Jul 02, 2017
A quick run-down of the UITP Metropolitan Railways Committee’s research and recommendations on strategic asset management for metro systems. By Michael Zink

Did you know the official UITP Knowledge Brief on strategic asset management for metro systems has just been published? If you have not read it yet, here is a quick run-down of the UITP Metropolitan Railways Committee’s research and recommendations:

Redefining Asset Management

While asset management is not a new concept to the rail industry, it has traditionally been considered a ‘maintenance thing’ and not performed in a structured manner.

The Knowledge Brief challenges this assumption and proposes that asset management, when implemented in a structured way, can be a key strategic management approach that will help rail organisations successfully balance performance, cost and risk.

Asset management and asset maintenance graph

It must be noted here that UITP stresses there is no ‘silver bullet’ formula for asset management that every company can use. Each rail organisation must find its own optimal balance based on its purpose, environment and goals. However, this principle applies to all:

“All companies must ensure continuous alignment between strategy and actions taken at each level of responsibility.”

It is also vital to cease thinking of assets as just a financial load, divorced from the organisation’s aims. Assets belong to the whole company and are part of its strategy.

8 Reasons to Base Your Strategic Plan on Structured Asset Management:

  1. Improves performance and service delivery, enhancing customer satisfaction
  2. Improves health, safety and environmental performances
  3. Optimises your ROI
  4. Lets you demonstrate ‘ best value for money’ when funding is constrained
  5. Gives you evidence to demonstrate legal, regulatory and statutory compliance
  6. Improves your risk management and corporate governance
  7. Better corporate image: improves shareholder value, product or service marketability, staff morale and supply chain effectiveness and efficiency
  8. Lets you demonstrate sustainability


The People Factor in Asset Management

It may come as a surprise to some that the Knowledge Brief highlights the role of people in an asset management strategy.

The writers have stripped back and boiled down rail organisations’ missions to a key purpose: to serve customers. The customer has to be the focus of any asset management strategy: assets are linked to service delivery and service quality, which means that every company goal can be translated at the asset level to track its contribution to performance.

Similarly, all of your employees also influence service delivery and service quality. Assets on their own do not deliver a service. This makes every employee and every asset a crucial element of the journey to customer satisfaction.

Therefore – in your asset management planning, you need to account for the skills, knowledge and practices of your staff. Treat these as assets that your organisation also needs to manage. Given that physical rail assets often outlast employee tenures, there is a real need for formalised knowledge transfer processes and succession planning. 

The Reality of Rail: Common Challenges

Internal Challenges

  • Metro services require extremely high safety levels
  • Rail assets are long-lasting
  • Metro network systems are extremely complex
  • Metros have very high performance requirements and are subject to a sustained level of strain
  • Metro services are subject to inline production constraints

External Challenges

  • Difficulty in securing financial resources
  • Political decision-makers are short-lived compared to the long-term nature of rail asset strategy
  • Dependent on an increasingly large number of stakeholders
  • Constant evolution of standards and regulatory frameworks
  • Constrained by having to operate in dense urban areas

Creating an Asset Management Plan: UITP Recommendations

While the UITP Metro Committee stresses that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ roadmap to asset management nirvana, they outlined some guiding principles which may help you optimise your own asset management strategy.

  1. Passenger needs and the policies and goals of relevant transport authorities should be the driving factors in your asset management strategy.
  2. Risk management: assess risks at the organisational level so each management level can act based on a common judgement.
  3. Perform an initial assessment on existing practices to identify gaps and needs between your current and desired state.
  4. Define asset criticality based on the asset’s impact on the network’s safety and on the number of affected passengers.

In short: everything in your planning, from goals all the way down to actions, must have the passenger journey and safety at the heart of all decisions.

The Lifecycle Approach: From Design to Decommissioning

Rail assets can last anywhere between 1 – 50 years. With this long lifespan comes a variety of challenges such as technological obsolescence, loss of skills to maintain the asset and complex servicing requirements due to differing subcomponent ages.

These factors make a full lifecycle approach from design all the way to dismantling crucial. For instance, whether the decommissioning of an asset impacts the environment or local community’s health should have a significant influence on how it is built in the first place.

asset management lifecycle

The Knowledge Brief ends with a recommendation to introduce maintenance specifications at the asset design stage and to consider maintenance in the project scope and requirements. It adds that risk should be used as a driver in your maintenance program, as maintenance is a natural fit for covering risk mitigation activities.


While the Knowledge Brief was based on research in metro systems, it contains many valuable lessons that any rail professional can apply.

A structured asset management approach in the design and operation of public transport services is the way forward. This means changing the way we think of asset management (“more than just maintenance”) and ensuring that we have the right systems in place to align strategy and action throughout our organisation.

If this seems like an insurmountable challenge, you may need a solution that transcends departmental siloes and enables communication and visibility into your assets. A rail-specific asset management solution could be the answer.

To read the full UITP Knowledge Brief, Strategic asset management for safer, more efficient and sustainable metros, click here.

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