The Impaired Human Flight Principle

I’m incredibly fortunate to sometimes be invited out to events that interest me with my hobbies once in a while that also interlink with work.  Today was one of those days, when I got an email two or so weeks ago inviting people to join them for a Stansted Airport PRM (Passengers with Restricted Mobility) Day, undertaken with Omniserve.  The idea of the day is for you to ask questions, have a poke about and discover what the airport is able to offer a customer who needs a little bit more help than where their gate might be.

Bruce was able to give clear answers to those there

Bruce was able to give clear answers to those there

So, with my passport and a bit of information about where to park, I went off for the day.  Meeting everyone at the terminal assistance desk, we were ably led by Bruce and Sheila (see the naming policy) through to security, armed with visitors passes and our passports.

I’ve only been through security once at Stansted before and the last time was at about 7:00, half asleep.  So this was quite a good experience for me.  A male security guard gave me a good check over in a thorough and efficient manner whilst making sure the airport was not at risk.  It took all of 5 minutes or so and I was through and free to collect my camera, phone and laptop.



We moved through the newly laid out retail and restaurant areas – there is a lot of work going on at the moment, all evidence of the huge investment of over £80M by the Manchester Airport Group. Sheila and Bruce took us along to stand 50, where an ambi-lift (think – box on the back of a truck with scissor lift) was waiting… along with a Boeing 737-800, courtesy of Ryanair.

Bruce showed us how the ambi-lift process worked.  Provided by Omniserve (a contracted service provider), the system enables passengers who are PRM to access the plane from the terminal.  Usually a passenger is assisted out on to the apron, where the ambilift has a tail lift to raise the passenger to access the “box” on the back of the truck.  The box then lifts and a front “bridge” extended to the aircraft.  Whilst in the box, you transfer to an aisle chair and then are lifted into the cabin.

Discussing needs onboard

The whole process can be done in minutes and has a variety of tools available, including hoists, slings and transfer boards to help a customer get on the plane.

After the aircraft, we went through the arrivals process, looking at the route in through arrivals and exiting on to the forecourt.

Two hours has now passed – a lot to take in already.  A short break and then we had some presentations from Bruce and Clive from Omniserve as well as Mick from Manchester Airport Group.  It was rather interesting, learning that about 20% assistance requests are ad-hoc every month, for example.  Clive, who leads on the training programme for Omniserve, made it clear that the Social Model of Disability is at the core of the Equality Awareness Training.  He made no bones about not having all the answers, citing the need to keep relevant and use outside sources to improve and expand their training. It was also very evident that the training goes beyond a wheelchair or person having no vision.  It’s customer focused, knowing about both visible and hidden disabilities, including mental health and learning disabilities.  It was incredibly refreshing to hear someone ‘get it’ without having to be prompted to churn out the answers like a machine.

Mick then presented on behalf of Stansted.  He gave a true and frank explanation of some of the challenges faced when looking at improving the facilities on offer.  It was good to hear that the first consideration is not always the cost – inconvenience when replacing existing solutions, meaning customers may have a longer journey from point to point, for example, takes a central focus.  Wayfinding is a huge issue and has been centralised to remove the mix of signage as well as the development of a Wayfinding Strategy.  He also made it clear that although 80% of the existing issues were resolved, there was a hunger to get the other 20%.  Growing their market is crucial to their business strategy and to do that, it needs to be 100%.

Answering honestly and clearly, I really valued this Q&A session.  It wasn’t just lip-service – it was an open forum for potential and existing customers to learn, share and discover – building confidence to go and have positive experiences in the air.

If you get the chance to go and see one – I’d recommend it.

The Electrical Multiple Unit Symposium

I think it is fair to say that I really enjoy my job.  I enjoy working with the public, even when it can be hard to explain some things to them. I also enjoy working with transport providers – no matter the mode – bus, taxi, train or even air or boat, I find it invaluable that we can call on their experience and opinion.  I have to say, although there are some dark days, most of them are pretty decent.  On this basis, today was legen – wait for it…

dary. Legendary. Flipping amazing.  And here is why.

One of our colleague providers is the rail company Greater Anglia.  I’ve worked with them and their predecessor for some considerable time – Sheila has been mentioned before in fact, as I will again now.  (Link back: This post.)  I know that when they received the new class 379 trains as I photographed in the previous post they also got a brand new sparkly simulator to train drivers on.  But I haven’t ever seen the simulator… until today.  Sheila invited me along to the Greater Anglia Academy to see the other side of what Greater Anglia do – the rigorous assessment drivers go through in order to remain on the rails, moving us from A to B.

We arrived at the Academy and the first thing to note – its not like school.  The lead manager came over and introduced him self, as did the manager who would be assessing me for the day.  This isn’t just general politeness, as Bruce explained – we’re talking about a livelihood here, they focus on the driver being relaxed and not feeling pressured. Train driving is not just a job but a career and the driver must remain fully competent in his role.  30 years ago, drivers were given some training and when passing out as a fully qualified driver, they were given their keys and not seen again by their assessors unless they did something wrong.  Now, when a driver is passed, they are reviewed every year, including a short exam and a simulated scenario or two – not a run of the mill trip but with some issues.

