On 28 February 2018 a small group from RailSoc visited Cross Country’s headquarters in Birmingham again, this time for an introduction to train planning. The course was well received by all who went, and by Cross Country themselves.


The day began just before 13:00 with the group chosen for the trip assembling at University station. Refreshingly, there were plenty of new faces alongside our regulars. We made our way to New Street Station by train and then walked to Cross Country’s headquarters. Following a short lift ride, we were greeted by Cross Country staff and ushered into a meeting room.

Here we were shown the plan for the afternoon and began with a short, humorous and pun-filled ice breaker. We were then introduced to the industry planning process and the timescales involved. It was noteworthy that the very long term planning process is looking many decades into the future, while the short term planning plans may be submitted 18 weeks before the timetable comes into effect.

Our next exercise was to plan a train from Birmingham New Street to Derby, calling at various places along the way. In order to complete this task we used a train plan, a graph on which train services are plotted, showing distance on the y axis and time on the x axis. The task is made more complicated because there must be suitable gaps between trains for the signalling system to cope, and signalling conditions may be different at different points on the route. Furthermore there may be trains joining and leaving the route to consider.

After this we looked at unit diagramming, the process by which units (physical trains) are allocated to train services. To do this you must take into account where units start and finish, as well as the length of the unit (on a more crowded train, a 3 car unit is better than a 2 car one). Further to this, the length of time the train is crowded must be factored in.

Next we considered engineering works and the effects this has on train services, including where rail replacement buses might be needed.

The final exercise of the day concerned train crew diagramming, in other words how staff are allocated to train services. Again there are many factors to consider including the length of the shift, personal needs breaks, how long the driver is allowed to drive for and how long the driver needs to get ready to drive the train. This exercise showed that even adding 2 extra services can completely change how many staff are needed and when.


The day concluded with a picture taken for Cross Country’s social media, as well as one for RailSoc, before the group dispersed to go home, with some going on to the Sports vs. Societies Night at the Guild. However there was just enough time to film a short video at New Street Station summarising the day, which you can view on our Facebook page.