MacRail Case Study -Building The App

MacRail are the industry leading provider of site access and welfare services for the rail industry. They are custodians of rail workers, ensuring their safety on behalf of the overall client by tracking all staff who enter a site, ensuring overall safety, as well as checking each worker is qualified and prepared for the job.

They recently celebrated their 20th anniversary as an organisation and launched a brand-new mobile phone app in conjunction with this milestone.

Weston Analytics developed The MacRail App, working closely with the MacRail team to create the perfect tool that would meet the needs of the industry.

Giles Peacock Commercial Manager at Weston Analytics, was heavily involved in this process. We caught up with him to get a more detailed view of what this revolutionary app can do, and how it came to be.

Here is what he had to say:

When MacRail approached you, what was their initial aim and ambition for this app?

Steve Featherstone, the former Track Programme Director of Network Rail, recently joined MacRail, and he brought with him a vision for, “15 minutes Van to Ballast.”

Often in the utilities and rail industry, there is a bottleneck of staff having to complete the necessary administrative tasks. Workers arrive, and must be brought up to speed with the nature of the site, any specific safety concerns, the location of first aid stations, etc. They also need their industry credentials checked to make sure they’re qualified for the job, and PPE checked to ensure they’re safe to do so.

On very large sites, on busy days, this can mean hordes of high-vis-clad workers queueing to receive an induction to site and check in. On these occasions, it is not uncommon for this process to take an hour or more. That’s a lot of payroll just standing around.

The aim is (as the van to ballast challenge suggests), to reduce the time it takes between arrival on site and actually working, to no more than 15 minutes. You arrive at site, pull on your PPE and boots, check in, and you are ‘trackside’ in a quarter of an hour.

Out of all the necessary checks traditionally done in person with the Site Access Controller, we estimated that 90% of the standard sign-in process could actually be completed before reaching the worksite. The task then becomes, how can we leverage technology to make this a reality?

What were some key features that had to be included to make the app a success?

There is a lot of information that a worker has to absorb before they are judged safe to enter a site, and we needed a way to get that information to the worker before they leave for work, or even on the way to work.

We decided an app would best suit the job. Information flows directly from the client, to the workers pocket device. Then the worker can ‘pre-populate’ their own information to the Site Access Controllers on shift, so that this is waiting for them when they got to the site. Information is going from client to worker, and from worker to Site Access Control, all before they’ve arrived, saving a great deal of time.

In practice, a worker might view site safety information as an image, text or video. Once this is complete, they are then permitted to enter their personal information or CSCS card number, along with the registration of the vehicle they are travelling in. The worker then receives instructions for where to go for their streamlined check-in process when they reach the site.

Tracking the vehicles used to get to site is really important from a Covid perspective. If any positive tests are reported after a shift, the MacRail team know who else was travelling to work with them and can submit that data to Track and Trace.

What were the main challenges when meeting these aims and how did you overcome these challenges?

I love the quote that goes “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.” We had to spend quite some time thinking through all the various logistical and technical challenges in front of us, and visualise a workflow for staff and clients that had not previously existed.

The solution had to be seamless and frictionless, so that end-user adoption was easy, and therefore not seen as an annoyance. Data flows securely from the client, to an individual’s mobile phone, then to the site access or control room teams, and then back to the client, without delay.

Of course, we had several false starts and had to come up with fresh ideas. Fortunately though, these were all at the planning stage before we actually started development.

What was the outcome? Were you able to meet every expectation? 

I’m delighted to say that The MacRail App was delivered on time and on budget. We were working to an ambitious timescale in order to have the solution fully operational and end-user-tested in time for MacRail’s 20th anniversary.

Feedback from MacRail’s clients has been universally positive.

With anything new like this, especially something so successful, everyone has good ideas for how to make it even better! One client might request multiple language support, another might want a more elaborate notification system. We’re already planning incremental updates next month and some more substantial developments to follow.

Can you talk about the app in relation to the industry, is this something new and original? 

Indeed. We were fortunate to have the guidance of Steve Feathestone, who has enormous experience of the utilities industry, and knows exactly what the biggest challenges are. And have always been. He’d seen first-hand how much payroll was frittered away with workers standing around outside of a worksite, especially in the highly regulated and technical, rail sector.

Taking into account the amount of time saved, the pay-rate of qualified staff, the number of individuals on a site and the number of worksites active at any given time, we estimate this system should save Network Rail’s supply chain millions of pounds in this year alone.

The MacRail App is seen as truly revolutionary and is expected to really change the game. The problem of long queues at the site access control has existed for a long time and with mobile phone technology, we can finally provide an elegant solution.

Keep an eye on Weston Analytics and MacRail channels for new updates, and news of how The MacRail App is received by the industry.

About Weston Analytics

We believe that great software solutions can change the world, one line of code at a time. Our products are designed with your business needs in mind. We provide our clients with a tailored experience ensuring they have the right solution for their business. By using Weston Analytics software service solutions you can see an immediate impact and improvement within key areas, such as workforce productivity, worksite management, waste management, and more.