The exam covers rules and regulations – for example where you can or cannot walk on the railway, things you should do or not do or signs you might see.  I was half expecting a pop quiz but I gave this a go.  One thing to note – there is no pass or fail.  If they have concerns then they deal with each driver individually.  My score though was not as great as I would have liked to do but considering I had no revision – 30% correct.  D’oh.  But then I was also taken through the things I had got wrong and Bruce explained why they follow the regulations and what purpose they had.  Safe working distance from Overhead Electrical Lines?  2.75 metres.  And that bit of land to the side of the train track on the left between a field and the track? It’s known as the CESS or “Formally the 10 foot”.

Class 379 CabI was introduced to the Simulator too starting with a class 379, the train class I got up close and personal with about a year and a bit ago.  Fun fact – it takes about 6 or 7 high end computers to power the simulator.  The layout is much akin to the actual train – its a mock up cab.  Every button and dial is replicated, the touchscreen is a touchscreen; the CCTV for DDO is faithfully replicated; even the lights and wiper switches function.  Oh, and the seat moves!

The controller in the office – Bruce in this case – can change everything from the time of day, the weather, the windscreen conditions (dirt or a crack), the adhesion and even obstacles on the line.  The train functions are very realistic – AWS to cancel when approaching caution aspects or danger aspects and TPWS if I don’t cancel the alert.  A DRA button to set and reset at red aspects.  Dials telling me brake cylinder pressure.  And all I had to do was sit in the seat, keep my foot down (unless it bleeps when I have to lift up and push back down again).  Sound easy still?

379-cab-with-meSheila was stood with me and observing as I took my “train” through changes in the speed limit, encountering emergency speed restrictions, snow, rail, fog and a cow on the line.  In driving a train for an hour and 10 minutes, I had experienced the worst a driver could expect to encounter from the environment.  I was surprised to hear Bruce then tell me I’d actually done ok for a first timer, which was testament to Bruce’s short but very informative tutorial.  However, my head hurt – it had taken such a lot to concentrate to where to stop, what speed limits to adhere to and when to sound my horn.  I’d only been doing it an hour – imagine a two hour run from London to Norwich!

During a short break and a chat about how I found it, Bruce explained the other aspect about the assessment – pastoral care.  Driving in shifts is demanding work and drivers have to plan their life accordingly.  This means going to bed at the right times and alcohol intake limitations before their shift.

I was also shown the wall of SPAD fame – Signals Passed At Danger – which helps drivers understand the lessons to be learnt, and the latest initiative to help drivers who rotate patterns – DISH: Do I Stop Here?  Its clear that the Academy is there to help their drivers be the best by learning from every opportunity – as someone else pointed out, messing up in the simulator, you can have another go.  You don’t get that chance in the real thing.

315-drivingBefore I left, I was given one last run on the class 315 simulator.  I could hear another assessment going on in the background too, as I was shown a completely different cab and way to drive.  The difference between old and new is astounding – seating position, controls – even the way that you key in.  I found this harder, because the core difference is a separate brake to accelerator, compared to a single controller on a 379.  I know I went over the speed limit a few times by a little but I could feel my concentration begin to waver.  How the metro drivers do it day in day out I do not know.

I left the Greater Anglia Academy with a renewed respect for train drivers everywhere.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself but learnt a lot – not just about driving trains but the investment that goes into each driver.  I was awestruck at how the drivers are put into the deep end of a scenario, not to try and get some to “fail” but to help them to identify where they can focus on.  Above all, the experience was very useful, informative being an understatement.  I hope I can translate some of their skill set in to other areas I work now.

A big thank you to Sheila for inviting me along today – I won’t shut up about this for a while…

The Electro-Traction Motion

Today has been a rather busy day, warranting two blog entries.  I have been out and about today for work with National Express East Anglia.  In fact, the journey itself was something interesting…

We have very few express services in Essex but one of them is the X30.  It is an accessible coach with Wifi (when it works).  I know that the X30 is not always accessible – but its worth a shot turning up, and today I had company in the form of Sheila from National Express*.  I pre-warned First I was planning on travelling so you can imagine my surprise that when the coach turned up, there was already a wheelchair user onboard!  I was more than happy to transfer and the coach driver was more than happy to stow my chair.

Magic Wheelchair LiftThe lift onboard is something to behold.  It is stowed beneath the steps and extends out.  Whilst the lift comes out, the landing between the steps and the cabin lifts up to meet the cabin level.  The lift handles extend automatically in a ballet of automation – truely something amazing and unexpected.  You can see in the image where the floor is lifting beside the drivers seat (click the image, nothing will break).

