insights | 30.10.2018

Training and Testing

Training and Testing

On Wednesday 17th October 2018, train services out of Paddington were disrupted when GWR did a test run of one of their new Hitachi trains. The Jury’s still out at the time of writing about what caused the damage to the power lines, but it’s likely that it was the pantograph of the test train that was the problem. I know that seems obvious as the pantograph is the only part of the train that comes into contact with the power lines, but the question that first jumps out at you is how did it do it? How could a brand-new train costing millions of pounds cause such damage that closes a railway station for 24 hours? Another obvious question is why would a digital design agency like Xigen want to concern itself with something so unrelated to website development that they’d produce a blog article about it? Just keep reading and hopefully, all will become clear….

Those of you that are unfamiliar with modern train design, probably won’t know that the pantograph is the arm on the roof of the train that the train uses to get electricity from the power cables above. It’s designed to stay in constant contact with the power lines so that the electric engines don’t lose power and bring the train to a juddering halt. It’s also specifically designed to not cause damage to the power lines, which makes the incident even more unusual! Other trains have managed this for decades, why has a brand-new train caused so much damage using a proven technology? Some reports say the train has a brand new pantograph design, but if that’s the case it will have been tested so much that all the potential problems should have been foreseen and accounted for.

Training and Testing

To be fair, this model of train has been in service for a while now and it’s just as likely that the train wasn’t the direct cause, but was one of the external factors that triggered the accident. The overhead cables could have been worn or fatigued and the train was just unlucky to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, for example. Anything is possible and this is just speculation. There have been other incidents involving this model of train though. Most notable was the electromagnetic interference it caused with the older signals and points in the North of England! Trains these days are complex beasts and it’s going to be up to the experts to carry out a proper and thorough investigation to find out what happened at Paddington. Long gone are the days when an incident could be attributed to the water tank boiling dry, or a jammed piston causing the wheels to lock up.

So what is involved in the testing of a modern train anyway? I can honestly say that I have no idea. I would assume that by the time it got to the pre-handover checks that the train was undergoing, the usual things would have been tested. Are the wheels the correct 4 foot 8 and a half inches apart? Does the pantograph reach the electric cables? Are the knobs and levers correctly stuck on in the driver’s cabin? That sort of thing. That should all have been done at the factory. By the time it got to this stage it was very likely on the “does the train go at the correct speed when I put the lever in this position?” stage. Or “will the automatic brakes work if I go through this red light?” “Do the locks on the toilets work”? All important questions, I’m sure you’ll agree, but you can probably guess that this isn’t my sphere of expertise. It is highly likely though that the test run was being monitored by a whole team of experts with a whole raft of technical devices plugged in, measuring everything from fuel flow to the driver’s pulse. It will have been very closely monitored so there will be a lot of information available for the investigators to go through.

In many ways, the world of software and web design is not much different.

Long gone are the days when a business could afford to hand over the design and management of their website to the boss’s teenage son or daughter. Teams of experts are now involved in the design, development and testing of these sites with the aim of attracting more visitors and generating more sales. Competition is fierce among the various online sites to do all this, and little Billy in his bedroom just doesn’t have the skills or the marketing knowhow to compete.

Training and Testing Website Marketing

Websites can now be so complicated that, like trains, problems can arrive from unexpected quarters. A change to one line of code to fix a simple styling issue on one page could potentially have far reaching consequences if you don’t know what you’re doing! Fortunately, here at Xigen, we have our own team of experts that design, build and monitor our client’s websites, and constant testing has become an integral part of the overall process. Just like the train at Paddington, we test our work before we hand it over, making sure that it operates correctly prior to it being put into service. Imagine what might have happened if the train was transporting members of the public when the accident happened. The chaos produced and risk to life and limb would have been increased considerably.

So what happens if, like at Paddington, something goes wrong during testing? That’s simple, we fix it. It doesn’t happen very often at Xigen, and a software environment is much easier to replicate than a mainline railway station so the consequences of something not working the way it should are nowhere near as severe. We can get it fixed and retested before it’s handed over to the client. Often a new piece of development will go through a number of rounds of testing and rework before it gets the ok to go to the client for their review. Our standards are high and we work hard to keep them that way. It’s not impossible though that something will get through our rigorous testing regime and be given to the client with an unnoticed glitch, after all, we’re only human. Well, as with the train, we investigate to find out what went wrong and then fix it. The investigation into what happened at Paddington is likely to take 24-48 hours according to Hitachi. We wouldn’t take anywhere near as long! After all, time is money and our client’s business is important to all of us. Occurrences like this are extremely rare, we’re proud to say, and that’s in no small part to our dedicated team of testers that keep our developers honest and at the top of their game. They have a significant effect on keeping the quality of our work to the highest standard possible.

Just to finish though, let’s ask one last vital question. What are the likely consequences of not testing? That’s simple to answer, and the answer will be the same for both trains and websites. There’s a vastly increased chance that they will crash.

If you have an eCommerce or digital project in mind then get in touch today for a chat with one of our digital design and development experts.

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