The Dangers of the New and the Complex

Newness and complexity both bring risk.  You have to work out how new things will work, and what the problems might be.  Complexity hampers understanding and can conceal the inter-relationship of component factors. Not understanding the risks properly may lead to failure of any new and complex venture.

In 1838, the London & Birmingham Railway introduced a new word: “timetable”,  replacing “schedule of departures” that was being used by the new railway companies (the world’s first only got started in 1830).

England now has a complex rail network, where one nationalised company owns the track, and many, mostly private, train companies use it.  Timetable changes are made twice a year, taking at least 40 weeks, with proposals from the separate train companies, and then many iterations and tests to get it into a workable whole.

On 20 May 2018, a radical new timetable was introduced in England to take advantage of new technology, new trains, and significant amounts of engineering improvement.  The result was a mass of cancellations, and a chaos christened “Meltdown Monday”; however, chaos continued for some time after that.  Northern Rail and Thameslink were worst affected owing to late engineering projects and a shortage of drivers, it was claimed.

However, an investigation by the Office of Rail & Road highlighted that delays led to the preparation time being reduced to 16 weeks, far too little time to do the job properly – a similar problem in Scotland was solved by simply delaying implementation – and that nobody had overall oversight of the exercise, and nobody considered the risks properly.

Source:   The Guardian, The Independent, BBC website

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