What is Sentinel?

What is Sentinel?


Sentinel is one of the premier safety systems in use across the Rail Industry. They provide rail workers with a passport to work on the rail infrastructure across the United Kingdom by using the latest smart card technology.

To make Sentinel smart, safe and simple they use the very latest smartcard technology, a secure and trusted database, and multiple platforms such as smartphones. This allows workers’ competence and fitness to work to be verified simply and effectively in near real time.

Sentinel is growing. There are presently 132,312 users on the system with an increase of 8,244 users in the last ten months alone, as Transport for London has adopted the scheme. The technical capability has also been dramatically improved and in 2016 they will introduce new functionality (Site Access) to improve the management of workers’ hours and reduce their exposure to the risks of fatigue.

Sentinel history
Since 1999, Sentinel has been the chosen identity card scheme for making sure that people who work on or near Network Rail’s infrastructure have basic competence and are medically fit to do so. The system, owned and developed by Network Rail, is based on a central database and a common system for checking that people hold Personal Track Safety (PTS) or Industry Common Induction (ICI), other critical competences and medical fitness to work and in-date Drugs and Alcohol certificates, all assured against a ‘single version of the truth’. Originally a paper-based approach was taken and the system – though better – was not perfect. Re-printing of cards was necessary if something changed and there was no capability to easily verify or ‘authenticate’ the information being presented. Even with the introduction of a telephone hotline the data indicated that full checks were rarely carried out.

2013 saw a significant upgrade to the Sentinel system, making use of electronic chip technology within newly formatted cards. This allows near ‘real time’ checking of competence using a variety of authentication methods such as smartphones, PC access or simple scanning of a QR code on the new cards. The software has been designed and developed by an external provider, Reference Point Limited (RPL), subcontracted from MITIE security. It is now possible to check the card against the central database in near real time using 3 and 4g connectivity. In 2014, Transport for London became the first other Rail Entity to join the system and future expansion is under discussion with HS2 and the Highways Agency.

Further enhancement projects in 2016, which are already in progress, will see the Sentinel system being used to control site access and improve the management of risk due to fatigue. Until very recently, the prescribed route to becoming a Sentinel Card holder, in terms of competence, was to hold Personal Track Safety (PTS) as a minimum. An initiative has also been made to bring Non Trackside employees onto the Sentinel Scheme using an Industry Common Induction (ICI) standard as an alternative prerequisite for inclusion.