LiftSo, on I got, off Sheila and I went to Stansted.  It was quick, it was comfortable and we arrived and I was offloaded with a bit more dignity than I used to have with coaches. I liked this experience – different to say the least.  But it leads me to a thought – why can’t we do this on trains?  Technical fact of the wheels aside, why aren’t we considering this for one of the most popular forms of public transport?  Worth asking.

The new trains

RampThis was good fun too.  I had been invited with some colleagues from Essex to look around the new class 379s and to see some training for platform and on-board staff around the trains, looking at how they train staff in deploying the ramp, assisting passengers in emergancies etc.  It was very interesting to see how the training is carried out in situ.  I’ve put some photos up online at my gallery – the ones in the locked file feature people and is for NXEA use only.

I was very impressed that the wheelchair area allocated (two spaces, as per DDA) is actually quite spacious.  It has two seats opposite one space, a single seat opposite the other.  I’m kicking myself because I didn’t get enough photos of the space as I wanted photos of the details.  D’oh.

Sadly, there is one small thought about the contrasts between floor and seat, floor and grab rails.  It’s not enough, which is a shame – because this train is possibly one of the best layouts I’ve experienced yet onboard a train.  The other gripe is the huge lip on the toilet door – its about 2/3 of an inch and quite big for a ‘lip’.  But otherwise a superb new train – something I hope to travel on again in the future.

So – there we go – a busy day.  I rode back on a 379 into Liverpool Street – they are smooth and quiet, very much the sort of train you’d hope to have on your local line… maybe in the next cascade?


*Sheila is not her real name, but I don’t like to use real names unless I have permission and since I don’t have her permission yet… boys, by the way, are called Bruce.  You have to be slightly older to get the joke.

Tailoring to the Project Principles

I passed my PRINCE2 foundation exam today… which kicked ass, to be honest.  I won’t lie when I say it was a lot to take in.  It’s hard work and a lot of theory.  However, I got 50/70 so I can’t be that bad.  I now have the Practitioner exam Friday.

But my highlight of my day?  My girls came over to see me tonight where I am staying… I had fun playing with Monkey, Nuzzle and Scratch – Monkey was especially boisterous.  Scratch is crawling like no ones business and Nuzzle scoffing away on food… it was fantastic.

I think its hard to remember how much of your life they are until you have two days away… Monkey might only see me for 30 minutes to an hour a day when I get in during the week, but we get a cuddle and a play… but this week we’ve not had that.  So, she was in a grump with me for the first 10 minutes.  But after that we had fun, rolling her new money-box ball around with some pennies in, involving Nuzzle too, who was laughing at us.  Scratch crawled all over the place…

And MBW – I felt happy to see her.  I got a hug I needed and just that moment together to chill out… it just reminded me of how important she is to me.  It was a great end to a good day.

Happy bunny is me tonight.

Principles of Project Management: Chapter 1

Part of the Principles of Project Management is understanding how Projects fit into line with the programme, and how following simple principles and processes can actually implement into your every day life… even if it does make you appear a complete sad act.

Every project has someone who is ultimately responsible.  The Executive.  The person who is going to take the flack if something goes wrong, and that something is the project failing.  They are joined on the board by two others – Senior User and Senior Supplier.  But how is this defined, how do you decided who they are?

Users are those that are the end user.  They will decide what they want.  You don’t have all of them on the board – they’re represented.  They tell the representative what they want through focus and stakeholder groups.  The person who represents them all: – the Senior User. They are internal to the company.  The things they want – it has to be descriptive but to a point – too deep a de

Suppliers don’t have to be internal or external.  They are essentially going to be supplying the solution.  If it’s an IT project, it can be your IT department, it can be a contractor.  I’ll draw up a scenario in a moment.

And then you have the project manager.  The project manager should not be from the supplier.  Why? Because they have  a conflict of interests.  The project manager must ensure Quality as an outcome within the costs.

So, quick example:

We need to go to shopping.  MBW has made an executive decision.  I have users – the family – who want food in the house.  They have drawn up a list of requirements – the shopping list.  I have a provider (Saincosons).  I have been assigned the role of project manager.

Now, why is it important that Saincosons are not the project manager?  Because they will go around and pick the most expensive products.  I’m not saying that it’s true to real life and is no way a slur on Saincosons – this is just the fact of most suppliers – its maximum profit.  Heck – I’d do the same.  But – I have a list.  Now, my end users stipulated they want Heinz beans.  What if the cost of a can is £1, but Saincosons own brand is 50p.  Now, typically, if it’s my budget, then it’s my decision as to which can I buy.  But – in a project the users have said they want high quality beans, the executive has agreed the budget… as a project manager, you don’t have an authority to change the requirements.

And then when I get home, the outcome is checked – did I get everything I was asked for.  This is called Quality Assurance.  Does it meet the requirements?  Does it meet the budget?

If yes – successful outcome.  If not – what lessons do I learn?

This is the basics of project management.  Tomorrow I might discuss the Principles, the Processes and the Themes.  Job done.