A weather service provider that thinks along and has a strong IT department. That is what Etienne Weijers, Process Leader Weather and Seasons at ProRail, and his colleagues needed when in 2015 they started looking for a new weather partner. “Infoplaza is current, always accessible and truly created something beautiful with Rail Support.”
Weijers vividly recalls the twinkling eyes of entrepreneurs René Westening and Menno Bom, when he and his colleagues went for coffee at Infoplaza in Hilversum, at the time. “We had something similar to an Excel-sheet with colours in which we had to cut and paste ourselves, before having the weather situation and forecast mapped out. Infoplaza was like the puppy of all weather stations, unknown in this market. But René en Menno saw all sorts of possibilities. That enthusiasm and pleasant energy got to me.”
Weijers laughs, thinking about the phone call a few months later, with Westening: “I think he was doing odd jobs around the house and fell two steps down as soon as we told him the good news.”
Clear and fast communication
Within the rail industry the dashboard of Rail Support now functions as the basis for taking decisions. At least 500 users have access to the dashboard. Among them a lot of people who work at ProRail, NS train drivers and maintenance workers, small transporters from the east and south of The Netherlands, and rail contractors like Volker, Strukton and ASSET.
According to Weijers the dashboard translates the weather information for the user and instantly shows the weather forecast for the whole country. “As soon as you open the dashboard, you see a map of The Netherlands with the colour codes green, yellow, red and purple. You can zoom in at each location, so you can tell what you are being warned about and it gives a summary of nature of the threat. A dashboard like that communicates clear and fast and provides immediate insight.”
Essential partner in decision making
According to Weijers the dashboard is only of the theoretical part of the collaboration with Infoplaza. Their meteorologists are always accessible to ProRail and they often make use of them. If in the next couple of days one or more of the set criteria is exceeded, all rail partners assemble in the Operational Control Centre Rail (OCCR). The situation is discussed, as is the possible impact, they talk about possibly intervening and which measures can be taken. If it concerns a weather event, a meteorologist is always involved.
“The meteorologists are fixed members or the decision making. During a video call, but often live. When it concerns a serious threat, the meteorologist will come to our office with his lunch and hangs out with us for a day.” During practice for a snow day for instance, ProRail also invites the meteorologists to the office. Because, according to Weijers, even if it is 40 degrees outside, on a day like that the meteorologists know exactly how to get everyone on board.
Knowledge of the weather and the railway
Knowledge of the weather aside, the meteorologists have also become connaisseurs of the railway. Weijers: “We need at least a day to change the preprogrammed timetable. We also need to communicate promptly to commuters and travellers: can they reach their destination and can they get back home as well? After seven years the people at Infoplaza know our worries and thus think proactively.”
In some situations this even means that meteorologists can steer towards shutting down train traffic because a worst case scenario is about to unfold. Weijers remembers the storm of January 2018. Earlier that week the forecast showed that the weather situation might just sting a lot.
An example: when storm Eunice was nearing in February 2022 preparations for the decision making by the OCCR started three days beforehand. But this storm was in a hurry. Michiel Severin, one of the meteorologists, saw the storm suddenly getting heavier during his shift. “When the heaviest wind and gusts were hitting The Netherlands causing lots of damage, Michiel advised us to press “the red button” and shut down all train traffic, for the first time in history. It is a ballsy move for a meteorologist to tell a railway company to do this.” For Weijers it depicts exactly the collaboration between Infoplaza and ProRail. “I know my shop is in good hands. They take responsibility!”