Challenging the perceptions of rail

Source: RTM Oct/Nov 2018

Darren Caplan, chief executive of the Rail Industry Association (RIA) explains how the RIA Rail Fellowship Programme is challenging people’s view of rail. 

We are living in an age of significant public cynicism about rail. The timetabling issues have seen a flurry of bad press for the rail industry over the summer; the Williams Review of a franchise system under increasing attack; and the cancellations and delays experienced by many passengers significantly hurting rail’s reputation. And whilst these events and the public’s response to them is understandable, there is also much good news that often goes unpublicised.

Those of us who work in the rail industry know that thousands of journeys are made every day without disruption, getting people from A to B in a comfortable, safe, reliable manner. What’s more, the rail industry is hugely successful and massively benefits the UK economy. The UK rail workforce contributes £36bn in economic growth and £11bn in tax revenue each year. The UK is a major exporter of rail across the world, exporting £800m in goods and services and employing 600,000 people (roughly the size of Birmingham) to work in the industry. As the chief executive of the RIA, I am immensely proud of what this sector has, and continues to, achieve. 

It is inevitable that people’s opinions about UK rail tend to directly correlate to their own experiences of using trains. This is understandable. Not everybody knows that we are a major exporter of rail; not everybody knows how many jobs the industry creates; not everybody knows how much rail contributes to our economy. But when you are standing on a crowded platform on a cold morning and the 7:42 doesn’t show up on time, people know about it, and people hold onto it.

This is why it is so important that the industry does a better job of promoting the valuable work we do. Too often we find ourselves on the backfoot, apologising for our failures, and it is right that we apologise when we fall short, but we also need to be positive and showcase our successes.

That is where the RIA’s Rail Fellowship Programme comes in. Launched this year, the programme offers an exciting opportunity for UK parliamentarians and commentators to gain first-hand insight into our rail supply chain. Participating ‘fellows’ spend a day on location with one of our RIA members and get to experience the rail industry through a ‘hands-on’ day on site. 

The 2018 fellowship is already fully booked, with MPs queueing up to take part and find out more about the inner workings of our industry. Lilian Greenwood, chair of the Transport Select Committee, has already completed her site visit, attending Balfour Beatty’s new Rail Innovation Centre in Derby, the Derby Resignalling Project, and even getting to test her train driving abilities at a simulator at the East Midland Trains Driver Training Academy.

MPs from areas across the country are taking part, with site visits taking place in the south west, the Midlands, the north, Scotland and Wales. This year’s participating MPs will form the RIA Rail Fellowship Class of 2018, and will each be recognised with an award at the RIA Annual Parliamentary Reception on 27 November.

As the voice of the rail supply community, we are passionate about making sure that our industry gets the recognition it deserves, and I am thrilled to have launched the Rail Fellowship Programme in order to do just that. I would like to thank every MP from every party who has signed up to the programme for helping us to showcase the great work that we collectively deliver for our country and its economy.


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