real time collaboration as data is static and out of date as soon as the information arrives in the inbox
  • Inconsistent and unstructured data sets causing confusion within site teams
  • Wasting time on site, the longer message and email threads get, the more time is spent trying to find important information
  • Risk of data loss, anyone with access to your phone or shared drive can delete vital information
  • GDPR non compliance

3 - Failure to properly communicate train movements and changes to operators

A failure to properly communicate train movements and changes to operators can result in overrunning works and signalling errors, which can cause long delays and inconveniences for pedestrians.

The Network Rail Christmas blockade of 2014 is one example of where a breakdown in communication and signalling errors resulted in a multi million pound fine. Additionally, inconveniences caused by these kinds of errors can cause damage amongst stakeholder and public reputation.

Therefore, it is important for site teams to be able to understand in real-time how the risks of possession overruns have changed and communicate this upwardly and externally to train operators.

4 - Poor incident response

Incident response is the process of quickly identifying a problem, minimising its effects and damages and reducing the risk of future incidents.

Often teams working on blockades have a poor incident response reaction due to the inability to flag site issues immediately and communicate this with project teams. Poor data visibility and communication on site leaves teams vulnerable to problems occurring on site. Without proper communication, incidents that could be mitigated and solved quickly can spiral into possession overruns and costly claims.

Additionally, as many teams do not have a streamlined site reporting process where high quality data is consistently captured every shift, they cannot implement a long term learning strategy. Without the ability to make data driven decisions, project teams are unable to implement a strong incident response strategy and remain vulnerable to repeating the same mistakes year after year.  

The Solution

A real time reporting solution like Raildiary can help streamline blockades for project teams. By facilitating real time data visualisation, Raildiary removes the confusion and disarray of information caused by Whatsapp and Excel reporting methods. As everyone on site has real time access to project data, team members are able to understand the key  issues that are important to them in an easy to digest format, without the inconvenience of trawling through emails or making multiple phone calls .

Furthermore, a real time view of data means that teams are able to proactively manage milestone risks and understand potential overruns ahead of time, which can then quickly be communicated to internal and external stakeholders.

In summary, the four biggest blockade issues facing the rail industry require immediate attention and action. By addressing these issues, businesses can improve efficiency and productivity, reduce costs, and enhance their reputation and credibility. By staying informed and proactive, businesses can adapt to the ever-changing demands of the market, and ensure their long-term success and sustainability in the industry.

The top 4 mistakes people make on blockades and how to solve them

Will Doyle


I am an experienced RICS chartered Quantity Surveyor​ with first-hand experience of how the consistent capture and analysis of data can transform global project delivery.

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