Freddy Van der Cruyssen (Infrabel) received the RNE Award 2022 for his extraordinary contributions as co-founder of the European Capacity Management Tool (ECMT) and active member in the Digital Capacity Management and TTR Process working groups, outstanding work for the Path Coordination System (PCS), and vital role in the TTCom (Simple Communication Tool for Timetabling) application.
RNE: Freddy, thank you for taking the time for an interview with us. You are one of last year’s two first RNE award winners. You received the award for a number of extraordinary contributions and achievements, listed above.
Looking at these achievements – Can you walk us through what you were doing at which time, highlighting what were the most notable challenges and successes during this time?
Freddy Van der Cruyssen: After a long career in Operations/Real-Time at Infrabel I re-joined the timetable department in July 2013. I became Infrabel’s representative in a lot of working groups such as the PCS, Sales & Timetabling WG, RU AG group, and C-OSS Timetable working groups.
So, I was facing the Path Coordination System (PCS). I admit that in those early days, the PCS legacy system represented a challenge for all stakeholders. I had to learn it from scratch and there was no PCS Trainer yet. Luckily, there was the “PCS schooling system” to help me discover the application, it helped me to write my own PCS manual, which was also made available to applicants. I used my experience as a web-designer to propose Change Requests to improve the tool for all stakeholders.
In this way, step by step, we strove to improve the tool and to increase user functionalities.
In 2017 I plunged into the completely new, and yet unknown, TTR project and started analysing the newly proposed concept. Soon, Infrabel and ProRail agreed to start a TTR pilot, and I volunteered to represent Infrabel in this endeavour.
In January 2019 we delivered the first Pilot Information Document, and the predecessor of the current Electronic Capacity Model Tool (ECMT). In that first year the Electronic Capacity Model Tool was developed on an Excel/Access connection. I delivered the business requirements and RNE’s Head of PCS at the time, Mate Bak, programmed the first tool. The ECMT was born!
The TTR pilot taught us a lot of things, we also implemented the Rolling Planning process as a test and developed the supporting process type in PCS.
Very fast we found that the first ECMT was already at its limits, and the need for a more intuitive web-based platform became clear. In a next step the current ECMT, then known as “European Capacity Model Tool” was programmed, and later on modified and expanded. What was initially referred to as “capacity model” was eventually renamed Capacity Supply. Today’s Capacity Model and the Capacity Needs Announcements were added later, a result of TTR process Workgroups.
All the experience I had gathered in PCS and the ECMT was well received in the Digital Capacity Management (DCM) Working Group and TTR Process Working Groups, because I always saw the ‘connection’ between processes, the way they are implemented in daily use, and IT developments.
I consider every new project as a challenge to be part of, like the introduction of the TT-Com application. TT-Com could overcome some language barriers, lead to better communication with the right colleagues, avoiding communication dead ends.
RNE: International and national priorities are at times in conflict. How did you experience and handle this interplay between national and international interests?
Freddy Van der Cruyssen: The TTR pilot also highlighted the differences in handling national and international priorities and proves that EU legislation is on national level sometimes interpreted differently.
The implementation of the new EU Regulation will strive to have harmonized laws all-over EU, so let’s go for it.
RNE: You are looking back at a long and successful career: What is your legacy?
Freddy Van der Cruyssen: On the national level, at Infrabel, we started the development of a web-based interface in 2013 and implemented it, to support data exchange from our planning tool to the PCS IM timetable. And now we are moving to support a Common Interface connection, completely TAF TAP TSI-compliant and ready for TT2025.
I have also been involved in many PCS trainings held for RFCs, IMs and applicants. These trainings have led to a higher number of PCS requests, because the system became more comprehensible for the end-users.
The ECMT is in constant improvement and development mode, in close corporation with all stakeholders, and I am very excited and proud to see that ECMT has become one of the major backbones of the TTR project, remembering how in those early days I was standing at the cradle of this application.
There is also the Border Harmonization tool, recently available and on its way to becoming more widely used over the next years. That development will lead to a higher quality of harmonized path offers, and once fully connected to PCS Capacity Broker, it will decrease the workload of the Ims too.
And then there are a lot of RNE Handbooks that I helped editing. We discussed, and improved, and finetuned the contents, step by step, because it is always a long process to come to a common agreement.
RNE: You have known the Path Coordination System from its very beginning in 2003 when it was still called Pathfinder. Can you give us a review of the early days? Which role does PCS play for the rail sector today?
Freddy Van der Cruyssen: I remember these early days (2003), during my first employment in Timetabling.
The first PCS was presented, and it was a very static “experience”, not dynamic and no intuitive design.
We all know that every new tool always faces some reluctance because it is mostly unknown. And the internet, in those days, was something far away for many users.
The way PCS has since matured and improved significantly is due to the work of all stakeholders in all Working Groups throughout the years since, striving to make PCS better, year after year. We certainly have achieved significant improvements, and my successors will continue to do so.
We share the strong believe that PCS as a single capacity request tool is the most beneficial for all stakeholders.
The role of PCS will even increase, with the rollout of PCS Capacity Broker, and more and more IMs committed to connecting their planning tools to PCS.
RNE: You are retiring this year. What are your plans for this new phase of life?
Freddy Van der Cruyssen: After 44 years of working hard, I am looking forward to starting a completely new chapter in my life, together with my wife. We are moving to Thailand, her home country, and my new home in this next phase of life.
And there, TTR will have a different meaning for us: Time To Retire. The challenges will be different: waiting, getting used to a totally different way of living (more relaxing), starting to build our house, traveling and life in a close-knit family.
And finally,I would like to thank my wife, for all the years she has been there for me and the children, while I was travelling abroad to one of the many meetings. Life is not always easy, when your husband is far away attending a meeting, and at home you have a situation. She managed very well.
Also, I would like to thank Infrabel for the opportunity of this marvellous job. It has been an enriching experience to meet so many railway colleagues from all over Europe, and learning how other IMs deal with specific issues. It was great to be part of Infrabel.
RNE: Freddy, once again, thank you very much for this interview and your many contributions over the years! We wish you all the best for this next phase in your life in Thailand!