Why isn’t automation easy? How managing change oiled the wheels of the Electronic Train Graph

Revolutionising rail - The Terrace Initiative

Why isn’t automation easy? How managing change oiled the wheels of the Electronic Train Graph



Paper-based planning of train routes and schedules are as old as rail networks . While the rest of the rail industry has long transitioned from steam engines to bullet trains, train scheduling remained a complex, paper-based operation of network maps and pencil-drawn routes. Automation of this was thought impossible. Network availability, on-demand scheduling and the ever-changing nature of rail operations all added to the complexity.

Contemporary railroad operations are under pressure to find cost-effective ways to improve safety, network reliability and efficiency, all whilst managing an increase in demand. Automation could not be ignored.

One such solution is an electronic train graph (ETG), often referred to as a movement planner. Its effectiveness has been proven in rail operations throughout the world. ETG, essentially a forecasting tool, understands the current state of a rail network, plans train paths including train crossings and factors in key constraints such as track maintenance, re-crewing and unplanned events.

The benefits of implementing the ETG are well documented – improved network capacity; reduced operating costs; increased average velocity or reduced cycle times; improvements to on-time performance and reduction in dispatcher or controller workload.

With many companies already successfully using electronic train graphs in day-to-day operations, why are others lagging behind?

After reviewing successful ETG implementations we believe that there are 5 factors that differentiate successful adoptions from those that aren’t.


  • Leaders are skilled at driving change

The challenge of transitioning from a paper-based system to an electronic system should not be underestimated. The change for a team is significant: they find it challenging and need considerable leadership  support and coaching; more effective leaders that have specific change leadership skills to support their teams through uncertainty. They are able to identify cultural or structural barriers inhibiting their effectiveness and potential areas of resistance. These leaders build, execute and measure change plans for all impacted individuals and teams affected by the implementation.

  • The technology aligns to the operating model and enables the business to evolve

Not all electronic train graphs are the same, and not all electronic train graphs will suit the business needs. Operating models, ownership structure and business priorities between railroads can vary. It is important to select a fit-for-purpose product that aligns to the business model, but also enables  the business to evolve.

  • The impact of change is known and managed

Resist the temptation to completely re-engineer the operating model, processes, organisational structure and technology all at once. A transition from a paper-based to an electronic system is a significant step by itself, changing other components of the business at the same time introduces risk and may be one step too far.

Knowing the areas that will be impacted by this change and the extent of the impact builds a solid foundation for a roadmap with manageable increments. When risk areas are known it enables better  focus, better prediction of outcomes and better stakeholder management.

  • Data quality and integration requirements are understood

A common pitfall in decision support and automation projects is a lack of data quality. Successful implementation programs understand what data they require , and how to source it reliably and timely. It cannot be overstated how taking the time to understand the information requirements upfront will save time and money, and make for a smoother transition.

  • data-driven leader-led approach manages change

Implementing the ETG system has significant impact on individuals and teams with the potential to cause disruption both inside and outside the organisation. Leaders lead the change. Informed by data and insight, they recognise their teams experience, their speed of adoption and levels of resistance as this may vary from team to team and person to person.

Identifying areas of potential risk and high impact informs well-defined change plans.  Measuring specific change outcomes routinely and adapting plans as the implementation progresses are key to successful ETG implementation.

ETG is only one example of the significant automation and technology transformation programs being implemented across all sectors. Organisations all face the same challenge – how to thrive in a state of constant and rapid change? Building change management competencies in your organisation is a proven way to make the road to transformation smoother.

At The Terrace Initiative we have developed empirically-proven approaches to enable people and organisations to embrace transformation effectively and embed the capability to do it continuously.  We call it Transformation Sciences® and we are proud to have pioneered world firsts across many industries using these processes. We bring together capabilities and a partner-based approach that is data-driven and harnesses the strengths of our client’s leadership teams.
Want to know more? The Terrace Initiative are a driving force in the industry and are leading the way in change management. Please contact us at sydney@theterraceinitiative.com